Netherlands - how to get around & dodge cyclists

Most people in The Netherlands own a bicycle (or two) because it's a pretty easy way to get around this generally flat country.

Even when cars came within the reach of most people, the bicycle remained popular and city planners have made the cars fit around the bikes, not the other way around.

But for the visitor "unaccustomed" to so many bikes it presents a few hazards to being a pedestrian.

Amsterdam Bicycle Hazard

You should always watch the traffic when you are a pedestrian in a new city. In Amsterdam, however, the cyclists will be your No. 1 priority.

Do not walk in or near the bike lanes, which you can't miss, because they have a symbol of a bike marking them.

Locals will be polite and ring their bike bells when they approach, but they tend to get angry if you are too distracted to move out of their way. Tyre marks do not look sexy on legs - pay attention!

Pssst! Want To Buy A Bicycle?

The large number of bicycles also brings another risk; theft. The city of Amsterdam carries one of the world's highest rates of bicycle theft, and it is a good chance that at any given time, you'll pass a cyclist riding a bike that is not theirs. Hey, it's a cyclist eat cyclist world. (It's probably an urban myth, but they say if you shout "Stop, that's my bike!" about 5 people will hop off and run!)

This trend of theft also means you have many options if you're in the market for a bike yourself. In addition to drugs, thieves will rove the streets peddling cheap pedals. If you buy one, however, you can get fined.

A better option is to rent a bike for a few Euros a day from one of the many vendors in the Netherlands (Amsterdam companies will charge more). You can generally take your bike anywhere but the highway.

Highways Are Hell

There's another reason why people ride bikes a lot in the Netherlands, fuel is expensive and there is a general urging to stop relying on cars in certain areas.

The highways near Amsterdam in addition to the A4 south and the A2 southeast are particularly traffic-ridden. In rural areas, roads may become single-lane.

Car rental can be irksome outside Amsterdam, as many companies aren't located near transport hubs where you arrive. Parking in the city is difficult and parking officials are quick to fine you.

(On a sunny day even the canals get jammed with traffic!)

Other Options

Otherwise, getting around the Netherlands should be fairly easy. It's a small country, so trips are short and public transportation like buses and rail are well maintained and easy to navigate. Lines run frequently and pre-arranged tickets are rarely needed. The entire country is governed by one-fare system to make things simple.

In June 2011 they phased out the old strippenkaart - literally a strip of cards you stamped onboard a tram - and replaced them with a credit card-style smart card called the OV-chipkaart.

It's an electronic card with a built-in chip for use on all public transport in Amsterdam including buses, trams and metros. The card can be topped up with credit in euros. You can get unimited travel throughout Amsterdam on its trams, trains and buses for 24 hours from as little as 7 Euros. Or use the card to travel for a week, or a whole season.

When you start your journey, hold your card up to the reader until a green light appears. A beep sound will indicate that your card has been read. If you change to another bus/tram/metro, you have to check out and check in again at your next stop. If you forget to check out, the card will no longer be valid and you risk a fine.

Train travel can be a little more challenging, as services commonly do not run on time.

If you want to visit the Frisian Islands, there is reliable ferry service.

Trams Too

As well as cyclists, watch out for the trams while walking anywhere in Amsterdam. They're surprisingly quiet, the tracks can be easy to miss embedded in the road, but a tram weighs about 30 tonnes - ouch!

Wondering why that bell is ringing? No it's not a school, it's a tram right behind you!

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