Public transport 101: How to get around in The Netherlands

Using public transport in The Netherlands

Owning a car in the Netherlands can be very expensive. Besides car insurance, road tax, and maintenance costs, gas prices are also very high in recent months. A great (and often more affordable) alternative is to travel by public transport. It can be challenging to navigate at first, though. This blog is here to prepare you for your first trip with public transport in The Netherlands!

Long distance traveling

If you’re planning to travel a longer distance, e.g. from one big city to another, traveling by train is the most popular choice in the Netherlands. It is often the fastest, most reliable, and most comfortable option available. Trains are usually well on time and will never leave before the planned departure time. So as long as you’re at the station on time, you’re pretty much guaranteed to make it onto the train. Most railways in the Netherlands are operated by the NS. If you’re planning to travel by train, it’s wise to check the NS app or in advance. There, you can see if there are any disruptions or planned maintenance for your connection.

Short distance traveling

If you’re traveling a shorter distance, e.g. to a smaller town or nearby train station, traveling by bus is the way to go. The bus can be a real live saver for those rainy days when you don’t want to ride your bike! Busses are usually on time or slightly later, but at times they may arrive a bit earlier too. Luckily, you can find real-time arrival estimates via the 9292 OV app or 9292 OV can also help you find the best connections between bus and train if you’re planning a trip using both.

Traveling inside big cities

Some big Dutch cities, such as Amsterdam and Den Haag, also have trams and/or (underground) subways. These types of transport are usually even faster than buses and run very often. Some tram stations in Amsterdam have trams passing by every 2 minutes or so during peak hours. Trams usually get the right of way, so they don’t get stuck in traffic as easily as buses do. If you’re walking or cycling around in a big city, watch out for the iconic “ding ding ding” and make sure you don’t put yourself in front of a tram! 9292 OV (mentioned above) helps you find tram times and connections as well.

How to buy tickets

Some years ago, the entire Dutch public transport system was changed from paper tickets to a one-in-all solution: the OV chip card. It’s a reusable plastic card, with which you can ‘check in’ for trains, buses, trams, and subways. Special machines at train stations and some supermarkets allow you to put money onto your OV chip card, which you can then use to travel.

Once you’re checked in, make sure to check out when you reach your destination! If you forget, the system will have to guess where you checked out and will often charge you more. If you forget to check out too often, your card may even be blocked.

To avoid checkout issues and make payments a lot easier, consider the NS “Basis” subscription. It’s free (2022) and allows you to check out up to 6 hours later or it tries to automatically correct a missed checkout for you. You won’t need to add money to your OV chip card, because it automatically charges your debit card for you. Bus, tram, subway, bike rental (OV fiets), and bike parking (fietsenstalling) costs are also automatically charged to your card. You’ll get charged once a month, based on actual use.

Subscriptions and discounts

If you travel by train a lot, you may want to consider an NS subscription. For €2 per month (2022), you can enjoy a “Weekend Voordeel” subscription, which gives you all the benefits of NS Basis, PLUS 40% discount on weekends and public holidays. During off-peak hours, up to 3 passengers traveling with you can enjoy a 40% joined discount. NS discounts apply for travel by train only.

For €5,10 per month (2022), you can enjoy a “Dal Voordeel” subscription, which includes everything from Weekend Voordeel, PLUS a 40% discount on weekdays during off-peak hours. This discount extends to up to 3 passengers traveling with you as well. NS discounts apply for travel by train only.

For €24,20 per month (€12,10 for the first 2 months) (2022), you can enjoy an “Altijd Voordeel” subscription, which includes everything from Dal Voordeel, PLUS a 20% discount during peak hours on weekdays. The 20% discount for weekday peak hours does not extend to people traveling with you, but the other discounts do. NS discounts apply for travel by train only.

Last, but not least, NS offers several unlimited travel subscriptions for the true train die-hards. NS discounts and subscriptions are only valid for travel by train. For bus, tram, and subway subscriptions, have a look at 9292 OV for season tickets.

Discounts for a fun day out

If you use public transport, but not enough to enjoy a subscription, perhaps an NS “Dagje Uit” could be something for you! These special offers combine a train ticket with, e.g. a stay at a hotel, special attractions, restaurants, and more. The Dagje Uit website is only available in Dutch (2022), so you may need Google Translate to get through it! If you’re looking for something fun to do, be sure to check out our 4 must-do activities for autumn in The Netherlands.

We hope this blog removed some hurdles and made Dutch public transport a bit easier for you. Remember the essentials: download the NS app for train, and 9292 OV app for bus, tram and subway. Safe travels and enjoy the freedom that Dutch public transport has to offer!

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