Straddling one of Europe’s busiest crossroads, Amsterdam has excellent air links, a fine motorway and train lines fanning out to the rest of Europe. Once in town, you’ll find that Amsterdam is very much a walking city; you can traverse the old centre in 30 minutes and reach the outskirts in an hour. The tram system is reliable, though not necessarily faster than a bike, the locals’ preferred way of getting around.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
The information in this chapter is particularly vulnerable to change. Check directly with the airline or a travel agent to make sure you understand how a fare (and ticket you may buy) works and be aware of the security requirements for international travel. Shop carefully. The details given in this chapter should be regarded as pointers and are not a substitute for your own careful, up-todate research.
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 tel 0900 01 41 (per minute €0.40) or see www.schiphol.nl.
The airport is in the same telephone area code as Amsterdam proper (tel 020). Luggage may be deposited at the left luggage office (tel 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.
GETTING INTO TOWN
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS; national railway) runs trains to Centraal Station (one way/return €3.60/5.50, 15 to 20 minutes, every 10 to 15 minutes) from right beneath Schiphol Plaza. Train-ticket counters and vending machines are in Schiphol Plaza’s central court; buy your ticket before taking the escalator down to the platforms. If you need a strippenkaart (a ticket for local transport within Amsterdam), purchase it at the Ako newsstand near the ticket windows.
Taxi services between Amsterdam and Schiphol airport take 20 to 45 minutes (may be longer in rush hour) and cost about €30 to €40. Aficionados swear by Amsterdam Airport Business Taxi (tel 06 5376 9753; www.aabt.info), who have Mercedes cars and professional drivers and cost €34 to €42 depending on your destination or origin in town.
Some of the international hotel chains have free shuttle services for their guests. Public services such as Connexxion bus Interliner 370 also run regular services to and from central Amsterdam. Connexxion runs a paid hotel shuttle (one way/return around €12.50/19.50). When making your hotel reservation, ask whether the shuttle stops on the route.
Another way to get to or from the airport is by the minivan service Schiphol Travel Taxi (tel 0900 88 76, per min €0.10, from outside the Netherlands 31 38 339 47 68; www.schiphol.nl). Figure on about €21 per person.
By car, take the A4 freeway to/from the A10 ring road around Amsterdam. A short stretch of A9 connects to the A4 close to Schiphol.
Car-rental offices at the airport are in the right-hand corner near the central exits of Schiphol Plaza. The airport’s P1 and P2 short-term (undercover) parking garages charge €1.90 per half-hour for the first three hours, then €3 per hour. Daily charges are €26 a day for the first three days, €17.50 a day thereafter. The long-term (open-air) parking area is a fair distance from the terminal but is linked by a 24-hour shuttle bus. The charge is €50 for up to three days and €6.50 for each day thereafter.
BICYCLE & SCOOTER
The vast majority of Amsterdammers get around town on their estimated 600,000 fietsen (bikes). Motor scooters and mopeds are popular too, but few places hire them out. Helmets are not required.
Many visitors rent a bike towards the end of their stay and wish they had done so sooner. See the boxed text, below , before setting out.
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 (tel 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 (tel 625 50 29; www.bikes.nl; Damstraat 20-2; per day/week €7/31, plus credit card imprint deposit)
- Holland Rent-a-Bike (tel 622 32 07; Damrak 247; per day/week €6.40/34.50, plus deposit €150 or credit card imprint)
- MacBike (tel 620 09 85; www.macbike.nl; per day/week €8.50/29.75, plus ID & €50 deposit or credit card imprint) Centraal Station; Visserplein (Mr Visserplein 2); Weteringschans; (Weteringschans 2) 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 (tel 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.
The best bet for scooter hire is to try Moped Rental Service Gilex (tel 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.
Canal Boat, Bus & Bike
Canal Bus (tel 623 98 86; www.canal.nl; day pass per adult /child €18/12) does several circuits between Centraal Station and the Rijksmuseum between 9.50am and 8pm. The day pass is valid until noon the next day. The same company rents canal bikes (pedal boats) for €8 per person per hour (€7 if more than two people per canal bike). Docks are by Leidseplein and near the Anne Frank Huis.
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.
The heavy traffic can be intimidating, but observe a few basics and soon you’ll be freewheeling like a native:
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
We absolutely don’t recommend having a car in Amsterdam, but if you must, read on.
Visitors are entitled to drive in the Netherlands on their foreign licences for a period of up to 185 days per calendar year. If you stay longer, you must get a Dutch licence (with some exceptions). For all queries, ring the National Transport Authority (tel 0900 07 39, per min €0.10).
Traffic in Amsterdam travels on the right and is generally quite busy. The minimum driving age is 18 years for cars and 16 years for motorcycles. Seat belts are required for everyone in a vehicle. Children under 12 must ride in the back if there’s room.
Be alert for bicycles, and if you are trying to turn right, be aware that bikes have priority. Trams always have the right of way. In traffic circles (roundabouts), approaching vehicles technically have right of way, but in practice they yield to vehicles already on the circle.
The blood-alcohol limit when driving is 0.05%, and the speed limits are 50km/h in built-up areas, 80km/h in the country, 100km/h on major rural through-roads and 120km/h on freeways (sometimes this is reduced to 100km/h, but this is generally clearly indicated).
CLIMATE CHANGE & TRAVEL
Climate change is a serious threat to the ecosystems that humans rely upon, and air travel is the fastest-growing contributor to the problem. Lonely Planet regards travel, overall, as a global benefit, but believes we all have a responsibility to limit our personal impact on global warming.
Flying & Climate Change
Pretty much every form of motor transport generates CO₂ (the main cause of human-induced climate change) but planes are far and away the worst offenders, not just because of the sheer distances they allow us to travel, but because they release greenhouse gases high into the atmosphere. The statistics are frightening: two people taking a return flight between Europe and the US will contribute as much to climate change as an average household’s gas and electricity consumption over a whole year.
Carbon Offset Schemes
Climatecare.org and other websites use ‘carbon calculators’ that allow travellers to offset the greenhouse gases they are responsible for with contributions to energy-saving projects and other climate-friendly initiatives in the developing world – including projects in India, Honduras, Kazakhstan and Uganda.
Lonely Planet, together with Rough Guides and other concerned partners in the travel industry, supports the carbon offset scheme run by climatecare.org. Lonely Planet offsets all of its staff and author travel.
For more information check out our website: www.lonelyplanet.com.
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 (tel 683 60 61; www.avis.nl; Nassaukade 380)
- easyCar (www.easycar.nl)
- Europcar (tel 683 21 23; www.europcar.nl; Overtoom 197)
- Hertz (tel 612 24 41; www.hertz.nl; Overtoom 333)
- National Car Rental (tel 616 24 66; www.nationalcar-rental.com; Overtoom 184)
- Sixt (tel 023-405 90 90; www.e-sixt.nl; Schiphol Plaza)
Parking in the city hits you where it hurts. Pay-and-display applies in the central zone from 9am to midnight from Monday to Saturday, and noon to midnight on Sunday. At the time of writing, the cost was €4.60/27.60/18.40 per hour/day/evening in most of the City Centre, and €3.60/21.60/14.40 elsewhere within the Canal Belt. Prices ease as you move away from the centre. Day passes are available.
Nonpayers in the City Centre will find a bright yellow wielklem (wheel clamp) attached to their car and have to pay €103.60 to get it removed; visit the closest Stadstoezicht office (City Surveillance; tel 553 03 00) to pay the fine. Otherwise, within 24 hours the vehicle will be towed and the fine skyrockets to €300.
Parking garages in the City Centre include locations at Damrak, near Leidseplein and under Museumplein and the Stopera, but they’re often full and cost more than a parking permit. Here are some other options for parking:
- Amsterdam-Noord Park for free and take the ferry across.
- Car Hotel (tel 493 12 78; www.carhotel.nl; per 24hr €20) Collects and delivers your car from and to your hotel.
- Stadionplein Park and ride in from the southwestern outskirts.
- Transferium parking garage (tel 400 17 21; Bijlmer; per day incl 2 return tickets for public transport to Centraal Station €5.50) Under the Amsterdam Arena.
Amsterdam taxis are among Europe’s most expensive. Worse, drivers tend not to know the streets; you often have to tell them how to get there. This is complicated because, as a group, taxi drivers are among the few people you meet in town who may not speak English well. A notable exception is Taxicentrale Amsterdam (TCA; tel 777 77 77).
You’re not supposed to hail taxis in the many no-stop zones of the city, but many cabs will halt if you do. You can also usually find them at taxi stands at hotels and, especially at night, on Leidseplein.
Flag fall is around €3.40 and the rate is €1.94 per kilometre, plus a 5% to 10% tip. Some independent cabs charge lower fares but many will charge more. There’s also the informal strategy of setting a price with the driver before you get in – figure about two thirds of the metered price. Some haggling is usually involved. If a driver’s been waiting long enough, he may agree.
A cute alternative to regular taxis, the open three-wheeled scooters of TukTuk (tel 0900 993 33 99, per min €0.55) have a Fellini quality about them. Costs are zone-based: €3.50/5/6.50 for one/two/three passengers in the City Centre, plus a flat €3.50 per zone thereafter.
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 (see below) 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 oneday 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 (tel 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 (tel 0900 92 92, per min €0.70; www.ns.nl; 7am-midnight).
TRAM, BUS & METRO
Most public transport within the city is by tram; buses and Amsterdam’s metro (subway) serve some outer reaches. Services are run by the local transit authority, the GVB; national railway (NS) tickets are not valid on local transport.
The GVB has an information office (tel 0900 80 11, per min €0.10; www.gvb.nl; Stationsplein 10; 7am-9pm Mon-Fri, 8am-9pm Sat & Sun) across the tram tracks from the Centraal Station main entrance. Here you can get tickets, maps and the like. The website has lots of useful information including details of how to reach key sights.
You must either purchase a ticket on board or validate it when you board. If you get caught without a ticket or properly stamped strip, playing the ignorant foreigner will guarantee that you get fined €37.50. Some trams have conductors responsible for ticketing (usually towards the rear of the tram), while others do not. Drivers can also handle tickets but prefer not to as it slows things down. If you are 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.
Chances are you won’t use the metro unless you go to the international bus station at Amstelstation, south to the RAI Convention Centre, or to the World Trade Centre.
Tickets on trams and buses are calculated by zone and are valid for one hour from the time they’re stamped. Within the city centre you are in Zone 1. When in doubt, consult the maps at bus and tram stops, or ask the driver or conductor. Single-trip fares for one/two zones are €1.60/2.40.
GVB passes are valid in all zones, and fares for one/two/three days are €6.50/10.50/13.50. Children (aged four to 11) and seniors can obtain a day pass for €4.50 per day, but multiple day passes are not available.
Depending on how much you plan to travel, consider a strippenkaart (‘strip card’; 15-/45-strip cards €6.80/20.10), available at train and bus stations, post offices, many VVV (tourist information) offices, supermarkets and tobacconists.
Each strip is numbered, but there’s a trick: you need to stamp for the number of zones you’re travelling plus one, and you stamp one strip only. In other words, if you’re travelling in Zone 1, stamp the second available strip but not the first (this would invalidate the second stamp). You should begin stamping from the lowest number available. You can also use a strip card if you’re travelling with a companion, so if both of you are travelling within Zone 1, you stamp the second and the fourth strips (two strips plus two strips).
If you’re boarding transport with a conductor, simply state where you’re travelling and the conductor will stamp your card for you. If you need to validate it yourself, fold the card so that the strip you want to stamp is first on the top, and insert it into the machine.
A strippenkaart is valid on local public transport throughout the country; however, in early 2009 they will be replaced by a smartcard system, the OV-chipkaart. A disposable card costs €8 for four journeys – not a great deal. Or you can pay a one-off fee of €7.50 for a regular OV-chipkaart and load it at the GVB ticket vendors and machines (good for longer stays, as single journeys begin at €0.90). Don’t forget to swipe it at the card readers in trams and buses, both upon entering and exiting, or you’ll be liable for a fine.