Trains in the Netherlands

The principal Dutch train company is called Nederlandse Spoorwegen [Dutch Railway Company], or NS for short. For those who don’t read Dutch, most of the website is also available in English. The sections that are only in Dutch mainly apply to residents of the Netherlands and the various discounts they can purchase. These discounts are not available to tourists since they don’t have a Dutch bank account. The NS runs frequent trains between the main cities, usually every 10-15 minutes on the main routes, and a train every 30 minutes on local routes. There are two types of trains—intercity and sprinter—and contrary to its name, the sprinter is the slower of the two. Intercity trains, which are duplex trains (an upstairs and a downstairs), stop at the main rail stations, and sprinters, which are only one level, stop at all stations. On some routes it is actually quicker to connect via 2 intercity trains than to take 1 sprinter train.
In addition to the two types of trains mentioned above, there is also a special route called the Intercity Direct. This train travels from Amsterdam Centraal, via Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam, to Breda, and vice versa. There are two trains per hour in each direction, with extra trains during rush hours Monday thru Friday. This route can be classified as an express route between these stations, cutting travel time by around 30 minutes. However, if you take this route between Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam, in either direction, you have to pay a supplement (toeslag) of €2,40 for the convenience. You can take this train between Amsterdam Centraal and Schiphol Airport or between Rotterdam and Breda without paying the supplement; the cost is just the same as other trains. This supplement can be pre-purchased at automatic ticket machines or at cash desks. If you have either version of the OV-chip card (see below), just touch your card to the supplement post on the platform to pay.

Tourists can opt for one of two options when traveling by train in the Netherlands. This first option is to purchase an OV-chipkaart [OV-chip card], which is a plastic card with an electronic chip embedded inside it. These cards come in two variations—personal and anonymous—and cost €7,50. Both of these cards are valid for 5 years, after which you will have to buy a replacement card (also valid for 5 years). To purchase these types of cards, you have to go to one of the cash desks at any major station. The second option is to buy a single-use OV-chip card, which is a paper ticket with an electronic chip embedded inside it. The single-use cards have a €1 supplement in addition to the price of the trip, which can be a disadvantage to using this option. These tickets can be purchased from automated ticket machines or from cash desks. Be advised that if you use an automated ticket machine, you must have a credit card with a chip in it. Most American credit and debit cards now have these chips. Also, the automated machines do not accept American Express, which can run up your foreign transaction fees if your Visa or MasterCard charges these types of fees.

If you are planning on taking more than 7 train trips, it would be more economical to purchase an OV-chip card since you won’t have to pay the €1 supplement on each ticket, which quickly adds up. If you plan to vacation in the Netherlands at least twice within a 5 year period, it is well worth the investment to buy the OV-chip card in the long run because any value left on the ticket is valid when you return.

NS offers its customers a fantastic journey planner via its website or its free mobile app. This planner, available in Dutch and English, allows users to input their starting point and destination and when they want to travel. It will provide multiple train options, and connections if necessary, as well as from which track (spoor) the train leaves and the trip’s price. As with any mode of transportation, reconfirm all information at the station once you arrive.

There is also another travel planning service in the Netherlands called 9292. Available online and as a mobile app, this site includes not only the trains, but other modes of transport, including tram, metro, bus, and ship. Like the NS service, 9292 will show the journey’s price and train track, if applicable. If your journey is not solely on the train, I recommend this service as a one-stop site for your complete trip.