There are no domestic flights in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands is extremely bike-friendly and a fiets (bicycle) is the way to go. Many people have the trip of a lifetime using nothing but pedal power. Most modes of transport, such as trains and buses, are friendly to cyclists and their bikes. Dedicated bike routes go virtually everywhere.
Any Dutch town you visit is liable to be blanketed with bicycle paths. They're either on the streets or in the form of smooth off-road routes.
Year-round ferries connect the mainland with the Frisian Islands, and there are seasonal interisland ferry links between Texel, Vlieland and Terschelling.
Passenger ferries span the Westerschelde in the south of Zeeland, providing a link between the southwestern expanse of the country and Belgium. These are popular with people using the Zeebrugge ferry terminal and run frequently year-round.
The Waterbus (www.waterbus.nl) is an excellent fast ferry service linking Rotterdam with Dordrecht as well as the popular tourist destinations of Kinderdijk and Biesbosch National Park. Boats depart year-round, but some routes are seasonal.
Many more minor services provide links across the myriad Dutch canals and waterways.
Renting a boat is a popular way to tour rivers, lakes and inland seas. Boats come in all shapes and sizes from canoes to motor boats, small sailing boats, and large and historic former cargo sloops. Prices run the gamut and there are hundreds of rental firms throughout the country.
Buses are used for regional transport rather than for long distances, which are better travelled by train. They provide a vital service, especially in parts of the north and east, where trains are less frequent or nonexistent. The fares are zone-based. You can usually buy a ticket on board from the driver (aka a single-use, disposable OV-chipkaart; €2 to €5 for modest distances), but most people pay with a credit-loaded OV-chipkaart.
There is only one class of travel. Some regions have day passes good for all the buses; ask a driver – they are usually very helpful.
Fares, Tickets & OV-chipkaarts
The easiest and cheapest way to travel with a ticket on trains and public transport (buses, trams and metro) is with a credit-loaded, plastic smart-card known as an OV-chipkaart (www.ov-chipkaart.nl).
- Purchase an OV-chipkaart (€7.50), valid for five years, as soon as you arrive in the Netherlands at a train station, public-transport information office, supermarket or newsagent. Online, buy one in advance at www.public-transport-holland.com.
- Two types of OV-chipkaarts exist: 'anonymous' OV-chipkaarts are aimed at tourists and short-term visitors; 'personal' OV-chipkaarts require an address of residence in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany or Luxembourg.
- To travel using your card, you must charge it with credit (minimum €10 on buses, or €20 to use it on NS trains) at any public-transport or station information counter or ticketing machine; the card must have sufficient credit to cover the cost of your journey.
- 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. If you don't check out, the system will deduct the highest fare possible. At train stations, card readers are strategically placed at platform entrances/exits.
- Upon departure, you can retrieve any left-over credit from your card at any public-transport or station information counter; you'll pay a €1 fee to do this.
- For single journeys, if you don't have an OV-chipkaart, you can effectively purchase a more-expensive, singe-use, disposable OV-chipkaart each time you board a bus or tram, or buy a train ticket. On trains, this translates in reality as a €1 surcharge per transaction on top of the regular train fare.
- Some trams have conductors responsible for ticketing, while on others the drivers handle tickets. It is no longer possible to pay by cash on public transport in Amsterdam.
Car & Motorcycle
Dutch freeways are extensive but prone to congestion. Those around Amsterdam, the A4 south to Belgium and the A2 southeast to Maastricht are especially likely to be jammed at rush hour and during busy travel periods; traffic jams with a total length of 350km or more aren't unheard of during the holiday season.
Smaller roads are usually well maintained, but the campaign to discourage car use throws up numerous obstacles – two-lane roads are repainted to be one-lane with wide bike lanes or there are barriers, speed-bumps and other 'traffic-calming schemes'.
Parking a car in major cities can be a major headache and expensive. Cities purposely limit parking to discourage car use and rates are high: hotels boast about 'discount' parking rates for overnight guests of €30. Alternatively, consider a cheaper, fairly priced 'Park & Ride' car park, often located within a reasonable walking distance of the city centre.
Hidden Traffic Cameras
More than 1600 unmanned and hidden radar cameras (known as flitspalen) watch over Dutch motorways. Even if you are in a rental car, the rental company will track you down in your home country and levy a service charge while the traffic authority also bills you for the fine.
ANWB (www.anwb.nl) is the automobile club in the Netherlands; most big towns and cities have an office. Members of auto associations in their home countries (the AA, AAA, CAA, NRMA etc) can get assistance, free maps, discounts and more.
Visitors from outside the EU are entitled to drive in the Netherlands on their foreign licences for a period of up to 185 days per calendar year. EU licences are accepted year-round.
You'll need to show a valid driving licence when hiring a car in the Netherlands. An international driving permit (IDP) is not needed.
Like much of Western Europe, petrol is very expensive and fluctuates on a regular basis. Prices are generally €1.76 per litre. Gasoline (petrol) is benzine in Dutch. Diesel (€1.45 per litre) is cheaper, making it worth renting a diesel car.
To check current fuel prices, visit www.fuel-prices-europe.info. For savvy motorists anywhere near the Belgian border, it is common to drive across the border to fill up (and, for smokers, to stock up on tobacco at the same time) for about €0.20 a litre less.
- The Netherlands is well covered for car hire; all major firms have numerous locations.
- Apart from in Amsterdam and at the airports, the car-hire companies can be in inconvenient locations if you're arriving by train.
- You must be at least 23 years of age to hire a car in the Netherlands. Some car-hire firms levy a small surcharge for drivers under 25.
- A credit card is required to rent.
- Less than 4% of European cars have automatic transmission; if you need this, you should reserve well ahead and be prepared to pay a huge surcharge for your rental.
Collision damage waiver (CDW), an insurance policy that limits your financial liability for damage, is a costly add-on for rentals but may be necessary. Although without insurance you'll be liable for damages up to the full value of the vehicle.
Many credit cards and home auto-insurance policies offer CDW-type coverage; make certain about this before you decline the costly (from €10 per day) CDW.
At most car-rental firms, CDW does not cover the first €500 to €1000 of damages incurred. Yet another add-on, an excess-cover package for around €10 to €20 per day, is normally available to cover this amount. See what your credit card and home auto insurance cover; you may not need anything extra, making that bargain rental an actual bargain.
Rules are similar to the rest of Continental Europe. Full concentration is required because you may need to yield to cars, bikes that appear out of nowhere and pedestrians in quick succession.
- Traffic travels on the right.
- The minimum driving age is 18 for vehicles and 16 for motorcycles.
- Seat belts are required for everyone in a vehicle, and children under 12 must ride in the back if there's room.
- Trams always have right of way.
- If you are trying to turn right, bikes have priority.
- At roundabouts yield to vehicles already travelling in the circle.
- Speed limits are 50km/h in built-up areas, 80km/h in the country, 100km/h on major through-roads and 120km/h on freeways (sometimes 100km/h, clearly marked). Speeding cameras are hidden everywhere.
Buses and trams operate in most cities; Amsterdam and Rotterdam have metro networks.
Usually booked by phone – officially you're not supposed to wave them down on the street – taxis also wait outside train stations and hotels and cost roughly €12 to €15 for 5km. Even short trips in town can get expensive quickly.
Dutch trains are efficient, fast and comfortable. Trains are frequent and serve domestic destinations at regular intervals, sometimes five or six times an hour. It's an excellent system and possibly all you'll need to get around the country, although there are a few caveats.
- National train company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen; www.ns.nl) operates all the major lines in the Netherlands. In the north and east minor lines have been hived off to private bus and train operators, but scheduling and fares remain part of the national system.
- Bikes are welcome on trains.
- Stations show departure information but the boards don't show trip duration or arrival times; check online or ask at the ticket or information window.
- The system shuts down roughly from midnight to 6am except in the Amsterdam–Schiphol–Rotterdam–Den Haag–Leiden circuit where trains run hourly all night.
- High-speed NS trains operate between Amsterdam, Schiphol, Rotterdam and Breda.
Medium and large railways stations have a full range of services: currency exchange, ATMs, small groceries, food courts, FEBO-like coin-operated snack-food vending machines, flower shops and much more.
Smaller stations often have no services at all, including a manned ticket window (but tickets are available at vending machines); this is especially true on non-NS lines.
Many train stations have automatic luggage lockers (Bagagekluizen) on one platform, operated using a credit card. The one-day fee at most stations is €3.85/5.70 per 24 hours for a small/large locker. If you return after more than 24 hours, you have to insert your credit card to pay €5.55/8.45 for each subsequent 24 hours.
Maximum rental is 72 hours, after which the station reserves the right to remove your goods, send them to the Central Found Items office in Utrecht (0900 321 2100) and fine you €70 on top of the higher 24-hour rate. Not recommended.
Lockers at train stations in Amsterdam (€7/10 per 24 hours), Rotterdam (€6/9), Den Haag (€6/9) and Utrecht (€6/9) are more expensive.
Some stations popular with day-trippers (eg Enkhuizen, Delft) do not have lockers.
Train travel in the Netherlands is reasonably priced. We quote train fares using an OV-chipkaart; add a €1 surcharge to the listed fare if you don't have an OV-chipkaart.
When buying tickets in the Netherlands, note that non-European credit and debit cards are almost impossible to use.
Ticket Machines Most only take Dutch bank cards. About 25% do take coins, none take bills. All can be set for English.
Ticket windows Available at mid-sized to larger stations. Staff speak English and are super-helpful. Lines can be long and windows may be closed at night.
Online E-tickets are easy to buy using the NS website, but you do need to print out the ticket. Some routes, which can be displayed in the Reisplanner Xtra app, offer mobile tickets. Online fares are the same as tickets purchased with an OV-chipkaart, ie you don't pay the €1 surcharge.
If you are at a station with a closed ticket window and don't have the coins for the machines, board the train and find the conductor. Explain your plight (they know where this applies so don't fib) and they will usually sell you a ticket without levying the fine (€50) for boarding without a ticket on top of the ticket price. If they do fine you, you can apply for a refund at a ticket window.
Tips for Buying Train Tickets
Buying a train ticket is the hardest part of riding Dutch trains.
- Only some ticket machines accept cash, and those are coin-only, so you need a pocketful of change.
- Ticket machines that accept plastic will not work with most non-European credit and ATM cards. The exceptions are a limited number of machines at Schiphol and Amsterdam Centraal.
- Some machines only sell tickets for travellers with an OV-chipkaart.
- Ticket windows do not accept credit or ATM cards, although they will accept paper euros. Lines are often quite long and there is a surcharge for the often-unavoidable need to use a ticket window.
- Discounted NS International tickets sold online require a Dutch credit card. The cheap fares can’t be bought at ticket windows.
- The much-hyped Voordeelurenabonnement (Off-Peak Discount Pass) yields good discounts, but only if you have a Dutch bank account.
- To buy domestic and international train tickets online with an international credit card, visit SNCB Europe (www.b-europe.com). You may need to print a copy of the ticket.
For national trains, simply turn up at the station: you'll rarely have to wait more than 30 minutes for a train. Reservations are required for international trains.
- Enkele reis (one way) – single one-way ticket; with a valid ticket you can break your journey along the direct route.
- Dagretour (day return) – normal day return; costs the same as two one-way tickets.
- Dagkaart (day pass) – €50.60/85 for 2nd/1st class and allows unlimited train travel throughout the country. Only good value if you're planning extensive train travel on any one day.
- Holland Travel Ticket – Unlimited, one-day travel on trains (2nd class), buses, trams and metro anywhere in the country (€55); the cheaper off-peak version (€39) means you can't use the pass between 6.30am and 9am on weekdays.
- Railrunner – €2.50; day pass for children aged four to 11 anywhere in the country.
Note that for delays in excess of half an hour – irrespective of the cause – you're entitled to a refund. Delays of 30 to 60 minutes warrant a 50% refund and delays of an hour or more a 100% refund.
International trains require passengers to buy tickets in advance and carry surcharges, but also may have cheap fares available in advance.
Multi-Day Rail Passes
There are several train passes for people living both inside and outside the Netherlands. These should be purchased before you arrive in the country. However, the passes don't offer good value even if you plan on a lot of train travel.
Eurail (www.eurail.com) Non-Europeans resident outside of Europe are eligible for a Benelux pass, good for several days' travel in a month on all trains within the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. It costs US$158/190/221/297 for three/four/five/eight days in 2nd class.
InterRail (www.interrail.eu) For Europeans resident in Europe, a Benelux pass good for three/four/six/eight days in one month costs €226/272/354/427.
The longest train journey in the Netherlands (Maastricht–Groningen) takes about 4¼ hours, but most trips are far shorter. Trains have 1st-class sections, but these are often little different from the 2nd-class areas and, given the short journeys, not worth the extra cost.
That said, 1st class can be worth the extra money during busy periods when seats in 2nd class are oversubscribed.
In descending order of speed:
Thalys (www.thalys.com) Operates French TGV-style high-speed trains from Amsterdam, Schiphol and Rotterdam south to Belgium and Paris. Trains are plush and have wi-fi. Dynamic pricing, making advance reservations essential to score the lowest fare.
ICE (Intercity Express; www.nshispeed.com) German fast trains from Amsterdam to Cologne and onto Frankfurt Airport and Frankfurt. Carries a surcharge for domestic riders; fares are likewise dynamic, ie a reflection of how far in advance you book.
Intercity The best non-high-speed domestic trains, with fixed fares. They run express past small stations on all major lines. Usually air-conditioned double-decker cars.
Sneltrain (Fast Train) Not an Intercity but not as slow as a stoptrein. May not be air-conditioned.
Stoptrein (Stop Train) Never misses a stop, never gets up to speed. Some have no toilets.
Some 130 train stations countrywide offer the excellent NS Zonetaxi service, which takes you by taxi to/from the station within a 2km zone. Journeys are booked in advance, cutting out the hassle of finding a taxi. Highly competitive fares start at €6 and are fixed, meaning no nasty surprise upon arrival; up to three people can travel in one taxi. The service operates daily from when the first train leaves in the morning until the last train at night. Book in advance via the Reisplanner Xtra app or call 0900 679 82 94.