Public Transportation: Getting Around the Netherlands
“Dames en heren, het volgende station is Amsterdam Centraal. Vergeet niet om uit te checken met uw OV-chipkaart!” / “Ladies and gentlemen, the next stop is Amsterdam Central. Do not forget to check out with your OV-chipcard!”
If you’ve ever been to the Netherlands, chances are you have heard the kind train-lady say this sentence over the train intercom. There is an even bigger chance you did not understand a word of what she said (since it’s in Dutch), and wondered how those were even words (Dutch is a very interesting-sounding language after all). But do not worry, I’m here to help you figure out the Dutch Public Transportation System! In general, the system is very easy to understand and very safe.
“Every day, NS transports more than 1.1 million train passengers. We are their connection between home and work, between family and friends and all of the other people in their lives. The train is still the only mode of transport that can take passengers to the heart of the city centre unhindered, in a sustainable and safe manner.” - NS Strategy
I’ll teach you all about our favorite transportation card (the OV-Chipkaart), the transportation apps we use the most, and give you some general advice to make your stay in the Netherlands even easier. So here we go:
First thing you should know: Become familiar with is the OV-Chipkaart (OV-Chipcard)
The OV (for short) is exactly what it sounds like: a card with an internal chip system that you can use on most public transportation in the Netherlands. It will work on all (national) trains, buses, metros and trams, and is the most convenient way to travel. There are 3 types: disposable, anonymous and personalised OV-chipcard. These last 2 are reusable → your best bet if you are staying in the country for 3+ days seeing as they save you money.
The disposable cards are one-time use cards made of (thick) paper, but you will get charged a small fee every time you buy one. The anonymous and personalised OVs will cost you a one time fee of 7.50€ (and can be bought online or at ticket booths). They allow you to load a certain amount of money onto your card so that you do not have to purchase individual tickets and allow you to pay for your trip only. This also allows the convenience of not having to find a ticket booth every time you want to travel, given that you add enough money to it. You can add money to them (or “top them up” as Dutchies like to say) at train and metro stations, stores such as Albert Heijn and Primera, or online. There is also an app (The NS App) available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store where you can check your “saldo” or funds in real time. You can find out more information in English on the NS website here.
Second thing you should know: Check-In/Check-Out System
Even though that disposable ticket may look like it is made of paper, in reality, it is also a “smart” ticket that can be scanned. Anytime you use a train, bus, metro, or tram in the Netherlands you will have to check-in/check-out. This will become very clear if you observe a local using public transportation (so be a little stalker and check out how the locals do it!). At the entrance of every train station, bus, metro, and tram there will be a “post” or gate where you will be able to scan your OV (both disposable and otherwise). You will hear a “double beep” (beep beep - sorry, I’m not the best at reproducing machine sounds), which confirms you have correctly checked-in.
On your way out, make sure you find another location where you can scan your OV to check-out (you’ll hear another “beep beep”). Failing to check in or out may result in fines (when you do not check in) or overcharges (when you forget to check out). This system essentially tracks where your destination started and where it ended, to then charge you for your trip accordingly. So it stalks you for a good cause! In case you forgot to check-out, you can login to the website of the OV-chipcard and (try to) claim back the additional charges.
Save money: Add special discounts and “features” to your OV
NS (the national train service company) provides a lot of “features” you can add to your OV in order to save money in the long run. Of course you’ll have to pay for them, but it is worth it because it can save you a lot of money in the end. One of these deals allows you to get 40% discount on off-peak times (after 9am and before 4pm, as well as weekends and holidays) for only 5€ a month ! If you’re travelling with someone who already has this on their OV, you can use their discount for free. I’ll let you discover more deals with the NS website, but here is everything you need to know! I am in no way sponsored by them, I just sincerely want to help out!
There are also discounts you can get for buses with companies like Arriva, but their pages are usually unfortunately only in Dutch.
Get downloading! Here are some useful apps…
The best way (in my opinion) to find your way around the Netherlands with public transportation overall is by using Google Maps, seeing as it knows all the local trains, trams, metros, and buses. Fun fact: in The Netherlands, Google Maps knows all the bike paths and can calculate the bike route for you too!
Another very useful app is the OV9292, which can calculate public transportation routes for you with the correct depart/arrival times. With this app, you can keep an eye on things like delays in real time.
The NS also has its very own app, which will also help find routes and keep an eye on delays and possible construction work on the railways.
Discover the OV Fiets (OV Bicycle) and bike around for cheaper!
A quick last tip for you: I really recommend getting the OV fiets in situations where you may need a bicycle to get around for a couple of days/weeks. You can find out more about it here, it is just a tick in a box when you apply for the OV card, and the bike is super cheap: just €3,85 per 24 hours.
I hope you found this article helpful, and that finding your way around the Netherlands just became a little easier!