You don’t need to speak Dutch, and you don’t need to buy a folding bicycle or master the art of clog-walking to get around in the Netherlands. All you need is a travel card and a sense of adventure! The Netherlands is a small country with a big public transportation system that’s super easy to navigate.
We’re both Dutch, born and raised in the Netherlands, and have had incredible travel experiences in our own country. We went to school with the bike, to university with public transport and to work by car, facing the exhausting traffic jams!
Our guide to the best way to travel around the Netherlands includes advice on cycling, buying travel tickets, and taking the bus, tram, and train. And for you, our wonderful readers, we’ve also added some insider travel tips you won’t find anywhere else!
Travel around the Netherlands by bike
The rumors are true; the Dutch seriously love their bicycles! All over the Netherlands, people prefer their trusty fiets (bicycle) over cars or buses. But why is cycling so popular?
Well, hopping on a bicycle is a cheap, healthy and eco-friendly way to get around in the Netherlands. As the Netherlands is a fairly flat country with lots of cycle paths, cycling is also very easy! Cycle paths stretch alongside the country’s network of canals and rivers and criss-cross its busy cities. The Netherlands is also home to a famous network of long-distance cycle paths known as the ‘Dutch motorway’ that totals 32,000km in length!
In the Netherlands, cycle paths have color-coded signage. Here are a few signs to watch out for:
- A blue sign with a white bicycle = mandatory cycle lane
- A blue sign with “fietspad” in white = optional cycle lane
- A blue sign with white persons = pedestrian zone, cycling is not permitted, unless specifically signed differently.
- A white sign with a red circle and a bicycle = cycling is not permitted.
How to rent a bicycle in the Netherlands
Didn’t bring your own wheels to the Netherlands? No problem. Visitors can rent bicycles at stores all over the country and at most NS operated train stations. Rental costs around €7-10 per day and most rental stores also require a deposit and some ID. The better the bike, the bigger the deposit. We recommend reserving your bicycle before you arrive, so you can hop right on and get your adventure started!
The best way travel around Netherlands by public transport
Cycling is very popular but not compulsory! Those who want to let someone else drive will be happy to hear that the Netherlands has a world-class public transportation system.
This system is largely operated by one company – Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen or NS for short). The train network is extensive and, where the train tracks end, fleets of regional and local buses continue service. Our most visited cities – Amsterdam and Rotterdam – also have a metro network.
What’s an OV-chipcard?
Openbaar vervoer is a good Dutch phrase to learn as you travel around the Netherlands as it means “public transport” in English. An OV-Chipcard is the Netherlands’ travel pass. It is contactless and can be used on all forms of public transportation, including metros, trams, buses, and trains that are not operated by NS. This is important, as it means you only need one travel card to get from one destination to another. No complicated journeys with dozens of tickets and transfers!
Buying an OV-chipcard
Take a moment to think about how often you’re likely to use public transport in the Netherlands. There are a few types of OV-Chipcard available and you should choose the card that best fits your travel needs.
1. Disposable, one-fare OV-chipcard
This is the best option for single trips. You can load a disposable card with one type of fare such as one return journey, or one day pass. These cards can’t be topped up or re-used.
2. Anonymous OV-chipcard
Anonymous cards are reusable and can be topped up. You could buy a return ticket one day, then top the card up with a three day pass a week later. This is the best card for anyone taking trains, trams, buses, and ferries as they travel around the Netherlands. You can’t use this card to buy a monthly or annual pass or claim discounted travel. This card must always have a minimum of $20 credit.
3. Personal OV-chipcard
Which brings us to our third type of OV-chipcard – a personal card. This card is only suitable for a long stay in the Netherlands and includes your photograph and date of birth. You can use this card to buy a monthly or annual ticket and claim discounted travel. You can block this card if you lose it too. Like the anonymous card, this card must always have a minimum of $20 credit.
Buy an OV-chipcard at:
- Train stations
- On the tram (disposable cards only)
- On buses (disposable cards only)
- Some Newsagents and Supermarkets (disposable cards only)
Using an OV-chipcard
To enter a train platform, you must place your OV-chipcard against the reader. You are now ‘checked in’ and a boarding fee of $20 has been taken from your card. So far, so good. When you reach your destination, repeat the process to ‘check out’ and the $20 is refunded, minus the fare. Simple!
When using your card on a metro, tram or bus, the process is the same except the boarding fee is only €4. If your journey involves transfers you must check-in and out every time. The only exception is when you’re transferring from one train to another with the same operator. If you’re unsure about where to check-in or out, ask someone. People are super friendly and will help you to get around in the Netherlands when they can.
TIP: If you have unused credit on an anonymous or personal OV-chipcard at the end of your Netherlands trip, you can claim a refund. Just visit any ticket office and ask!
How to get around the Netherlands by train
Train travel in the Netherlands is affordable and reliable. Services are frequent between cities and villages and can get you where you’re going fast. Even a trip from the very north of the country to the south takes less than five hours so no need for a neck pillow and sleeping mask!
The NS (Dutch Railways) offers three types of service:
- Intercity trains that travel non-stop from city to city.
- Intercity Direct trains from Schipol Airport and Amsterdam Central. (Do not take the train to Amsterdam Zuid! These two Amsterdam stations are not connected).
- Sprinter trains (Stroptrein) that go almost everywhere and stop frequently.
Other train companies (Fyra, Thalys) operate high-speed services over longer distances but these are more expensive than NS trains.
In big cities the train service is frequent. So even if you miss a train, you usually only have to wait 10 minutes before the next one arrives. If you’re unlucky in rural areas, you may have up to an hour to kill at the station.
7 tips for train travel in the Netherlands:
- Pay careful attention to whether your seat is in the front (voorste deel) or back (achterste deel) of the train. Trains often split in two partways through a journey!
- You can’t reserve seats on domestic trains. To avoid having to fight for space, travel outside of rush hour if you can.
- Most trains have first class (red or black seats) and second class (green or blue seats) areas. First-class may be the best way to travel around the Netherlands but it is 80% more expensive than second-class!
- Intercity trains usually have wifi and electrical outlets – every backpacker’s best friends!
- Many trains have silent zones, marked by the word stilte (silence). Train officials take these zones seriously and can fine you €85 for making a phone call.
- NS operates a treintaxi scheme that guarantees you a taxi to and from around 30 stations in the network for a fixed fee of €4.80 per person. To book, call the treintaxi number 0900 873 4682.
- Use the night train. If your accommodation is in one city but you want to party in another, that may be possible! The Netherlands has a night train service that operates between Schipol, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, and Leiden. Every hour, all night long!
Train tickets and fares in the Netherlands
As we’ve already covered, an OV-chipcard is a must-have item to get around in the Netherlands. If you’ve opted for an anonymous or personal card with an unlimited travel pass, you don’t usually need to purchase anything extra to travel by train. Fares are calculated by the kilometer but get cheaper the further you travel.
If you’ve opted for a disposable, one-fare ticket, you’ll need to decide if you want:
- enkele-reis (one-way)
- retour (return)
- or, dagretour (same-day return)
Only a same-day return ticket will save you money.
You can hop-on and hop-off the train with any ticket but you can’t backtrack. However, you can’t buy tickets on trains, so to avoid a €35 fine and make sure you always have a valid OV-chipcard with you.
How to save money on train travel in the Netherlands
Taking advantage of NS deals and discounts can save you a lot of money. NS offers a one-day unlimited travel card (dagkaart) for €47 that is well worth the cost. You can also buy a return ticket that covers a weekend, rather than one day. There are also rail tickets for families with huge discounts. Finally, if you’re traveling with a Dutch student, you can claim discounted tickets using their student card (up to 3 people). Visit ns.nl to find out what you can save and download a Netherlands train map while you’re there!
Travel around the Netherlands by metro, tram, and bus
As good as the Netherlands train network is, there are some places trains simply cannot go! Urban public transport is extensive and cheap which makes getting around the Netherlands’ big cities hassle-free. Most metro, tram and bus services run from 6 am until about midnight.
We love traveling by bus and by tram but it’s not worth taking a bus for long distances where there is a rail service. Buses are a little cheaper but stop at so many different places it can take a very long time to get where you’re going!
Amsterdam and Rotterdam are the Netherlands’ two biggest cities. To help their large populations get around, both cities have a metro system. The metro is the best way to get around the Netherlands if you need to zip around the city quickly but isn’t the scenic choice!
Four of the Netherlands’ cities; Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht, have trams. These modern light rail systems are fast and come with the added bonus of being above ground. Get where you’re going and sightsee at the same time!
All cities in the Netherlands have a bus service. Together, buses and trams usually operate from around 6 am until midnight. Your OV-chipcard is valid on all services so if you intend to spend the whole day in the city, it makes sense to buy a day pass.
Some cities, such as Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Arnhem have a night bus service. Only Amsterdam offers this service every night, the other cities on this list only run on the weekend. Check public transport information for each city, as night buses are one of the few services that require a special ticket.
Taking the bus outside of the Netherlands’ big cities can require a little patience! Navigating bus routes is fairly simple but it’s best to check your desired route at www.9292.nl (you can also download the app). Be aware that some very rural destinations, and then we mean very rural, only run a bus service when enough people purchase a ticket. Buy a ticket ahead of time whenever advised to do so.
We love to hear from you
We think we’ve covered pretty much everything you need to know about how to get around in the Netherlands. Now all you need to do is pack your bags and decide where you want to go first! If you pick up any tips of your own for traveling in the Netherlands, or if you have a question, do keep us in the loop by leaving a comment below.