Tuesday, May 18, 2021

How To Travel Around Netherlands

EuropeNetherlandsHow To Travel Around Netherlands

The Netherlands has a well-developed public transport network that allows you to get around easily and discover the main sights. Drivers can rely on an extensive network of motorways and semi-motorways. Of course, the Netherlands is known as one of the most bicycle-friendly countries in the world. A truly extensive cycling infrastructure makes cycling an excellent means of transport.

Public transport

The Netherlands has a well-organised public transport system. Most villages are accessible by public transport, but connections can be irregular, especially at weekends. The Dutch public transport system consists of a network of trains that serve as a backbone, complemented by a network of local and interlocal buses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have metro networks with only a few lines each, with Rotterdam’s line E extending to The Hague. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague also have extensive tram networks. Utrecht has only two tram lines, which mainly serve as a connection to the surrounding suburbs of Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

Travel information

  • 9292.nl – a route planner for all public transport in the Netherlands – All public transport companies participate in the OV Reisplanner, which can plan a door-to-door (or tourist hotspot-to-hotspot) journey for you using all types of public transport. The site relies mainly on planned diversions, but delays are built in to a limited extent. 9292 – Information is also available by phone: 0900-9292 (€0.70/min, maximum €14).
  • Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) – You can find train information on the website of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), which includes a journey planner with the latest information about train delays and diversions. For other types of transport, use the information 9292ov.
  • Google Maps (Transit) – Some public transport is also included in Google Maps, although the planner is not always reliable and does not contain all information about public transport. This year, more transit agencies will join the initiative and Google will improve the planner.
  • In a station – In larger stations there are information stands (yellow); in most smaller stations there is an information/SOS stand. If you press the blue information button, you will be connected to a 9292 operator. If you ask the railway staff, they will often look you up in their guidebook via smartphone.

Many trains are equipped with digital displays that show up-to-date travel information. Most platforms and some bus stops have electronic information.

9292 and NS also have mobile pages.

Tickets

In recent years, public transport in the Netherlands has almost completely switched from paper tickets to contactless chip cards called OV chipkaart (OV stands for Openbaar Vervoer, which means ‘public transport‘), sometimes also called ÖPNV chip cards. Unfortunately, this means that the old “stripper cards” or undated paper train tickets you may have had on previous visits are no longer valid.

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On buses and trams you can usually still buy single paper tickets at the entrance, but you have to pay extra. For trains, there are magnetic one-way tickets, but they also have an extra charge of €1. In short, if you don’t plan to use public transport occasionally, the best solution is to buy an OV chip card on arrival, as it is convenient and soon cheaper.

OV-Chipkaart

The OV chipkaart is available in three versions:

  • Disposable or one-way OV chipkaart sold with a travel product that cannot be topped up or refilled with another product, e.g. a single ticket. It does not include an electronic wallet and is intended for people who rarely use public transport in the Netherlands. Only some transport companies offer a range of fares, e.g. a three-day season ticket for all public transport in a city.
  • Anonymous OV chipkaarts are used more frequently. The purchase price for a “blank” card is 7.50 euros (as of 2014) and is non-refundable. These cards are available at counters and ATMs and are valid for up to 5 years. This card is reusable and has an electronic wallet. It is transferable and therefore cannot be used for concessionary travel, monthly or annual passes. However, the anonymous card can contain several products at the same time, as long as they are “simple” travel products as available for the one-way card.
  • The OV personal smart card is useful for anyone who is entitled to a travel discount. It is also the only type of carriage that can accommodate a monthly or annual pass. Because of these features, the personal card is non-transferable and includes the cardholder’s photo and date of birth. The OV-chipkaart personal card has an electronic wallet. In addition, it can be paid for in such a way that its balance is automatically increased when it falls below a certain value. The personal card is the only one that can be blocked in case of loss or theft.

Travellers can purchase a travel product, e.g. a day pass for a whole city or a monthly pass for a specific route. When they check out after the journey (see next section), the system detects that a specific product has been used and deactivates it if necessary. The other option is to use money from the electronic wallet of the OV chip card. A check-in fee is charged at check-in (20 euros for NS trains, 4 euros for metro, tram and bus), which is refunded once the traveller has left the country, minus the price of the journey actually made. If the user does not leave the airport, the check-in fee, which is higher than the price of most journeys, is not refunded. Travel credit can be topped up at station vending machines, ticket offices and some tobacco shops and supermarkets. During a journey, staff can check cards with a mobile card reader. You must move away from the place where you registered.

Usage

When travelling by train or underground, the OV chip is held up to a card reader as soon as the passenger enters the station or platform. The card is then “registered” and the boarding fees are debited from the card. When the passenger completes their journey at another station, the card is held up to the card reader again to “check out”; the boarding fee is refunded (minus the price of the actual journey made if the passenger uses the electronic wallet). There are two types of card reader systems in stations and metro stations: stand-alone card readers and card readers integrated into the gates. When travelling by tram or bus, passengers check in and out. For this purpose, card readers are placed at each door.

Check-in and check-out is always mandatory, except when you change from one train to another of the same operator. Switching from one operator to another requires an outgoing record on a card reader of the first operator and an incoming record on a card reader of the second operator. If you cannot switch (e.g. because the control device is defective), you may be charged a fee by your transport operator.

Note that different operators may run train or bus services from the same station. There may be different card readers in these stations. Make sure you know which operator (e.g. NS, Arriva or Veolia) runs the line you want to take and register at the correct counter.

Buying and charging

You can get anonymous cards and the corresponding disposable cards at the ticket machines in the stations and metro stations of Amsterdam (GVB) and Rotterdam (RET). Many Bruna supermarkets, tobacconists and bookshops also sell anonymous cards. Most places where cards can be bought offer the possibility to top up credit, but it may be necessary to have a debit card with a PIN code. Also note that it is usually not possible to buy cards or top up credit at bus and tram stops.

You can apply for a personal card at Ov-chipkaart.nl. You need an address in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany.

Unused credit

It is possible to obtain a refund of unused credit from personal and anonymous cards at a counter for a fee of €2.50. OV-chipkaart personal and anonymous cards are valid for four to five years. Any remaining balance on an old card can be transferred to a new card; free of charge if the old card is still valid, or for €2.50 if it is no longer valid.

By train

Most of the Netherlands is densely populated and urbanised, and there are frequent train connections to most major cities and large towns and villages in between. There are two main types of trains: Intercities, which only stop at major stations, and Sprinters, which stop at all stations. All train types have the same fares. There are also high-speed trains called “Intercity Direct” between Amsterdam and Breda, which only require an extra ticket between Schiphol and Rotterdam. The journey from the north of the country (Groningen) to the south (Maastricht) takes about 4 hours.

The spoorkaart is a map of the railway system and shows all services. Services with only one train per hour are shown in thinner lines.

Most lines offer a train every 15 minutes (every 10 minutes during rush hour), but some rural lines only run every 60 minutes. When several lines work together, the frequency is of course even higher. In the west of the Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large city network, with up to 12 trains per hour on the main lines.

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) operates most of the lines. Some local lines are operated by Syntus, Arriva, Veolia and Connexxion.

Due to the high frequency of services, delays are quite frequent. However, the delay is usually no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Trains can be crowded, especially in the morning rush hour. Seat reservations on domestic trains are only possible on Intercity Direct.

One particular mistake tourists often make is boarding the wrong part of a train. Many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the final destination, the two parts are separated and continue on their own to their respective destinations. In this case, the signs above the platforms indicate two destinations and which part is going where: achterste deel/achter means backwards and voorste deel/voor means forwards, which refers to the direction of departure. Do not hesitate to ask other passengers or a staff member.

Another common mistake is driving from Schiphol to Amsterdam. From Schiphol you can go to Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Zuid (South). These stations are not directly connected and many tourists who want to go to Amsterdam Centraal end up in the south. Therefore, you should always check the destination of the train. From Amsterdam Zuid you can take the metro to Centraal, or the train to Centraal with a change at Duivendrecht station (2nd floor).

There is a convenient night train connection (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam and Utrecht, all night long, once an hour in each direction. North Brabant is also served on F-Sa and Sa-Su nights. You can travel to Dordrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg and Breda.

Most trains have two comfort classes (1st class and 2nd class). Some regional lines do not have first class. First class and second class are usually distinguished by different colours. Signs with “1” or “2” next to the outer doors and cabin doors indicate the class. Some areas on the train are silent zones. In these zones, noise must be kept to a minimum. They are indicated either by a stylised silhouette face holding a finger to its lips or by a yellow oval with “Ssst”.

Free Wi-Fi is available at almost all major stations and on many Intercity trains. Power sockets are only available on a few Intercity trains, and then only in first class.

Tickets

There is a uniform national fare system for rail travel. You do not need separate tickets for other operators. All railway companies in the Netherlands now use the OV chip card: paper train tickets are no longer issued. Travellers have the following options for issuing tickets:

  • Anonymous or personal OV chip card: both cost €7.50 per card. Please note that if you have already bought one of these cards from a non-NS provider, you will need to activate it for NS train travel. This happens automatically when you load money onto the card at one of the NS ticket machines.
  • A one-way OV chip card for each journey. They are sold at ticket vending machines, but the price of the ticket is one euro higher than the price of a one-way ticket. Note that a one-way ticket can be bought for a single journey or for a return journey, so in this case one return journey (1x €1 surcharge) is cheaper than two return journeys (2x €1 surcharge).
  • Electronic ticket. There is no surcharge for these.

International trains arriving in or departing from the Netherlands can use separate ticketing systems. Also international discount cards like the Eurail card do not use the Chipkaart system.

The price of the ticket is uniform and depends on the distance. The tickets are valid for Sprinter and Intercity connections – there is no price difference in either case. However, for domestic travel on Intercity Direct or ICE trains, you have to pay a surcharge, which you can buy at the ticket machine and use directly. With Intercity Direct, this surcharge is only required for travel between Schiphol and Rotterdam. The most common tickets are single tickets (enkele reis) and return tickets (return). The latter is only valid for a return journey on the same day, but the price is the same as two single tickets, so a return journey offers no price advantage over buying single tickets (except when using a one-way OV chip card).

Tickets are valid on any train along the route (as opposed to a single fixed train). It is permitted to take a break at any station along the route (even at stations along the route where it is not necessary to change trains). As in many countries, there is a difference between first and second class. A second class ticket costs about 60% of the price of a first class ticket. The main advantage of first class is that it is less crowded and the seats and aisles are generally wider. A Railrunner ticket can be purchased for €2.50 for children between the ages of 4 and 11 accompanied by an adult.

Purchase train tickets

You must buy a ticket before you travel – since 2005 you can no longer simply buy a ticket from the conductor, as in some other countries. If you buy a ticket on board, you have to pay the normal price plus a penalty of €35. If the ticket machines are broken, contact the driver immediately when boarding. The conductor has no discretion with this policy, although being polite and pretending to be an ignorant tourist can help you get away with an invalid ticket. In the worst case, if you don’t have enough cash or your passport, you could be arrested by the railway police.

  • From an ATM. Tickets can be purchased at ATMs in stations with Dutch bank cards or Maestro debit cards. A fee of €0.50 is charged for payments with Visa or MasterCard. Some machines, at least one in each station, also accept coins (but not banknotes). Only the larger stations have a ticket office. The ticket machines offer menus in English. A common mistake made by foreigners is to accidentally get a 40% discount ticket (“korting”) from the machine. These tickets require a special discount card, but you can also travel with other people’s discount cards. If you have difficulty using the ticket machine, ask someone else for help; almost everyone speaks some English and will help you.
  • Online. Tickets can be purchased in advance online (e-tickets), requiring a Dutch bank account for payment (iDEAL). Please note that tickets purchased in advance are personal and conductors may ask for identification. There is no price difference compared to travelling with an anonymous or personal OV chip card, but e-tickets are €1 cheaper than a disposable OV chip card. E-tickets can also be bought on the website of the Belgian railway SNCB Europe, also on some Dutch domestic routes, usually for the same price as on the Dutch NS (to be checked). Unlike the Dutch NS website, it accepts foreign bank cards, but charges an additional fee (2 euros) per transaction if a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) is used. However, there is no surcharge for a debit card (e.g. Maestro).

Reduced rail ticket

Visitors planning a rail trip in the Netherlands should use the Eurail Card with the Benelux Package (see eurail.com). This package allows unlimited train travel in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for several days. Europeans who cannot benefit from the Eurail card should ask about Inter Rail Pass cards, which give them discounts on their train journeys (see interrail.eu).

For tourists planning a rail trip of several days, it may be worthwhile to take out a Dal Voordeel PassOff-peak discount), which gives the cardholder (and three other accompanying persons) a 40% discount on NS trains for one year, except when travelling during peak hours (weekdays 6.30-9.00 and 16.00-18.30, except public holidays). Price 50 € for one year (2014). The subscription includes a personal OV chip card, which takes 2 weeks to process. If you already have one, the subscription can be charged to your personal OV chip card. Don’t forget to always check in and check out, the discount will be applied automatically depending on the time of check-in.

NS also has monthly and annual subscriptions for free travel on weekends, off-peak or during the entire subscription period, including peak hours, as well as a subscription that offers a 40% discount for the entire period, including peak hours.

Travellers who only want to spend one day in the Netherlands and see a large part of the country by train can buy a Dagkaart (day ticket, €51). But beware: it can be cheaper to just buy a ticket. The Dagkaart takes about 6 hours of train travel in one day. Shops like Hema, Blokker, Kruidvat or Albert Heijn also have special offers on the Dagkaart that you can buy at a reduced price (€13-16) and then print out at home. It is important to note the validity of these tickets (e.g. not valid during morning rush hours, and valid for all days or only from Saturday to Sunday, and the period for which they are valid). Using one of these tickets is probably the cheapest way to travel by train in the Netherlands, especially for return journeys.

At the station

Most stations are small, with only one or two platforms. Stations in towns or villages are usually not staffed. However, cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht have large main stations with up to 14 platforms. It can take 5 or even 10 minutes to get from one platform to another, especially for people who are not familiar with the station.

The platforms are all numbered. When platforms are so long that two or more trains can stop on the same platform, the different parts of the platform are indicated with lower case letters a/b/c. In some stations, capital letters are used to indicate which part of the train stops at which part of the station. Do not confuse lower case and upper case letters.

Timetables can be found in the station concourse and on the platforms. All train boards are normally yellow, except for deviating timetables during planned maintenance (blue) and on Queen’s Day (orange). Departing trains are printed in blue (on the yellow boards), arriving trains are printed in red. Unlike other countries, the boards themselves are not sorted by departure time, but by direction (please note that it is actually by line, from large stations some cities are served by several lines! Tourists better ask someone which line is the fastest for your destination). In some cases, several tables are needed to cover a single day for a particular direction. Also, most stations are equipped with blue electronic screens showing which trains are leaving within an hour.

By bus

The regional and local bus network in the Netherlands is thin and frequent and generally well connected to the railway network; by bus, travellers can easily reach most small villages. However, for long-distance travel, these regional buses are impractical and much slower than the train.

Until recently, long-distance buses only existed on a few routes not covered by the rail network; these buses have special names that vary according to region, such as Q-Liner, Brabantliner and Interliner, and special fares. Recently, however, the German long-distance bus company Flixbus has expanded its offer of domestic routes in the Netherlands, with ticket prices for most routes ranging from 6 to 9 euros.

There are four major local and regional bus companies in the Netherlands, Connexxion, Veolia, Arriva and Qbuzz. Some large cities have their own bus company.

A cheap way to travel across the Netherlands is to buy a Buzzer ticket. It costs 10 euros per day and is valid from 9 am on all Connexxion buses for two adults and up to three children. On weekends and public holidays, it is also valid before 9 am. Because Connexxion has a very extensive network, you can travel from Groningen to Zeeland in one day and the train is cheaper. But the big disadvantage is that the bus routes are very indirect. To get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, for example, you would have to make three or more changes. In short, bus journeys will almost always be longer than train journeys. For example, the journey from Utrecht to Rotterdam takes 40 minutes, but by bus it takes one and a half hours. However, if you want to enjoy the countryside and the villages, you might prefer to take the bus.

Many companies and regions have their own discounted bus tickets, which are often cheaper than the credit on the OV chip card.

(Travel) tickets for parking: Some cities offer special, cheaper bus tickets for parking near the city limits and for the city centre outside peak hours, usually a return ticket.

Night bus

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht offer public transport at night. Only in Amsterdam is there an all-day and evening service; in the other cities it tends to be limited to the beginning of the night or only at weekends. Some other cities and regions also have night buses, which are usually even more limited. Some night buses cover quite a long distance, for example Amsterdam-Almere.

You may need special tickets for the night bus, so don’t forget to check the city pages.

With the Metro

The two largest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have a metro network consisting mainly of elevated trains outside the city centre and a few kilometres of metros in the centre. Rotterdam’s metro line E has an origin and terminus at The Hague Central Station.

By tram

There is also a large tram network in the conurbations of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague; Utrecht has two Sneltram lines (fast tram or light tram).

By bike

Cycling in the Netherlands is much safer and more comfortable than in many other countries. This is due to the infrastructure – cycle lanes, cycle tracks and marked cycle paths – and the short distances and flatness. All these factors, together with many other facilities, such as numerous picnic areas, terraces, small ferry connections and campsites, mean that it is often better to discover the country by bike than by car.

The prevalence of bicycles also means that you are seen as a significant part of the traffic – motorists will point you out if you are not following the rules and assume that you are aware of other traffic. This is especially important to know in the busy (chaotic) centres of big cities. It may be a good idea to get off your bike a few hundred metres and/or leave the centre completely by taking the train, metro or Randstadrail tram).

Worth knowing:

  • Cycle lanes are marked by a round blue sign with a white bicycle symbol, a symbol on the asphalt or by red asphalt. Their use is considered mandatory.
  • Cyclists must obey the same traffic signs as car drivers, unless they are exempt. For example, a bicycle symbol under a prohibition sign, usually with the text “uitgezonderd” (exempt), means that cyclists can use the road in both directions.
  • Where there is no cycle path, use the normal road. This rule is not the same as in Germany and Belgium, where you have to use the footpath in many places. Cyclists are not allowed to ride on all (semi) motorways marked as “autosnelweg” or “autoweg”.
  • In some narrow streets that have a parallel cycle track, mopeds may be forced to use the cycle track rather than the main road (as is usually the case).
  • Bicycles must have a working front (white) and rear (red) light. Reflectors are not sufficient. You risk a fine (40 euros) if you cycle in the dark without lights, seriously endangering your life and the lives of other road users. Small battery-powered LED lights attached to your person are permitted.

Regular cycle route signs are usually white with a red border and lettering, while more leisure-oriented/tourist routes to a town or village have green lettering. In both rural and nature areas, signs may be called paddenstoelen (mushrooms). These are small boxes (more or less resembling the shape of a mushroom) located near the ground with destinations printed on them.

There are different ways to use a bicycle:

  • In the city, the bicycle can be used as a means of transport to get from one point to another. This is how residents use it most of the time, for short distances it is faster than the car, bus or tram. Cyclists can also reach interesting places near the city that may not be accessible by public transport.
  • Often the bicycle is also used as a means to see the surrounding places and landscapes:
    • The many marked cycle paths serve this purpose, mostly leading cyclists back to the starting point. Some rural routes lead through areas that are not accessible by car.
    • In most parts of the Netherlands it is possible to create your own routes by connecting marked and numbered points, called ‘knooppunten’ (see planjeroute.nl (Plan your route) for more information).
  • Except during morning and late afternoon rush hours, bicycles can be carried on the train. Cyclists must therefore buy an extra ticket called “dagkaart fiets”, which can easily be obtained from ticket machines for 6 euros. Alternatively, bikes can be easily rented at (or near) train stations. Folding bicycles can be taken on board free of charge when folded up as hand luggage. All trains are equipped with special entrances for bicycles. Cyclists can leave their bikes there and may also ask people to move for this reason. In two western city areas, bicycles can also be transported free of charge on the Metro (Amsterdam/Haag-Rotterdam) or the Randstadrail tram (The Hague-Zoetermeer), except during the day, Monday to Friday.
  • More experienced cyclists may want to cycle to the other side of the country. The national long-distance cycle routes are designed for this type of holiday; see long-distance cycle routes in the Netherlands.

The best online route planner for cyclists can be found on unwikiplanner, created by the volunteers of the Dutch Cyclists‘ Federation “Fietsersbond”.

Bicycle theft

Theft of bicycles is a serious problem in the Netherlands, especially near railway stations and in large cities. If possible, use the guarded bicycle parking places (“Standplätze”) at railway stations and in some city centres. They will cost up to €1.20 per day. Generally use 2 different types of lock (e.g. a chain lock and a tube lock). This is because most bike thieves specialise in a particular type of lock or carry the most appropriate equipment for a particular type of lock. Ideally, you should attach the bicycle to a street light or similar device. Bicycle thieves have been known to simply load the unattached bicycles onto a van so that you can open the padlocks at your leisure.

In cities, bicycles are often stolen by drug addicts who also sell most of the stolen bicycles. They often simply offer them for sale to passers-by when they think the police are not watching. Buying a stolen bike is illegal in itself, and the police arrest the buyers. If you buy at a suspiciously low price (e.g. 10 to 20 euros) or in a suspicious place (usually on the street), the law assumes that you “know or should have known” that the bike was stolen. In other words, genuine ignorance of the origin of the bicycle is no excuse.

Bicycle thefts must be reported to the police. Please do so.

Buy or rent

Bike shops are the best place to legally buy a used bike, but prices are high. Some places where you can rent bikes also sell their depreciated stock, which is usually well maintained. Most legal (and often cheap) sales of used bikes these days are through online auction sites like marktplaats.nl – the Dutch subsidiary of eBay. You can find more information on this site.

The Dutch bikesharing system “OV-fiets” is only available to residents of the Netherlands or people with a Dutch bank account. The membership fee of €9 per year and €3 per ride is automatically debited.

Additional legal protection

Weaker” parties in traffic, such as cyclists and pedestrians, have additional legal protection in terms of liability if an accident occurs with a “stronger” party (e.g. car). The basic idea is that in an accident between a weaker party (e.g. a cyclist) and the stronger party, the stronger party (e.g. a car driver) is always at fault, unless force majeure can be proven. Force majeure is defined here as (1) the motorist was driving correctly and (2) the cyclist’s fault was so unlikely that the motorist did not have to adjust his driving to it. If this cannot be proved, the driver of the car is liable, but his liability may be limited if the accident is due to the cyclist’s behaviour, up to 50% (more if the cyclist was deliberately reckless).

The burden of proof for cases of force majeure, bicycle errors and carelessness lies with the driver of the vehicle. Such things can be difficult to prove, which is why in practice some people will say that cyclists/pedestrians always have the right of way, which is not true.

By car

A car can be a good way to explore the countryside, especially places that are not connected by train, like the Veluwe and parts of Zeeland. Drive on the right-hand side.

The motorway network is quite extensive, albeit busy. Traffic jams, especially at peak times, are common and can be better avoided. The roads are well signposted and often equipped with new technology. A motorway/highway (autosnel route) is indicated by a letter and number combination, which is in a red box. In less urbanised areas, such as the southwest and the north, there are few motorways/highways. Often, connections are made by a semi-motorway, the autoway, or another N-lane. All these connections are marked by a combination of the letters N and numbers in a yellow box. In most cases, motorists are automatically directed to the nearest A or N road. So if you want to go sightseeing off the main roads, you should follow the signs to the individual villages.

If your car breaks down on the motorway, you can go to the nearest emergency phone. These praatpals can be recognised by their height of about 1.5 m, their yellow colour and their rounded rabbit-eared cap. This is the direct link to the emergency and relief services.

You can also contact the ANWB car club by mobile phone on freephone 0800-0888; your membership of a foreign car club may entitle you to discounted rates for their services. For rental cars and hire cars, there are usually ANWB services included in the rental price, but you can also consult the brochures provided.

There are many road signs with directions, but it is useful to have a map, especially in cities where there are many one-way streets and it is not always easy to get from one part of the city to another. Be careful not to ride in bus lanes, which are often indicated by markings such as Lijnbus or Bus, or in cycle lanes marked with a picture of a bicycle or the reddish colour of the asphalt. Also, do not use rush hour lanes if the matrix display above the designated lane shows a red “X” – this means they cannot be used.

Fuel is easy to obtain, but extremely expensive. It is best to fill up before entering the Netherlands, as fuel prices in Belgium and Germany can be up to €0.30 per litre cheaper. Unmanned petrol stations such as TanGo or Firezone can save up to 10 cents, but are still significantly more expensive than their Belgian counterparts. From 2012, fuel prices at attended petrol stations will be €1.84 ($2.20) per litre. Along the motorways, many petrol stations are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are more and more unmanned petrol stations, also along the motorways, which sell petrol cheaper. These unmanned stations accept all major debit and credit cards. All petrol stations sell both petrol and diesel; ‘premium’ brands have the same octane rating (said to contain compounds that improve fuel efficiency to compensate for the higher price). LPG is sold at a relatively large number of filling stations along motorways, but never in urban areas. The LPG gas symbol is a green symbol next to the black symbol. LPG-powered cars need regular petrol to start and can also run on petrol alone, although petrol is more expensive.

If you come to the Netherlands with your car running on LPG, you will probably need an adapter. If you buy in your country, ask for the specific Dutch adapter. The plug sold as ‘European’ (screwable) is used in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, but does not fit Dutch pumps.

Driving rules in The Netherlands

The traffic rules, markings and signs are similar to those in other European countries, but have some special features:

  • At unmarked intersections, traffic coming from the right ALWAYS has priority. Traffic includes bicycles, horses, horse-drawn carriages (recreational traffic and relatively rare), electric wheelchairs, small mopeds and motorised bicycles.
  • Cycle routes are clearly signposted and widespread throughout the country.
  • On motorways, slip roads are usually long and allow for smooth merging. However, it is prohibited to re-enter the motorway from an exit lane. It is prohibited to overtake on the right and to use the outside lane(s) unnecessarily (except for overtaking). (Overtaking on the right-hand side is only permitted in slow, congested traffic).

In built-up areas, public transport buses have priority when leaving a bus stop. So be careful as they may park in front of you while waiting for you to give way.

If you are involved in an accident, both drivers must fill in and countersign a declaration for their respective insurance company (claim form). You must have this form to hand. The police must be informed if you have damaged (public) property (especially in road traffic), if you have caused injuries or if the other driver is not willing to sign the insurance declaration. Hit and run is illegal. If the other driver does, call the police and stay at the scene of the accident. The emergency number is 112 (free of charge, also works from non-connected mobile phones); the phone number for a non-emergency police presence is 0900-8844.

Speed limits

In the Netherlands, speed limits are generally 50 km/h inside built-up areas, 80 km/h outside built-up areas, 100 km/h on motorways (autoweg in Dutch) and 130 km/h on motorways (autosnelweg). In all these cases there are often exceptions, for example many 30 km/h zones in built-up areas. Note that the 30 km/h zones have unmarked junctions (so traffic coming from the right has right of way!). On roads outside built-up areas, for example, the speed limit is often 60 km/h, and on motorways within built-up areas, the speed limit is often 100 km/h. Some stretches of motorway have signs with a speed limit with a sigh “6-19h” underneath, which means that the speed limit applies from 6am to 7pm, while at other times a limit of 130 km/h applies.

The speed indicated on the dot matrix signs above the tracks always takes precedence over anything you see, whether the speed is inside a red circle (the normal speed limit) or outside (an additional speed limit indicating traffic or construction work). A white circle with a diagonal bar indicates “the end of all speed limits indicated by dot matrix signs”, from which you obey the regular signs.

Your speed is monitored by the police throughout the country and the fines are high. Any speeding over 50 km/h will result in the confiscation of your driving licence. After that, driving is considered a criminal offence. Pay special attention to the trajectcontrol signs: This means that there is an automatic system on the road you are driving on that controls your average speed over a longer section. Speed camera warning devices are devices that you are not allowed to have in your car. They will be confiscated and you will have to pay a fine of 250 euros. Remember that the police use speed camera detectors to track down users of these devices, so it is best to switch them off. Driving under the influence of alcohol is prohibited and this prohibition is strictly enforced. Breathalysers are widely used, both individually (you are stopped and the police deem it necessary to conduct a breathalyser test) and on a larger scale (the police have set up a designated checkpoint on a motorway). An unbroken yellow line next to the pavement means you are not allowed to stop, a broken yellow line next to the pavement means you are not allowed to park. At some intersections, “shark’s teeth” are painted on the pavement, which means that you must give way to other traffic at the intersection.

Be aware that the police also use unregistered traffic surveillance vehicles, especially on motorways. They have a video surveillance system and often do not stop you immediately after you commit an offence, but follow you up. This means that if you commit any further offences, you will be fined for everything you have done. Note that police officers in unmarked vehicles are required to show identification after they have stopped you, which means you should not have to ask. Police officers in marked vehicles are only obliged to show their ID if you ask for it, but they are also obliged to show it if you ask for it.

City driving

Driving in cities in the Netherlands is perceived by many tourists and locals as nerve-wracking, time-consuming and expensive. The traffic systems in most city centres are designed for cyclists and pedestrians, not vehicles. City streets are narrow, peppered with speed bumps, chicanes and a variety of street furniture (asphalt-coloured, knee-high anti-parking posts are probably the most dangerous threat to the paintwork, as they tend to blend in with the landscape or be in the driver’s field of vision).

Other dangers are:

  • Pedestrians overtaking on the road or crossing the road in dangerous and unauthorised areas.
  • Cyclists have more rights and assert them more confidently than in most countries, which can be intimidating for unfamiliar motorists. Please always give cyclists priority when turning on a cycle path. If you are involved in a collision with a cyclist, you are automatically at fault (but not guilty).
  • Narrow bridges.

Parking in city centres can be expensive. Especially in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, street parking is sometimes limited to a few hours and prices range from €3 to €6 per hour. Generally, underground garages cost between €4 and €6 per hour and can be by far the best choice for practical and safety reasons. Consider using public transport to avoid traffic jams and the great difficulty of finding a parking space. There are car parks on the outskirts of major cities where you can park your car cheaply and continue your journey by public transport.

By taxi

The Dutch taxi system has been restructured in recent years to change its bad reputation and sometimes exorbitant fares. Although fares are now capped by law and all taxis must have a visible fare sign in the window, taxis remain an expensive mode of transport. If you are travelling on a limited budget, public transport is a much better choice. With congested traffic in and around cities at rush hour, it’s often quite quick too.

If you want to take a taxi, you usually have to call one or order one online, so you should find out about a company before you arrive. It is rare to greet taxis on the street. In larger cities, you will usually find a taxi rank in major train stations and sometimes near entertainment districts. Drivers may try to convince you that you must take the first in line, but this is never the case. You are always free to choose the taxi of your choice. It is illegal for drivers to refuse short rides, but it is not uncommon for drivers who have gained a leading position to do so. Remember that sometimes they have to wait a long time to get that position. If you don’t mind, you can ask them to recommend you. If you don’t want to change taxis or if this is the only taxi around, it can be helpful to say that you are going to make a complaint and write down the taxi number.

All taxis must have blue registered number plates and an on-board computer that also serves as a taximeter. Fares must be shown on a fare card and the driver must have a taxi driver’s licence card. Taxi companies are free to set their fares as long as they do not exceed the legal maximum. The driver may offer you a fixed fare as long as it remains within the legal maximum.

The maximum tariffs are the sum of the basic charge, kilometre charge and per-minute charge. They are set annually by the Dutch government. For a normal taxi (4 people) they are €2.95, €2.17 and €0.36. This means that you pay more if you are stuck in a traffic jam. For vans (5 to 8 passengers) the maximum amounts are €6.00, €2.73 and €0.41. Uber taxis are now illegal but cheaper and are still used in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

By thumb

It is accepted that you are on the road and the people who pick you up usually do not expect anything in return. It is less suitable for short trips from small towns or on small roads, as the lack of traffic can lead to long waiting times. Hitchhiking on motorways is not allowed, but is usually tolerated at junctions or interchanges, provided it does not create a dangerous traffic situation. Intersections are indicated by a letter-number combination printed in a red frame on the traffic signs.

Try to stay in front of the motorway sign (a blue rectangle with two separate lanes disappearing into the white printed spaces) or the sign at the front of a car indicating the entrance to a semi-motorway. Also try to stay in a place where cars are travelling at low speed and where it is possible to stop. The same safety rule applies to petrol stations and service areas on motorways and to traffic lights on non-motorway roads.

For long distances, it is difficult to find a driver who will take you exactly to your destination because of the many intersections. A simple (cardboard) sign stating your destination is a common way to increase the chances of finding the right driver and can also convince appropriate drivers that they will not stop in vain.

There are official hitchhiking sites (liftplaats) and recommended unofficial sites, mainly on the outskirts of some large cities :

Amsterdam

  • Prins Bernhardplein, in front of NS Station Amsterdam Amstel (on the east bank of the Amstel) (after the bus stop). Drive to junction S112 of the A10, direction A1-E231/A2-E35. It is recommended for the directions Central/East/Netherlands. For other directions and routes, try other locations.

Other locations / other directions (recommended for the directions West/South Netherlands) :

  • Amstel (on the west bank of the Amstel) near the traffic lights/Utrechtsebrug and near the start/end of tram line 25. Drive to junction S111 of the A10, direction A2-E35-E25.
  • Junction S109 of the A10, near the NS RAI station (RAI Congress Centre; especially for large events or congresses). Drive to junction S109 of the A10, directions A2-E35-E25/A4-E19.
  • At the Amstelveenseweg / Ringweg Zuid bus stop, directly northeast of the Amstelveensweg metro station. There is a slip road leading to the A10 North, the A4 (southbound) and the A9 (both directions). This location is convenient because cars can easily stop in the bus lane to pick you up.

The Hague

  • Utrechtsebaan next to the north side of the Malieveld, at the start of the A12-E30 towards Utrecht. Possibility to take the A4-E19 for Delft-Rotterdam and Leiden-Amsterdam.

Alternative posts / other directions :

  • Bord au nord-ouest de la Malieveld/Kreuzung Zuid-Holland-laan, Boslaan (Utrechtse baan),Benoordenhoutseweg, vers Leidsestraatweg-N44-A44 pour Leyde et Amsterdam.

Nijmegen

  • Graafseweg (Venlo and Den Bosch), at the large roundabout in the city centre (verkeersplein) Keizer Karelplein (hitchhiking on the roundabout itself is not recommended),
  • near the Waalbrug/before the bridge in the direction of Arnhem,
  • in the Annastraat, near Radboud University (UK)/University Medical Centre (UMC),
  • at the Triavium, opposite the Dukenburg shopping centre.

Other cities

  • Groningen: Emmaviaduc (200 m west of Centraal station), on the A28
  • Utrecht, near the petrol station and the ramp to the Waterlinieweg near the football stadium “De Galgewaard”, north/northeast to the A27/A28, south/east to the A2/A12/A27.
  • Due to the reconstruction of the road, the lift stops in Maastricht at the beginning of the A2 (near the De Geusselt football stadium) were unfortunately removed in 2012.

By plane

Due to the small size of the country and the numerous road and rail connections, domestic flights have proven uneconomical in the past. As a result, there are currently none.