Many cyclists come to Holland for a bike and boat tour. What is a bike and boat tour and why are these cycling holidays so popular? I got the chance to find out when Boat-Bike Tours invited me along on their Northern Tour.
What is a bike and boat tour?
A bike and boat tour is a cross between a cycling holiday and a cruise. Rather than cycling from hotel to hotel, you spend the nights on a boat that travels along with you. It means you don't have to pack and unpack your belongings every day. You keep the same cabin, but have a different view every day. The size and type of boat will vary per tour. On some tours you have a choice - it's like choosing between a 3 or 4 star hotel with a price to match. During the tour all meals are provided, including a picnic lunch to take with you, and you're well looked after by the crew.
Some parts of the tour you travel by boat, so you get to enjoy some of the beautiful Dutch scenery from the water. Most stages you can do by bike. The tour is self-guided: you cycle at your own pace and can stop to have a look around wherever you want. If you don't feel like cycling, you're welcome to stay on board and sail to the next stop. You'll meet up again with your fellow passengers at the end of the day. This makes this type of tour suitable for different levels of cyclists.
The main focus of a bike and boat tour is the cycling. For those who prefer less bike and more boat, there are also bike and sail tours. In that case you'll be staying on a sailing boat. Cycle trips are alternated with sailing trips on the IJsselmeer and the Wadden Sea.
Going on the Northern Tour
In July 2015 I went on the Boat Bike Northern Tour to see for myself what a bike and holiday is like. This 8-day tour starts in Amsterdam and takes you through typical Dutch polders with many windmills to the Zaanse Schans and Alkmaar. From here you follow the North Sea coast up to Den Helder. After a day on the Wadden Island of Texel, you make your way back to Amsterdam again via the former Zuiderzee villages of Medemblik, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Volendam and Marken.
Quite a few people made use of the option to book extra nights at a hotel in Amsterdam before or after the trip. Several people combined the Northern Tour with the Bike Boat Southern Tour, which also starts and ends at the same place in the harbour of Amsterdam each Saturday. They were very positive about this combination, as the tours complement each other very well.
Our boat for the Northern Tour was the Angela Esmee, a comfortable cruise ship with room for around 80 passengers. As you'd expect, each cabin has its own facilities, but due to the size of the boat the accommodation is smaller than the average hotel room. Not that my fellow travellers minded much, they said the cabin was just for sleeping anyway. There's plenty of room to relax and socialise on deck and in the salon, where drinks are available throughout the day.
The group was more diverse than I'd expected. I counted 11 nationalities, so there was a mixture of different languages. There were couples of different ages, small groups of friends and several families with teenage children. There were experienced and less experienced cyclists. Although I was the only one travelling on my own this wasn't a problem as I soon made lots of friends. Obviously my ability to speak various languages came in very handy!
Several people brought their own bike; most people used one of the rental bikes that were provided. You could choose between a traditional Dutch bike with 7 gears or an E-bike. At the beginning of the tour you could try out and select your bike. The rental bikes come with a red bicycle bag and a bike repair kit for small repairs. Of course you can always contact the guide should you need any help along the route. On the boat a bike repair team made sure the bikes remained in working order. They were so efficient that you'd find them mending a puncture in the morning before you'd even realised you'd got one!
Not just about cycling
The Northern Tour is a self-guided tour. You are given a set of maps and cycling instructions for each section of the route. In the evening, at the briefings (in English and in German on this trip) - which were indeed brief - the guide fills you in on the various places of interest you'll be coming past the next day. The length of each day trip is between 35 and 55 km, with a shorter alternative if possible. You can cycle at your own pace, stopping wherever you want, whenever you want, or even make a detour, as long as you're back at the boat at the appointed time. The boat won't wait for you!
To me, 50 km hardly sounds like a whole day of cycling, although it may sound very ambitious to others. So I was very curious to find out how the tour would work for experienced cyclists. I must confess I was secretly concerned I'd be back at the boat far too soon, waiting for all the others to return... I needn't have worried. The tour is not just about cycling: the schedule allows you enough freedom to follow your own interests. There are museums you can visit, lots of lovely villages and towns you can explore - some people in my group even went for a swim in the sea.
Some evenings the programme included a guided tour of the town, other evenings entertainment was provided on the boat. All in all, there's plenty to do and see on the Northern Tour for everyone. How many times did I hear people say: I didn't expect Holland would be so nice!
What really struck me is how well the concept of a bike and boat holiday works for such a mixed group of cyclists, from young to old, from experienced to less experienced. If all you want is to cycle as many kilometres as possible day after day, this is probably not the type of trip for you. But if you're interested a cycling holiday that allows you to take your time to enjoy the Dutch countryside and the many beautiful villages and towns along the route, I can certainly recommend a boat and bike holiday.
For an overview of the bike and boat tours on offer, go to our Holidays section.