Road signs for cycling in the Netherlands

You are more than welcome to visit the Netherlands this summer for cycling. Many foreign visitors have done the same before you. For one or two each year the journey doesn’t end quite the way they planned. So if you don’t want to be stopped by the police and end up in the headlines it would be a good idea to know at least something of the traffic signs.

There are two types of road signs in the world. The Netherlands (like most of Europe, including the UK) uses the type that is mainly blue and red as opposed to the mainly yellow and black that the US, Australia and Ireland use (among others).

Yield to crossing bikes from both directions. Different signs but the same meaning. Left Netherlands, right Australia.

But even though the shapes and colours may differ, the pictograms on the signs are generally similar. So it shouldn’t be too big a problem to understand them, even if you are used to the other system. Compare the above two situations in the Netherlands and Australia. It is very clear that both mean cyclists cross here from both sides and you have to yield to give them the right of way.

Comparing some signs from four countries we see more similarities than differences. There are only a few signs that are very different (like for ‘no parking’). Striking is also that words are almost absent in non-English speaking countries.

So where’s the catch? Well in the Netherlands there are some specific bicycle signs and especially supplementary plates that make things a bit more complicated.  A supplementary plate meaning ‘cycling excepted’ under a ‘no-entry one way street’ sign suddenly makes entering that street by bicycle allowed. A ‘cycling permitted’ sign under a ‘foot path’ sign allows you to cycle there, but the pedestrians come first in that case. It means cycling should be done carefully without hindering the pedestrians.

One of the signs that is misunderstood is the ‘no parking for bicycles and mopeds/scooters’ sign. A site even explains it wrongly as a no entry sign.

The video gives a quick overview of the situation in the Netherlands.

The most important signs you may encounter as a cyclist are listed below.

The most important Dutch road signs for when you ride your bicycle.

You can find a lot more information in the brochure Road Traffic Signs and Regulations in the Netherlands (PDF in English) on the site of the Dutch Ministry of Transport. The current design of the Dutch traffic signs is from 1990 which gives the signs a very modern and clean look. But not all the signs in the streets were changed right away and even now, 22 years later, you will still sometimes find the old signs that had a very 1940s feel to them. Those are the signs I grew up with and the ones that were taught at school. I therefore have a great fondness of these older signs. Which explains my avatar.

Old Dutch road signs
Sometimes you can still find the old signs that were officially replaced in 1990 and have since been phased out.

Wikipedia has a more elaborate overview of all Dutch signs and also a comparison of European signs.

20 thoughts on “Road signs for cycling in the Netherlands

  1. I was also trying to find a good website for buying or selling bicycles in the Netherlands but only found Martsplaats, which focuses not only on bikes but on other stuff too. Only alternative I found is, where users post there bike related classifieds and its easy to find bikes, parts, accessories or even bike services nearby. Qomli seems fresh though with not so much content, but I hope they will get more people. Netherlands really needs such an organized, bike oriented website

  2. To understand each and every signboards and their meaning before start cycling in the Netherlands is more important for every people to follow the rules.

  3. It is quite simple RED and ROUND means NO, when you add a slash it is not forbidden anymore. People anymore it was tried jn court and they won!

  4. A colleague and his wife from the UK enjoyed their cycle tour of the Netherlands, except for the first couple of days, when they kept getting lost. When they saw the name of the next town, they followed it, but always went the other way from the place that was not on their route: “Doorgaand verkeer” (through traffic/all routes)!

  5. Hi Mark,

    Just a little side note: in your video you quite often say ‘you have to’ do this or that in conjunction with square or rectangular blue signs. Those signs are only ‘info’ signs, not obligatory. Same difference like a round and a square ‘Fietspad’ sign.

    1. Yes, that is true, but that difference is quite small and there are also exceptions. For instance when the rectangular/square blue signs have arrows they must be followed. So I simplified things by saying blue has a positive meaning ‘you must’ or ‘you may’ as opposed to round and red that always indicates something is forbidden, which I think is not wrong for a quick introduction.

      1. You used the wrong sign to indicate a dangerous junction. You shown the sign indicating crossroad:priority to traffic from the right.

        1. Er no. That is the sign for a dangerous crossroads. And it can indeed only be used on a crossroads where priority is not otherwise arranged with priority signs.

          “Dit verkeersteken duidt een gevaarlijke kruising of splitsing van wegen aan. Weggebruikers dienen bij het zien van dit verkeersteken in het bijzonder acht te slaan op hun gedrag bij het oprijden of opgaan van het kruispunt. Bestuurders mogen een kruispunt niet blokkeren. Zij hebben voorts de verplichting aan van rechts komende bestuurders voorrang te verlenen. Dit verkeersteken wordt niet toegepast bij kruispunten waar de voorrang wordt geregeld door middel van verkeerstekens op borden of op het wegdek.”

  6. Once when coming from the Amsterdam airport by car and turning up the ramp for the Freeway, I overtook a tourist on a bicycle. We tried to indicate to him he was going the wrong way, but he just gave us the middle finger. He looked exasperated, so I guess he had been trying to find the right way for cyclists and couldn’t find it. It seems a notorious place for these misunderstandings, so I wonder if something can be done to prevent these mistakes, such as:
    1. Good signage for tourist cyclists right off the airport and train exits towards the right cycle routes,
    2. leaflets with cycle traffic rules for everyone exiting the plane and picking up his/her bicycle from the bagage handlers,
    3. Even clearer signs near the airport telling that those roads are off limit, and telling them where to go.
    But I have to say I’m not aware how many of these measures have already been taken.

  7. An excellent post. Thank you, Mark.

    We made a fundamental mistake when we were cycling in Th Netherlands last year when we turned onto a ‘Closed to Bicycles’ street.

    The confusion lay in the fact that the Australian equivalent sign has a red slash through it making it clear that bicycles were not permitted. We had no idea that the European quivalent was just a plain red circle around the bicycle symbol.

    We did wonder why the road suddenly felt like cycling in Australia – fast cars (80km/h), no shoulder, and just plain unpleasant & scary…

    Despite this, the Dutch motorists, including the driver of a monstrous semitrailer, all crossed double lines to overtake us safely. One rider did a ‘toot toot’ and shook their finger. We then quickly realised our error and also noticed the lovely wide and traffic free cycle path which we had missed!!



  8. I’m a road-sign geek since childhood (a long, long time ago). Thanks for the comparison chart of four different countries’ road signage. That always makes my day.

    I do have one quibble though: on the third row of the aforementioned chart, the red circle prohibiting bikes can be construed rather vaguely. I’m with the Australians and Americans on this one: a red circle with a slash through it is way more explicit than simply the red circle alone. It could explain why a few foreign tourists, in defiance of common sense, bicycled onto the motorway or primary highway.

    1. I think the reason why Europe leaves the slash out is so you can better see what is actually ON the sign. You have to consider there are dozens of European countries all with slightly different pictograms so it is hard enough as it is to make out if it is a motorcycle, a moped or a bicycle. Even more so when there are signs forbidding to be over a certain weight and height. Leaving the slash out makes it easier to understand the signs quickly. Europeans are maybe also more conditioned to understand that different shapes and colours mean different things. Round and red means no. Also, in the European situation the forward slash (red or gray) is used to indicate the end of a certain regulation so that may confuse users as well.
      Incidentally on entering a motorway (freeway) you will not find a ‘no bicycles allowed’ sign. That has to be clear from the fact that there are signs for a ‘motorway’ or for a ‘motor vehicles only road’.

    2. The UK Department for Transport recently considered adding the slash to prohibition signs, but concluded that most people (about 85%) understand the sign anyway (it rose to about 95% understanding with the slash, however), and that having two signs in use at the same time might be more confusing than sticking with the current design.

      Despite the central government requirement for no slash, this doesn’t prevent local councils from installing signs with one! It’s not uncommon to see signs with the slash added, which means there is probably already confusion about what the red circle means. (And why aren’t they following the sign guidelines?)

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