Amsterdam has long been known for its enchanting city centre, crooked canal houses and winding waterways. Yet a few km’s west, the scene changes from urban to pastoral as you head toward Haarlem – every bit Amsterdam’s match in terms of ornate 17th century architecture, bustling restaurants and a thriving arts scene. Hop on a bike and experience the best of times in the Netherlands’ twin cities.
Level 1: Haarlemmersluis – Sloterdijk (± 4 km)
1a. Haarlemmersluis The 17th century Haarlemmersluis Bridge was once a fish market, given its proximity to the IJ River. Haarlemmersluis links Haarlemmerstraat with Nieuwendijk, both popular shopping streets.
1b. Haarlemmerstraat Notice the West India House – former HQ of the Dutch West India Company. They built some of the first forts on Manhattan Island in 1625.
1c. Haarlemmerpoort In the 17th century, Haarlemmerpoort functioned as one of Amsterdam’s four gates. Nearby, a train line connected Amsterdam and Haarlem, which was eventually replaced by Central Station.
1d. Westerpark Leafy Westerpark offers up a chance for a pitstop and a drink. It’s also the site of the former gas works, in operation from 1883-1967. Its buildings have been largely repopulated with cool cafes, art galleries and restaurants.
1e. Sloterdijk Stop to admire the Petrus Church. It was built in 1663 to serve the municipality of Sloten, which was annexed by Amsterdam in 1921 as the city grew. A church was built in about 1479; however, it was destroyed in 1573 by the Geuzen following the siege of Haarlem.
Level 2: Sloterdijk – Halfweg (8,4 km)
2a. Volkstuincomplex Cycle past the expansive Volkstuincomplex, an area known for its cute ‘n quaint country cottages. Vendors operate here during the summer, where you can stop for a coffee.
2b. Spieringhorn Follow the cycle paths alongside the wooded glades of Spieringhorn. Tip: see if you can spot a rose-ringed parakeet; these tropical birds formed a colony after escaping from the zoo years ago.
2c. Halfweg Roughly half-way between Amsterdam and Haarlem, Halfweg became a lively stopover for porters, tradesmen and inns. Take a pleasant cycle then stop for coffee and cake at the quaint Koffie van Kaatje.
Level 3: Halfweg – Haarlem (± 8,5 km)
3a. Veenweidegebied This area is a typically Dutch vista. Centuries ago, this was all peat meadow. Today, it’s a protected area that modernity cannot touch – and a gorgeous place to cycle.
3b. Fort Penningsveer You’ll happen upon Fort Penningsveer in Haarlemmerliede along the banks of the Liede River. Part of the UNESCO site ‘Stelling van Amsterdam’, it was built circa 1886 and used as a WWII internment camp, before spending decades as a storehouse for ammunition.
3c. Veerplas This is a recreation area surrounded by an artificial inland lake, where you can sit for a bit. There’s also the Veerkwartier restaurant, a cool and cosy hipster haunt.
3d. Restaurant and Mill Stop off at Restaurant Zuidam, located next to the 18th-century Molen de Adriaan Windmill. You can enjoy a delicious sandwich and sit on a terrace overlooking the Spaarne River. Walk on over to Molen de Adriaan. This windmill was built in 1779 and was used to grind volcanic rock, shells and bark and later tobacco. It has been a museum since 2003.
Level 4: Haarlem Centre – Reinaldapark (4,4 km)
4a. Teylers Museum Take some time to explore the arts and science-focused Teylers Museum. It’s filled to the brim with lovingly-displayed with fossils, drawings, paintings and minerals.
4b. Grote Markt Admire the Haarlem Town Hall, one of the oldest in the country that dates back to 1370. Take a tour of the imposing St Bavo’s church built in 1520.
4c. Frans Hals Museum Stop off at the Frans Hals Museum. Opened in 1862, it’s home to a permanent collection of modern art, as well as paintings by the 17th century master himself.
4d. Burgemeester Reinaldapark It’s a great place to park your bike, take a stroll around, or just to sit and people-watch for a while. If you’re peckish, pick up a pancake at the delightful Pannenkoeken Paradijs.
Level 5: Haarlem – Zwanenburg (8,3 km)
5a. Planespotting This is one of the best spots for aircraft lovers, where you can get some of the best views over the landing strip that belongs to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Level 6: Zwanenburg – Sloterplas (7,3 km)
6a. Het Rijk van de Keizer A few gourmet delights can be found along the way back to Amsterdam. Het Rijk van de Keizer is an industrial hangout with a laid-back vibe.
6b. Sloterplas The inland lake of Sloterplas is a perfect place to stop and soak up the sun or stroll in the woods. It’s flanked by the popular Hotel Buiten, great for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Level 7: Sloterplas- Haarlemmersluis (±10 km)
7a. Rembrandtpark As you arrive back in Amsterdam’s New West, leafy Rembrandtpark is an ideal place for a stop to relax any aching calves.
7b. Vondelpark Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s largest and most famous park. Stroll through the woods, sip tea at the famous Blue Teahouse, or visit Vondelpark3 Restaurant.
7c. Antiques Quarter Amsterdam’s Antiques Quarter houses the famous Kramer Art & Antique shop on the corner of Prinsengracht which has plenty of famous Delft Blue china that you can surprise a loved one back home with.
7d. Westerkerk and Anne Frank Huis Stop by Westerkerk, then venture to the Anne Frank House, home to the wartime Dutch child whose diary moved the world.
7e. Brouwersgracht Stop to snap a photo on picturesque Brouwersgracht. This canal-side street is home to shuttered warehouses, houseboats and gorgeous 17th-century houses.