So you have a layover at Schiphol. Can you go anywhere rather than wait at the airport?

Where to go?

The area around Schiphol is uninspiring. You can get to Hoofddorp or Sloterdijk in slightly less time than it takes to get to Amsterdam Central Station (CS), however should you go to either place you will find yourself in a modern, mostly commercial, area with little to interest the casual visitor.  Schiphol itself is arguably more interesting.

If your layover is less than four hours the best advice is to stay at the airport. As airports go, Schiphol is one of the best there is to kill time in. Indeed, in one survey, it was recently rated the no.1 airport in the world for layovers. There is a small museum, a casino, a grand piano available for travellers to play, good shopping, a Meditation room for all religions, two spas ( one offers massages, the 2nd one does not) and a wide variety of bars and restaurants. If you feel the need to do so, you may also take a shower at the Hotel Mercure 24 hours a day (€ 15) or go to the top floor , close to the Meditation room where there are free showers ( bring your own towels ). The Yotel Amsterdam Schiphol has pod type rooms available for a minimum of four hours if you want some privacy, a shower etc. They now also have two shower rooms available (also for €15) which you can book by the hour.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol is located on Holland Boulevard, in the area beyond the passport checkpoint between the E and F Piers. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free. It contains a permanent exhibition of ten works by Dutch masters of the Golden Age from the main Rijksmuseum collection. There is also a temporary exhibition which changes a number of times each year.

For those who like to smoke this can now be done in Designated areas in some bars and restaurants locatd throughout the airport. Just look for the large glassed off smoking areas.

If your layover is four hours or more you can probably manage some time in Amsterdam Center. For those wanting a less touristy destination, Leiden, which can be reached by direct intercity train is also an option. Getting there takes a similar time to Amsterdam CS (15-20 mins) although the trains are less frequent and the walk from the station to the old center a bit longer. If you have more time the quaint city of Haarlem is also an option. Journey time by train is around 35 minutes with one change (at Amsterdam Sloterdijk) or 45 minutes by bus (No. 300). Once there, the old center is a few minutes walk from the station, and the tourist office ("VVV") is adjacent to it.

This article concentrates on Amsterdam itself.

Time Time Time

To travel into central Amsterdam you should allow for at least the following:

 - Arrival, passport control, customs:  30 minutes

 - Purchasing train ticket: 15 minutes

 - Train travel to and from Amsterdam CS: 60 minutes (2 x 20 minute journeys + 2 x 10 minute wait time)

 - Return to the airport before departure: 60-120 minutes (Depending on short or long haul flight)

Add to that above the time it will take you to get from/to CS to anywhere you want and you'll understand why the advice is to stay at the airport if you have less than a four hour window.

If you still have to check in for your onward flight you should allow an extra hour to the above. In such cases, if your luggage is not checked through to your final destination you may leave it in lockers at the airport (n.b. landside so that you can check it in again) or at CS. See this link to learn more about luggage storage in the airport.

There are 6-7 trains an hour to and from Amsterdam CS, journey time is 15 to 20 minutes depending on the train. They are all direct but may stop one or two times. They usually depart from platforms 1 or 2 with the occasional departure from platform 3. Check the signs and make sure your train is going to ´Amsterdam Central´ rather than one of the other ´Amsterdam´ stations. The FYRA trains no longer require a supplement since 1st jan 2013 and are the quickest journey into town at around 13 minutes..

If you want to head to the Musemplein/Leidseplein area then perhaps the 197 airport bus from outside the terminal would be better as this will take you there in around 25 to 30 minutes. Busses leave every 15 minutes during the day.

What to do?

The grid references given here can be found on this map.

As soon as you walk out of Amsterdam CS (C2)  you will be spoilt for choice. Unlike other larger European cities, at the station you really are in the center of things. The main street in the city, Damrak, runs from the front of the station for about 1km straight up to Dam Square (B3) where the Royal Palace and National War Memorial can be found. It is well worth a stroll up here although general advice is to avoid the restaurants on this street. They tend to be pricey and not that good.

If you arrive during business hours, you may save precious time by going to the GVB Office in the metro station, rather than the tourist office ("VVV"), in the one and only white building you see when exiting the Centraal Station. The GVB Office sells the ov-chipkaart for use on public transport, and also provides a free booklet that explains how public transportation works in Amsterdam. In its middle lies an excellent basic map of the city, with highlights (museums, markets, etc). Ask the clerk  to point you out where the lovely and lively Jordaan neighbourhood (A2 & A3), the Red Light District (RLD) (B3 & C2), the Spui and the Begijnhof peaceful oasis are on the map(B3) and you are set to start exploring.

For first-time visitors it is strongly recommended that you take one of the one-hour multilingual canal cruises that are readily available as soon as you exit the station. These cost from €9-€14, the less expensive ones being those on Damrak rather than immediatley outside the station, from experience the expensive cruises are no better than the cheaper ones. They will give you a good perspective of the city and its architecture. Yes they are touristy but they are well worth doing. One caveat for those who are tight on time is that the operators always say that the boat is ‘just about to go’. Invariably you then end up waiting anything up to 30 minutes for the boat to fill up before it sets off. Be sure to factor this in your time.

The Anne Frank Museum (A2) is about 15 minutes walk from CS. The queues here are often very long but can be bypassed by purchasing your ticket online in advance from www.annefrank.org.

Amsterdam ’s famous Red Light District (RLD) (B3 & C2), is five minutes walk from CS. With your back to the station entrance look left. You will see the NH Barbizon Palace Hotel. Head towards this and take the street immediately to the right of it, Zeedijk. Walk down here some 50 meters and turn right. This will take you to Oudezidjs Voorburgwal upon which the RLD in centered.

Where to eat and drink?

You have time for a meal, where should you go? Having advised you to avoid the restaurants on Damrak, the reverse can be said for those on Zeedijk (D2 - See RLD directions above). These are pretty well universally good. If you follow the road round you will come into Amsterdam’s small Chinatown. Particular recommendations here are Wing Kee, Nam Kee and A-Fusion. Zeedijk has also a number of interesting bars, particularly just as you enter it. One of these, In 't Aepjen, is Amsterdams oldest bar. It dates back to 1590.

The other area of note close to CS is the area between Damrak and Nieuwezidjs Voorburgwal (B2). Walk up Damrak and turn right. Here is a warren of bars, restaurants and shopping streets. One of the most notable places here is a famous Amsterdam bar called “In de Wildeman”. If you like your beer this is the place to be with 17 kinds on draft and over 200 bottled varieties. If you would like to try a micro brewery then look up the Proverij De Prael in the RLD or the Beer Fabriek on Rokin.

Getting back to the airport

As you enter CS you will see two screens. One displays all trains and one shows those going to Schiphol. Bear in mind that most trains going to Schiphol do not have that as their final destination. Note that, and the time and the platform you are going from. Departure platforms are usually those further from the entrance, 13, 14 or 15 but this can change.   

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More useful info can be found on the following websites:

Amsterdam Airport Layover Guide

Things to do in Amsterdam when you are broke

Things to Do in Amsterdam - An Unconventional Guide

Map of Amsterdam  (printable in sections, link at the bottom of the page)