Putting together a Guide with all tips and tricks about your own home country can be very difficult. Where to start with something you are just so used to. In the past years I’ve seen almost every part of the Netherlands but every day I’m discovering new thing around me. And how do I have to explain to you, how our rather complicated transport system works. I’ve put everything together especially for you and hope you will have a great visit beyond Amsterdam! -Wouter
Rail travel in the Netherlands: a general overview
Compact: Long travel days are most of the time annoying, so I’ve to welcome you to the Netherlands where the longest ride possible will be around 4 hours. But most important cities can be reached within 2 hours!
Frequent connections: With minimal every half hour a train towards your destination, we have probably the best connections? We have one of the busiest rail networks in the world!
Train travelling trough the Netherlands is on 100% Wind Power!
It’s so easy: In the Netherlands, 95% of the locals will try to help you in the best English they can and are pleased to help you. If that’s not needed, everything is well-signposted so you will never got lost.
Crucial fact about Holland
There is a huge difference between Holland and the Netherlands. The difference is that The Netherlands consists out of twelve provinces: Groningen, Friesland, Drente, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Limburg. As you may have seen: two of the twelve provinces in The Netherlands have are called Holland, North Holland and South Holland. The major cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag) are located in these two provinces. So if you have ever been or going to The Netherlands, there’s a big chance that you have been or going to Holland. But after all, as a tourist it doesn’t really matter what you call it…
Amsterdam is pretty much on every Interrailers’ list. Known for its many canals and pretty tree lined streets. The locals are very rare to find within the city center, but there’s nice food, good museums and the nightlife is pretty interesting. Renting bikes or taking a canal boat along the river are both great ways of seeing the sights.
Dam square, The Dam is the center and heart of the city. The Royal Palace which dominates the square but was originally used as the town hall. You will find here as well the National Monument, the New Church, Madame Tussaud and most common shops.
Amsterdam’s canals, Our ‘Venice of the North’. Your tourism trip is not complete without a canal cruise. I can really recommend taking one to give you a great view over the city.
Rembrandtplein is lined with pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels. It is the popular center for your nightlife.
Leidseplein is as well packed with restaurants and clubs.
Red Light District, tourists know this place better than other places in the city.
Rijksmuseum is one of the best museums in the Netherlands. It has a collection of the 17th Dutch Golden Age masterpieces. In front you find Museumplein, there have been some awesome parties here!
Anne Frank house is the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II. In summer there can be an enormous queue.
The Zaanse Schans is just outside Amsterdam. It’s packed with wooden windmills, barns, houses and museums and built in the typically Dutch wooden architectural style. This was probably the world’s first industrial area. The whole area was packed with mills producing all goods needed. Nowadays there are only some left showing you, when looking over all of the other tourists, it is seriously impressive. The Zaanse Schans will easily fill half a day. Take NS Sprinter towards Uitgeest from Amsterdam, and get out on Station Zaandijk Zaanse Schans. Single: €3,10; Entrance free.
Schiphol Airport (Sometimes Amsterdam Airport) is our international airport. When you are planning on arriving by plane the best way to get into the city is transferring to the station just below the airport where trains run 24/7. At daytime from 06:00 to 00:00 there are trains departing within 10 minutes. During the night, from midnight to 06:00, there’s only one train per hour. Tickets can be bought from the yellow ticket machines in the hall or at the NS desk. Price for a single trip is €4,20 + €1 for the paper (explanation later).
The local transporter in Amsterdam is GVB with busses, trams and metros. There are 1 to 7 days cards available on an paper single use card or OV-Chipkaart. More about the OV-Chipkaart down below. Tram line 2 is highly recommended since it covers almost all tourist spots. For all activities please visit iamsterdam. I amsterdam City Card for entrance to 50+ major attractions and GVB transportation in 24 hours (€49), 48 hours (€59) or 72 hours (€69). All GVB ferries across the IJ are for free (not to be confused with canal cruises). For the best advise please visit the tourist information+GVB on the other side of the station square.
Last but not least, it is 365 days a year crowded with tourists and it is much more expensive than all other cities. PLEASE have a look at all the other cities in the Netherlands. When you want to go to Amsterdam, you are probably a true tourist. When you are an explorer, culture lover, nature lover or all sorts of other types of people, please check out the other possibilities.
Everything Beyond Amsterdam
1. Underrated Utrecht
What an underrated city! I personally love Utrecht and just a 25-minute train ride from Amsterdam. Perhaps it’s the lure of Amsterdam that leads people to forget Utrecht. Whatever the reason is, this graceful city is bizarrely under-visited. Utrecht is the lively, beating heart of the Netherlands. It was built around the Dom tower, which you can see from any point in the city, so there is no way you can get lost in the attractive, car-free city centre. Its old town is encircled by a medieval canal (housing cafés and terraces by the water), and you can hop on a boat tour to visit the city’s. Built to connect the canal side with Utrecht’s impressive townhouses, today these unique spaces are filled with bohemian cafes, shops, restaurants and bars. The medieval city centre is small enough to explore on foot. As well as the Dom tower, Utrecht boasts hundreds of other monuments that each contribute to the special atmosphere in this centuries-old university town.
Dom Tower, Being 112 m in height, the Dom Tower is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. Climb it towards the top! Discover the area around the church to get a good impression.
The Centraal Station of Utrecht is recently completely rebuild, but it is still the busiest station of the Netherlands.
Hoog Catharijne (walkway between Station and city centre) is now massively under construction. It first offered most shops almost next to the station under a roof, but you still walk trough it towards the city centre.
The local transporter in Utrecht is U-OV and sell the 1 (€6), 3 (€10) and 5 (€13,50) day ticket at the U-OV Service point just outside the hall of Utrecht Centraal for greater Utrecht. Using the bus should not be needed since everything can be explored on foot.
2. A Different Side of the Netherlands: Maastricht
Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, as you will quickly discover when strolling through the historic inner city. Churches, city walls, monumental merchant houses and big squares merge seamlessly with a comprehensive and varied range of shops. Maastricht is also a city of indulgence and culinary highlights. There are pleasant lunchrooms, Michelin-starred restaurants, vineyard farms and an extensive range of excellent regional products and dishes. The city consists of two parts separated by the river the Maas. The western part, when crossed the river, of Maastricht is the oldest, with its churches, squares and walls. The eastern part is newer, although it looks just as old. This was build when the station was created in the 19th century.
Vrijthof is the big squire of Maastricht with the church. There are a lot of cafes located here and is known for the big shows Andre Rieu has here. The elderly will love it ;).
The local transporter in Maastricht is Arriva. Although there is a bus connecting the city center with the station, I recommend walking. Watch out when traveling by train including an OV-chipkaart: You can check in by Arriva and NS, so be sure you use the correct reader.
3. The new Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the city for you when you are looking for a city existing for themselves and not just for tourists. Rotterdam offers Europe’s largest port and has therefore a rich history. Sadly Rotterdam’s city center has been bombed in the 2nd World War by the Germans, so don’t expect any old buildings over here. Now there is some positive about this, Rotterdam is a city with architectural landmarks, a trendy nightlife city, a shopping city, and a hip artistic city. You can go on a shopping spree, enjoy some excellent food, and visit a range of museums and attractions in and around the city centre.
Centraal Station, the station itself can be called stunning as well! It was completed in March 2014
Erasumusbrug, This bridge called ‘The Swan’ due to its shape spans 800 metres across the Maas river and is a symbol of the city.
SS Rotterdam is Rotterdam’s permanently placed cruise ship. You can take a guided tour around, Walk the ship your self and take a sleep since it is used as a hotel.
Market Hall, The first indoor market in the Netherlands with over 100 stalls as well as restaurants. It consists of a 40-tall arc full of residential apartments covering the market square. Has something in common with the famous halls in Berlin. Recommended!
Splashtours, This unique experience, it offers an amphibian bus, first you travel trough Rotterdam and later on you dive the Maas for a small cruise. Reservation recommended!
The local transporter in Rotterdam is RET with buses, trams and metro and offers a great service. For your stay in Rotterdam there is an 1 Day RET travel card (€7,50) or the Tourist Day Ticket (€13.50) for all public transporters in Zuid-Holland (including Rotterdam, Den Haag, Delft and Leiden) available. Traveling around with the public transport is recommended.
4. Den Haag (The Hague) and Scheveningen
Not just because it is our government city, but also because of its many monuments, historic districts and its location near the beautiful North Sea coastline. The Hague is also known as the ‘Royal City by the Sea’ because the many members of the Dutch Royal Family who live here. Den Haag proves a modern skyline and a historic city centre in a perfect match. Scheveningen is the best known seaside resort on the Dutch coast providing cinemas, theater, museums, shopping promenade, surf schools, sports events, numerous restaurants, beach pavilions (recommended!). It is located ‘inside’ Den Haag by taking Tram 9. The beach is ideal for sunbathers, water sports fans, nature lovers and people who want to party or relax.
Binnenhof, the The House of Representatives, the political headquarter of the Netherlands.
Sealife, In this small zoo you can discover the amazing underwater world with all types of fish. It is located on the boulevard of Scheveningen.
Make sure you use the correct station! Den Haag Centraal is an end station and the newest station in the city center, best choice! Den Haag HS (Holland Spoor) is directly on the line Amsterdam – Rotterdam, this station is older and a tram connection would be needed.
The local transporter in The Hague is HTM with buses and trams. A HTM Daycard (€6,50) is available in tram 1, 9 and 11 and service point on Centraal station and HS station. The 3 Day The Hague Travelcard (€16,50) and the Tourist Day Ticket (€13.50) for all public transporters in Zuid-Holland (including Rotterdam, Den Haag, Delft and Leiden) is only available on the Service points on Centraal station and HS station.
Both of these are islands in the North of the Netherlands. Both islands are just wonderful and worth to stay (Vlieland max 2 days, Terschelling min 2 days).
Vlieland is small and only has one ‘village’. This island is perfect to explore by bike and there are only a few cars. If you are searching for nature this island is perfect for you.
Terschelling is much bigger and has more villages. Cars are permitted here and to bike the whole island in one day is not ‘normal’. This island is normally busier with tourists. An electric bike is recommended here since an average trip is about 30 km.
Bike rental is well represented on both islands and with more than 10 shops on Terschelling.
You can get there by train and boat. From Amsterdam take the NS trains towards Amersfoort, change for Leeuwarden. In Leeuwarden and change for Arriva trains towards Harlingen Haven. This station is next to the boat terminal. The boat takes you to Terschelling in 2 hours, Vlieland in 1.5 hours (€26 (double)) and the Fast Ferry to both islands in 45 min (€6 extra, single, on busy days this boat is full!!). Please be there 30 min before departure. Tickets can be bought on location but online will be cheaper and easier!
Stations near the beach
Zandvoort aan Zee is easy reachable from Amsterdam CS. There’s a half hour service, single: €5,40 euro.
Amsterdam CS .19/.49 – Zandvoort aan Zee .49/.19 (30 min)
Zandvoort aan Zee .09/.39 – Amsterdam CS .39/.09 (30 min)
Hoek van Holland Strand will have a direct metro connection from Rotterdam CS. From Hoek van Holland Strand it is 1,2 km walk, about 15 min. Watch out! Bus replacement since construction work is going on in 2017/2018!
Scheveningen is almost ‘inside’ Den Haag (the Hague). From Den Haag CS you take Tram 9 towards Scheveningen Noorderstrand Nooderstrand and get out on Kurhaus. Single OV-chipkaart price €1,60. A daycard by the driver is €6,50.
Vlissingen is not the best beach station but a nice city next to the Westerschelde as well. Vlissingen has a direct IC train connection with Rotterdam CS, Den Haag HS, Schiphol and Amsterdam CS.
Rotterdam 10.11/10.41 – Vlissingen 11.54/12.24
Vlissingen 16.06/16.36 – Rotterdam 17.49/18.19 (1.43min)
Train traveling tips
– When a city has more than 1 station, use the station name that has Centraal / C / CS or just nothing at the back of it’s name.
– All the bigger station have 1 of more shops on sight. Example: AlbertHeijn to go (supermarket, recommended), de Broodzaak (bread to go), Kiosk (on platform, snacks, expensive! Use AH to go), La Place (better to go food), HEMA (small everyday products), Smullers (snackbar), Julia’s (pastas) or Starbucks coffee.
– Ticket machines, you need to pay at almost all ticket machines with a Bankcard and some accept coins (no bills!). The ticket machines at Schiphol and Amsterdam should accept a credit card. When you need to pay with a creditcard find a ticket window, although these are getting very rare in the Netherlands.
These are the available train types:
THA – Thalys, Amsterdam – Rotterdam – Brussel – Paris (Reservation required)
ICE – InterCityExpress from DB, Amsterdam – Utrecht – Arnhem – Frankfurt/Basel
ICd – Intercity direct, Highspeed between Amsterdam – Schiphol – Rotterdam (Supplement!)
IC – Intercity, most used train type. Roughly all yellow/blue trains.
SP – Sprinter, NS train that stops on all stations. Roughly all white/blue trains.
There are no reservation for all trains needed or possible.
Only service that requires a reservation is the Thalys with €39 in 2nd and €55 in 1st.
Reserving a seat in the ICE or IC towards Germany is recommended on longer stretches.
Companies – Nederlandse Spoorwegen – Dutch RailwaysNS
Interrail is completely valid on all NS trains.
Arriva – Arriva has train services and a lot of buses in the eastern, southern and northern parts of the Netherlands. Can be found as red/white or blue/white trains.
Interrail is completely valid on all Arriva trains.
Connexion – The line between Amersfoort and Ede-Wageningen called Valleilijn (blue collor) and Breng trains (Arnhem/Nijmegen) are owned by Connexion.
Interrail is completely valid on the Connexion trains.
Syntus – Syntus has only 1 train service in the eastern part of the Netherlands but has more busses.
Interrail is completely valid on the Syntus trains.
OV-Chipkaart and tickets
The OV-chipkaart is the new public transport smart card, the ticket for all public transport in the Netherlands. The same card allows you to travel on the train, train, bus and metro. This card is usually more convenient if you are staying in the Netherlands for a longer period. Since the OV-Chipkaart is very expensive for a short stay it is not recommended, take single use cards!
How does the OV-Chipkaart works? If you have one it is as easy as Check-In and Check-Out on the station. This can be explained the best with examples.
NS will be closing bigger stations in the future with gates. You can compare these gates with the one used in most metro-systems. It is used that you can fast check in and out and keep other people out. You can use the QR code on your Interrail cover to open them. If you have a International ticket without a QR code ask in your train coming into the Netherlands for a small QR code pass at your guard. If not, all gates have a information point (service on distance), just simply call them and they will help you out.
Make sure that the maximum travel time on an OV-Chipkaart is 6 hours. But since the longest cross Netherlands route takes 5 hours this is enough. Only when you are touring it would make a problem.
Prices for traveling are always ‘single’ fares. When you buy a return ticket you are just buying two single tickets in one.
Example 1 Interrail: You want to travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train. First you have the choices of 8 train per hour and 4 different types. The fastest route takes you 40 minutes and slowest way 1:10 hour. In this example we take the normal IC train. The one I found has as destination Vlissingen, departing 16:58 in Amsterdam. When you walk into the station of Amsterdam Centraal you will find the first row of gates. On the front of your Interrail pass/cover you will find a QR-Code. Hold this code for the scanner and the gates will open. Some gates are OV-Chipkaart only, and some are combined with a QR scanner. You can recognize the logo’s. The gates will open freely with your Interrail pass. When you are on the platform you just hop on the train and get your Interrail checkt. By the time you arrive in Rotterdam you will get to the same problem. At the exit of the station is a huge row of gates but all gates are QR and OV-chipkaart ready. Everything is free using your Interrail ticket, only problems given are the Thalys (seat reservation required) and Intercity Direct and ICE (say that you are traveling international and you are free of the supplement).
Most of the stretches within the Netherlands are not worth using a Interrail day, Check what the normal ticket price is and what your interrail costs!
Example 2 Single Use chipcards: Since not everyone has and wants the OV-Chipkaart, there are single use cards available. On the ticket machines select single ticket and your destination. There is a €1 supplement since you are using this ‘single use’ card. The rest works the same as a normal OV-Chipkaart, check in on your departure and check out on your destination. Having a break in a city is possible with these cards. These are for train traveling probably your best option.
Example 3 Buy an OV-Chipkaart: To buy your OV-Chipkaart you need to find an ticket machine, set the language on English and select ‘I don’t have a OV-Chipkaart’. This ‘anonymous’ Chipkaart (blue) cost you €7,50, next up you need to select which budget you want go set on it. If you want to travel by train your lowest budget on the card always needs to be €20.
Example 4 Use your OV-Chipkaart: When you have your OV-Chipkaart walk towards your platform. On your way you will always find a gate or pole to Check-In. Hold your pass in front of the logo/reader and you will hear a Beep. When you hear more beeps and flashes red there went something wrong. Most common problems are you don’t have enough money on your card, kept it too short in front of the logo or you have more cards in your wallet. When you are checked-in the display would give you a green light and ‘Ingecheckt’. On this moment €4 (Bus/Tram) or €20 (Train) will be withdrawn from your card, this is your the starting price. Since the gates are at the entrance of the station you are now free to take every train you want. On the way your OV-Chipkaart will be checked if you have really checked-in. When you arrive in Rotterdam you simply check out. Hold it again for the reader, beeps twice and the gates at Rotterdam will open for you, but please have a look hat the screen. It will show you how many is left of your card. Since the ticket price Amsterdam-Rotterdam is €14,80, there’s €5,20 left on your card. You can take the Tram/Bus/Metro since the deposed is only €4 for these. The only problem given is that if you want back, you need the same starting price of €20 and need to set more on your card. Find the same ticket machine, hold your OV-Chipkaart in front of the logo, and set more money on your OV-Chipkaart. The price is based on the shortest route. Please remember to Check-In AND Out with your OV-Chipkaart all times!
Example 5 Other transport methods: When you want to use a bus or tram, only the OV-Chipkaart is accepted or you need to buy an (much more expensive!) ticket from the driver. For every drive by bus you need to buy a ticket (or use your OV-Chipkaart)! The OV-Chipkaart is for travelling by bus or tram a better option, buy a anonymous OV-Chipkaart (€7,50) and have always more than €4 on it. The metro works roughly the same as trains, only all stations have already gates and they are cheaper. (The €4 does apply for metro as well.)
Example 6 Travelling with an other train companies than the NS: You need to check out by NS, and check in by your next company. On the platform of your train arriving (different than NS) train, you can find both poles.
Conclusion: There’s as well a huge difference between trains and all other types of transportation. For travelling by train, single use tickets (€1 each) are recommended! If you want to travel with busses, trams and metro it is MUCH cheaper and easier and it is recommended to buy OV-Chipkaart (€7,50 the card and min €4 deposed)!
Where to buy tickets:
Use NS Highspeed for all your International tickets. Can be printed or on your mobile phone available.
Use our own DB Planner for journeys towards Germany.
Using NS (Dutch), NS (Dutch) or for the actuate Journey Planner!!
Use the tickets machines at the station, this has €1 supplement for the paper OV-card.
Services towards Brussel, check this special blog as well!
This IC service drives between Amsterdam, Schiphol, Den Haag HS, Rotterdam, Antwerpen Centraal and all station in Brussel. The IC Brussels runs along the old line via Den Haag HS which takes about 30min longer than changing to the IC Direct.
Tickets for Intercity Brussel trains are cheaper than Thalys tickets if you compare the full fares. When purchasing online, you have to select a specific train, however the ticket is valid for all Intercity Brussel trains on that day. So if you are looking for maximum flexibility, Intercity Brussel trains are the way to go. Seat reservation is not possible.
The Intercity Direct is a high speed service between (Amsterdam), Schiphol to Rotterdam CS (and Breda) using the high speed line. Between Amsterdam and Rotterdam you will be 30 min faster than taking a normal IC train since you are taking the High-Speed track. For national train traveling on this line there’s an extra surcharge of 2.30 on your normal price. You can buy these at all ticket machines or with your OV-Chipkaart on the platform. When you are using Interrail (say that you travel towards Belgium) or have a International Ticket you are free of supplement.
You can leave from Amsterdam about half an hour later if you take a Intercity Direct service running via the HSL Zuid (new high speed line avoiding Den Haag) to Rotterdam and change there. This is possible at no extra costs if you have an international ticket (Interrail or Eurail pass or a through ticket from the Netherlands to Belgium). However, as you only have two minutes to change trains in Rotterdam (trains call at opposite platforms, but do not wait all the time!) and since the Intercity Brussel can be quite full especially at peak times and during summer I would generally not recommend this option.
For traveling the Thalys you are making the route Amsterdam – Schiphol – HSL Zuid – Rotterdam – Antwerpen – Brussel – Paris. The Thalys requires a reservation, €39 in 2nd and €55 in 1st. When you book well in advance you can find a good deal for the same price of the slower IC Brussel! Buy your Thalys ticket at beurope or NS International.
The IC trains towards Berlin is highly recommended! There’s no reservation required. First train departing in Amsterdam at 5:02 and every 2 hour later. Travel time: 6 hours. Buy your ticket to Berlin at Deutsche Bahn or NS International.
ICE Frankfurt (Basel)
The ICE Frankfurt is highly recommended! There’s no reservation required but it is recommended since it can be quite full. In 2017 the ICE timetable is somewhat difficult to read since there are several works planned. Just once per day this ICE Frankfurt goes further towards Basel SBB leaving Amsterdam at 8:05. Buy your ticket to Germany at Deutsche Bahn or NS International
There are no night/sleeping trains available in the Netherlands. The first night trains are available from Düsseldorf (DE) by the ÖBB.
The NS Nachtnet trains that run every hour in the western part of the Netherlands are available without supplement. On longer stretches towards the east are only ‘late’ trains available on fr/sa. Please check the Journey Planner for the available connections.
Updated: October 2017