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Cycling Holidays in Northern Germany: 5 Tips, 1 Question and 3 Recommendations

September 6, 2013

We’re recently back from a three-week cycling holiday in Friesland on the North Sea, Lower Saxony. We had a tremendous time and would like to pass our insights on to other would-be cycling tourists!

The author and her bike

My bike and I. In Friesland. Photographs (c) Michael McKenna 2013.

1. Find a central place and explore from there! We stayed in my home town, Sande , “Mitten in Friesland (At the heart of Frisia).” From there, we cycled roughly 50 to 80 km a day. We saw the wide open landscape of the marshlands, the hedgerows and birch avenues of the Geest, a number of very diverse forests, the canals which helped to drain the fields which are below sea level, the pastures the Frieslanders claimed from the North Sea within the centuries, the dykes and the North Sea.

The author (small, on bike) going down a dyke.

Free-wheeling down a dyke.

There were medieval churches, lone farmsteads, lots of cows (yes, you guessed it, mainly Frisians), villages, towns, and one city (Wilhelmshaven). Windmills and wind turbines dotted the landscape. Lots of them. And we could cover all that from our one base. No need to re-pack our bags every night! (But if there are good facilities for multi-base holidays, too. Just check out Bett+Bike.)

Wind turbines in a field

Personally, I see beauty in these. And environmentally-friendly energy generation!

2. Find a tourist-information office (helpfully called Tourist Info in German) and get the free, well-produced brochures with suggested cycling routes. Or check routes out online. [link] Alas, few printed brochures are available in English, but the maps and photographs do go a long way to get you on your bike and exploring.

3. Learn to trust signposts. In that part of Germany, there is a top-class system of signage specifically aimed at touring cyclists. These distinctive signs won’t necessarily show you the shortest way from A to B – if you want that, just follow the signposts for cars – most roads there have good cycle paths running alongside. The bike signs will take you the scenic route, through residential areas, over agricultural paths, through meadows and forests, along canals and drainage ditches. And because they always specify to a tenth of a kilometre how far it is to the destinations, you will always know pretty well how far you have to go. We found those signposts to be excellent – even though I grew up in the area, and cycled 12 k to school and back every day, I saw paths and fields I never knew existed. And at nearly all times, we were able to fully rely on them. Only in the city were there serious gaps, which added a few miles to our trip one of the days.

Detailed signs made for cyclists

Signposts like this one are at all major crossroads.

4. Be willing to stop for information panels if you are interested in history and geography. There are many, many well-designed information panels out along the signposted routes, and if you are that way inclined, you can learn a huge amount about the history of local dykes and dukes, the ancient windmills and the modern-day wind turbines, flora and fauna and their habitat, history of transportation and beer making.  Having German, or having a German speaker with you, would come in handy here…

information panel on nature in the coastal zone

Just one example of the manifold information panels. Click on it to see it in large.

5. Rent a bike locally. Good bikes are widely available from local Fahrradgeschäfte, by the day or by the week. They tend to be comfortable bikes on which you sit proudly upright, which I find great for taking in the scenery. I like a bike with front suspension, though this year I had one without, and managed quite well all the same. It was still a very good bike, a 7-gear machine of the Dutch make Gazelle which is possibly the most popular for everyday cycling in the area. If you find head winds a challenge, you might want to consider an e-bike. You’ll still have to pedal, but the very quiet engine will give you an extra push that makes cycling against the wind a doddle. It’s fascinating to see ladies and gents in their seventies zoom by, proudly cruising on their Pedelec bikes.

a bike on a dyke

A good sturdy bike.

After those five tips, here’s now the promised question for you – or is it really more a suggestion?

Have you ever wondered what it might be like in an area where cycling seems to be more commonplace than driving? Then get yourself to Friesland for study purposes! When on the move in Sande, I saw more bikes than cars. There are bike racks in the train stations in bigger towns and cities, you can bring your bike onto any train, and you can see numbers of bikes at bus stops, waiting for their owners to return. The children sit on their parents’ bikes or in a trailer when they’re brought to Kindergarten; from primary-school age, they are expected to cycle to school, doing so on their own from a very early age. For adults, the bike seems to be the default mode of transport, and it remains so until a very advanced age. So – you know where to go if you want to see this in action!

Shed at bus stop with bikes next to it

Bikes next to this bus-stop shelter waiting for their owners to return.

1st Recommendation: To increase your cycling range, take a train – travel in comfort against the wind, then sail back and enjoy the easy ride! You can use local trains all day (after 9 a.m. on weekdays) for €22 (additional people, up to four, are a mere €4 check extra, your own children travel for free, a day ticket for your bike is €5).

2nd Recommendation: Stop at a Bäckerei for your mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. Good-value coffee, very nice little somethings (fruit slices, cream cakes, and a lot of other baked goods you’ll simply have to try yourself), or go for a set breakfast for between €3 and €7.50, depending on how much you’d like included. German Brötchen (rolls) alone would be worth a separate blog entry!

coffees and baked goodies on a table

Yum! Nothing like a second breakfast in the sun.

3rd Recommendation: Subscribe to this blog, because I have three more blog posts about our cycling holidays in Northern Germany in the pipeline!

cycle map on lamp post

So much more to come… including a photo essay and more about cycling in Friesland.

Have you been? Are you tempted? I’d love to read your comments!

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