Ben & Ciara
The Best Cycling Trip Itinerary through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France!
Looking for the perfect, two-week cycle trip that goes through three European countries for beginner and intermediate cyclists, and covers over 622 km (386 mi)?
In this blog, we map out the exact route we took from Amsterdam throughout the Netherlands, into Belgium, and across northern France. It’s a sustainable bike touring trip perfect for couples, too! We also include some lesser-known gems from each country that you should definitely check off your bucket list (and no, it doesn’t include the Red Light District) as well as all that you need to know before hitting the road on this bike-packing adventure!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. The Best of Amsterdam 1.1 Must-Sees 1.2 Best Plant-Based Restaurants 1.3 Trendiest Neighbourhoods 2. Cycle Trip Route 2.1 The Journey to Keukenhof
2.1a Amsterdam's Cherry Blossom Park
2.1b Europe's Largest Public Gardens 2.2 Utrecht - The Ultimate Student Town 2.3 Rotterdam 2.3a Staying on a Cardboard Houseboat? 2.3b Visiting Urban Reef 2.3c The Kinderdijk Windmills 2.4 Delft + Zeeland
2.4a A Quick Pit-Stop in Delft 2.4b Tij Observatory
2.5 Antwerp, Belgium
2.5a The Perfect Halfway Point
2.5b Stefano Boeri's Palazzo Verde
2.6 An Easter in Brussels
2.7a A Fairytale City from Another Time
2.8a Is there such thing as too much chocolate?
2.9 The Struggle to Dunkirk
2.10 Back Home to London with the Ferry
3. Packing List
3.2 Technical Gear
5. List of accommodation/Airbnbs we stayed in
Amsterdam - Keukenhof - Utrecht - Rotterdam - Delft
Zeeland - Antwerp - Brussels - Ghent - Bruges - Dunkirk
DAYS 1-3: The Best of Amsterdam
We kicked off this trip by spending two days exploring the country's vibrant capital: Amsterdam! Known for areas like the Red Light District and the canals of De Wallen, we found that the true charm of Amsterdam lay in the quaint, narrow streets of its lesser-visited neighbourhoods like Jordaan, Westerpark, and De Pijp. Are you ready for fourteen days of adventure?
Like in every major city, tourist traps are super common in Amsterdam—so have self-awareness wherever you go—but some fun “touristy” things to see include:
Anne Frank House - book your tickets one month+ in advance to enter the house, we didn’t get to go in as they were all sold out two weeks before. The exterior of the house is still beautiful to see, and you can check out the modern, attached museum they created next door to the house.
The Van Gogh Museum - to check out some of Van Gogh's most famous works, but also learn about his family--and especially his sister-in-law and nephew who saved his work long after his death and created the Van Gogh Museum we know today!
The Rijksmuseum - located right next to the Van Gogh Museum, so maybe double-book your day if you’re keen on seeing both, as they are toward the south of the city in Museum Square. Features art from famous Dutch artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Koninklijk Paleis and De Nieuwe Kerk - the royal palace and the neighbouring “new church” - the “old church” is more East toward the Red Light District.
We’re going to be honest, we hate being tourists. Being a traveller is SO much better, and (we’ve found) is much better appreciated by the locals. By this, we mean that we try to blend in in the best way we know how: by respecting local culture, language, and customs. So in Amsterdam: don’t walk in the bike lane, don’t assume everyone speaks English (and maybe even learn a few phrases in Dutch like “Alsjeblieft” and “Dank u wel!"), and enjoy the beauty of the city with your eyes and ears first, then with your phone camera, if allowed.
Jordaan - for cool cafés, beautiful homes, independent boutiques, and charming streets.
De Pijp - to the south of the city, and known as the "Latin quarter", this area is near all the big museums, but feels like a cool place where young, international residents live.
Westerpark - where our hotel was located, with a gorgeous park at its doorstep and old-fashioned farmer's markets and craft stalls. Ideal for a lovely nature walk.
Grachtengordel - with its canals added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2010, there's no way you won't want to meander along the streets and over the bridges of this central district of Amsterdam.
Frederik Henrikbuurt - known for having more space than some of the more crowded neighbourhoods, the parks of this neighbourhood (known by locals as "Fred") give this Western part of Amsterdam a more open feel and are ideal for cycling.
EXCELLENT PLANT-BASED FOOD:
And last but not least, some must-stops if you’re looking for excellent vegan food, no matter what your budget may look like:
Vleesch Noch Visch - great little hut in a beautiful square for imaginative vegan gyros, Ciara had the original and Ben loved the tikka masala flavour.
Saint Jean Bakery - get the pistachio cruffin (croissant + muffin, but also kind of like a donut?) with an oat chai latte and thank us later!
Margo’s - lovely cakes/loaves and cheese toasties for a bite on the go!
Trevi’s - the perfect vegan pizza, pasta, and focaccia spot. We LOVED the Pesto Ricotta and Mona Lisa pizzas.
Vegan Thaiger (UberEats) - for those cold, rainy nights in after a long day of exploring.
We also received a ton more recommendations for places to visit, restaurants to try, and shops to see in Amsterdam than we had time to, so know that this list is not nearly exhaustive, and we will be back many more times in the future to this beautiful city to add to this list of favourites!
Our point of origin as well as final destination was London, UK--our home city! From London St. Pancras International, we took the Eurostar to Amsterdam Centraal. The journey took approximately 3.5-4 hours, but went by quickly as we read books, watched an episode of our favourite show, and admired the countrysides of eastern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The train makes four stops in total upon leaving St. Pancras: Lille, Brussels, Rotterdam, and finally Amsterdam.
Although it is much quicker to fly, flying to Amsterdam generates about the same amount of carbon emissions as taking the Eurostar there seven times! At the time of writing this, Eurostar en route to Amsterdam doesn’t allow you to bring bikes on the train with you, but you can choose to either rent bikes in Amsterdam for several days and then do a cycle trip that starts and ends in Amsterdam, or purchase your bikes in the city, like we did! Another option is to take local trains (which typically allow bikes) to Amsterdam from wherever your starting point may be. Long train journeys allow you to see parts of the countryside you might never see otherwise, and also come with a significantly lower carbon footprint than plane or (non-EV) car travel.
Within Amsterdam, using public transport is super easy too! If you have a contactless card, you can tap your card to the reader when you step on and off any of the trams, and for a low price. Our average tram journey in the city was between 4-5 stops and cost us only about €1.65 each per journey.
Thanks to our friends at Tenways E-bike, we were able to each pick up in Amsterdam our new CGO800S model bikes, designed for commutes, cycle trails, and—in our case—cross-country bike-packing trips feeling comfortable, safe, and smooth. As Londoners, we were used to picking up pay-as-you-go bikes that can be left across the city, but have often questionable mileage and sometimes shockingly poor suspension. After our first ride on our Tenways bikes through the busy cycle lanes of Amsterdam, the wide wheels, comfortable seat, back rack, waterproof panniers, excellent suspension, removable and rechargeable battery, and five-level electric bike boost, we were in love!
In collaboration with (actually) sustainable, Amsterdam-based hotel chain, Conscious Hotels, we had the incredible opportunity to stay in their Westerpark location, within walking or short tram-ride distance to the city centre. Of their four locations, Westerpark was the haven we enjoyed spending time in and coming back to each night, offering extremely comfortable beds decked out in organic cotton sheets, rooms powered by 100% clean energy, a fully vegetarian breakfast (with lovely vegan options), a conscious boutique, brimming with snacks, toiletries, drinks, and more from sustainable brands, as well as bike rental options and storage!
These few days of eating plenty of good vegan food and exploring Amsterdam like a local made us realise how incredible of a city Amsterdam is, as well as helped us rest up before setting off on the cycle trip.
OUR CYCLE TRIP ROUTE
DAY 4: The Journey to Keukenhof - from Amsterdam to Bloesempark to De Zilk - 43 km
*To clarify, although this was our first day of cycling, we had spent days 1-3 in Amsterdam, so we labelled this Day 4.
We set off from Conscious Hotels Westerpark at 10am, after a good-night’s sleep and a filling breakfast. Having fit all of our stuff into just one backpack and two large panniers (or saddlebags) each, we were surprised by how well the bike supported the weight, how secure our bags felt on the back, and just how easy it was for us to pedal with the cycle assist only on level one! We used two bungee cords each to secure our backpacks to the back rack, and we’ve included a full packing list below for a full listing of everything we brought on the trip!
Before officially leaving Amsterdam city limits this time of year however, the one place (or rather, park) we absolutely needed to see was Amsterdam’s Bloesempark, or blossom park. Full of over 400 flowering sakura trees (aka cherry blossoms), this feast for the eyes was well worth the cycle. Located just outside the city in the Amsterdamse-Bos, or “Woods of Amsterdam”, this park, three times the size of Central Park in New York City, is an enchanting place to walk, cycle, and—for only about one month per year—walk among flowering cherry blossoms! The cherry blossom trees form a perfect circle, and are only intersected by a walking path, that fortunately you don’t need to stay on. Walking amongst the trees and looking up at those beautiful pink flowers is a heavenly experience.
Despite being a rainy day, this cycle, along a lake and right past Schipol Airport from our Westerpark hotel, was SO worth it! Because of the short time period of the flowering, we could imagine on a sunny Saturday this place to be packed! Instead, because this was a grey, rainy Saturday, we mostly had the park to ourselves, with only what seemed to be a small wedding party in kimonos taking photos, some passersby, and the occasional couple. So if you’re headed to Amsterdam in late March/early April, pack your rain jacket, and go check those cherry blossoms out on a grey day!
After this quick detour, we began working our way southwest toward the town of De Zilk, where we were going to rest up for the night in an Airbnb before exploring the nearby Keukenhof Park in the morning.
Where light rain had followed us from Amsterdam, however, the cycle to De Zilk from the Bloesempark was an absolute washout! Thankfully we had brought rain jackets, but after 30 kilometres following main roads, crossing through parks and small, remote villages in the pouring rain, we were soaked to the bone. About halfway, we even took a rest under an overpass to let the rain subside a bit while we drip-dried ourselves as best as we could.
Our saving grace came in the form of the little Airbnb we stayed in, hosted by owners Jan and Mickey. Not only is the tiny home they built in their backyard situated overlooking neighbouring tulip fields, but the comfortable bed, spotless amenities, and delicious (included) breakfast they prepared for us the following morning was like the hug we needed after a long, wet, first day on the bike. Trust us when we say the pictures don’t do it justice, and it is perfect for two people!
Jan even messaged us a few weeks after we left to show us the incredible blooms of the tulip fields surrounding their house. If you’re ever interested in visiting the Keukenhof gardens, or are even just road tripping or cycling the coastal towns of the Netherlands, we couldn’t recommend Jan and Mickey’s place more! Check it out here!
DAY 5: To Utrecht from Keukenhof- 67 km
Today was a big day! We were finally getting to see the Keukenhof Park, aka the Mecca of spring flowers, namely tulips! As we waved goodbye to Mickey and Jan after the most beautiful breakfast spread ever, Keukenhof—also known as The Garden of Europe and is one of the largest flower gardens in the world—was only a short, 20-minute cycle away. We recommend booking your tickets in advance, especially considering the park is only open for eight weeks per year, but the great amenities mean that you can visit quite flexibly.
For example, we arrived by bike with two panniers and a big backpack each, and there were free, big lockers on-site where we could easily fit everything in three lockers. If you’re coming straight from the airport, or plan on heading back to the airport after, there is also a designated “luggage check” with an attendant who watches your stuff while you enjoy the park. People also checked their strollers/prams there too without issue. There is of course also a large area next to the parking lot where people lock up their bikes, as cycling through the park is not allowed.
Once you step inside, you’re immediately greeted by the vibrant sight of millions of tulip bulbs, hyacinths, and daffodils exploding into the spring sunshine. Spread across a number of enclosed pavilions and over 32 hectares (79 acres of land), the park’s paths meander along carefully manicured gardens, water features (one of which you can even walk on water!), flower exhibits, daffodil-crown-making huts, a Dutch windmill you can actually climb and so much more!
Don’t miss the Willem-Alexander building for some of the most gorgeous blooms you’ve ever seen, including rare varieties you can’t even imagine! We also found a number of plant-based snacks to enjoy for walking around, including a kroket (pea and potato croquette in a bun) and fries, or friet. Both were freshly made and were perfect for a quick snack.
Note from Us: Of course, having any one kind of crop in one area creates a monoculture, and discourages diverse ecosystems from thriving. Keukenhof, however, is a historic plot of land, formerly belonging to 15th-century Teylingen Castle, and falls under a charitable foundation of Count Carel De Graaf van Lynden, of one of the oldest noble families in the Netherlands. It additionally does not receive government subsidies, and its entire revenue is based off of ticket, food and beverage, and memorabilia sales within the park, supporting over 40 gardeners who plant the 7 million flower bulbs in the park every year. Similarly, the park is in fact home to a number of bird, insect, and pollinator species that support the ecosystem of the park year-round.
After two hours of walking around the park, we got back on our bikes, and set off across the country toward Utrecht, a student town located southeast of Amsterdam, and is known to be cool like Amsterdam, but without the tourists. As we got on our way though, we encountered significantly stronger headwinds than we had yet faced, and battled across the subsequent 65km facing what the locals call “the Dutch Mountains” aka the wind.
Of course, on electric bikes, our journey was much easier than had we been on regular bikes; however, with strong headwinds, 20kgs of weight on each bike in baggage, plus the weight of us, we noticed that our bikes’ battery life began to fade faster than we expected.
In the meantime, we passed beautiful rivers, plenty of greenhouses, and through quaint villages scattered across the countryside.
As we pushed on toward Kasteel De Haar, the Netherlands’ largest, most-fairytale-like castle right outside Utrecht, we dropped our speed to zero, meaning no electric bike push is given, and made it to see the castle’s exterior right before it closed, and with about 20% battery left each. The surrounding wetlands too were absolutely stunning along the way, full of paths for people, and plenty of space for plant and animal life to call home!
From Keukenhof to Kasteel de Haar on a windy day took about 3 hours, including one or two roadside snack breaks. With only 12 kilometres to go until reaching our Utrecht accommodation, we just decided to get as far as we could, as fast as we could before the bikes died (we know how this sounds, ugh, effort.) We quickly fell like dominos. Ben called out “It’s gone!” as he crossed a road near the Utrecht city limits, and Ciara’s bike died as she climbed probably the highest point in the area, the Gele brug (or “yellow bridge”) of Utrecht.
From there, we were ready for a shower and a rest, so we pushed through until we made it to the beautiful Airbnb of Arjan. Situated in one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Utrecht, Arjan’s place was another incredible stay we feel so fortunate to have found, located five minutes from the city centre, and ten minutes from Utrecht’s beautiful canals. If you ever visit Utrecht, we highly recommend staying with Arjan. Check out his Airbnb here!
DAY 6: Rotterdam - 71 km
Here’s where we realised we made a mistake—we only gave ourselves one day to explore Utrecht! This city is amazing for young people, with tonnes of plant-based eateries and vintage shops, and an entirely sustainable department store we fell in love with, called Green UP. Who needs more high-street brands? With a plant-based café inside, every sustainable brand you could imagine for home products, clothing, beauty, stationary, baby and pet departments, an antiques hub downstairs, and more, Green UPs everywhere would make living green easy, accessible, and fun for everyone!
After cycling around the canals, checking out a few vintage shops, and checking out the town’s St. Martin’s Cathedral, we headed for lunch at one of the best vegan Italian places we’ve ever been to. VegItalian is a fully vegetarian and mostly plant-based Italian restaurant in the heart of Utrecht. The connected restaurant and deli served both traditional antipasti, pizza, and pasta dishes, takeaway sandwiches and wraps, as well as some of the most delicious desserts we’ve ever had. Limoncello tarts and raspberry cheesecake after a course of truffle linguine and vegan pepperoni pizza? Check! Before making our way back across the country, we (like the giant eco-nerds we are) checked out the world’s largest bike parking garage, which happens to be attached to Utrecht’s central train station.
Much to the confusion and dismay of the garage attendant, we just did a lap around the garage to check it out, and see how over 22,000 bikes can be stored long- or short-term. Imagine if more cities prioritised bikes and people over cars? Talk about cleaner air, healthier people, and more outdoor space to do more of what we love!
Three sunny, beautiful hours and 59 kilometres of farmland later, we arrived in the bustling metropolis of Rotterdam, where we’d spend the next two days. Having gotten used to historic cities with old-world charm, Rotterdam’s soaring skyscrapers and busy port were a bit of a shock at first, but we knew we had the most unique accommodation yet awaiting us in the harbour: a floating, eco-tiny home!
Known as Wikkelboats, these five floating tiny homes offer a unique stay for couples and families alike on a calm, relatively private section of Rotterdam’s harbour. Their roofs are covered in solar panels, with heating and hot water coming from underwater heat pumps, and are complete with full kitchens, a bathroom with a great shower, and a back deck to relax on. Compared to a standard single-family home, Wikkelboats are also 3x more sustainable! Learn more about Wikkelboats’ sustainability specs here.
The interior, too, may look like wood planks, but it’s actually made from 24 layers of compressed cardboard! This not only adds insulation and recycles cardboard, but it also helps with keeping the tiny house quiet day and night. The gentle rocking of the pontoon was a little off-putting for us at first, but after 20 minutes we got used to it, and we’ve never slept better or fallen asleep faster!
DAY 7: A Green Project in Rotterdam + The Kinderdijk Windmills - 16.3 km
Waking up in the Wikkelboats, we felt refreshed and excited for the beautiful, sunny day that lay ahead—especially since we were visiting an incredible project, located in the heart of Rotterdam’s port!
In a hub full of incredible start-ups known as the Innovation Dock, located right at the Nieuwe Mass River’s edge, we checked out Urban Reef, a start-up that designs and creates habitats that encourage growth and diversity of species in urban settings. In other words, by 3D-printing with living materials like clay, their reef-like structures allow microorganisms, insects, birds, and more to choose where they want to settle in urban settings like cities, rather than humans determining what species are “allowed” to thrive there.
These urban reefs can absorb water, are porous enough to hold nutrients, and can form microclimates for wildlife to thrive. We had the opportunity to speak with one of the co-founders, Max, who explained the origins, evolution, and future of Urban Reef. To learn more about the impactful work Max and his colleagues at Urban Reef are doing, a full video of our time with the Urban Reef team is coming soon to our YouTube channel, so stay tuned!
Cycling back along the blustery port roads toward central Rotterdam, we crossed the river by cycling directly under it through the Maastunnel, an underwater tunnel opened in 1942 for pedestrians and cyclists, popping up in Rotterdam’s historic district full of beautiful homes, cute shops, and a small port where locals now keep their boats. We then set off for one of the most breathtaking day trips we had been looking forward to seeing the entire trip: the Kinderdijk Windmills!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk are some of the longest-standing, still-inhabited windmills in Holland, dating back to the 1740s! One family, whose relatives live in several of the windmills, can even trace their ancestry back to 1746 as inhabitants and millers on the site. The land the windmills are on is beautiful wetlands, surrounded by walking and cycling paths that go on for miles!
We highly recommend cycling through Kinderdijk on a sunny day, and you can rent bikes to do so at the area’s main entrance. If you’re not cycling or driving to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam, there is also a waterbus that leaves from the centre of the city, costs less than €5 per person (return), and takes about 40 minutes. Bringing bikes with you on board is free of charge, and there’s a great area to lock them up. We did this there and back so that we could see Rotterdam and the surrounding villages by water.
For our time in Wikkelboats, we mostly grabbed some groceries from the neighbouring supermarket, as the kitchen was the perfect size for some easy cooking, but one night we were craving something a little different, and ordered excellent Ethiopian food from Dahlak, which we found on UberEats. We got the Veggie Combo for two (fully vegan), and the amount of food we got could have easily fed 4 people, so we had leftovers for lunch the next day. Check out their menu here!
DAY 8: Delft + Zeeland + Rest Day from Rotterdam - 83.8 km
Leaving Wikkelboats was tough, as the little home was extremely cosy and allowed you to wake up well-rested and looking out at the beautiful, calm waters of the harbour. Today, however, we couldn’t wait to get to the next city on our list: Delft! A quick, 20-minute train ride from Rotterdam Centraal or 40-minute cycle, the town of Delft is a MUST-see and we only wish we had spent a few days here!
Known for its centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship in the iconic blue and white porcelain-making, Delft feels like a beautiful, mini Amsterdam from a century ago. The narrow cobblestone streets lined with cafés, canals, boutiques, and porcelain shops give this city the charming, yet urban feeling it has. As well as being the original seat of the independent Dutch government and royal family, as founded by William of Orange, Delft is also the birthplace of Baroque artist Johannes Vermeer (think: The Girl with the Pearl Earring), and has museums, churches, and buildings full of rich history.
For a quick lunch, we stopped at Kek café, near The Markt, or Delft’s main square, looking right at the Nieuwe Kerk, to enjoy the BIGGEST vegan BLTs we had ever had! Using marinated rice paper in place of the usual bacon, we were both pleasantly surprised by how delicious and filling this was, although very awkward to eat.