The Netherlands is one of the easiest countries for carbon footprint aware travellers to get around: the land is flat, so perfect for cycling over, and the canal network, originally built for drainage, has provided the nation with excellent transport links. So book your barge and lash your bikes on top of it, see the country and earn yourself some green credentials while you're at it.
This itinerary takes you out from Amsterdam onto the canals and back, via some of the highlights found in the old port towns, then takes you off the canals and on your bike to explore the countryside.
Where the Rembrandt, Anne Frank and the Van Gogh Museum meet the red light district, Amsterdam, more than having a mixed reputation, has several different ones, and the perfect Amsterdam itinerary is in the eye of the beholder - have a look though our list of best things to do in Amsterdam for inspiration.
Most visitors arrive in the Netherlands via Amsterdam. This itinerary is more about the barging and the biking so skips the city breaking in favour of meeting your barge and potentially taking a few barge driving lessons from the owner, before loading up your bikes and heading though the city's canals towards Kudelstaart where you can moor for the evening, and take a bike ride around town if you have time. Alternatively you can moor in Amsterdam and ride out to Kudelstaart if your legs need the exercise.
Leiden is where Rembrandt was born, and is reachable from Kudelstaart via road or via the system of canals joining lakes. Both routes take full advantage of the charming scenery this district of lakes affords, the cycling route potentially passing along the river of Kromme Mijdrecht and though pretty villages: Meye and Papenveer being two of the prettiest.
Two branches of the Old Rhine enter Leiden from the east, and the other canals branch off from there, often lined with lovely parks and gardens, including the Leiden University Garden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, founded during the Renaissance, and a key site in the growth of the Dutch bulb industry. Many of the buildings in the town centre date from the 17th Century - and are very pretty.
Naturalis, the Netherlands' National Natural History Museum is worth visiting if you're into that sort of thing. The Leiden University is definitely worth a bike around for its history and architecture - it has Holland's only purpose built 17th Century library.
Pop down to Katwijk on the coast, or come up the night before then set sail for Haarlem. Unless you're travelling in late April or early May, in which case you should start out early and skip Katwijk to make way for plenty of time at Keukenhof Gardens. Sand dunes litter this stretch of coast and there are some interesting riding trails around the dunes at Zandvoort.
Haarlem has always been a trading city, and port, known for tulips, linen and other textiles and beer - and it still is, this is supposed to be one of the best places to shop in the Netherlands. The main action has always centred around the Grote Markt which is also a good place to have your evening meal.
This is one of the longest boating days, crossing the North Sea canal, then heading back towards Amsterdam, then north to Zaanse Schans, an ancient, living hamlet with windmills and 17th Century residences. Past Zaanse Schans, follow the River Zaan, then the Knollendammer Canal, mooring in Alkmaar - which is known for its cheese.
After a days barging get out on your bikes and survey the local scenery more closely. Bergen, famously narrow Schoorl village, and past the dunes the seaside town of Petten, near the Hondsbossche sea wall, are all within comfortable biking distance, and there's some scenic woodland separating them.
Get to Purmerend via Schermerhorn, which proudly sports three 17th Century windmills, and Hoorn, a historic port town and one of the bases of the Dutch East India Company. From there follow the Beernsterringvaart canal to Purmerend.
If there's time, take a biking break in Hoorn and ride along the shore of Lake Ijssel.
Visit Edam, on the coast of Lake Ijssel, for the you know what, then head back towards Amsterdam, possibly via Volendam, Marken, Utidam and Durgerdam, but you should be getting the hang of the canal system by now, and may want to plan a different route.
If you're interested in spending a few extra days in Amsterdam at the end of your barging, biking break, you'll be happy to hear that there's a lot you can do there without having to pay a lot for the privilege.
It's possible to book your barge, and the bikes to go on top of it, though a travel specialist, or even to get an all inclusive deal travelling with a group along a similar route; but if you want to book your barge and bikes independently there are websites featuring lists of privately owned barges for rent, and these are the bet places to start - don't forget to ensure you book a barge in the right marina, Loosdrecht, is just a few kilometres outside of Amsterdam, so it's OK to consider booking a barge beginning there and maybe adding a day to the length of your trip.
Amazingly, in many places moorings are free, and more often than not close to a nice cafe or bar. In Amsterdam you can moor in the marina, just across from central station, which you can get a ferry to. You need a permit to barge round Amsterdam, and you do have to pay to stay in the marina there, but it's very convenient.
The best time to barge though Holland is between early April and the end of May when your journey will benefit from lines of bright coloured, tulip shaped well wishers on the canal banks.
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