Cycling in the Netherlands is as obvious as it is fun. In the western – and lowest – part of the country there are hardly hills, simply flat land, bridges, canals and quacking ducks. Nevertheless, this cycling tour requires some serious choices to make. The tour connects two medieval town centres: Utrecht and Leiden. If you cycle from east to west you’ll benefit from cycling what we would call “downhill”: starting in Utrecht at 18m above sea level and finishing in Leiden at 3m above sea level. But. Given the prevailing wind direction, you‘d better choose to go from west to east if you prefer not to ride into a headwind. Difficult choice, we know.
We started our tour at the Dom square in downtown Utrecht. Along the route we encountered typical Dutch landscapes, windmills, green dikes and black-and-white cows in the best kept secret of Western Holland: the Green Heart. This relatively thinly populated and mostly rural area lies between Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague.
On your way through Utrecht, notice sawmill De Ster and the old locks of the Merwede canal. This is where locals swim on a hot summer day. After about 30 minutes of cycling you will leave the city behind and castle De Haar soon will draw your attention. De Haar is the largest castle in The Netherlands. First described in the late 14th century, and reconstructed by Pierre Cuypers in 1892. It took 15 years to rebuild the castle in “Cuypers style”, whose architecture you may also admire at Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum. De Haar is the best preserved fairy-tale castle of the Netherlands.
The river Grecht is one of the many slowly streaming lowland rivers you will pass on your route. Most of them have sturdy bridges, but to cross the river Grecht you’ll have to make use of the excellent towing ferry for cyclists and hikers. Today you will be captain as well as sailor of your own ferry. To get across, operate the winch cable connected to the opposite river bank. Romantic moments guaranteed!
Continue from there on narrow winding roads and after a while the lakes of Nieuwkoop will come in sight. The lakes are what remained after the intensive extraction of peat in this area from the 14th-19th century. Nowadays, the lakes are European nature conservation areas with limited recreation activities. These restrictions make the lake and surrounding fields a hotspot for birdwatchers. Natuurmonumenten organises boat tours on the lake, if you’re lucky you may spot one of the rare otters.
Along the road that follows river Meijer take a break at restaurant and gallery De Blauwe Meije and enjoy the peaceful view on the water. Following the meandering river you will soon get to Zwammerdam. This village was named after an illegally constructed dam in the river (called Suadenburcherdam) to protect the area against high water. Low lands crime scenes! After Zwammerdam continue North and then South-West again, passing more typical low land lakes, such as Lakes Langeraar and Lake Braassemer.
After about 80 kilometres follow the slowly flowing Old River Rhine until you reach Leiden. If you’re not tired yet of the cycling tour explore the pretty, old town centre and drink a Dutch beer (ask the barkeeper for Leidsch Blond beer).
- Costs: bicycle rental per day €7.50 (regular bicycle) – €50 (racing bike) | train ticket Leiden-Utrecht: € 9.10 and bicycle train ticket: € 6,-.
- Address: Start of the route at Tourist Information Utrecht (52.091040, 5.121023), finish at Tourist Information Leiden (52.165788, 4.483721).
- More info: bicycle rental Utrecht, or try race bike rental Utrecht. If you want to cycle in the opposite direction see bicycle rental possibilities in Leiden. Here’s some general observations from a foreigner about cycling in the Netherlands.
- Bring: suitable clothes for cycling, rain coat, water and snacks, bicycle repair kit.
- Wikiloc: route Crossing the Green Heart by bicycle or navigate using the cycling network App Route.nl.