HowTo: walk or cycle in Amsterdam*, a tourist guide

The rules of thumb are pretty simple:
  • If you want to cross a street, start walking, but do not change speed or direction. The Dutch cyclist will always try not to hit to avoid you. The cyclist cannot avoid you when you stop at once in the middle of the street because you got scared. Now the trajectory which was formed beforehand in the cyclist’s brain, is wrong and the cyclist may hit you after all.
  • If you look up to admire the beauty of the canal houses, do not fall of the pavement (many do, true!).
  • Do not walk on the road, this is the part of the street which usually contains Dutch clinkers in older cities, including motor traffic (a few cars, a lorry here and there, some scooters and cyclists)
  • You’re a tourist. You know nothing of the Dutch unwritten rules of cycling. Don’t try to act like your Dutch, which means: when Dutchies cycle in the opposite direction on a cycling path (which is not allowed) they do it because they can. When you try to cycle in the opposite direction, you usually don’t do it the right way. And explaining ’the right way’ is just not possible.
  • Cycling on the pavement is often done by Dutchies, but – apart from the fact that it’s pretty annoying – this is not allowed either. You’ll never learn to do it the ‘right’ way (personally I dislike pavement-bikers very much, unless I do it myself)
  • If you rented an airbnb-like place or stay at a friends house and you’re allowed to use the beaten up Dutch bikes, please add a red flag or something telling Dutch road users you’re a tourist. Remember, you’re in disguise now. Rental bikes say: this is someone who probably hardly ever cycles. Keep distance, maybe ring your bell.
  • You should Not ring the bell. It’s for warning signals only, not a toy (which means: when you’re in a scary situation, ring it!)
From left to middle: pannier, front racks, front basket, child seat,
From left to middle: pannier, front racks, front basket, child seat,

Well, that was quite a list. How to lock your bike and other stuff will probably be explained by your bike rental shop.

Why those ‘rules’? It’s fairly simple. When I cycle through the stunningly beautiful city centre of Amsterdam I cycle pretty fast. I can’t help it. My daily regular cycling schedule to and from the office totals at least 11 kilometres**. Any other one way cycling trip usually adds about 5 km to that amount (so if I go and have a drink in the city, I’ve cycled about 21 km that day). Not only when the Sun is shining or when there is a pretty strong breeze. No, everyday. Sun, rain, snow, cold, warm, dark, light, dusk or dawn. It doesn’t make a difference.

But then, always around: tourists. During the holiday season they are as ubiquitous as the bikes. Hopefully this blog helped you understand how the local cyclist feels and thinks and keep you out of trouble!

Have a pleasant stay!

* Or any other city with many cyclists
** Miles, miles. Please! The US, Birma and Libya use the Imperial System. The rest uses SI (France: Système international d’unités) or International System of Units. OK, one time and one only: 11 km = 6.835 miles.



Krijn Soeteman is a Dutch science and technology journalist. He majored in the history of art and architecture. After his studies he started as a music video producer. This led to producing a Museum Night at the NEMO Science Museum, which eventually led to science journalism. And much more.

13 thoughts on “HowTo: walk or cycle in Amsterdam*, a tourist guide

  1. Please tell us the rules (written and unwritten) of the pedestrian crossings in relation to bikes!

    1. Rules? Sure there are any? :-p
      If you halt in front of one, no one will stop. You’ll have to start walking, than maybe someone might remember the official rules: stop and wait for the pedestrian to cross. But mainly the cyclists will go around you, so no worries! Just walk.

  2. Tijd voor een Facebook actie…..

  3. Het ergste is de opmerking: dit is Amsterdam…moet toch kunnen?

  4. Mijne gaat dus niet per se over de rode lichten maar de egoistische, onterechte voordringers bij die rode lichten die de boel onnodig ophouden. Maar het is wel het ergst op dat stuk ja ;).

  5. uit het hart gegrepen, Krijn. I amsterdam, wanneer nemen jullie deze fietsregels mee in jullie gratis reisgidsen voor toeristen?

  6. Jongens hou toch op met dat gezeur over toeristen … Wen maar aan ze; er gaan er nog veel meer komen. Vliegen is goedkoop en daarmee voor de massa. Wij willen zelf ook allemaal naar Londen, Parijs, Barcelona, Berlijn etc., en zo’n ‘originele’ foto van onszelf voor de Taj Mahal of op Times Square New York.

    De positieve energie van een goedgemutste en verwonderde toerist die voor het eerst in zijn leven fietst, heb ik liever voor mijn deur dan de negativiteit van zo’n opgefokt fietswijf uit een randwijk dat scheldend voorbij komt sjeezen omdat ze haast heeft en vindt dat haar tempo de norm is. Een goeie fietser anticipeert op de zwakste.

    En 20 km fietsen? Is dat nog wel Amsterdam? Misschien beter de snelweg nemen?

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