Getting there & around
Most people flying to Amsterdam arrive at Schiphol International Airport (AMS; www.schiphol.nl), 18km southwest of the city centre.
National and international trains arrive at Centraal Station, in Amsterdam’s centre. There are good links with several European cities, including six daily trains from Frankfurt (four hours). The high-speed Thalys (www.thalys.com) runs from Paris (4½ hours) via Brussels nearly every 30 minutes between 6am and 9pm. Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) runs from London (5½ to seven hours) at least five times daily; it stops in Brussels, where you transfer onward. Fyra (www.fyra.com) operates the newest, fastest trains, reducing travel times from Amsterdam (via Schiphol airport and Rotterdam) to Brussels (1¾ hours) and Paris (three hours).
If you’re arriving by car, it’s best to leave your vehicle in a park-and-ride lot near the edge of town. A nominal parking fee (around €8 per 24 hours) also gets you free public transport tickets. For more info see www.bereikbaar.amsterdam.nl.
Bus travel often is cheaper than train travel to Amsterdam. Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) connects the city with all major European capitals. Buses arrive at Amstelstation, south of the centre, with an easy metro link to Centraal Station (about a 15-minute trip).
Central Amsterdam is relatively compact and best seen on foot or by bicycle. The public transport system is a mix of tram, bus, metro and ferry. Visitors will find the trams the most useful option. The excellent Journey Planner (www.9292ov.nl) calculates routes, costs and travel times, and will get you from door to door, wherever you’re going in the city. It even offers a car versus public transport comparison.
Find taxis at stands at Centraal Station, Leidseplein and a few hotels, or call one; Taxicentrale Amsterdam (777 77 77) is the most reliable. Rates are roughly €3.50 plus €1.95 per km – a ride from the Leidseplein to the Dam is about €12.
Drivers sometimes cannot change large bills (or claim they can’t) and often don’t know smaller streets.
At taxi stands look for a pink ID card displayed in the window, which allows drivers to drive on tram lines, and shows the driver has passed a city knowledge exam; you needn’t take the first car in the queue. Late at night, it’s sometimes possible to negotiate a flat rate before starting out.
A nice alternative when available are the open, three-wheeled scooters of TukTuk Company (www.tuktukcompany.nl, in Dutch; h10pm-3am Fri & Sat) and Bicycle Taxis (www.fietstaxiamsterdam.nl, in Dutch); they often have lower rates, and can be flagged down in the street, especially near Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein.
The Canal Bus (www.canal.nl) does several circuits between Centraal Station and the Rijksmuseum, offering a unique hop-on, hop-off service.
Free ferries run to Amsterdam-Noord, departing from piers behind Centraal Station. The ride to Buiksloterweg is the most direct (five minutes) and runs 24 hours. Another boat runs to NDSM-werf (15 minutes) between 7am and midnight (1am on Saturday), and another goes to IJplein (6.30am to midnight). Bicycles are permitted.
The Gemeentevervoerbedrijf (GVB; www.gvb.nl) runs the public transport system. The GVB information office (Stationsplein 10; 7am-9pm Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat & Sun) is across the tram tracks from Centraal Station’s main entrance, and attached to the VVV tourist office. The GVB information office is the prime place for visitors to pick up tickets, maps and the like.
Fast, frequent trams operate between 6am and 12.30am. The metro and buses serve primarily outer districts. Nachtbussen (night buses, 1am to 6am, every hour) run after other transport stops. The routes radiate out from Centraal Station.
Tickets are smartcards called the OV-chipkaart (www.ov-chipkaart.nl). Either purchase a re-usable one in advance at the GVB information office, or purchase a disposable one (€2.60, good for one hour) when you board. Some trams have conductors responsible for ticketing, while on others the drivers handle tickets. If transferring from another line, show your ticket to the conductor or driver as you board. Buses are more conventional, with drivers stamping the tickets as you board. When you enter and exit a bus, tram or metro, hold the card against a reader at the doors or station gates. The system then calculates your fare and deducts it from the card. Fares for the re-usable cards are much lower than the disposable ones (though you do have to pay an initial €7.50 fee; consider it if you’re a repeat or long-stay visitor, as the card is valid for five years). You can also buy OVchipcards for unlimited use for one or more days, and this often is the most convenient option.
Travel Passes The GVB offers unlimited-ride passes for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 days (€7/11.50/15.50/19.50/24/ 27.50/30), available at VVV offices, metro-station machines (valid for up to 72 hours only) and from tram conductors (valid for 24 hours only).
The I Amsterdam Card also includes a travel pass.
There are free ferries from behind Centraal Station to destinations along the IJ, notably Amsterdam Noord.
The ferry that goes to the Eastern Docklands costs €1.
A mere 18km from central Amsterdam, Schiphol airport is the Netherlands’ main international airport and the fourth-busiest passenger terminal in Europe. It’s the hub of Dutch passenger carrier KLM, and over 100 airlines have direct flights and connections to all continents. Its shopping arcades, both in public areas and the See Buy Fly duty-free areas, are renowned.
Meet arrivals in the large lobby known as Schiphol Plaza. For airport and flight information call 0900 01 41 (per minute €0.40) or see www.schiphol.nl.
The airport is in the same telephone area code as Amsterdam proper (020).
Luggage may be deposited at the left luggage office (601 24 43) in the basement between arrival areas One and Two. Cost is €5 per item per day. Lockers are available from €5 to €9 per day (depending on size) and luggage can be stored for up to a week.
The best bet for scooter hire is to try Moped Rental Service Gilex (623 45 50; www.gilex.nl ; Marnixstraat 208; weekday/weekend day €37.50/42.50, weekend/week €80/210, plus deposit €450). Scooters come in all colours, as long as it’s yellow.
We absolutely don’t recommend having a car in Amsterdam.
Local companies are usually cheaper than the big multinationals, but don’t offer as much backup or flexibility. Rates start at around €34/40 per day for a two-/four-person car, but they do change frequently, so call around. Rentals at Schiphol airport incur a €40 surcharge.
Look for local car-rental firms in telephone directories under the heading Autoverhuur. Following is a list of some of the better-known car-rental companies:
Avis Autoverhuur (683 60 61; www.avis.nl ; Nassaukade 380)
Europcar (683 21 23; www.europcar.nl ; Overtoom 197)
Hertz (612 24 41; www.hertz.nl ; Overtoom 333)
National Car Rental (616 24 66; www.nationalcar-rental.com ; Overtoom 184)
Sixt (023-405 90 90; www.e-sixt.nl ; Schiphol Plaza)
Trains are frequent and serve domestic destinations at regular intervals, sometimes five or six times an hour. However, the network has been plagued by poor punctuality in recent years, particularly at rush hour.
Amsterdam’s main train station is Centraal Station (CS). There’s a left-luggage desk downstairs from Track 2, near the southeastern corner of the station.
Tickets can be bought at the window or ticketing machines. Buying a ticket on board means you’ll pay almost double the normal fare.
To use the ticketing machines, find your destination on the alphabetical list of place names, enter the code into the machine, then choose 1st or 2nd class (there’s little difference in comfort, but if the train is crowded there are usually more seats in 1st class). Then choose with/without discount, the former only if you have a Railrunner or Voordeel-Urenkaart and the period of validity, ie ‘today’ or ‘without date’ for a future trip. For tickets without date, be sure to validate the ticket in a yellow punch gadget near the platform before you board. The machines take coins and PIN cards, but not credit cards.
With a valid ticket you can break your journey along the direct route. Day return tickets are 10% to 15% cheaper than two one-ways.
Children under four travel free if they don’t take up a seat. Ages four to 11 pay a ‘Railrunner’ fare of €2 as long as an adult comes along.
If you plan to do a lot of travelling, a one-day travel card costs €40.30. For longer stays, the €55 Voordeel-Urenkaart is valid for one year and gives a 40% discount on train travel weekdays after 9am, as well as weekends, public holidays and the whole months of July and August. The discount also applies to up to three people travelling with you on the same trip. Seniors (60-plus) can pay an extra €14 for seven days of fare-free travel a year.
For details of international trains and reservations, visit the NS international office (www.ns.nl ; Centraal Station; 6.30am-9pm) facing Track 2 and see Dutch inefficiency at its worst. At peak times (eg summer) the queues can be up to two hours.
Upon entering, pick up a numbered ticket based on the kind of train ticket you need: advance, pick-up of a reservation, or departing within an hour. Pick-ups and immediate departures get higher priority. Don’t even think of taking a number for other than what you’re planning to buy – you’ll be sent to the back of the queue.
You may also purchase tickets by phone (0900 92 96, per minute €0.35, 8am to midnight), or by credit card online, but you must pick them up here. Be sure to reserve international seats in advance during peak periods.
In stations, schedules are posted by route, though trip duration and arrival time information aren’t. Outside of the station, contact the NS (0900 92 92, per min €0.70; www.ns.nl ; 7am-midnight).
All the companies listed here require ID plus a credit card imprint or a cash deposit with a passport. Many rental agencies require that you bring your passport as proof of ID. Prices are for basic ‘coaster-brake’ bikes; gears and handbrakes, and especially insurance, usually cost more.
Bike City (626 37 21; www.bikecity.nl ; Bloemgracht 68-70; per day/week €8.50/41, plus credit card imprint deposit) There’s no advertising on the bikes, so you can pretend you’re a local.
Damstraat Rent-a-Bike (625 50 29; www.bikes.nl ; Damstraat 20-2; per day/week €7/31, plus credit card imprint deposit)
Holland Rent-a-Bike (622 32 07; Damrak 247; per day/week €6.40/34.50, plus deposit €150 or credit card imprint)
MacBike (620 09 85; www.macbike.nl ; per day/week €8.50/29.75, plus ID & €50 deposit or credit card imprint) Centraal Station; Visserplein; Weteringschans The most expensive (and the bikes are equipped with big signs that say ‘LOOK OUT!’ to locals), but it has the most locations.
Mike’s Bike Tours (622 79 70; www.mikesbiketours.com ; Kerkstraat 134; half-day/full day/additional day €5/7/5, plus €200 deposit or passport or other ID)
To carry a bike aboard a train, you’ll need to purchase a bike day pass (€6), valid throughout the country, and carriage is subject to availability of space. Many train stations also have bike rental facilities on the spot. Collapsible bikes can be carried for free. An alternative to renting a bike is to buy one. Figure on about €80 for a used bike and maybe €40 for two good locks.