The Netherlands is a relatively small country, but its transport options are pretty impressive. You can travel around the country by car or train with ease and within the cities there are trams, buses, and metro systems to take you from place to place.
The tourism infrastructure is especially good in the bigger cities with options to change the language on ticket machines to English so you won’t need to dust off your phrasebook any time soon.
Familiarize yourself with the 9292 website or download the app, it’s a great way to plan trips, check routes, and find out about engineering works.
The main railway company in the Netherlands is Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) which covers most of the country (and travels to nearby countries like France). There are also some regional companies that operate in the country, such as Abellio from Gouda to Alphen, as well as the Eurostar that connects the Netherlands to neighboring Belgium and London.
How the Trains Work
It’s easy to travel by train in the Netherlands, you can buy tickets from machines or kiosks at train stations on your day of travel. If you want to, you can book your train tickets ahead of time on the NS website, they tend to be very slightly cheaper. The same website also has information about current departures and engineering works.
If you’re traveling around Europe to other cities like London, Berlin, and Lille, you should book your tickets and select your seat ahead of time, you can do that on the NS International website.
Train Tip: Local trains that connect cities in the Netherlands don’t offer seat bookings. Because the country is relatively small it’s better to think of trains like a metro system, in that you buy a ticket and hop on the next arriving train. If you’re taking a long train journey, for example, from Amsterdam to Groningen then it’s worth traveling outside of rush hour to make sure you can find a seat.
Metro, Trams, and Buses
The largest metro system is in the capital Amsterdam, but Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague also have great metro networks. Taking the metro is often faster than traveling by bus or tram. You’ll also find tram systems in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. The Utrecht sneltram (meaning fast tram) connects the city center to the suburbs. Buses are available across the country.
How the Metro, Trams, and Buses Work
Despite different networks running transport in different cities, to travel on the metro, tram, or bus anywhere in the Netherlands you need an OV-chipkaart. You can buy tickets at machines in metro stations with cash, chip and pin cards, or contactless payment methods. On buses and trams you can’t buy tickets with cash.
You can either buy a paper or plastic card from the machines at the station, newsagents, or supermarkets. The plastic card is recommended for any time period over a day (since plastic is more durable than paper). Prices vary, but you can buy an OV-chipkaart for that is valid for one hour, up to one that is valid for 7 days. Alternatively, if you get a plastic OV-chipkaart, you can load it with time-based tickets, such as a 48-hour ticket, or with credit.
Bus and Tram Tip: If you've loaded your card with credit, be sure to tap in and out on buses and trams, so you don’t get overcharged. You have to save that money for souvenirs!
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to travel around the Netherlands is by bike. Many of the larger roads are set up with separate bike lanes, so it’s not as daunting as it looks.
How to Hire a Bike: You can find bike routes and rental companies online at the Fietsersbond website. It's not an exhaustive list of rentals but it’s a good place to start.
Bike Tips: Bikes in the Netherlands tend to have pedal brakes, where you pedal backward to slow and stop the bike, but you can request a handbrake bike. Be sure to keep as far to the right as possible in bike lanes, stop at red lights (even if the locals don’t), use your bell to signal to pedestrians (tourists have a habit of unknowingly wandering into bike lanes) and look out for tram lines. When you encounter them, be sure to cross them diagonally or horizontally or your wheel could get stuck causing you to fall off. Always lock your bike (ideally to something); pretty much every resident has had a bike stolen or thrown into a canal at least once.
To encourage people to use public transport instead of driving, it's quite expensive to park in most Dutch cities. The Netherlands is the fifth-largest electric vehicle market in the world and electric cars are popular as there is a zero-emission taxation policy in the country.
You can hire cars from companies like Enterprise, Europcar, and Sixt but it’s not the cheapest or easiest way to get around a city. However, driving through the country in the Netherlands is easy since it’s not a hugely populated country and it’s flat. Plus, a car gives you the freedom to take any excursion you like, when you like.
Uber is available in the Randstad which encompasses the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht, the surrounding areas, as well as Eindhoven in the southwestern part of the country. It is fairly affordable, but when it rains the surcharges do make it one of the more expensive modes of transport.