Of all the tire tracks we’re looking forward to revisiting this coming June, those along the serene and scenic canals of Amsterdam sit at the very top of the list. Ten days of living and cycling like locals last summer was an experience our family won’t soon forget, and one that even had our children in tears when it was time to end.
Fortunately, Velo-city 2017 attendees will be able to “Be an Amsterdammer For a Day”, as the entire conference relocates to the Dutch capital for a very special day of programming on Wednesday, June 14th. After boarding a chartered train to Amsterdam Centraal Station, participants will join one of three curated bicycle tours of the city, reconvening at a secret location for a large gathering later that evening.
While negotiating Amsterdam’s bustling cycle tracks can be an intimidating affair, it doesn’t take long to get up to speed, and from there you’re rewarded with some spectacular cycling infrastructure, starting from the moment you step off the train.
One of the first sights to greet you is the jaw-dropping “Fietsflat”, the 100-metre-long floating parking structure that houses over 2,500 bikes, which has quickly become the most-photographed attraction in all of Amsterdam. The opposite side of the station – recently renovated to remove cars and buses from the equation –includes a lengthy “shared space” that moves 39,000 pedestrians and cyclists each day. Connecting these two nodes is the newly opened and beautifully detailed “Cuyperspassage” walking and cycling tunnel, featuring a meticulously recreated 17th century maritime-themed mural, consisting of over 77,000 hand-painted tiles.
If you’d like to see the original mural in-person, you can always pedal on over to Amsterdam’s famous Rijkmuseum – the national museum dedicated to arts and history – but not before riding through the museum’s elegant bicycle underpass.
Acting as a vital connection between the city centre and neighbourhoods to the west, and widely considered one of the most remarkable bike paths in the world, it’s hard to believe its status as a cycling thoroughfare was endangered as recently as 2013, as numerous museum directors have tried to ban cyclists from the tunnel. But a series of critical interventions by the local fietserbond (“cyclist union”) have kept it open, and thousands now flock to enjoy the fruits of their labour, soaking up the incredible acoustics on display via the talented buskers queued up to perform there.
If “people watching” is your thing, then a short hop over to Vondelpark is a must. The 120 acre park is the largest such leisure facility in the city, but also serves as a valuable transportation corridor for a huge number of cyclists, boasting wide paths that allow them to ride two, three, and even four abreast. If you’re anything like us, you’ll want to perch yourself on a bench and observe the endless parade of bikes streaming through the park. There are few more compelling theatres of humanity, as Amsterdammers of all ages pedal quietly on their way, some with a companion balanced on their front or rear rack, others holding holds with the person next to them, and many more hauling large loads of shopping home like it’s no big deal.
No matter where you wander on your travels, the vast number of vibrant, complete commercial streets that crisscross Amsterdam will no doubt inspire you to think differently about your city. The neighbourhoods surrounding Vondelpark possess several such streets – the most prominent of which are Kinkerstraat and Overtoom – which offer dedicated space for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and trams; each acting as a hive of movement, commerce, and humanity for an entire community.
If this all sounds like too much to fit into a single day, we would highly recommend setting aside some additional time before or after the conference to explore Amsterdam in more depth. In fact, that’s exactly what we have planned, booking three nights in the De Pijp neighbourhood before we jump on a train to Nijmegen on June 13th. Regardless of your itinerary, this essential social event promises to be one of the highlights of the entire Velo-city 2017 programme. Zie je in Amsterdam!