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Cycling the North Sea Coast of the Netherlands

Egmond-to-Shaagen-via-Petten-3sOur cross country trek on the first half of the Grande Randonee 5 (GR5) was cut short by 2 weeks due to severe spring floods in Southeastern France.   Disappointed, we agreed to salvage the remainder of our holiday by ending our trek in the French Alsace, returning to Amsterdam where we could cycle up the North Sea Coast. Although considerably cooler, the weather was much dryer and quite suitable to bike riding.

The Netherlands is a great place to explore by bicycle.  According to Study in Holland.com, there are more than 13 million bikes in the Netherlands and with a population of approximately 16.5 million, that’s almost one bike per person!

The Dutch countryside has an abundance of cycle paths, the terrain is flat, distances relatively short and there is a lot of amazing scenery with no shortage of things to do along the way.

We checked local bookstores for cycling maps and came across a Dutch book called “Ronde Van Nederland via LF-routes”’, published by an organization of builders who developed a network of national bicycle routes throughout The Netherlands called Landelijke Fietsroutes or LF-routes for short.

We were unable to read the text in the book because they are published in Dutch, but the maps were easy enough to follow.  We have since found an extremely useful website  with information for the English speaking cyclist.

The LF routes consist of a national network of paths (over 4,000 kms), that reach to the Dutch border and are connected to cycle paths in Belgium, Germany and even Great Britain.

There are plenty of good bicycle rental shops in Amsterdam – go figure!  We decided to rent from Star Bikes because they had reasonable long-term rates, they were directly behind the Amsterdam Central train station and because they were really nice people.

We thought it would be fun to rent Dutch “granny bikes”; those traditional timeless beauties we all associate with The Netherlands. However, because of the available bike sizes, I ended up with the masculine black bike, while Glen ended up with the flamboyant green one with Tulip decals sprawled across the frame.

We took the bikes on the train from Amsterdam to Alkmaar and rode toward the coastal town of Egmond Aan Zee.  We couldn’t resist the opportunity of staying  a couple of nights to soak up the quaint beach town ambience.

We cycled the LF1 along the coast to Bergen aan Zee, winding through the Schoorlsche Dunes toward Camperduin, along the Hondsbossche Seawall toward Petten and then inland where we spent the night in pleasant village of Schagen.  We were lucky enough to come across a travelling amusement park in the centre of the village.  What a fantastic day!

Next day, we continued along a cycle path toward the LF10 and the community of Anna Paulowna, around the Amstelmeer, and finally to the picturesque fishing village of Den Oever.

A good night’s rest was in order before tackling the 32 kilometer causeway, The Afsluitdijk, which crosses the Ijsselmeer.  The head winds were strong that day which made the trip across the dyke very slow going.  Halfway across it began to pour but there was no choice but to keep going to the end – there was no place to stop along the way.

Drenched and cold to the bone, we ducked into a nice warm café in the village of Zurich at the end of The Afsluitdijk.   We then continued cycling the final 10 kilometres to our destination of Harlingen.

Upon our arrival, we came across a great little pub packed with excited locals watching the World Cup Soccer finals on TV.  We had a terrific Dutch lunch consisting of black bread, salt herring and a Lindeboom beer – incredible.  It was a long day but one we won’t forget – by the end of it we had a good night’s sleep.

Dating back to a Viking settlement and a once a great whaling port, Harlingen is a vibrant Seaport town rich in culture and history.  Undeniably charming, Harlingen became one of our top 5 cities – we stayed for 3 nights.

We took an interesting side trip via the fast ferry to the Wadden Sea Island of Terschelling.   It was too expensive to take our bikes on board but we got an excellent fare which included bike rental on the Island for a nominal fee.

Terschelling is a small island but has about 70 kilometres of cycle paths that wind through dunes, countryside and peaceful villages revealing delightful shops, restaurants and cafes.

From Harlingen, we continued inland toward Leewarden where we stayed for 2 nights.   It’s a great town for shopping for both upscale brands and artisan shops – it was voted to be the best shopping in all of The Netherlands.  But Leewarden is also full of history, culture and good food.   We enjoyed people watching while sitting in one of the many restaurants alongside the canals during the World Cup Soccer finals which the Dutch won that year.

We continued up the LF10 toward the quiet village of Holwerd.  We stayed in one of the few B&B’s in order to take a day trip to another one of the Wadden Sea Island; the peaceful island of Ameland.

Ameland is comprised of 2 nature reserves, Het Oerd and De Hon and four small villages.  You can climb a 24 metre dune, a 56 metre lighthouse and explore all the villages in a day by bike, although it would have been nice to stay a bit longer.

We continued our journey inland from Holwerd to the largest northern Dutch city; Groningen, but we were tight on time so we boarded the train in Dokkum.

Being a University town, Groningen has a 25 percent student population and therefore a diverse cultural scene, a vibrant night life and great art scene with the Groningen Museum being one of the highest regarded contemporary art museums in the country.

It was a pleasant laid back town with outdoor markets and a pedestrianized zone filled with shops and cafes. After two nights in Groningen we begin our cycle trip back to Amsterdam.

It was a long ride back to Leewarden where we stayed overnight to once again gather our strength to cycle toward The Afsluitdijk.   Luckily the wind was at our back so we decided to make the most of our time and continued to Den Helder where we spent the night.

Den Helder is a naval base for the Royal Dutch Navy but the surrounding areas are also home to a wide variety of protected nature reserves from dunes, woods, polders and mudflats.  We enjoyed exploring the pedestrianized city, the harbour and the nature areas surrounding Den Helder.

Nearing the end of our journey, we cycled back to our beloved Egmond Aan Zee, where we stopped for the night.  The next day we rode to Ijmuiden where we hopped on the Hovercraft back to Amsterdam central and returned the bikes.

Cycling the North Sea Coast was just a small taste of what is possible in this area.  We’ll definitely be continuing the North Sea Cycle Tour in the Netherlands to Germany and Denmark on a future trip.

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