One of the best ways to get around the Netherlands is by train. Trains are cheap, fast, and a very convenient way to travel. Plus, they make day trips from Amsterdam a piece of cake. In this post, learn all about Netherlands train travel, how to book your tickets online, and useful tips for using the trains and storing your luggage.
Should You Book Your Train Tickets in Advance?
Before I even get started on how to book your tickets online, the first question to answer is…is it even necessary.
If you will be traveling by high-speed train (for example, the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Brussels and Paris) you will need to book your tickets in advance.
However, the commuter trains in the Netherlands do not need to be booked in advance. You simply buy a ticket and hop on the next train, similar to using the metro.
When doing our pre-trip research, I read that other travelers had difficulty using their credit cards to pay for tickets at the automated ticket machines. Even the Lonely Planet website says that these machines only take Dutch credit cards. Their advice was to book all train tickets in advance (or wait in line to get help from a ticket attendant).
So, to avoid this hassle, I booked all but one of our tickets in advance.
Using the Automated Ticket Machines
For the one train we didn’t book in advance, we used the automated machines in the Haarlem train station. The machine is very straightforward, has prompts in English, and using our credit card was no issue at all. I don’t know if we just got lucky at this station or if things have changed, but the machine did accept our Mastercard.
Note: There is €1 fee for purchasing tickets using the automated machines and at the ticket booths.
So, no, you do not have to book tickets for the local trains in advance.
However, there are several advantages to doing so.
Why Should You Book Your Tickets in Advance?
Booking your tickets in advance is not necessary but it does save a little bit of time in the train stations.
It’s so much nicer to walk right up to the train and board it, without taking the time to wait in line to buy tickets.
This advance planning takes away a tiny bit of the hassle while traveling and saves you waiting in line. In the end, it may only save several minutes. No big deal. But it’s nice just to walk right up and get right on the train.
Tim and I are planners. He’s an aerospace engineer and I worked in the medical field. We like to have things planned out in advance. It’s just the way we are. So, take advantage of our type A nerdiness and learn how to plan your travels in advance, if you’re the same way. 🙂
You could argue that buying your tickets ahead of time eliminates spontaneity, and it does, but if you know with certainty your travel plans, why not book your tickets in advance?
How to Purchase Train Tickets Online in Advance
To do this for the Netherlands, I used the website www.b-europe.com/EN/. It’s relatively straightforward but I did have some questions during the process. Here is what I learned.
On the home screen, enter your departure and arrival cities, the date you want to travel, and the window of time that you plan on traveling. Check single (one way) or return (round trip). Put in the number and ages of each passenger. Choose first or second class. Second class trains have lots of seating and are clean and comfortable. We saw no need to spend extra money for first class trains, especially on these short journeys.
Home screen on b-europe.com (SNCB International)
When you click SEARCH you will be taken to a new screen. Listed are the first 5 or 6 available trains in your time slot. You can look at available trains that are earlier or later by clicking the appropriate button. However, this doesn’t really matter.
If you are booking your tickets online and will be printing them out at home, the time you choose does not matter. The ticket is valid for the entire day. That means that if you book a ticket for April 5 at 8:37 am from Amsterdam to Utrecht, you can use that ticket all day (10 am, noon, or 12 pm) on April 5. However, you do have to ride the type of train you selected (IC, ICE, etc) and if you chose 2nd class, you will have to ride in a 2nd class compartment. The ticket is only valid for the date you choose. You cannot use your April 5 ticket on April 6.
The only train that you need to make a seat reservation for is the Thalys train that connects Amsterdam to Paris. The local trains that connect the towns of Amsterdam, Haarlem, Schiphol Airport, The Hague, etc do not take seat reservations.
Once you choose your tickets, click BOOK THIS JOURNEY and you are taken to the ticketing screen. I chose e-ticket, because it was free and I could conveniently print them at home, without having to collect the tickets at the station or wait for them to arrive in the mail. Add in the travelers’ details and proceed to the next step.
Enter your details, accept the Terms and Conditions, and proceed to payment. There is a €2 fee to pay with a credit card. Once your payment is accepted, you will be taken to a screen with a link to the PDF version of your tickets. Save this to your desktop and print out your tickets.
Ticket Options: Paper Ticket, Email Version, or Smartphone App
The instructions tell you to print your tickets on A4 paper. If you live in the US, we do not use A4 paper (8 1/4 x 11 3/4). Our paper is 8 1/2 by 11 inches. I printed our tickets on standard US paper. This worked fine. These tickets worked when we scanned them at the turnstiles in the train stations and when they were scanned by the ticket attendant on the trains.
A copy of our printed train ticket.
If you look at these tickets, you will see that the date of the journey is listed but not the time you chose. You can now use this ticket all day on your selected date.
You also have the option to open the email on your smartphone to show your ticket on the train, but you will need to have an internet connection to do this. As a back up, take screen shots of the tickets with the barcode and you can show these to the ticket attendant (or at the turnstiles) without needing cellular service (I tested this too and it worked fine). Just make sure your phone is charged!
By the way, many trains do offer free wifi, but the signal is rather weak and we didn’t always have the best luck getting it to work.
The final option is to install the SNCB Europe app on your phone and download your tickets into this app. The instructions on how to do this are included in the email that contains your tickets.
Write Down the Train Schedule
One more thing that I recommend is writing down the schedule of the train you plan on taking.
Trains run rather frequently (four or more times per hour) so in most circumstances you will have to wait less than 15 minutes for the next train. However, it’s good to know the schedule of the trains during the time slot you plan on traveling.
On step 2 of the SNCB website, you can see the schedule of the trains. Note the times of each train and the number of transfers (direct, changes: 1 or changes: 2). If you click the information button, you will get the details on the train stations and the transfers.
This is very important! It may be worth waiting 10 minutes for a later train if it saves you from having to transfer. For example, the 8:04 train and the 8:34 trains do not have transfers although they do take 3 minutes longer. I would choose a direct train over one with transfers, even if it took several minutes longer.
Using the Tickets
In most stations, we had to scan our tickets to get through the turnstiles to enter and exit the station. Make sure you hold onto your tickets until you exit the station!
On some (but not all) of the trains, there was a ticket attendant on board who would scan everyone’s tickets.
An Alternative to Booking Train Tickets: OV-Chip Cards
Visitors to the Netherlands can take advantage of the OV-Chip cards, which are travel smart cards. An empty card costs €7.50 (non-refundable) and you can load it with a travel credit (€20 minimum, €150 maximum). This works well if you are planning several day trips in the Netherlands and plan to use the trains frequently.
When you enter the train station, you scan the card. Upon reaching your final destination, when you scan the card to exit the station, the amount of your train journey is deducted from the card. There is no figuring out train fares or booking train tickets in advance.
You can also use this OV-Chip card on all forms of public transportation in the Netherlands.
At the end of your stay in the Netherlands, you can get a refund of the money you have remaining on the card. Go to a ticket office at train station. If your balance is less than €30, you will get your money back, minus a €1 fee. If your balance is over €30, you need a Dutch bank account to be refunded the money. Make sure your balance is under €30 if you choose to use the OV-Chip Card.
Finding Your Train
Once in the station, how do you know where to find your train? Look for the departure screens, which list the platforms, the destinations of the trains, and the times of departure.
This is where knowing your departure time comes in handy. If you want the 8:37 am train to Utrecht, look for the 8:37 am train on the list. Departures are listed in order of time and rarely will two trains have the same exact departure time. Confirm that the 8:37 am train is going to Utrecht and then walk to the appropriate platform.
Most train stations have luggage storage areas. Look for the sign “Bagage.” This is where you will find an assortment of locker sizes to stow your things if you are visiting a town in transit.
Lockers come in two different sizes:
- Small locker: 90cm deep, 45cm high and 40cm wide; €7 for 24 hours
- Large locker: 90cm deep, 60cm high and 40cm wide; €10 for 24 hours
Measure your suitcases or backpacks before you travel to make sure they will fit. The large locker can hold a large backpack or a medium-sized suitcase.
Put your belongings in the locker. When you close the locker door, the computer will ask you to insert your credit card. This pays the fee and then the locker will lock. Take the printed ticket and you will use this to reopen your locker when you return to the train station.
And now, go out and enjoy the Netherlands!
Read more about the Netherlands:
- Two Days in Amsterdam
- One Perfect Day in Utrecht
- One Perfect Day in The Hague
- 10 Day Amsterdam Brussels Paris Itinerary
If you are traveling to Europe, you may also like:
- Belgium: How to Visit Bruges and Ghent if You Only Have One Day
- France: 3 Days in Paris: The Ultimate Paris Itinerary
- England: The London Bucket List: 50 Must-Have Experiences
- Italy: The Cinque Terre for Budget Travelers
- San Marino: San Marino: Europe’s Most Underrated Destination?