If you want to explore Holland, you will probably need to use public transport. Compared to other countries, public transport in Holland is not cheap. On the other hand, it is quite reliable and frequent, and the best way to access cities, as you will avoid parking costs. In this blog I will explain the basics of travel by public transport in Holland: how to find the correct itinerary and how to buy a ticket.
Public transport in times of COVID-19
(Update June 7th, 2020) As a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, some things have changed in our public transport system. Normally I advice everyone to use public transport as much as possible, but right now I am not so sure. If you’re using trains, buses or any other mode of public transport keep in mind the following:
- You have to wear a face mask when using public transport. If you don’t the fine is EUR 95. Ferries, such as the (free) ones in Amsterdam, are considered public transport as well.
- There are fewer seats available than normally to create more distance between passengers. In trains: only use the seats with the green stickers.
- If it gets to busy trains may be cancelled and platforms may be closed, meaning you may not be able to travel to or from popular tourist hotspots.
- In buses you’ll have to use the back entrance. You won’t be able to get near the driver or to buy a ticket with the driver. Make sure you have bought a ticket beforehand or use the OV-travel card.
Finding your way when traveling by public transport in Holland
If you are looking for your travel schedule, the best thing to do is to make use of these handy websites/apps:
- 9292.nl/en (available in English). For all your public transport itineraries. Insert your point of departure, your destination and the time you’d like to get there and this site will tell you how to do it. Including the walking routes, with maps. They also have an app that you can install on your smartphone.
- ns.nl/en , the website of the Dutch Railways (available in English). Handy for planning your train trips, especially planning ahead, as it will give you the right info on planned construction and detours.
- Google maps is getting better in public transport itineraries; even though at times it will show weird or not entirely logical routes. And it is not always completely up to date when it comes to delays or construction works.
Buying a ticket for public transport in Holland
Option 1: use an ov-chipcard
When you use Dutch public transport you will see that most locals make use of a wallet sized chipcard to enter stations, trams or buses. This is the ov-chipcard. For residents of the Netherlands, there are personalized cards that allow for subscriptions and discounts.
As a tourist you can buy an “anonymous” chipcard for EUR 7,50 and charge it with credits. This way, you’ll avoid the hassle of having to buy disposable tickets for every trip. The fares are lower too. On the flip side, note that this EUR 7,50 is non-refundable, and that every traveler (over 4 years old) needs their own individual card. So do your math before you buy an OV-chipcard. If you don’t intend to stay long or travel much, it will be cheaper to buy disposable tickets or perhaps a day card.
Note: if you have credits left on your chipcard when leaving Holland it can be complicated to get your money back. With less than 30 euros on your card you need to fill in a form at one of the service desks and they will return the money to you in cash. With more than 30 euros left on your card you will need a Dutch bank account to get your money back! So my advice: make sure there is never too much credit on your ov-chipcard!
Where to buy an ov-chipcard?
You can buy an anonymous OV chipcard at:
- railway stations, from the ticket machines or from the service desk (only at the bigger stations);
- ticket machines and service desks of local public transport providers;
- bookshops in the railway stations, such as Bruna and AKO;
- service desks of large supermarkets, such as Albert Heijn and Jumbo.
How does the ov-chipcard work?
After you have purchased an ov-chipcard you can load travel credits onto your card. You can charge your ov-chipcard at a ticketmachine in a railway station, subway station or in one of the yellow machines in (some) supermarkets. To charge your chipcard you’ll need a debit card or credit card. Note that you will need at least EUR 4 on your card when travelling by bus, tram or subway and EUR 20 when travelling by train.
Now that you have an ov-chipcard with credits or a ticket you can start to travel!
How to check in using the OV chipcard?
Checking in for trains and metro’s/subways
Open the gate by holding your ov-chipcard in front of the chipcard-reader at the gate (just watch how the locals do it). Use only gates with a green arrow.
Some stations don’t have closed gates (yet), or no gates at all. However, you do need to check in at a card reader! You need to do this both when entering and when leaving a station. If you don’t check in you risk a fine; if you don’t check out, you will end up paying the highest rate.
Pay attention when travelling outside of the big cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht: some of the regional trains are owned by different companies, and you’ll need to check in with the right company! Their logo’s are visible at the card-readers at the entrance of the stations or the platforms (see picture above). If you change trains from one company to another, you will need to check out from company 1 and check in with company 2. Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, the correct card readers are easy to find at the platforms (just follow the other travelers).
Checking in for buses and trams
Hold your ov-chipcard in front of the pass reader at the entrance of the bus or the tram. Check in when entering and check out when leaving the vehicle, even if you are only changing to another bus or tram! If you check in to another bus, tram or metro within 35 minutes, this is counted as one trip and you will be charged as such.
Option 2: buying a disposable ticket for public transport
Option 1: at the railway station. The old fashioned way! You will find that only the bigger stations have manned service desks. At most stations there are only ticket machines. You can change the language of the machine to English to make things easier.
Note: for disposable tickets you need a ticket machine with a blue sign. Check out the website of the Dutch railways for more info and pictures of the machines. You will need a debit card or credit card to buy a ticket.
Option 2: buy your ticket online and print it OR download it to your smartphone. Do this via the NS website or app. After payment you will receive an e-mail with the option to download a pdf-file that you need to print OR download to the app. Make sure your phone is sufficiently charged.
If you need to open the gates at a station use the QR-code on your printed ticket or e-ticket. If there are no gates you don’t need to check in. Just show your ticket to the staff if they ask for it. More info about buying traintickets online at the website of the Dutch Railways.
Be aware that in Holland you need to use return tickets in one day. So if you travel somewhere on Monday, and return on Tuesday, you will need two single tickets (with the right dates).
Disposable bus-, tram- and subway tickets
You can buy a single ticket (valid for 1 hour) from the bus- or tram driver. Most trams in Amsterdam have a conductor on board (situated about halfway of the tram). In most cities, you’ll need to pay in cash. This differs for every public transport company though, and in some regions you can use your debit card. If you need to change to another bus, tram or subway you can use the same ticket, as long as you travel within the hour.
You can use this same ticket for the subway (only available in Amsterdam and Rotterdam). However, in the subway, you can’t buy a ticket with the driver. So you will need to use a ticket machine available at all subway stations. If you change from subway to tram or bus, you can use that same ticket.
Day tickets or multiple day tickets
Do you intend to spend some time in one city and go around by public transport a lot? In that case the best deal is probably to buy a day ticket. Check it out at the tourist office of the city you are visiting. Note that you can only use such tickets in local transport, not in trains.
Special deals for train travel
Cheap day cards
Sometimes shops such as supermarkets or drugstores sell cheap day tickets. With such a day card you can travel all over the Netherlands for the amount of about 15 to 20 euros per person. Usually the cards aren’t valid during rush hours on weekdays, but otherwise you’re free to go wherever you want. If you can obtain such a ticket, this is always a good deal, especially if you want to visit cities that are a bit further removed from where you are staying.
An overview of the most recent actions is available at Goedkope treinkaartjes. This site is completely in Dutch, but with Google translate I’m sure you’ll get around.
The Dutch Railways themselves sell special deals too, via their webshop Spoordeelwinkel. Usually these are train tickets in combination with something else. This may be a night in a hotel, or a ticket to a museum, zoo or a snack. If you intend to travel far, this is usually cheaper than buying a trainticket, even if you don’t intend to go to that specific museum or zoo. Their offers change monthly, so check out their website.
Are you travelling with a small group of at least 4 people?
Then have a look at the Dutch Railway group tickets. These tickets are a lot cheaper than regular tickets. Prices are between EUR 5,21 and EUR 8,00 per person for a one way ticket. If you intend to travel to distant places this may be a good deal!