BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT:
The Netherlands has a fine-grained and well-organised public transport system. Most villages can be reached by public transport although services may be infrequent, especially at weekends. The Dutch public transport system consists of a train network which serves as the backbone, extended with a network of both local and inter-local buses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network, each of only a few lines, although Rotterdam’s line E reaches The Hague. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague also have extensive networks of trams. Utrecht only has two tram lines which serve mainly as links to the surrounding suburbs of Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.
- 9292.nl, 0900-9292 (high cost). A journey planner for all Dutch public transport – All public transport companies participate in the OV Reisplanner, which can plan a door-to-door (or tourist hotspot-to-hotspot) trip for you using all public transportation types. The site mostly relies on scheduled detours, but delays are incorporated to a limited degree. 9292 -information is also available by telephone costs about €0.70 min, maximum: €14.
- Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) – Information about trains can be found at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) website, which includes a trip planner which uses the latest information about train delays and detours. For the information of the other transport types they use 9292ov information.
- At a railway station – At large railway stations there are (yellow) information desks; at most smaller stations there is an information/SOS kiosk. If you push the blue information button you are connected to a 9292 operator. If you ask railway staff, they’ll often look for you in their smart-phone journey-planner.
Many trains have digital displays with current travel information. Most train platforms and some bus stops have electronic information.
All public transport in the Netherlands (buses, trams, metros and trains) use contactless smart cards called OV-chipkaart (OV stands for Openbaar Vervoer meaning “Public Transport”), sometimes also called the Public transport chipcard.
Single-use swipe cards are available for trains and some local operators, but come at a surcharge. Unless you plan to use the public transport system only incidentally, your best option is to obtain an anonymous OV-chipkaart upon arrival as it’s convenient and soon cheaper. However,the card must have a minimum stored value, which for NS trains is €20 (unofficially €16) and generally €4 for local public transit operators. The upfront cost (€7.50) of the anonymous OV-chipkaart is non refundable.
The OV-chipkaart comes in three versions:
- Disposable OV-chipkaart is a single-use ticket. It can not be reloaded. Some public transport companies in cities offer 1-, 2- or 3-day tickets offering unlimited use in certain regions.
- Anonymous OV-chipkaart is more the most commonly used smart card. The purchase price is €7.50 (as of 2014) and is non-refundable. These cards are available at ticket offices and vending machines valid up to 5 years. This card is reusable and reloadable.
- Personal OV-chipkaart is useful for anyone entitled to travel with a discount or monthly or annual season ticket. However, because this card requires a Benelux or German residential address or bank account not usable for most tourists. This card features the holder’s photograph and date of birth.
Most of the Netherlands is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent to most big cities and larger villages and towns in between. There are two main types of trains: Intercities which only stop at major stations and Sprinters which stop at all stations. All types of train have the same prices. Also, there are high-speed trains called ‘Intercity Direct’ between Amsterdam and Breda, which only requires a supplement ticket between Schiphol and Rotterdam. Travelling all the way from the north of the country (Groningen) to the south (Maastricht) takes approximately 4 hours.
The Spoorkaart is an map of the railway system and shows all services. Connections with only one train per hour are shown in thinner lines.
Most lines offer one train every 15 minutes (every 10 min during the rush hours), but some rural lines run only every 60 min. Where more lines run together, the frequency is, of course, even higher. In the western Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large urban network, with up to 12 trains per hour on main routes.
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) operates most routes. Some local lines are operated by Syntus, Arriva, Veolia and Connexxion.
Because of the high service frequency, delays are quite common. However, the delay is usually not more than 5 or 10 minutes. Trains can be crowded, especially in the morning rush hour. Reserving seats on domestic trains is only possible on the Intercity Direct.
One particular mistake tourists often make is getting on the wrong part of a train. Many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the final destination, the parts will be separated and will continue on their own to their respective destinations. In that case, the signs over the platforms will show two destinations and which part goes where: achterste deel/achter means back and voorste deel/voor means front, referring to the direction of departure. Feel free to ask other passengers or an employee.
Another frequently made mistake involves travelling from Schiphol to Amsterdam. From Schiphol you can go to either Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Zuid (South). These railway stations are not connected directly and many tourists with the idea of going to Amsterdam Centraal wind up at South. Therefore always check the destination of the train. From Amsterdam Zuid you can take the metro to Centraal, or a train to Centraal with an interchange at station Duivendrecht (2nd floor).
There is a convenient night train service (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam, and Utrecht, all night long, once an hour in each direction. In the nights F-Sa and Sa-Su, North-Brabant is also served. You can get to Dordrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Breda.
Most trains have two comfort classes (1e klasse and 2e klasse). Some regional lines don’t have first class. First class and second class are usually distinguished by different colour schemes. Signs with either “1” or “2” next to outside doors and carriage doors indicate class. Some zones in train are silent zones. Noise is to be kept to a minimum in these areas. They are indicated either by a stylised face in silhouette holding a finger to the lips, or a yellow oval with “Ssst”.
Free Wi-Fi is available at almost all major train stations and in many Intercity trains. Electrical outlets are only available in a few Intercity trains, and then only in First Class.
The network of regional and local buses in the Netherlands is fine-grained and frequent and usually connects well with the train network; by bus travellers can reach most small villages easily. However, for long-distance travel, these regional buses are not convenient and much slower than the train.
Previously, long-distance buses were only available on a small number of routes that aren’t covered by the rail network; these buses have special names that differ by region, such as Q-liner, Brabantliner and Interliner and special tariffs. However, German long distance bus company Flixbus has been expanding its range of domestic connections in the Netherlands, with expected ticket prices €6-9 for most routes.
There are four main local and regional bus companies in the Netherlands, Connexxion, Veolia, Arriva and Qbuzz. A few large cities have their own bus company.
A cheap way to get across the Netherlands is to buy a “buzzer” ticket. It costs €10 a day, and is valid after 09:00 on every single Connexxion bus for two adults and up to three children. On weekends and holidays it is also valid before 09:00. Because Connexxion have a wide-spread network, you can get from Groningen to Zeeland this way in a day, and it undercuts the train. A big downside though is that bus lines are very indirect. For example, getting from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, would require three or more changes. In short: bus journeys will almost always take longer than train travel. For example, trip to Rotterdam from Utrecht will take 40 minutes, but in the Bus it will take 1.5 hr. However, if you want to enjoy the countryside and villages you can prefer the bus trips.
Many companies and regions have their own bus discount tickets, which are often cheaper than using credit on the OV-chipkaart.
Park-and-ride-(travel-)tickets: some towns and cities have special cheaper bus tickets from car parks near the city limits to the city centre, for outside rush hours, usually a return ticket.
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht offer public transport at night. Only Amsterdam has a service all night and every night; in the other cities it is more limited to the beginning of the night or only during the weekend. Several other cities and regions also have night buses, usually even more limited. Some night buses cover quite a distance, such as Amsterdam-Almere.
You might need special night-bus tickets so be sure to check the city pages.
The two largest cities, Amsterdam (map) and Rotterdam (map), have a metro network which consist of mainly elevated railways outside the city centres, and some kilometres underground railways within the centre. Line E of the Rotterdam metro has a start/final destination at The Hague Central Station.
Furthermore there is a large city tram network in the agglomerations of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague; Utrecht has two sneltram lines (fast tram or light-rail).
Cycling in the Netherlands is much safer and more convenient than in many other countries, because of the infrastructure – cycle paths, cycle lanes, and signposted cycle routes – and because of the small distances and flatness. All these factors plus many more additional facilities such as numerous picnic places, terraces, small ferry-connections and camping places, makes it often preferable to discover the country by bike rather than by car.
The proliferation of bicycles also means that you’re seen as a significant part of the traffic mix – motorists will let you know if you don’t keep to the rules and presume you are aware of other traffic. This is specially important to know in the very busy (chaotic) centres of the biggest cities. Here it can be sensible to get off your bike for a few hundred metres and/or leave the centre entirely by taking the bike onto a train, metro or randstadrail-tram).
Some things to know:
- Cycle lanes and cycle paths are indicated by a round blue sign with a white bike icon, an icon on the asphalt, or by red asphalt. Using them is considered mandatory.
- Cyclists must obey the same traffic signs as motorists, unless exempted. For example, a cycle icon under a no-entry sign, usually with the text ‘uitgezonderd’ (except), means cyclists may use the street in both directions.
- Where there is no cycle lane or path, use the regular road. This is unlike the rule in Germany and Belgium, where you are supposed to use the footpath in many places. Cyclists are not allowed on all (semi-)highways indicated as “Autosnelweg” or “Autoweg”
- On some narrow streets that do have a cycle path parallel to them, mopeds may be required to use the cycle path, rather than the main street (as is usual).
- Bicycles must have working front (white) and rear (red) lights. Reflectors are not sufficient. You may be fined (€40) for cycling in the dark without a light, and you seriously endanger yourself and other traffic by doing so. Small, battery-operated LED lights attached to your person are allowed.
Regular signs for bicycle routes are usually white, with a red border and lettering, more recreational/touristic routes to a town or village are green lettered. In rural areas as well as in nature areas, signposts may be so called Paddenstoelen (mushrooms). These are small boxes (more or less resembling the form of a mushroom) near the ground on which the destinations are printed.
There are different ways to use a bicycle:
- staying in a city, the bike can be used as a means of transport, to get from A to B. This is the way local people most of the time use it, for short journeys it is faster than car, bus or tram. Cyclers can also reach interesting places near the city, which may not be accessible by public transport.
- Many times bikes are also used as means to see nearby places and landscapes:
- The many signposted cycle routes are designed for this, most of them take cyclists back to the starting point. Some rural routes go through areas inaccessible by car.
- In most parts of the Netherlands it’s possible to create your own routes by connecting marked and numbered points called “knooppunten”. (see for more information planjeroute.nl (plan your route).)
- Except for the rush hours in the morning and at the end of the afternoon, bikes can be taken on a train. Therefore cyclers are to buy a supplementary ticket called “dagkaart fiets”, which is easily obtained from the automated kiosks for €6. As an alternative, bikes can be easily rented at (or near) train stations. Folding bikes can be taken on board for free as hand luggage when folded. All trains are provided with specific bicycle entrances. Cyclists may park their bike here and also are allowed to ask people to move for this reason. Also in two western urban region’s it’s possible to transport bicycles for free by metro (Amsterdam/The Hague-Rotterdam) or randstadrail-tram (The Hague-Zoetermeer), except during daytime from monday-friday.
- More experienced cyclists may like to set off across the country. The national long-distance cycle routes are designed for this type of holiday; see Cycling in the Netherlands Long-distance routes.
The best online routeplanner for cyclists can be found at a wikiplanner made by volunteers of the Dutch cyclist union “Fietsersbond”.
A car might be a good way to explore the countryside, especially places not connected by rail, such as the Veluwe and parts of Zeeland. Drive on the right.
The motorway/highway network is rather extensive, though heavily used. Congestion, especially during peak hour, is usual and can better be avoided. Roads are well signposted and many times provided with new technologies. A Motorway/highway (Autosnelweg) is indicated with a letter A/number combination which is placed in a red box. In the less urbanised parts, such as the Southwest and the North, motorways/highways are few. Many times connections there are made by a semi highway called Autoweg, or another N way. All these connections are indicated with a letter N/number combination in a yellow box. Most times motorist will automatically be directed to the nearest A or N road. So who likes to make a touristic ride avoiding mainroads, needs to follow signs to local villages.
If your car breaks down on the highway/motorway you might go to the nearest roadside emergency telephone; these praatpalen can be recognized as they are about 1.5 m high, yellow and have a rounded bunny-eared cap on top. This is the direct connection to the emergency and assistance services. These will be taken away in 2018, so take a smartphone with you.
Alternatively, you might use a mobile phone to reach the ANWB autoclub via toll-free number 0800-0888; your membership of a foreign autoclub might entitle you to discount rates on their services. Leased (business) cars and rental cars are usually covered by the ANWB services included in the lease/rental price; but you may want to check any provided booklets.
Road signs with directions are plenty, but having a map is useful, especially in cities where there are many one way streets, and getting from one part of the city to another is not always so straightforward. Be careful not to drive on bus lanes, often indicated with markings such as Lijnbus or Bus, nor on cycling paths, marked by the picture of a bicycle, or by a reddish colour of the asphalt. Also, do not use the rush-hour-lanes (Spitsstrook) when the matrix display above the designated lane indicates a red “X” – this means they cannot be used.
Fuel is easy to come by, but extremely expensive. It’s better to fill your vehicle before entering the Netherlands, since the Belgian and German fuel prices can be €0.30 lower per litre. Unmanned gas stations, such as TanGo or Firezone, save up to 10 cents, but are still far more expensive than their Belgian counterparts. Prices of fuel are, as of 2017, €1.62 a litre in manned stations. Along highways many gas stations are open 24/7. More and more unmanned gas stations can be found, even along highways, selling petrol cheaper. These unattended stations accept all common debit and credit cards. All gas stations sell both petrol and diesel; the “premium” brands have the same octane level (they allegedly contain compounds that improve fuel efficiency to offset the higher price). Liquid Petroleum Gas is sold at relatively many gas stations along the high ways, but it is never sold in built-up areas. The symbol for LPG gas is a green-coloured gaspump-icon, set beside the general case black-coloured gaspump-icon. LPG fueled cars need regular petrol to start the motor, and can also be operated using strictly petrol, though it is more expensive.
If you come to the Netherlands with your LPG-fueled car, you will probably need an adaptor. If you buy it in your country, ask for the specific Dutch adaptor. The plug sold as “European” (screw style), is used in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany but won’t fit Dutch pumps.
The Dutch taxi system has been re-structured to change its bad reputation and sometimes exorbitant rates. While legal maximum charges now apply and all taxis are obliged to have a tariff sheet visible in the window, taxis still remain an expensive way to get around. If you’re travelling on a budget, public transport is a much better bet. With cluttered traffic in and around cities during rush hour, it’s often enough faster too.
If you do want to take a taxi, you’ll usually have to call one or order one online, so you might want to look up a company upon arrival. It’s uncommon to hail taxis on the streets. In larger cities, you’ll typically find a taxi stand at major train stations and sometimes close to entertainment districts. Drivers may want to convince you that you are obliged to take the first in line, but this is never the case. You are always free to pick the taxi of your choice. It is illegal for drivers to refuse short rides, but it’s not uncommon for drivers who have obtained a front position to do so. Keep in mind that these guys sometimes wait for a long time to get to this position. If it’s all the same to you, you might want to let them refer you to someone else. If you don’t want to switch, or if it’s the only taxi around, it may help to say you’ll file a complaint and write down the taxi’s number.
All taxis must have registered blue license plates and a board computer which also serves as the meter. They must have their rates visible on a tariff card and the driver has to carry a taxi driver’s license card. Taxi companies are free to establish their rates, as long as they do not exceed the legal maximum. The driver is allowed to offer you a fixed price, as long as it’s within legal maximum rates.
The maximum rates are the sum of the initial fee, the fee per kilometre and the fee per minute. They are set annually by the Dutch government. For a normal (4-person) cab they are €2.95, €2.17 and €0.36. This means you’ll pay more if you get stuck in traffic. For small vans (5 to 8 passengers), the maximum amounts are €6.00, €2.73 and €0.41. Uber cabs are now illegal but cheaper and still operate in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Due to the small size of the country and the abundance of road and rail connections, there are no domestic flights.