Thinking beyond your bicycle? Learn everything you need to know about trains, buses, metros, and more with our guide to public transport in the Netherlands.
For many expats arriving in the Netherlands, Dutch transportation means one thing: the bicycle. But while the Dutch have created the best cycling infrastructure in the world, they’ve also done some great things with their public transit system, too. Whether you’re looking to take a train to Tilburg or a bus to Bloemendaal, it’s easy getting around the country. To help you on your way, this guide to public transport in the Netherlands includes the following information:
- Introduction to Dutch public transport
- The OV-chipkaart
- Taking the bus in the Netherlands
- Coach travel in the Netherlands
- Traveling by metro in the Netherlands
- Train travel in the Netherlands
- Traveling by tram in the Netherlands
- Ferries in the Netherlands
- Taking a Dutch taxi
- Dutch airports
- Useful resources
Need to get from A to B without taking public transport? Whatever your needs in the Netherlands, Sneleentaxi can help get you there. The private-hire taxi and ride-sharing service operates across the Netherlands, providing an easy-to-use platform that connects drivers and passengers. Whether you’re going to Heerlen or Haarlem, Sneleentaxi can help get you there.
Introduction to Dutch public transport
Generally speaking, the Dutch public transport network is clean, efficient, and relatively cheap. The local train network – operated by NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) – covers much of the country and you can move between towns and cities cheaply. Other towns and villages are connected by bus links, while the northern islands have ferry access.
In larger cities, you’ll find either a tram or a metro system (or both), while smaller cities and towns will have bus networks connecting suburbs with central areas. These networks are operated locally. However, wherever you are in the Netherlands you’ll be able to use your OV-chipkaart, the national smart-card payment system for public transport. Disabled travelers are generally well-catered for, and public transport stops and stations are usually near each other. This lets you seamlessly move between transport modes during your journey.
The first thing you need to know about when it comes to taking public transport in the Netherlands is the OV-chipkaart. The OV-chipkaart (OV stands for openbaar vervoer, or public transport) is the Dutch smart-card payment system that operates across the country for all public transport options. There are two types of OV-chipkaart: anonymous and personal. Anonymous cards can be bought and topped-up from machines and ticket offices at train and metro stations. Personal cards need to be bought online, and you will need to provide a photo for the card. These cards can be topped-up online or at a ticket machine. Alternatively, you can sign-up for automatic top-ups when your balance falls below a certain amount.
Journey costs are determined by the distance of your journey. When you check-in, a “boarding fare” is debited from your card. This fare varies depending on the mode of transport. When you check-out at your destination, you will then be refunded this boarding fare, minus the charge for the kilometers you’ve traveled. If you fail to check-out, you will have to pay the whole boarding fare, which could be up to €20. For more information, visit the OV-chipkaart website.
Top tips for using your OV-chipkaart
Before you use your OV-chipkaart, here are some things you should know:
- Don’t forget to check-out if you want to avoid any unexpected journey fees.
- Products like monthly-passes or season tickets can be loaded onto your personal OV-chipkaart. These tickets can be bought online, but you’ll need to manually load them onto your card at a designated upload point or one of the yellow OV-chipkaart machines.
- If you’re moving between transport modes/operators as part of the same journey, you’ll need to check-out and then check back in again.
- Students can apply for discounts using their OV-chipkaart, so make sure you aren’t overpaying for your transport if you’re still in education.
Taking a bus in the Netherlands
As in many other countries, the bus is the most common form of public transport in the Netherlands. Whether you’re living in a rural area away from the rail network or traveling around towns or cities, it’s likely that a bus will be your best bet. But that’s not a problem, because Dutch bus services are generally pretty efficient.
The operators of Dutch bus networks vary across the country, but you’ll be able to use your OV-chipkaart on all of them. Some buses run on more local routes, often stopping both in and outside urban areas. However, recent years have seen more direct intercity bus lines set up that connect popular areas. Many commuters use these and often find them quicker and more convenient than the train.
Top tips for traveling by bus in the Netherlands
Getting on the bus? Read these tips beforehand:
- Always remember to check-out when leaving the bus to avoid any unexpected charges on your payment card.
- An increasing number of buses across the country have free Wi-Fi onboard, allowing you to catch up with any life admin on the go.
- Don’t miss the last bus home! Check timetables ahead of time as some buses, particularly outside urban areas, often stop running in the early evening.
- However, depending on where you heading, you may be able to jump on a night bus. Cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam have night bus networks to help you get home. That said, the routes will be different from the daytime services, so check ahead and don’t get caught out.
Coach travel in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a relatively compact country, so you might not think of hopping on a coach when considering moving between its major towns and cities. However, coach travel can be a convenient – and cheaper – alternative to taking the train or hiring a car. Companies like Flixbus offer competitive rates and cover the country’s largest towns and cities.
International coach travel is also an option in the Netherlands if you’re thinking about traveling across the border. International operators like Megabus and National Express offer services to the UK, while Eurolines connects major Dutch cities to destinations across Europe, from Lisbon in the west to Bucharest in the east.
Top tips for coach travel in the Netherlands
Check out these tips before traveling by coach:
- Coach stations and stops aren’t always in the most obvious places and are often located on the edges of cities and towns. Check locations ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
- On longer journeys, coaches will take comfort breaks at rest stops along the way, where you’ll be able to buy refreshments and use the restrooms.
- If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you take your passport if you need one.
Traveling by metro in the Netherlands
Sometimes life on the surface can get too much and you need to head underground. Thankfully, the Netherlands has you covered with not one, but two (partially underground) metro systems operating in the country. The most expansive Dutch metro system can be found in Rotterdam/The Hague, serving 70 stations over five lines. Amsterdam’s network is smaller, with 39 stations across five lines.
Due to the popularity of cycling and the compact nature of these cities, the Dutch metro networks are relatively quiet compared to other metro systems like those in London, New York, or Tokyo. However, it can get busy. This is particularly evident during bad weather when locals leave their bikes at home and take the metro. Therefore, be prepared for a busier journey during these days.
Top tips for traveling by metro in the Netherlands
Read these tips before heading underground:
- You can use your OV-chipkaart on the Dutch metro systems, with machines at stations where you can top-up and load products.
- Switching between metro and train? Then you’ll need to check-out and check-in again if you don’t want to overpay for your journey.
- The Dutch are great at combining different types of transport, so you’ll find plenty of bike parking at your local metro station.
Train travel in the Netherlands
When it comes to traveling long distances in the Netherlands, the train is by far the most popular form of transport for the locals. This is largely due to the quality of the local network, which is one of the busiest in the world. Most of the country is within easy access from the rail network, although connections are generally more limited in the north of the country.
Dutch trains are operated by NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen). There are two types of NS trains to look out for: the Sprinter and the Intercity. Rather confusingly, the Sprinter is the slower of the two, stopping at all local stations. Intercity services, on the other hand, only stop at major stations, ensuring a quicker and more comfortable journey.
Top tips for train travel in the Netherlands
All aboard? Not before reading these top train travel tips:
- Check which type of train (Sprinter or Intercity) you’re traveling on, as it could have a big impact on your journey time.
- You’ll need at least €20 credit on your card before traveling on any NS train service. Don’t forget to check out! Failing to do so could see you get charged the full €20 boarding fare.
- Most trains have toilets on-board, although some older Sprinter trains don’t, so you may want to use the toilets at your departure station.
- Night trains are available along certain routes. These run every night within the Randstad, and on weekends outside this area. For more information, check out the NS Night Train web page.
- If you or a travel companion require special assistance, contact NS ahead of time to ensure you receive the help and support you require. For more information on this, visit the NS’s dedicated web pages.
Traveling by tram in the Netherlands
If you want to take in the beautiful Dutch streets while not actually walking or cycling, there are few things better than taking the tram. The four largest cities in the Netherlands each have their own tram system: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht. Of these, Amsterdam has the most extensive network, with 500 tram stops along 15 lines.
When it comes to public transport in the Netherlands, trams are generally the quickest way to move through crowded city centers. However, they also double up as excellent ways to see the city. In fact, National Geographic hailed Amsterdam’s tram 2 as one of the world’s best tram routes. Starting at Centraal Station, it showcases some of the city’s best attractions, including the Royal Palace and Rijksmuseum.
Top tips for taking the tram in the Netherlands
Read our top tips for tram travel:
- You’ll be able to use your OV-chipkaart across the country, but don’t forget to check-in and check-out to avoid any hefty ticketing fees.
- Generally speaking, you’ll be able to buy a ticket on-board from the conductor. Their desk is around halfway down the tram and most conductors can speak English.
- Trams won’t necessarily stop where you need to get off, so make sure you push the stop button to avoid having to loop back on yourself.
- When alighting the tram, be careful of your surroundings. Many tram routes are in busy areas and the next tram may only be a few seconds behind, so keep your wits about you.
Ferries in the Netherlands
Ferries might not be your first port of call when you think about public transport, but in the Netherlands, your nearest one might be your best option. In Amsterdam, free ferries transport cyclists and pedestrians across the IJ. Services run all night and offer an unmistakably Amsterdam experience should you be looking for one.
However, these aren’t the only ferries in the Netherlands. Along some rivers, you’ll find pedestrian and cycle ferries making the crossing. Some are manned, while others you have to operate yourself. There are also ferries connecting the mainland to the northern islands, such as Texel. Check ahead to avoid disappointment, particularly if planning a cycling trip as you may need to detour over the nearest bridge if the ferry isn’t running.
Top tips for traveling by ferry in the Netherlands
Before leaving dry land, read these top tips for ferry travel:
- When boarding the IJ ferries in Amsterdam, always move to the front of the boat to allow others to board behind you. When you arrive, move away promptly to allow others to disembark safely.
- Some river ferries only operate seasonally or on certain days. Do your research ahead of time so you don’t get left stranded.
Taking a Dutch taxi
With all these transportation options – as well as walking and cycling – you might not consider taking a cab. But for many situations, taxis can be the most convenient form of transit. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to catch a taxi in the Netherlands, as most towns and cities have taxi ranks near prominent attractions, stations, and ports.
Taxis in the Netherlands are metered and, generally speaking, charge similar rates. Alternatively, you can negotiate a fixed-fare with your driver before you start your journey. Shared taxis are available in many Dutch towns, although you won’t find them in the larger cities. It’s also worth noting that Uber only operates in the largest Dutch cities.
Top tips for taxi travel in the Netherlands
Taking a taxi? Check these top tips beforehand:
- The price on the meter when you enter the taxi is the minimum fare, so don’t worry if you see a charge before you even start your journey.
- You’ll find taxis at Dutch airports and almost all stations, so you should have options when you arrive at your destination.
- You can find cheaper taxi fares on taxi platforms like Sneleentaxi, which connect passengers with taxi drivers across the Netherlands.
Flying to warmer climes? You’ll probably be departing from one of the Netherlands’ five airports. These can be found in Maastricht, Rotterdam, Groningen, and Eindhoven. However, the largest Dutch airport by far is Amsterdam Schiphol. One of Europe’s busiest airports, Schiphol is a short train ride from central Amsterdam and has flights around the world.
Due to Schiphol’s proximity to Amsterdam, accessing the airport is easy and can be done via train or bus. Schiphol is well-connected to other parts of the Netherlands, meaning that many locals will fly into Schiphol and take a train for their onward journey home. Plans to expand Lelystad Airport in Flevoland are currently ongoing.
Top tips for traveling through Dutch airports
Don’t jet off before reading these top airport tips:
- Arriving at the airport by train? In all the excitement, don’t forget to check-out with your OV-chipkaart to avoid a heavy ticket charge.
- Although Schiphol is well-served by public transport links, you never know what could happen so leave yourself plenty of time to get to the departure gate on time.
- Need to pick up some Dutch treats for friends and family abroad? There are lots of places to do just this at Schiphol, whether you’re after cheese, chocolate, or a Dutch football shirt.