bus company operates bus services between many European cities. With tickets starting under EUR20, they are the cheapest way to travel to Amsterdam, but their schedules may not be the most convenient. Still, compared to high-speed rail service, they are a perfect option if you are traveling on a budget and a great way to see more of the continent.
High-speed rail services operate on routes from Germany, Belgium and France. Since Amsterdam is the main hub for Dutch high-speed rail, you’ll be able to sit back and relax for the journey. Travel time from Paris is about three hours. On the Thalys, Fyra, ICE International and Eurostar
high-speed rail routes, you will need a reservation, and normal rail passes are not valid.
Most visitors fly into Amsterdam, making air travel the top mode of Amsterdam transportation. With direct flights from many U.S. cities, getting to Amsterdam should not prove to be too hard. Alternatively, you can fly to a different European city, and take a short flight to Amsterdam. If you are having trouble finding low airfare, consider flying into Paris or Brussels, and either flying to Amsterdam on a low-cost carrier, or taking the train. Flying to Amsterdam has one huge advantage—you get to pass through Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, considered to be one of the best in the world. The airport is home to over 150 shops, a casino and various restaurants and bars. If you arrive on a flight from a European Schengen zone, you won’t need to clear customs or immigration at the airport. Getting to the city from the Airport Schiphol
airport is easy—simply walk straight through the arrivals hall into the railway station. From here, you can catch trains to most major Dutch cities. Trains have route indicator boards on the side showing their destination. The trip from Schiphol to Amsterdam Central Station (usually abbreviated to C.S.) takes about 15 minutes. Tickets are purchased on the upper level, either from a staffed ticket window or a ticket machine. Both points of sale accept credit and debit cards. One word of warning—the trains are very popular with luggage thieves, so always be sure to keep a very close eye on your belongings. A popular trick with thieves is to knock on the window from on the platform, and distract you while someone in the train swipes your bag. Losing your passport and return tickets is a sure way to get your trip off to a bad start.
Unless you plan to venture well outside the Amsterdam city limits, there is no reason to rent a car. Like most major cities, parking in Amsterdam is expensive, and parking violations on public roads will result in a tow or parking boot. If you do rent, you’ll be able to pick up your vehicle right outside the arrivals hall at Airport Schiphol. Most rental companies have vehicles with automatic transmissions, but you will need to specify this during the reservation, otherwise you will end up with a manual. You do not need a special driver’s license, as your valid U.S. license is fine for European rentals. When renting, always try to pay for the vehicle using a credit card with additional rental coverage.
Finding a reliable taxi driver in Amsterdam is a bit of a challenge. You’ll find cabbies refusing short trips, overcharging for rides and rude drivers. Be sure to only get in a cab at a regulated taxi stand (kwaliteitstaxisstandplatsen). Like many cab services, always ask about the ride price in advance, and be sure that the driver turns on the meter. If you encounter poor service, note the taxi number, operating company and, when possible, the license plate. Considering the excellent public transportation options, we recommend avoiding taxis unless you really need one. The city is supposedly cracking down on taxis, so hopefully the situation will improve in the future.
Amsterdam's public transportation system is extensive. Within Amsterdam, you are almost always within walking distance of a bus, tram or metro. The payment system for public transit in Amsterdam is the same as everywhere else in The Netherlands. To pay for your trip, you purchase a “Strippenkaart” (strip card) and stamp the required number of zones plus one. Zone maps are available at most bus and tram stops and on board. Strippenkaart tickets are available from vending machines at stations, as well as many grocery stores, newspaper kiosks and train stations. Tickets purchased on a tram or bus cost about the same, but have fewer strips, so when possible, pre-purchase.
With the zone system, the longer your journey lasts, the longer the validity of your stamp. If you board a tram destined for a stop three zones away, you’ll stamp three + one in the yellow validation machine. Your ticket is then valid for 1 hour. Trips of 4-6 zones are valid for 1.5 hours, 7-9 zones for 2 hours and 10-15 zones for three hours. The zones are set up so your ticket won’t expire halfway through the trip.
Compared to other European cities, the Dutch zone system may appear to be rather confusing, but since most trips within the city are 1-2 zones, you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. If you’d rather keep life simple, you can also purchase 24-, 48- and 72-hour passes for unlimited rides within the Amsterdam public transport network. These passes will be more expensive than the cost of paying by zone. Do be prepared for regular ticket inspections on the tram and when leaving the metro stops. When traveling, always keep an eye on the validity of your stamp; it’ll be printed in the 24-hour system. Tram lines are virtually everywhere in the city—with 16 different lines, you’ll almost always be no more than 5 minutes from a stop.
The Amsterdam Metro network consists of just four lines, but since most of them take passengers away from the city center, chances are you won’t be using them. Most of the metro lines do meet up with train stations, making it easy to transit from one line to another. Bus lines operate both long and short routes. City buses (GVB) serve all neighborhoods, and regional bus services operate routes between Amsterdam and neighboring suburbs. Buses are also the only late-night public transit service, as trams and metro routes stop around midnight. All tram, bus and metro stations display timetables in Dutch and English.
With 18 million bikes, The Netherlands has more bikes than people—and most of the infrastructure in the country is designed to make biking as easy as possible. Down many of the main streets are dedicated bike paths, and traffic lights are usually equipped with lights and crossing buttons just for cyclists. So, when in Amsterdam, it makes sense to blend in and rent a bike. Rental stores are all over the city and a 24-hour bike rental will usually cost around EUR10. When offered, always opt for additional rental insurance, as bike theft is very common. Some hotels have special arrangements with rental companies, and can often arrange for a bike to be delivered to the hotel. When cycling through the city, the challenge of dealing with traffic is nowhere near as complex as dealing with trams—not only do you run the risk of being hit by a tram coming from behind you, you’ll also need to master the art of keeping your wheels out of tram tracks. If you need to cross tracks, always cross diagonally, or at an angle. If you don’t, you could end up getting your wheels stuck in the tracks. And yes—we speak from experience here. For rentals, you’ll typically need to provide your passport and a credit card or a EUR200 cash deposit.