Are you planning to visit the Netherlands? Or a trip around Europe including a couple of days in the Netherlands? On a trip to the Netherlands with Boat-Bike Tours, we got hopelessly confused trying to make sense of the Dutch train system. If you plan to travel around the Netherlands by train, you need this guide to train travel in the Netherlands to understand this system.
- 1 Train Travel in The Netherlands
- 2 How To Travel by Train in The Netherlands
- 3 Dutch Rail Travel with a Eurail Pass
- 4 FYI for Dutch Train Travel
Train Travel in The Netherlands
With over 400 train stations, traveling by train in the Netherlands is definitely an excellent way of exploring the country and once you know how it works, traveling by train is really easy.
In this step-by-step guide, you will learn everything there is to know about traveling by train in the Netherlands!
Train Travel in The Netherlands: Fun Facts
- The first train track in the Netherlands was opened in 1839 and connected Amsterdam with Haarlem (one of the best day trips from Amsterdam!).
- The Dutch train network is the 3rd busiest in the world, only the networks in Switzerland and Japan are used more intensively.
- In 2019 over 1.3 million people traveled by train in the Netherlands every single day, meaning it got pretty busy at times. However, in 2020 and 2021 those numbers halved due to COVID and many people working from home for most of the year. It remains to be seen how busy it will be in the upcoming years.
How To Travel by Train in The Netherlands
Here is what you need to know about travelling by train in the Netherlands.
NS, the Dutch train company
The first thing you have to know about train travel in the Netherlands is that most of the trains are owned and operated by NS, fully called ‘Nederlandse Spoorwegen’.
The colors of the NS are a distinctive blue and yellow. The website of the NS is www.ns.nl and much of the information provided is also available in English.
OV-chipkaart, the Netherlands train ticket
Since 2014 the only way you can travel by train in the Netherlands is with an OV-chipkaart, a credit card format pass that you use for all public transport.
There are 3 types of the OV-chipkaart:
1. Disposable: singe use, cannot be topped up.
2. Anonymous: unlimited use, can be topped up.
3. Personal: unlimited use, can be used for discount plans.
When to get a disposable OV chipcard
Basically, when you are planning on traveling by train just once, get the disposable card.
When to get an anonymous OV chipcard
If you plan to travel by train multiple times, get the anonymous chip card. Keep in mind that to travel by train you need to put at least 20 euro on the card in order to pass through the gates (more below).
To travel by bus, metro or tram you only need a balance of 4 euro on your card.
When to get a personal OV chipcard
If you plan on staying in the Netherlands for a longer period of time, get the personal chip card and investigate which discount plan is most suitable for your personal situation.
How to get an OV-chipkaart
Buying an OV-chipkaart is simple, you look for a machine identical to the LEFT one in the picture below.
I know it looks pretty much the same as the machine on the right, but there is a slight difference.
The machine on the left is for buying a new OV-chipkaart, the one on the right is only for topping up (doesn’t dispense new cards).
The one on the left with the rail symbol can be used to buy a new card, the machine on the right (with OV-chipkaarthouders written at the top) can only be used to top up cards.
Now that you have located the proper ticket machine, the next step is to get yourself a brand new OV-chipkaart.
Click English, this will make choosing the right buttons a lot easier. Unless you really want to learn Dutch, in which case: GO AHEAD!
If you are going to make several trips by train or other public transport you’ll want to get an OV-chipkaart.
The costs for an OV-chipkaart are €7,50 and the card is valid for 5 years. An excellent reason to plan a return trip to the Netherlands!
In order to travel by train, you’ll need a minimum of €20 on your OV-chipkaart.
Choose your preferred payment method. You can try your usual bank card, but if that doesn’t work you can pay with credit card as well.
On the left is the payment terminal, which accepts Maestro cards and Credit Cards. On the right is the touchpad for the OV-chipkaart, if you put the card on the pad you can check your balance and top-up your card.
All right, you are all set up with a brand new loaded OV-chipkaart ready for use, your next step is to check-in…
How to use the OV-chipkaart
Now that you have a brand new topped up OV-chipkaart you are almost ready to hop aboard a brightly colored blue and yellow train.
When traveling by train in the Netherlands you should NEVER forget to CHECK-IN! Checking in can be done at gates and poles looking like this:
Alright, you have checked in and can now hop aboard the train to your desired destination. Equally important: don’t forget to CHECK-OUT when you have arrived at your destination. You do this at the gates or poles as well.
There is one exception and this is where it goes wrong for many travelers (and not just travelers, many Dutch people as well).
For some train trips you will have to check-out with NS and check-in with another train company transporting you to your final destination.
Yes I know, it’s confusing. The thing is, while the NS operates on the vast majority of the train tracks, there are small parts of the track that are operated by other companies, particularly in the North, East, and South of the Netherlands.
So if you visit places further off the beaten track you can find yourself in the situation where you feel like you have done everything right (you bought your OV-chipkaart, you charged it, you check-in) and still get fined…
Because you failed to complete this tiny and stupid step of checking out with NS and checking in with the appropriate other company.
Other companies operating on small parts of the Dutch train tracks are Arriva, Synthus, Connexxion, Veolia and Arriva Vechtdallijnen.
This sign explains transferring from one train company to another.
On the top half of the sign in the picture it says: Transferring from Connexxion to NS -> step 1: Check-out with Connexxion, step 2: Check-in with NS. On the bottom half of the sign vice versa.
Whenever you find yourself at a station with poles in any other color than blue-yellow, and the train you are getting into isn’t blue and yellow either, make sure to check out at an NS pole and check in at the pole of the train company transporting you to your next destination.
If you aren’t sure, just ask somebody to help you, either the train staff or people at the station.
Almost everybody in the Netherlands speaks English and is willing to help you out making sense of this unnecessarily complicated system…
Dutch Rail Travel with a Eurail Pass
If you have a Eurail Pass to travel in the Netherlands, you will need additional information.
How does traveling in the Netherlands with a Eurail pass work?
You might be wondering: how do I use my Eurail card in the Netherlands? Do I need to check-in as well? And is my Eurail card suitable for checking in?
Before you arrive in the Netherlands (about 5 working days before) you can send an email to email@example.com.
You will receive an email with a square barcode. This barcode can be scanned (from paper or from your phone) at the check-in gates and they will open.
You will need this because at some train station you can only get to the platform via an entrance gate.
Please note the barcode is only to open the gates, it’s not a valid ticket to travel. When asked for your ticket you can show your Eurail pass to the train staff, as this is valid in NL.
You can read more information here.
On the page it says you can only get a keycard if you have a certain type of NS subscriptions on your OV-chipkaart, please ignore that.
FYI for Dutch Train Travel
Some important things to know about train travel in The Netherlands.
Dutch Train Classes
There are 2 classes in the train, 1st and 2nd class. The class is indicated on the side of the train and also inside the train.
A standard OV-chipkaart gives you access to 2nd class, for the 1st class you’ll have to buy a supplement.
But that’s really not necessary, second class will do just fine, only during rush hour it can get pretty crowded. All trains in the Netherlands are non-smoking. Because smoking is gross and will kill you…
In the picture below you can see three symbols. The first one indicates the class (1st class in this case). If you see the symbol in the middle, it means the compartment you are about to enter is a silence compartment.
You cannot talk in these compartments as people are working, reading, sleeping or most likely: glued to their phones.
The arrow you’ll only see in double-decker trains, it simply means that if you go up the stairs you’ll find a 1st class compartment where you’ll have to be quiet.
Sprinter Trains Netherlands
In almost all the trains there is a toilet (which is usually also very gross, so try not to use it), except in the so-called ‘Sprinters’.
If you find yourself in need of a restroom while riding a Sprinter Train you’re out of luck because there’s no bathroom on board.
Note though that the newer versions of this train do have a toilet because of the massive amounts of complaints the NS got from travelers!
Dutch people love complaining, and they complain a lot about the NS.
Which isn’t always fair because as I mentioned, the Dutch rail system is one of the busiest in the world and according to the latest statistics 95% of the trains are on time.
Dutch Train Delays
But every now and then you may find yourself in the situation where the train is delayed. You’ll see this on the information displays, like in the picture below.
In general, if you hear or read the word ‘Vertraging‘ (which is Dutch for delay), you know you’ll be waiting a little while…
Bikes on Trains Netherlands
Bikes can only be taken on trains in the Netherlands during off-peak hours.
You don’t actually need to make a reservation to take your bike on trains but you will have to buy a ticket for the bike.
Cycle tickets can be purchased online or at a ticket machine at the station.
Many train stations will have rental bikes in front, but you can only rent an OV bike with a personal OV card which most travelers won’t have.
Here is the information for taking bikes on Dutch trains.
Dutch Train Etiquette
If you are traveling in rush hour, you may be a little shocked by the nonexistent queuing skills of Dutch people.
It never really struck me as strange that the Dutch way of entering a train is to push as hard as you can to secure yourself a seat. Even if that means that people getting out of the train are having an impossible time to do so.
People in the Netherlands DON’T STAND ON THE PROPER SIDE OF THE ESCALATOR! I don’t get it, stand on the right, walk on the left, it’s that simple!
Netherlands Train Websites
The most important website for train travel is www.ns.nl/en. This is the official website of ‘Nederlandse Spoorwegen’, the main Dutch train company.
On this website you can find general travel information, information about tickets and plan your journey.
The NS also has an app for Android and iPhones.
Another excellent site and app to plan your journey if it involves more than travel by train is www.9292ov.nl. This site and app also includes information about traveling by bus, metro, tram, and even ferry.
Both websites are available in English, the apps can also be set to English once you’ve downloaded them. On this website you can find a map of all the train tracks in the Netherlands.
OV Chipkaart Netherlands Buying Guide
Here is the step by step guide on how to get an OV-chipkaart.
This post was written by Lotte Eschbach, a frequent user of the Dutch train service.
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