I thought I’d take a break from writing about Paris, so this week’s post is about getting around Amsterdam. Every European city seems to have their own unique public transportation system – London has the Tube, Paris has the Metro, Venice has the Vaporetti, and Amsterdam has the Trams.
Looking at Amsterdam on a map, you will see that the city has four main canals, radiating from the center of the city. If you come to Amsterdam by train, you will likely arrive at Amsterdam Centraal. If you fly into Schiphol Airport, you can also take the train to the central station. If you are familiar with the city, there are a couple other options, but I will assume this is your first or second time in Amsterdam.
When you get off the train, look for signs for the centrum – they will lead you to the exit you want. You may feel overwhelmed exiting toward the city center, because there can be a large number of tourists and residents in this area. There are two things to look for – first, you should see a tram or two either straight ahead or off to the right – I’ll get to those soon. Second, off to the left is a series of connected white buildings – the Amsterdam visitors center, the Travel center and a gift shop. (There is a set of stairs on the right side of the buildings that leads down to a nice canal-side restaurant – Loetje Centraal).
Choosing your Ticket
You will probably want to purchase either an I amsterdam city card or a GVB travel card. With both options, the longer you plan to be in Amsterdam, the more economical the cards become. The I amsterdam city card starts at €55, for 24 hours, but adds only €10 per day for up to three additional days. The one day GVB travel card costs €7.50, two days is €12.50; the price increases at a modest rate with a seven day pass available for €33.
The I amsterdam card includes use of the trams, admission to many museums and attractions, and discounts or free gifts at other attractions and restaurants. Some of the highlights include admission to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Rembrandt House Museum, a Canal Cruise, and the Artis Royal Zoo. There is a discount offered for the Rijksmuseum, but no offer for the Anne Frank House. You can find more information on the I amsterdam website.
The I amsterdam city card can be wise purchase for first time visitors, but if you only have a couple attractions you are interested in – or like me, if you want to spend your time (yarn) shopping – you might be better off buying a GVB travel card and paying for attractions separately.
I have been to Amsterdam a couple of times and each time decided that the I amsterdam card was worth the price. This time, however, I passed on it and just purchased the GVB travel card. I spent about 65 hours in the city, so I purchased the 72 hour card. Single ride tickets are also available, so if I knew exactly where I would be traveling and if I was not going to be using the tram system much, I could have just purchased the tickets I needed. Single ride tickets are €2.90, though, so they add up quickly.
Using the Trams
Once you have purchased your I amsterdam or GVB card, you are able to use it to ride the trams or buses. Your allotted hours begin at the first use, so if you first ride the tram at ten in the morning, the card will expire at ten in the morning. I used my 72-hour card around three in the afternoon on Sunday, so it would have expired on Wednesday afternoon. (I had already left Amsterdam by then).
You can use Google maps or the map provided by GVB to figure out which tram or bus line will get you where you want to go. I found Google maps the most helpful. To get to my hotel, I needed to ride either #2 or #5, so I walked back to where the trams lined up outside the central station and found line #2.
To get on the tram, you can either enter near the driver at the front or through the back set of doors. The middle doors are only for passengers leaving the tram. When you enter, you must pass your card in front of the card reader. You will hear a single beep and a green light will flash. Unlike in other cities, when using a tram in Amsterdam, you also have to check out when leaving the tram. Pass your card in front of the reader again; you should hear two beeps when checking out.
You may notice riders checking out before they arrive at the stop. This is done by those that are getting off at the next stop in order that they may exit more quickly. It does help relieve congestion near the doors, so its fine as long as you are sure of which stop you need. You probably won’t forget to check out – everyone else is doing it and you will often hear a recorded message (in English), “…and don’t forget to check out,” along with other announcements.
What Is or Is Not Included
Trams, metro, and buses in Amsterdam that are part of the GVB network are all included in the I amsterdam city card or the GVB travel card. However, buses run by Connexxion, like Bus 197, the Schiphol Express, are not included with either card. A one-way bus ticket to Schiphol is €5, payable in cash on the bus.
Transportation tickets to five additional villages can be purchased for €10 with the I amsterdam card, but they would have to be used within the validity period of the card. Admission to selected attractions in these villages is included with the pass (Volendam, Zaanse Schans, Haarlem, Zuiderzee Museum and Castle Muiderslot).
If you only plan to spend a day in Amsterdam, get the GVB travel pass and see what you can. The I amsterdam card is only worth it if you hope to visit at least three of the museums from their list. If you have two, three or more days to spend in the city and plan to visit popular attractions, the I amsterdam card is probably your best option. If you have five or more days in the city and plan to spend much of your time shopping or relaxing, the GVB card or single use tickets may be your wisest option.
Plan ahead, but also remember that convenience is often worth an extra cost. I may have saved a few cents if I was careful and used single ride tickets while I was in Amsterdam this time, however, I liked not having to worry about purchasing a ticket every time I got on the bus or tram.
Amsterdam is a busy city, but it is easy to navigate. In no time you will be hopping on and off the trams and buses like a local. Have fun!
One nice thing about having a transit pass is that when you inevitably get on a tram heading in the wrong direction, it doesn’t cost you extra when you have to turn around!
How true! That actually happened to me. I was traveling with one of my daughters and we became so comfortable and confident in using the tram that when we saw the tram number we needed, we hopped on. Five or ten minutes later, we realized we were not where we thought we’d be. We hopped off, got on the tram going in the opposite direction and shortly, arrived back where we started. Lesson learned!