In a country as small as the Netherlands, you can quickly and easily visit more than just one city. Amsterdam’s lovely and all, but the Netherlands has so much more to offer! If you want to explore more of the Netherlands, using the train is probably your best option. But how does the Dutch train system work? Can I easily use it if I don’t speak Dutch and is there any way to get a bit of a discount? Having grown up in the Netherlands and having used more trains than I can count, I feel pretty confident giving you this guide on how to travel by train in Holland. Plus some useful insights of my boyfriend, who has travelled by train in the Netherlands as an Englishman 😉
How to buy a train ticket in the Netherlands?
To use the train in the Netherlands, you need to either buy a loose ticket or use a public transport smart card (OV-card). Let’s start with the single or return tickets. You can buy a ticket at one of the ticket machines at the station. If you don’t feel particularly confident in using a machine, you can always purchase a ticket at the service desk.
Using one of the ticket machines is easy and pretty straightforward. Select whether you want to purchase a single (enkele reis) or return (dagretour) ticket. You are then asked to type in the first few letters of your destination, and it will show up for you to select. Luckily, there’s also an English version on the machines. Simply click “English” for the text to be translated into English.
Keep in mind that you do not get a discount for buying a return ticket (like you do in the UK). A return ticket is simply the price of two single tickets combined. You will, however, save €1 by getting a return ticket as you only have to pay for the administration costs once.
This is a return ticket from Tilburg to Rotterdam. In the top right, you can see the date on which you can use the ticket. Next to the date, you will find whether you are travelling first or second class (Klasse 1/Klasse 2). On the next line, you can see whether you bought a single ticket (enkele reis) or a return ticket (dagretour) and between which two stations you are travelling.
You always have to check in and out when travelling by train, even when using a single ticket. A little reminder is printed on your ticket underneath the stations. Lastly, you can see the price (prijs: €27.40) and the service charge for buying an individual ticket (toeslag: €1.00). They’re a little faded on this used ticket – my bad!
OV-Card (Public Transport Smart Card)
When you live in the Netherlands or if you’re planning on using the train A LOT during your trip (more than 7-8 times), you might want to look into getting an OV card. This Public Transport (Openbaar Vervoer/OV) smartcard can be topped up with money and used to travel on any public transport in the Netherlands (train, bus, tram).
Personal OV card
There are two different types of OV-cards, a personal card and an anonymous one. The personal OV-card is linked to one individual and is only available for people who live in either the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany. If you’re an expat living in any of these countries, you can get a personal OV-card via this website.
The anonymous card (blue instead of yellow) works similarly to a personal card, but they are not linked to an individual and can be used by residents of any country. Because they are anonymous, you can’t put any monthly/weekly passes onto it. But it also means that this card can be used by more than one person. The main reasons to get an anonymous OV-card as a traveller is convenience when using multiple forms of public transport, or saving a tiny amount of money when using the train more than 8 times during your trip.
Instead of having to buy individual tickets every time you want to use a train, tram or bus, you can simply tap in and out with an OV-card. You also won’t get charged the €1.00 service fee when travelling by train. As the OV-card costs €7.50, you can save a little bit of money by using it often. You can buy an anonymous OV-card at new agency stores (like Primary and Bruna), or at the ticket machines and service desk at any train station. Keep in mind that the anonymous OV-card is valid for 5 years. If you’re planning on returning to the Netherlands it might be the perfect option for you!
How to use a train ticket in Holland
After purchasing your ticket (or topping up your OV-card), you can go to the platforms (“spoor” in Dutch). Before being able to get there, you have to check in. You simply tap your ticket or OV-card onto the “check-in” spot before the gates, and they will open for you. When you’re using the OV-card, the machines will automatically take the correct amount of change off your card when tapping out at your destination.
Make sure to ALWAYS check in and out when using the train, even when using the single/return tickets. You will most likely only travel with NS, but sometimes you have to swap to Arriva trains. When swapping train providers, you will also have to check in and out.
You can use the NS website to check on which platform you can find your train. Or you can check one of the information displays at the station.
Things to keep in mind
Different countries have different etiquettes when it comes to travelling on public transport. Even though many of these are pretty straightforward in the Netherlands, some points might need a bit of clarification.
The Dutch don’t queue. Getting off or onto the train during rush hour is like the apocalypse, each man for himself. No, no, no. I’m being dramatic. But having lived in queue-loving Britain for five years, the none existence of queues before Dutch trains did hit a nerve…
The “house rules” of the train are common sense, really. Make sure you have a valid train ticket or have checked in your OV-card, put your luggage somewhere where it won’t bother other passengers, etc. Eating and drinking on the train are fine, as long as you keep it nice and tidy.
One thing that does need a little bit of attention is the quiet areas on the train. Certain parts of the train have the little silent sign (pictured above: first column on the second row). This means you should be quiet when travelling in these compartments (no phone calls, no loud conversations, etc.). You can find the sign at the door of the train compartment.
How to get cheaper train tickets
I wouldn’t be a good budget travel blogger if I didn’t give you some tips on how to get cheaper tickets, right? It’s not too easy in the Netherlands, unfortunately. Travelling by train in the Netherlands can be quite expensive. Many deals are hard to get if you’re not a resident, don’t speak Dutch or are only visiting for a short period of time. But here they are…
1. Cheap Day-Ticket
The NS sells day-tickets for €53. This means you can travel by train all day, no matter how many stops you want to make on the way. But €53 is a lot! That’s why certain shops (Albert Heijn, Kruidvat, Xenos, etc.) have discounted day-tickets on sale every now and then. They are usually between €15-€25. Sometimes, they come with rules like you’re only able to use it during the week or during certain periods of the year. Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict when and where you can get these cheaper tickets. One way of getting one of these cheaper day-tickets is to check second-hand websites like Marktplaats (the Dutch eBay) or on the FaceBook market place.
2. Group Tickets
Travelling with a bigger group (4-7 people)? The NS group ticket will save you some money on train tickets. Pay between €8 and € 5.21 per person – depending on how many people you’re travelling with – for a single journey outside of peak hours. For more information, please check the NS website here (you can also order them from this website!).
3. Buy entree tickets to a tourist attraction WITH your train tickets
Via the NS Spoorweg Winkel (NS railroad shop) you can buy some fun travelling deals. If you’re planning to visit any tourist attractions like Madurodam, the Efteling, one of the Netherland’s many zoos or are looking for a train and hotel all-in-one deal, this is probably the best place to buy one. The NS sells entree tickets, tram and train tickets together with a discount. If one of these places is part of your itinerary, you might be able to save some money buying the tickets as part of a deal!
4. Check the “Cheap Train Tickets” website
This one is for the Dutch-speaking tourists, or for those who are lucky enough to know someone fluent in Dutch. The Trein Reizigers (the train travellers) website will find you the cheapest option to travel by train in the Netherlands. Fill in your stations, your dates and with how many people you’re planning to travel with. It will then give you the best and most affordable option.
No return ticket discount…
As mentioned before, you do not get a discount for buying a return ticket. In the UK, you usually get a bit of a discount for buying a same-day return. In the Netherlands, a return ticket is the price of two single tickets combined. You do save yourself €1 on administration costs if you buy a loose return ticket rather than two singles.
I hope that answers all your questions about travelling by train in the Netherlands. If you are unsure about anything train-travel related, please let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as possible!
Looking for other exciting cities to visit in the Netherlands? Why not check out Eindhoven, Haarlem, Rotterdam and Utrecht?