Before you embark on your Amsterdam exploration by bike, please remember that the Dutch use the cycling lanes also for regular traffic, including travelling to work. So please maintain the basic traffic rules. Keep right; do not ignore red lights; when turning, indicate your direction by a show of hand (left or right); only cycle on the red asphalt lanes.
Hey! Nice to meet you!
You probably know Amsterdam for its canalside houses, liberal drug policy and cycling lanes, but today I am going to introduce you to a neighbourhood that you probably haven’t heard of: district South-East, including the Bijlmer.
I’m born and raised in this neighbourhood, even though I’ve been living in Casa for three years now. As a university student of law, living in Casa is a good solution for me to live near the city centre without paying a zillion euros. Next to my studies, I’m a journalist and reporter for Amsterdam daily newspaper Het Parool.
If you’ve got a Dutch person close to you in your circle, he or she has probably told you some horror stories about the Bijlmer. It used to be a rather criminal place, though that was decades ago. So let me first tell you some history about the Bijlmer and then I’ll show you a nice cycling route to get familiar with the neighbourhood. I’ll promise you it’s totally different from your stroll along the Red Light District.
Let’s start with some history!The Bijlmer has been built around the 1970s, as a neighbourhood for the ‘modern human’. You’re probably wondering what that may be, and so am I – but the conceivers of the neighbourhood felt that the modern human wanted to separate its activities into different levels of space and place. The design of the neighbourhood followed that philosophy. The ground floor was fully reserved for recreation and nature. Residents would find their houses in tall, colossal flats that aimed for the sky; and transportation would – ideally by car – occur on elevated thoroughways. For those who could not afford a car, a metro was built, and the Bijlmer is the reason why Amsterdam has a functioning metro today. What happened, though, is that the construction of the Bijlmer co-incided with mass immigration from former Dutch colonies. One of the most important Dutch colonies, Suriname, had acquired independence in 1975, leading to many Surinamese people emigrating to the Netherlands. No sufficient housing was available, though, so they were (quite literally) put away in the flats in Bijlmer with little opportunities, money or resources. Hence Bijlmer became a rather forgotten and criminal place over time. Tide has turned, though since the 1990s. The abolition of the tallest and most anonymous flats; the construction of football stadium Amsterdam Arena and event hall Ziggo Dome; and the restructuring of the public space started a second life for Bijlmer – one that’s more peaceful and more quiet, while Bijlmer maintained its image as a multicultural neighbourhood.
The start.Your bike ride to Bijlmer will take about 45 to 50 minutes, along a lovely route and will keep you busy for possibly a full day. Don’t be too anxious about the cycling: it won’t be busy along this route. Additionally, you can rent an easy-to-ride bike from Casa at hotel reception. As the planners and developers of the neighbourhood did, I have also split up the 5 stops into 5 different activities you can undertake in Bijlmer along the route.
First stop. Prepare yourself for a healthy bike ride!About 15 minutes in from Casa, you will find the sports fields of De Toekomst along your way. These are the fields where local soccer club Ajax trains, all in the hope to reach Champions League again like back in 2018. You might have the chance of running into a talented soccer player – scores well for your Insta and perhaps he can teach you some tricks.
Second stop. Pamper yourself with a good lunch!About 10 minutes further from De Toekomst, you have arrived well into Bijlmer. You will find the shopping centre Amsterdamse Poort here. Interesting here is that you have a lot of Indonesian, Surinamese and Afro-Dutch shops that sell fruits, food ingredients, spices – but also robes and decoration – that you would by no means find in areas like Kalverstraat.
Third stop. Take a moment to enjoy some architecture.A little bit to the east of Amsterdamse Poort, about ten minutes cycling away, you will find some remnants of the traditional honeycomb-structured Bijlmer flats, called Groeneveen and Klein-Kruitberg. You will also find a monument of the Bijlmer plane crash with El Al Flight 1862, which landed into these flats in 1992: 43 people were killed. In Dutch, this event is called the ‘Bijlmerramp’, and everyone in the nation knows about it.
Fourth stop. Have yourself an Indonesian snack while you listen to some birds.You will find a little sibling to the Amsterdamse Poort at Kraaiennest. Here you can sit down, have a nice snack and enjoy the sounds of people mixing with one another in broad daylight. Those nice snacks include a baka bana (baked banana, by Indonesian recipe) or a bara (Indian spicy fried bread). If you’re lucky, you’ll find a delicious food stand selling fried bread with fish – by Surinamese recipe – near the metro station.
Fifth stop. Enjoy a place where you will feel like you’re the only tourist in town!Do you need a good rest from your cycling trip? Head off to the south to De Hoge Dijk, a wonderful nature area that will make you wonder whether you’ve just left the city. And in fact, you almost did! If you cross even further to the south, you’ll be on the border of the provinces of Noord-Holland (which includes Amsterdam) and Utrecht (which includes, well, the city of Utrecht). Do take the time to enjoy the flowers, the beaks and the sun in De Hoge Dijk. You’ve deserved it. Hotspots from other students along the route:
- A 10th floor student recommends the Amsterdam Underground Tour. “Former substance addicts take you through various neighbourhoods of Amsterdam and tell you how the city used to look like. They tell interesting stories about how it’s been to live in the middle of the city as an addict.” During the worst years of Bijlmer, addicts also often stayed in the tall flats.
- Are you rather in for gaming? Pay a visit to Gamestate in Zuidoost underneath Bijlmer Arena station, says a gaming lover from the 9th floor. “Especially if you and your friend want to battle once and for all to know who’s the best in mini games. And a fun dating spot!”