Getting around the Netherlands
The Dutch public transport system has a reputation for being efficient, clean and relatively cheap.
In fact, the Netherlands is so well-served by the public transport system that there should be no problem getting by in the country even if you do not have your own private vehicle. If you do need to use a car, but do not own one, there are car-sharing schemes to help you out.
The cheapness and relative efficiency of the Dutch public transport system is made all the more attractive when one considers the current price of petrol in the country - the third most expensive in Europe. Diesel is cheaper - the 14th most expensive in Europe.
Driving in the Netherlands is on the right-hand side of the road. Whilst drivers tend to be reasonably civilised in their use of the roads, the high density of the population means that the roads are fairly congested, especially in the west of the country around the main cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
When driving in the Netherlands, always pay attention to bicycles. If turning off the road, make sure you check and double-check what is behind you. If you hit a cyclist whilst driving in the Netherlands, you will always be to blame – even if it was the cyclist that did something really, really silly.
The legal age for driving is 18. This applies to both cars and motorbikes, although for scooters that travel less than 40 km/h the age limit is 16.
If you have a driving licence issued outside of the EU or European Free Trade Area (EFTA), you can normally drive in the Netherlands for 185 days (roughly six months) before having to apply for a Dutch licence. Those on an EU or EFTA licence should be able to continue driving with a foreign licence for up to 10 years.
It is a straight forward procedure for nationals from the EU and EFTA to get a Dutch licence; they simply have to exchange their current one. Others are required to take a CBR theory and driving test. This test is also available in English, although may cost slightly more. For more information on the licence, see www.cbr.nl.
Exemptions are made for those working for inter-governmental organisations or embassies, and their immediate family. They do not need to exchange their foreign driving licence for a Dutch one. The Rijksdienst Voor Het Wegverkeer (RDW) is the national authority for road traffic, transport and vehicle administration. All legal residents are required to register any vehicle that they own and use. All cars must have an up-to-date MOT, paid-up road tax and minimum liability insurance. Full details of these are available at www.rijbewijs.nl. Your Dutch municipality can also provide you with relevant information.
Parking, particularly in the larger towns and cities, can be difficult. If you are just visiting a town, it may be easier to park on the outskirts and take a bus or tram in.
Roads in most town centres demand payment for parking (unless you are a resident). This is usually between €1 and €3 per hour (€5 in the centre of Amsterdam). Payment is made through a parking meter. Failing to buy or display your ticket will result in a fine of €51, as well as the standard parking charge.
If you don’t want to park on the street, you can usually find a covered parking garage to use (also costing between €1 and €3). Two companies operate most of these garages: Q-Park, which has a free mobile phone application to find the nearest garage, and APCOA.
Buses and trams
The cheapest way of getting about by bus and tram is to obtain an OV-chipkaart.
On most trams and buses, you can also purchase tickets directly from the driver, although this tends to be considerably more expensive and you can only pay in cash.
This is not possible on the newer blue-and-white RandstadRail trams, though. Here you must buy a ticket from a machine within the tram, which only accepts the exact change. Randstadrail connects the residential areas of The Hague, Rotterdam and Zoetermeer. There are plans to extend it to other parts of the country too.
Day tickets in The Hague are available for bus and tram travel but are surprisingly expensive, considering the compact nature of The Hague – between €6.40 and €8.80, depending on the area.
If you are travelling off-peak, then buying an off-peak return ticket can be more attractive than the OV-chipkaart in some cases. These tickets can be used during the week between 9am and 4pm, and after 7pm. They can also be used at the weekend and on public holidays. The tickets can be bought from customer service stalls, in some shops and, for a slightly higher cost, directly from the drivers.
With a ‘personal’ OV-chipkaart, it is possible to arrange for a monthly or yearly subscription. The subscription is divided into zones. You should arrange for a subscription for all zones that the public transport you normally take will pass through. Be careful. If you take out a subscription for certain zones, and then one day happen to take a bus or tram that passes through a zone for which you do not have a subscription, you will be charged extra. Even if you have a subscription, you still need to check in and check out with your OV-chipkaart. In The Hague, subscription costs are based on the number of adjoining zones you wish to travel through, in addition to the central zone.
One frustrating thing with the bus and trams is that, if you forget to check out with your OV-chipkaart, then you will be charged the maximum fare. If you have made a genuine mistake, you can get your money back by going to one of the local HTM offices. In The Hague, go to Wagenstraat 35.
The Hague doesn’t have a metro system, but nearby Rotterdam and Amsterdam do. The OV-chipkaart can be used on the metro. Alternatively, you can purchase tickets from ticket machines at metro stations.
You will often find taxi ranks outside stations, airports and tourist attractions. However, it can be better to request a taxi by telephone, since this avoids some of the traps that tourists often fall into.
Officially, taxis are required to run the meter. If, when taking a taxi at the station, the driver refuses to use the meter, despite your insistence, you can try to take a taxi from the back of the queue instead. Since they know they will have to wait longer for custom, they may be more willing to use the meter.
If going to the airport, fees are often considerably lower if the service is booked online or by telephone. It is usually more convenient to go for a fixed rate than to use the meter. Prices vary from company to company.
When travelling to and from a station, a cheaper way to travel is to use the trein-taxi. This is a shared taxi that costs €4.70 per person regardless of the distance travelled within the city centre. You can purchase the ticket for the trein-taxi either at a train station or direct from the taxi driver, although this latter option is more expensive (€5.50). The taxi only leaves when it is full. There are 36 stations that offer the trein-taxi service. This does not include the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
For long-distance journeys, trains are by far the most convenient way of getting around. By and large, they are relatively inexpensive and efficient, although they don’t tend to cope so well with harsh weather conditions or large events. During heavy snowfalls and major football tournaments, it is not unknown for the railway system to grind to a halt, leaving many people stranded. This is largely to do with the fact that there is little spare capacity in the scheduling of trains, so a problem with one part of the line can have serious knock-on effects elsewhere.
There are also regular engineering works at weekends, which can cause delays.
Train tickets can be purchased at the same blue-and-yellow machines where the OV-chipkaart can be recharged. Most machines only accept payment by debit and credit card (the latter with a surcharge). If you want to pay with cash, then you must make the purchase at one of the counters.
If you want to buy a ticket for a destination outside the Netherlands, other than Belgium, you will also need to go to the ticket counter.
Purchasing tickets at the counter incurs a surcharge of 50 cents for national destinations and €3.50 for international journeys.
When the ticket office is closed or doesn’t exist, then you can buy the ticket from the controller on the train (although you should look for him or her as soon as you board).
Bikes are allowed in most trains during off-peak hours. There is no charge for carrying bikes that can be folded away, whilst other bikes incur a daily charge of €6. Tickets for bikes can be purchased at the same time as the ticket for travel.
It is difficult to think of the Netherlands without the country conjuring up images of pedalling your way through quaint little villages or alongside the shimmering waters of dreamy canals.
Cycling is probably the most popular way of getting around – not just in villages and the countryside, but also in the main cities.
An extensive network of cycle lanes and the flatness of the country make the bicycle such an attractive mode of transportation. Moreover, laws in the country generally benefit cyclists rather than motorists. Bikes are also able to travel both ways down many one-way streets, significantly speeding up journeys within cities.
Renting a bike is convenient and relatively inexpensive. There are private bike shops all over the country. Expect to pay between €7 and 10 for a day’s rental of a standard bike. Some rental places will insist that you return the bike before they close, which might be as early as 5.30pm. Others, particularly in the countryside, will be more laid-back and happy for you to return it after closing hours, posting the keys through their letter box.
You may have to pay a deposit (typically around €50) or leave your passport when renting a bicycle.
Bicycle stands are provided throughout the country for parking your bike. They are particularly common in shopping areas, and you can leave your bicycle there without charge. Train stations also provide ample parking space, again free of charge. Such parking may be located outside or on the first or second floor of the station – just look for the sign pointing to fietsstalling.
Cycle lanes are red with a picture of a white bike at intervals. They often run alongside pavements, which frustratingly means that many pedestrians mistakenly consider them as such. It is considered bad form – not to say dangerous – to walk in a cycle lane when there is a pavement just next to it.
It is acceptable for two bikes to be cycling next to each other, as long as they fit in the cycle lane. The sound of a bell or horn behind you indicates that you should give way and temporarily move over.