Fresh air guaranteed – five rides along the Netherlands’ dikes

Road Cycling Collection by Merijn Heijne | Mapmeisters

To start things off in a fun and educational way, did you know that our world-famous Afsluitdijk is not actually a real dike at all, but a dam? According to Rijkswaterstaat, a dike separates water from land and a dam separates water from water.

Two more interesting facts about dikes: the oldest dikes in the Netherlands probably date back to the 11th century and every province has at least one type of dike. This is because there are seawater-retaining, river-water-retaining, and inner-water-retaining dikes. Dams, dikes, whatever you want to call them – they are great!

Cycling along a dike, you are guaranteed wide views and lots of wind. You may end up struggling against the weather or free riding at full-speed with a tailwind all the way. Usually, you’ll experience both as you explore the various meandering dikes in our country.

Rijkswaterstaat defines a dike as follows: '... an elevation which is constructed to protect the land behind it against high water and waves'. As the Netherlands largely lies below sea level, there are dikes everywhere. What a stroke of luck for us cyclists! It means that you are guaranteed fresh air throughout the country. I went looking for five of the best routes along dikes in the Netherlands.

In Nijmegen, close to the German border, I skip the beautiful and hilly hinterland, this time sending you along the River Waal. From Nijmegen, you cycle eastwards towards the Millinger Tea Garden. Be sure to stop there for a while, but check the opening hours in advance. From the Millingerwaard, you cross the Waal on a ferry. Across the river, you ride about 30 km (18.6 miles) to the bridge at Ewijk before finishing back in Nijmegen.

In Zeeland, I leave from Terneuzen which lies to the east along the water. You then ride back to the coast, just past Nieuwvliet, via the quiet inland of Zeeland and a few pretty cobblestone streets. A cycle path along the river takes you back to Terneuzen via Breskens.

In Utrecht province, there is no escaping the Lek and the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. You set off from Culemborg. At Wijk bij Duurstede, you take a ferry to cross the water before traversing the Lek again a little later via the bridge at Vianen after the Verdronken Bos (beautiful name, right?).
In the north, you go on a beautiful Tour from Leeuwarden through Friesland and Groningen. It’s not an Elfstedentocht (‘Eleven cities tour’), although you do sometimes join the famous skating route. At the Wadden Sea, you ride along the coast in the direction of National Park Lauwersmeer. Finally, you cycle through Dokkum and back to Leeuwarden.

From Enkhuizen, you ride straight through North Holland over the West Frisian Circular Dyke (Omringdijk) which is a nice day out, maybe two if you want to take it easy. The Omringdijk, some 125 km (77 miles) long, was formed over the centuries by connecting several short dikes. This is quite handy for us cyclists.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    02:37
    42.8 mi
    16.3 mph
    475 ft
    475 ft
    Ferry
    Expert road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    Whether you come to Nijmegen by car and park at Kelfkensbos (parking garage), arrive by train or can start immediately by bicycle, you will quickly cycle out of the center of this student city on the Waal. Within a few minutes you have already exchanged the hustle and bustle of the city for the tranquility of nature in the Gelderse Poort. Over the Ooijse Bandijk you cycle along the Oude Waal, a true paradise for birds and bird watchers.Via a few small hamlets and hamlets with beautiful names such as Tiengeboden and Greenlands, you follow the Ooijse Bandijk to the Waal, one of the major rivers of the Netherlands. It is true that there are no bison in the vicinity of Bisonbaai, but there may be some primal cattle and konik horses. If you encounter these animals on the way, keep a safe distance.The water is also teeming with small beaches and other nice places to stop in good weather. Take your time with this Tour of just under 70 kilometers. Continue your route away from the water over the winding Kerkdijk in the direction of the Millingerwaard. I don't like to stop on the road myself, unless I really run out of food or drink, but I like to make an exception for the beautiful Millinger Tea Garden. This idyllic spot is sometimes a bit difficult to reach on an unpaved road, but usually also easy to do on a racing bike and definitely worth it! For the opening times, visit millingertheetuin.nl.Via the ferry you cross the Waal and you cycle north of the Waal past a special work of art. I could tell you all about it, but I'm sure you'll know what I'm talking about once you cycle past it. It is much more fun to "meet" this work of art without any prior knowledge. Then it is under Gendt to Lent with a beautiful view of Nijmegen.At Ewijk you cross the bridge and cycle again on the south side of the Waal above Beuningen. Enjoy the beautiful floodplains and relaxing views of the river. Perhaps you do not have time for this at all and it is hard work against the wind or enjoy high speed downwind.Via Weurt and Nijmegen-West you are back in the urban area. When the weather is nice, enjoy a well-deserved terrace on the Nijmeegse Waalkade in the lower city. But be warned, the devil of this tour may still be in the tail for some: after the Velorama bicycle museum, a short, spicy vowel climb back to Kelfkensbos follows.

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    Intermediate
    04:05
    63.4 mi
    15.5 mph
    350 ft
    350 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The 1953 flood disaster showed how important dikes are to our country. A lot has happened and improved since then to keep a constant eye on the water levels and hopefully provide timely warnings.This Tour departs from Terneuzen (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen). This city is best reached by car from the north through the Westerscheldetunnel or from the south via Belgium. Terneuzen itself does not have a train station. The nearest station is Goes op Zuid-Beveland. Or take the ferry from Vlissingen to Breskens by bike and start your Tour there, that is also possible.From Terneuzen you cycle a few kilometers along the Western Scheldt, but you quickly dive into the surprisingly diverse and quiet Zeeland interior. Surprising as in small roads, dikes, through roads, cobblestones and even some gravel. With Man Bijt Hond-like place names along the way, such as Val and Schapenbout. Zeeland has it all. And wind. And water. Yes, Zeeland has of course sufficient. Incidentally, this Tour is fine to do on your racing bike with 25mm tires.There was also plenty of time to give your thoughts free rein during this Tour of more than 100 kilometers. Also try not to think about or hum along to the songs of Zeeland bands like BLØF and Racoon. At least I did not succeed. And that sometimes became quite annoying when the same song keeps popping up in your head. Here on the coast… Zoutelande… while it is completely different in Zeeland!After Schapenbout you skim along the south side of Terneuzen towards Philippine. In the vicinity of Pyramide (yes, that really exists) you bounce over the cobblestones of the Smokkelweg, perhaps the longest cobblestone strip in Zeeland. And if you think after the first 1.5 kilometers that it is over, unfortunately, whether you go left or right at the T-junction, the cobblestones happily continue for a while. I really have a love-hate relationship with those shitty things. Always fun to do, just as much fun to get rid of. By the way, at IJzendijke in the area you will have to endure such a delicious, but slightly shorter strip, enjoy it!It's time to head for the water again, isn't it? After IJzendijke and Schoondijke you set course towards Nieuwvliet and then it is through the dunes to Breskens. From Nieuwvliet it is only along the water on your left, sometimes also outside the dikes on the tidal path. Hopefully that will be dry, this is really fantastic to be able to cycle over. You cycle really close to the water. And if you don't want to or if you can't go through the water, you can always cycle along the top.Beyond Hoofdplaat, it heads southeast back to Terneuzen. Just before Terneuzen you go through the De Braakman nature reserve on a great gravel path. Winding through industry and ports you arrive in Terneuzen again, but not before you have passed the impressive sea locks.

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  • Intermediate
    02:24
    43.8 mi
    18.2 mph
    375 ft
    375 ft
    Ferry
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    "Shall we do a Round of Lek?" This is a fairly normal question for cyclists in the vicinity of Utrecht (city and province). However, it has nothing to do with the desire to replace an inner tube, but everything with the wind through your helmet and beautiful views over the water.This Tour takes you along the Lek and also includes a portion of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, or the ARK. This canal connects the port of Amsterdam with the Ruhr area in Germany and is the busiest canal in the world with some 100,000 ships a year.You start the Tour in Culemborg, on the south side of the Lek. Here you could immediately take a ferry to the other side - or back to Culemborg from Schalkwijk - but you don't do that now. You cycle on the Beusichemsedijk via Redichem along Beusichem. Again, you still do not take the ferry to the other side of the Lek.You cycle on the Lekbandijk for a while. A bandijk, also called winter dyke, is the dyke along a river that prevents flooding of surrounding areas. Unlike the summer dyke, the winter dyke is high enough to hold back the highest water levels.At the Prinses Marijkesluizen you cross the ARK and soon afterwards you take the ferry from Rijswijk to Wijk bij Duurstede. You cycle in a westerly direction past some farms and then take a challenging clinker strip along the canal. Once you have exited, cross the ARK again via the bridge.You are now driving about eight kilometers over the Lekdijk. Try to avoid busy days here because you can count on the Lekdijk being used by many road users: old-timers, cyclists, motorcycles, walkers, you name it.At Fort Honswijk, take the Gedekte Community Road to Work on the Korte Uitweg, aren't they beautiful names? It is also teeming with such fortresses in this area. A few kilometers further you turn right onto the Elpad, a beautiful cycle path under the trees and along the Verdronken Bos. At the end you turn left towards the Plofsluis at Nieuwegein, the most northern point of this Tour.From the picturesque Vreeswijk you cycle over the Lekboulevard to the Jan Blankenbrug near Vianen. There you cross the Lek again, safe from the speeding cars on the A2. The Lekdijk near Vianen will be closed until the beginning of 2021 due to works, you will be diverted on the spot. Rest assured, you will soon cycle along the Lek again.Via Everdingen and Goilberdingen you cycle back to Culemborg. A nice place to stop is the terrace of Werk aan het Spoel, built between 1816-1824 as part of the New Dutch Waterline. Less than five kilometers later you are back in Culemborg over the dike.

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    Intermediate
    04:29
    77.1 mi
    17.2 mph
    375 ft
    375 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Dykes, windmills, skating routes, National Parks, it is all in this Tour of 124 kilometers through Friesland and Groningen. The start is in Leeuwarden, at the Elfstedenhal. From there you cycle in a northwestern direction to the Leeuwarderbos. After the forest you cycle along the Dokkumer Ee (in Frisian: Dokkumer Ie), the towing canal between Leeuwarden and you guessed it: Dokkum.The section between Bartlehiem and Dokkum (and vice versa) is part of the well-known Elfstedentocht. Would it ever happen again that we could enjoy this great skating competition and tour with thousands of participants? The skaters have to do this part twice. They go from Bartlehiem to Dokkum and back again. The narrow cycle path also really runs right along the (skating) water. At the famous bridge of Bartlehiem you have to get off your bike for a while, but that only adds to the Eleven Cities feeling of this Tour.Via Lichtaard you cycle in a northerly direction to the Wadden Sea. At Holwerd you could possibly take the boat to the Wadden Islands. In this Tour, however, you will ignore it. You cycle about 25 kilometers along the Wadden Sea and keep in mind the wind, lots of wind. You may be lucky and there is a strong breeze in your back via Wierum and Moddergat to the Groningse Lauwersoog.After all the previous water of the Wadden Sea on your left, Lauwersmeer National Park is now on your right. Just past the halfway point of this Tour you are in Zoutkamp, a beautiful village to stop, have something to eat and refill your water bottle. Just past Zoutkamp you leave the province of Groningen and you are back in Friesland.You cycle in an easterly direction to Dokkum, you even pass straight through it. After Dokkum you take the cycle path again along the Dokkumer Ee. After about three kilometers you go south to Rinsumageest, after which it is another 25 kilometers by bike back to Leeuwarden.On the Bonkevaart you even cycle along the finish arch of the Elfstedentocht. Unfortunately you will not get an official cross for this Tour, but your hands can certainly be raised for a while after completing this tour. The last kilometers lead you through Leeuwarden back to the Elfstedenhal.

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    Intermediate
    04:56
    85.0 mi
    17.2 mph
    450 ft
    450 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The West Frisian Omringdijk - the name alone seems to be specifically conceived for cyclists - is a 126-kilometer-long dike, created by the coupling of several short dikes. The West Friesland region has a long tradition of building dikes to keep areas dry or wet. In the beginning, as early as the tenth century, it concerned short and low dikes.Over the centuries, the dikes became stronger and higher. However, due to the eventual reclamation of some areas, the sea defense function of the Omringdijk became less and less important. With the arrival of the Afsluitdijk, the seawater no longer had any hold on the Omringdijk. Nevertheless, the dyke system is still being maintained.This Tour of almost 140 kilometers - indeed a bit longer than the Omringdijk itself due to the addition of some beautiful roads and cycle paths - starts in Enkhuizen, near the Zuidermuseum. If you still have the energy and time after your bike ride, consider a visit to this museum to learn a little more about the history of this special place. However, that is of later concern, first a long way on the bike!From Enkhuizen you cycle clockwise over the Zuiderdijk along the Markermeer to historic Hoorn. In any case, this Tour is packed with history: the Omringdijk itself, beautiful places such as Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Alkmaar, Schagen and Medemblik (the oldest city in West Friesland, it received city rights in 1289) with their VOC history, the old bell-jar farms along the way, the goes on all day long.The Omringdijk is therefore a large round of more than 125 kilometers. On a windy day you often have a headwind, but fortunately also a tailwind. It's hard work and smooth paddling. After Hoorn you cycle a little further in a southern direction, then it is about 20 kilometers to Alkmaar. If you still have a lot of energy in Alkmaar, then the cycle paths through the dunes at Bergen and Schoorl might be worth considering as an extra detour?From Alkmaar you cycle to Schagen. At Sint Maarten you cycle straight on over the beautiful Nieuwedijk or choose the Valkkogerdijk and Oudedijk. In both cases you will end up at Schagerbrug. You keep cycling on beautiful and meandering dykes. Can you imagine what it must have been like centuries ago in the battle against the water? And how many street signs with dyke have you already encountered?After about 90 kilometers of this Tour you will cycle south at Kolhorn. Ten kilometers later you take the beautiful Pannepad, a winding gravel path straight through the fields, which is also easy to do on a racing bike. Then it is on to Medemblik and via the Dijkweg back to Enkhuizen.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    5
  • Distance
    312 mi
  • Duration
    18:31 h
  • Elevation
    2,025 ft