Written by Lillian
September 23, 2022
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Amsterdam were the bikes. They were everywhere! Extensive bike storage racks dominated the landscape outside the central train station. Bike lanes lined every road— even the ones outside large industrial manufacturing plants and in the middle of nowhere. As you walk down the cobble streets, a chipper bell will sound and then a bike will whizz past you with its rider dressed in anything and everything from casual lounge wear to business suits and heels. It was jaw dropping. The biking culture here is unparalleled.
Strop-waffles, bikes, and colorful thin houses— what can be more Dutch?
To dip our feet into Dutch culture, my friends and I went on a free walking tour of Amsterdam. Many different cities offer free walking tours, but if you cannot find one, a company called GuruWalk offers tours with local guides. The stipulation is that guests will tip the guide 5-10€ each for their service. I thought that the free walking tour was a really nice way to see the sights of the city and learn about the history in a more interactive way when compared to museums.
These flowered bikes can be found all over Amsterdam. They are created by the Flower Bike Man, Warren Gregory, to help his wife— who suffers from memory loss— locate her bike. Since then, he has decorated over 300 bikes to spread positive messages around the city to his fellow humans. You can sometimes find him riding equally colorful bikes around the city.
After learning about Dutch culture, we took the plunge: we rented bikes to fit in. However, instead of biking through the city, we headed over to the Zaanse Schans Windmills. The 45km (about 28 mi) round trip bike path took us to downtown Zaandam, through the Dutch countryside, and right to the windmills. At the windmills, we participated in some cheese tasting at a local shop, and I was able to taste cow, sheep, and goat cheeses of varying ages. They also had white coconut cheese, a bright green pesto cheese, and a blue lavender cheese. Safe to say that I have never seen a more diverse or colorful cheese collection anywhere else (however the cheese selection at CORA comes at a close second). I would highly recommend biking to the windmills. Biking in Amsterdam is iconic, but biking in the city can bring its own set of terrors as you dodge native bikers, tourists, and motor vehicles. This, paired with the new set of city biking rules, can lead to unnecessary stress for you and everyone around you. Biking along the quaint Dutch countryside, however, was much more relaxing, and you can explore much more of the Netherlands!
Bike in the Netherlands: check!
The next day, we headed out of Amsterdam to explore Utrecht, a small canal town with a tall belltower in the center. Walking around Utrecht gave me a different perspective of Dutch culture. Utrecht was certainly more calm than the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam’s busy canal lines streets and tourist filled plazas, and the streets were just as beautiful.
The picturesque Binnentuin Domkerk garden inside St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Looking back, I loved my time in the Netherlands. It was amazing to be able to eat such iconic Dutch food like waffles, pancakes, strop-waffles, and cheeses. My favorite activity was biking to the windmills. We made an entire day of slowly biking our way through the streets, stopping to take photos at every intersection and whenever we smelled something good wafting through the streets. The small rivers, pastures of happy cows, and thatched roof farms that lined the countryside were so pleasant to see, and all were only 30 minutes away from downtown Amsterdam!