Come rain or come shine, cycling is the standard mode of transport in Amsterdam – and hopping on a bike’s an essential part of the local experience. The terrain’s pleasingly flat, while well-kept cycle lanes criss-cross every part of the city; just respect the rules, use common sense, and watch out for oblivious tourists. There are hire shops all around town, including the excellent Black Bikes, which offers cargo bikes and fix-on seats for small fry, as well as family-friendly tandems.
Our easy-going, two-day itinerary will help you tap into your inner fietser (cyclist), taking you from the boutique-lined Nine Streets to the tranquil surrounds of Amstelpark. Ward off hunger pangs with stops for pancakes or ice-cream, and give little ones a treat with an afternoon at the zoo. Take things at your own pace – and enjoy the ride.
Set just off the Prinsengracht, this well-stocked butcher’s shop and deli is just the place to buy some lunch supplies. Fill your panniers with Poîlane rolls, quiches and home-made pâté, or slivers of salty, finely marbled Ibérico ham. There are pastrami-filled Reuben sandwiches or Japanese-style pork katsu sando, along with assorted veggie options, from truffled egg salad to roasted aubergine.
It’s half an hour’s ride to the Amstelpark, following the tree-lined, riverside cycle path. To get there, cross the Magere Brug, known as ‘the skinny bridge’. It’s a narrow, pretty walkway, that opens to let boats through; as Bond fans may recall, it starred in the opening sequence of Diamonds are Forever. Take it slowly, stopping to see the sights, from colourful houseboats to the stately resident swans.
Bikes are banned in this 120-acre park, so park up and find a picnic spot. After lunch, there’s plenty to explore, from the Japanese garden to two bijou art galleries. Kids will love the mini-golf, hedge-maze and miniature train, which leaves from the main entrance-gate and chugs around the lawns. Look out, too, for the petting zoo, with its rabbits, emus and llamas.
Bike back into town along the river, with a stop-off at this waterfront café. With its sun-dappled terrace and old-fashioned veranda, it’s a tranquil setting for a coffee, with towering, whipped cream-topped hot chocolates to keep the children happy. Given that you’re pedalling back, you deserve a snack – like a stack of crunchy kaastengels (moreish, deep-fried cheese sticks).
Cafés, boutiques and galleries cluster in this compact grid of streets, bounded by the Prisengracht and Singel canals. Big brands like Scotch & Soda are interspersed with specialist shops, selling everything from enamelled signs to 50s cocktail dresses. Head to Marie-Stella-Maris for cosmetics with a conscience, or keep the kids sweet with a taster of Urban Cacao’s bean-to-bar chocolate.
Amsterdammers are a discerning bunch when it comes to pancakes, and this place serves some of the best. Choose from two styles, Dutch or American (the latter are fluffier and fatter), along with an epic list of toppings. Regulars swear by the smoked salmon and crème fraiche or classic ham-and-cheese, while mavericks go for apple crumble and ice-cream, or chilli-spiked bacon and banana.
You don’t even need to get on your bike to visit this small museum, moored just on the other side of the canal. It offers an insight into life on board a boat, without having to peek through any portholes. The Hendrika Maria, a converted cargo ship, turns out to be surprisingly spacious, with its shipshape kitchen, stowed-away beds, and cosy, stove-warmed living room.
A ten-minute cycle east along the canals will take you to the city’s zoo, set behind splendid green-and-gold gates and founded in 1838. Its inhabitants run from endangered red pandas to Polynesian tree snails, via lions, giraffes and Asian elephants. See the red-ruffed lemurs swinging by in their jungly, walk-through enclosure, and check the schedule for the sea-lions’ feeding time.
At the western end of the park, one minute’s walk from ARTIS, Edwin de Koeijer’s ice-cream parlour is a favourite post-zoo port of call. On a summer’s day, the queue’s likely to stretch around the block, but service is fast and friendly, and the generous scoops of organic ice-cream are always worth the wait. Try the stracciatella, studded with chocolate chunks, or the thoroughly Dutch stroopwafel special.