Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

How to… cycle London to Amsterdam

Two wheels good: from London to the home of canals and pot cafés
© Claudia Cahalane

So, you fancy cycling London to Amsterdam, but you’d rather not have to do the whole ‘minimum fundraising target’ thing that goes with the big official events? Well, this summer a group of us did just that: we organised four days of cycling, gorgeous scenery and plenty of nice café stops for ourselves on a trip from London town to the home of canals and pot cafés.

We did raise a few quid for our favourite charity: London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (LLGS), but this was done casually, rather than strictly. The trip took a lot of organisation, but if everyone chips in with arranging it, you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime. Below, are some tips on what worked for us, which will hopefully give you a head start for your own trip.

Route planning

GPS, of course, makes everything so much easier these days, but once you get to Holland, a fair bit of the navigation can be done just by following signs and cycle lanes – if you’re the sort of person who’s relatively in tune with these things. Our leader, a volunteer for LLGS worked out the route at home using a very cool site called bikeroutetoaster.com. It lets you plot your journey, and will give you full directions and/or a file which you can upload to your GPS. You can see contours on there too, although, Holland really is totally flat. Our leader also went through the intended route on mapmyride.com.

Choosing your crossing

Obviously there is the small matter of the sea between us and the rest of Europe, so you’ll need to decide how you’ll cross it. Assuming you don’t want to get your wetsuit on and turn this into a dualathon, most opt for one of two choices. There’s the Dover to Calais crossing, and the Harwich to the Hook of Holland one. Both allow foot passengers, whereas some others don’t.

Central London to Harwich is about 85 miles, and London to Dover is about 70, depending on the exact route you go. We chose Harwich and did it in one day. It was about 10 hours in the saddle, and didn’t make for much of a leisurely jaunt, but we all had plenty of energy for the first leg and it was good to get out of the UK speedily. You could always split this bit into two days if preferred.

Mileage counts

We picked the Harwich route for two reasons. One, because going to Calais would have turned our trip into a 300 mile + cycle – too much for four days of fun, we thought. Secondly, there’s a rather convenient late overnight crossing on the Harwich ferry. You have to book into a cabin (and boy will you be glad of that cosy room after 85 miles on the road), which costs about £60 each.
We woke up refreshed and had a hearty breakfast onboard before embarking on our second day, which saw us cover about 45 miles. Our total mileage was supposed to be about 180 miles, taking the scenic route, rather than the direct one, but we ended up doing about 210 miles all in.

Man (and woman) with a van

Even if you think you can travel light for four/five days and chuck everything in a couple of panniers, you’re probably wrong. The main organiser for our trip has run a couple of these rides, and believes a van is pretty essential, especially for carrying a spare bike in case there are any major problems. We were lucky enough to get two LLGS volunteers to drive for us. And, as well as carting our stuff, they served as a much-needed welcome party when we arrived at lunch points and our final destination each day. They also found the best cafés and pubs for us en-route.

Night rests

After our first night on the ferry, we did about 45 miles each day for the following three days, staying in Rotterdam on the first night and Utrecht on the second. The fourth night was in the ‘dam. All our evening stops were busy cities with good nightlife, which we indulged in for a few hours before crashing out.

Our favourite hostels


Rotterdam – funky, pretty clean, with nice brekkie and big cheap jugs of beer; perfect at the end of a hard day’s pedalling.

Heart of Amsterdam Hostel

Amsterdam – in a very seedy part of town, but comfortable and clean with themed rooms.

Day stops

There were very few pubs along the way, which was probably a good thing, but we did find ample lovely places to stop for a breather. We generally took a quick snack/drink break every hour, a full lunch hour and other breaks when needed. Here are a few of our top stops.

The beach at the Hook of Holland

Not long after arriving at the Hook, we took a lovely off-road stretch and swiftly ended up at a breathtaking beach, while heading in the direction of Rotterdam. We can’t work out what the name of the beach was, but there are details of it here.


About halfway between the Hook and Rotterdam we came across this delightful small city, known for its famous pottery. I’d love a weekend there.

The mini zip slide at Kranlingse Bos forest/park

We came across this very soon after leaving Rotterdam for Utretcht. It was pouring with rain, but we all had to have a go for some light relief. Great fun! And, a lovely park too.

Lunch at Eetcafe Lumiere, Uderwater

A very quiet, stunning little town, Uderwater had a bit of a shock when we turned up all sweaty and oily. We ended up in this beautiful, slightly decadent restaurant which served wholesome poached eggs and salmon and large wedges of apple pie with fresh mint tea.

Dick Bruna House/Miffy museum, Utrecht

A visit here was the perfect antidote to a very blustery, wet day on the bikes. We sat on comfy chairs and listened to Miffy stories on the headphones in the museum’s sensory room. Bliss.

Lunch at De Onthaasting, Amersfoort

Halfway between Utretcht and Amsterdam, we discovered this splendid airy modern cafe restaurant. It’s a social enterprise that trains and employs people with learning difficulties.

Ground rules

To make things run smoothly, make sure you come up with a set of basic rules that everyone is happy with. We opted for an average speed of 10 miles an hour, which is a fairly average, but not slack, pace for most people. We tried to ensure that a fast cyclist was at the back as a ‘sweeper’ most of the time, looking out for everyone up front. It’s demoralising being the slow one stuck at the back all the time. Ideally, you should go for some long training rides together before the trip to see if you’re all happy with the speed.

Are you fit enough?

I’m quite fit and had recently done a marathon before I went on the trip, so I thought cycling about 10 miles (or a little more) an hour, on the flat, would be easy, but we endured some extreme weather (in August!) and my fitness was seriously tested. Do as much training as possible on the bike beforehand, fitting in hills and sprints whenever you can.

What bike?

Most of our group was on racers, and I was on a hybrid. Both are fine, but mountain bikes aren’t. Single speeds would probably be manageable, but only if the whole group is on them.

Bike maintenance

Learn a bit about it, or at least make sure a few members of the group know what they’re doing in this area. There are lots of free maintenance courses around. Why not choose a local shop or project like Squeaky Chains for advice and maintenance.

The Dutch traffic system

There are so many different types of transport in Holland, it can be a minefield at junctions. We were also shocked to find motorbikes are allowed in cycle lanes! Get clued up here.

A nice position

You might be used to cycling a certain way and have had no problems, but if your positioning isn’t right, you could find yourself very uncomfortable after 10 hours in the saddle. See the ‘good cycling positioning section’ here.

Food and drink

Energy drinks and water should be carried in your day sack and you will need plenty of protein – takes some protein bars, shakes and nuts etc., Sweets and sports beans are good for a quick burst of energy when levels are running low. Don’t overload yourself though.

Kit list

  • First aid pack
  • Helmet
  • One pannier or day sack
  • At least two or three spare inner tubes
  • Waterproofs
  • Lights
  • High vis clothing
  • Padded cycling shorts
  • Sports bras for women
  • Loose underwear
  • Spare bike in van
  • Suncream
  • Lipsalve

Note: If you are flying home, remember weight restrictions on your luggage!