Dutch Language Blog

Traveling by Train in the Netherlands Posted by on Jul 24, 2014 in Culture

One of the novelties I have enjoyed the most in the Netherlands is to travel with the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (or NS for short). My only train memory prior to Europe is a very old one from the last times there was a passenger train in Mexico (before 1992). We took the overnight trip and played cards and had fun crossing each wagon. In the Netherlands, I have experienced all sorts of train trips; most have been very pleasant and just a few have been a bit troublesome. However, nothing has been too much to handle and I’ve always reached my destination.

Two friends from Mexico came to visit this month, and we moved around by train a lot! They arrived at Schipol so we first took the train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal or the central station of Amsterdam. The NS changed their papieren kaartjes policy two weeks ago in order to promote the use of the OV-Chipkaart, which is a plastic card where you put in money to travel by train, bus and metro. The disadvantage of the card for tourists is that it costs €7.50 and the card must have €20 in order to be able to check in when you travel by train. However, papieren kaartjes are still available but have an extra charge of €1 per ticket. My friends and I experimented with both OV-Chipkaart and papieren kaartjes, and I think the ease of having money in the card for metro, trams and buses makes the cost of the card very much worth it.

This trip with my friends showed me how reliable the train is. It is really the best option for travel within the Netherlands. Of course, there are beautiful places and landscapes to see by car and the possibility of having pie on a terrace overlooking tulip fields or discovering a quaint little town. However, for travel within the main cities, it is ideal. Riding on the train gives you the possibility to read, check social media (intercity trains have Wi-Fi) and even take a nap if your travels have left you sleep deprived. You save on parking which can be very expensive in some cities, especially Amsterdam where a day’s parking in the city center can cost up to €60. The main train stations of all the cities and towns are usually in the city center so you can quickly walk to the museum, park, or square of your choice.

My favorite advantage of traveling by train and one that I experienced yesterday was the ease of going home after a long day of being a tourist without worrying about staying awake during the drive, gas, or which highway to take. Even with the delays I experienced yesterday to get home (there were repairs on the line that takes me straight home from Amsterdam so I had to detour), I was relaxed and comfortable. The friendly people of NS explained what my options for getting home were, and the journey was uneventful. I napped, read, and practiced Dutch listening skills as I eavesdropped on conversations (all for the sake of learning, dat beloof ik!)

I will continue to consider myself a trein meisje and will take advantage of the ease of traveling. I encourage you to try out the train during your next visit to the Netherlands!

Useful Vocabulary:

de NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen)- Dutch rail

het openbaar vervoer – Public transportation

de conducteur – Conductor

de trein- train

de OV-chipkaart- public transportation card

de kaartjesautomaat- ticket machine

het kaartje- ticket

reizen- travel

het saldo- balance

Opladen- charge

Inchecken- check in

Uitchecken– check out

het spoor– platform or rail

Reizen- to travel

het vertrek– departure

de aankomst- arrival

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!


  1. cathy:

    I also thought the OV-chipkaart was nice for the convenience. For tourists they can be very expensive since you’re required to have enough balance on your card for the final destination of the train you board, even if you’re getting off at the next stop. This can result in having a fairly large balance when you leave the country.

    I always enjoy the Innovative Language blog posts. One suggestion, could you include either the gender of nouns or indicate “de” or “het” in the vocabulary lists?

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @cathy Of course I can! I already went back and edited this last post to include “de” or “het.”

  2. Peter Simon:

    Dear Karoly,

    A comprehensive post! However, I’ve noticed recently that it seems to be fashionable to write only about positive things and gloss over anything negative in blogs like this (same with the Chinese blog I follow). So much so that I’m considering writing an anti-blog to point out not-so-good stuff about countries I’m reading about. Here let me draw the attention of your readers to something that bogs my mind.

    The crux of the matter that I’ve noticed about travelling in the Netherlands is that they’ve been becoming more and more tourist-unfriendly. It’s not only that costs have been high and rising. A single tram ticket in Amsterdam costs 2.5 Euro – orbital if you ask me. A day ticket at 7.5 seems reasonable – however, you have to arrive at the Centraal Station first to get one. If you land at Schiphol, you’re standing as a very small point somewhere in a very big and busy space and even finding the appropriate train platform is not very easy. The ticket office is somewhere in one corner that most people can’t catch sight of, perhaps hundreds of meters away from where you’ve come out.

    If you manage to get a ticket to Amst. Centraal for 1 Eur + the 2 or 3 it costs there, you’re ripped off by 30-40 %. Same on the way back because a tourist doesn’t need a tram ticket to see practically everything worth seeing in Amsterdam. I’ve been visiting the city for over 8 years, I’ve only used the tram once – when I wanted to be camping, and the camping place is well outside town and it isn’t worth the trouble. Point is, you won’t need a day ticket any day.

    Obviously, most people coming to Amsterdam aren’t going to travel very far, this city provides enough for a whole week. But if you want to travel anywhere else, it’s usually problematic to buy a ‘tijdelijke OV-Chipkaart’ – it is only valid for 4 days and to get it, you need to have an address in the Netherlands!!! Not the address of a motel. Plus, the NS often doesn’t accept foreign bank cards to put a saldo on a card. I know, a friend of mine has just failed with one. No wonder there’s a sale period of this card for only 2 Euro until the end of August – nobody buys them I suppose.

    Then, what if you have a problem with your bank card? I had once made mistakes with my own code, which I only found out about on arrival back to Eindhoven Airport and Centraal station. I couldn’t use my Dutch card (the exchange was waiting for me at home – where I was heading back) and my Hungarian card wasn’t accepted by the machine – I can use it anywhere else in the country, I could even use it in China, but not with NS autoamaten. Thankfully, I found the ticket office where I could pay for a paper card with it.

    So, imagine someone arriving first in the country NOW and without a Dutch friend. Imagine further that he/she doesn’t speak English because. Nor Dutch. A tourist from Latin-Am, or China, or Vietnam. Heard about Amsterdam – what a great place! Except the he/she has no way out of Schiphol Airport.

    Trains seem to run well on time. Except that every weekend, they don’t. Somewhere, about 10 sections on average, there are ‘werkzaamheden’ on the system – that is, ‘storingen’. So they work in the weekend and tourists coming for a nice weekend out have to make detours – sometimes 2 hours, because one can’t travel between Utrecht and Amst Centraal, only around the whole thing by slow trains towards Amersfoort or Amstelveen. Then, if there’s an accident somewhere, you’re stuck. I once left for Eindhoven Airport well before time but someone jumped in front of my train outside Nijmegen. No movement for nearly 3 hours. Thank god I had planned too far ahead and didn’t miss my plane in the end.

    Then, again about running on time, you have to be in the country from the autumn. The first minute there is snow, the whole system comes to a screeching halt, like a few years ago when I commuted 50 km’s for work. But on such a day, when I had already bought my retour ticket when we were told in the neighbouring city to go back where we’d come from because that’d be the last train of the day, they had to stop all others already.

    Then there are sometimes news about special actions to sell day cards extra cheep. No wonder, day cards cost about 60 Euros. You can travel the whole day. Yes, if you don’t get out anywhere, you can use its cost. So some chain stores, like HEMA, sometimes sell them for 17 or 15 Euros. Only problem is, first, you need to go through an 8-step procedure to get it on the net, where one of the first steps is to use a … Dutch bank card with a Dutch address. Absolutely no foreigner can use them, let alone print them at the end. Yes, you heard well: the person has to print it at home. A great idea for selling it to tourists, right? But when you ask for such a ticket in the store personally, you are fortunate if they tell you after you’ve paid for it not to forget to print it.

    So much about the urban legend of Dutch efficiency. But true, all works for those using the system as Dutch citizens. Just don’t try to get there as a tourist on your own.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Peter Simon Peter,

      In my opinion, you are missing the point of this blog. When I started collaborating, my task was to promote the Dutch language and culture which is what I try to do. I do admit that there are plenty of negative things to write about, however, I find that there are as many negative things to write as when I lived in the States and in Mexico. I am sure some will surface as I write, but my aim is to remain as positive as possible. That is how I am and I try to remain truthful to myself when I write.

      About the train, yes, there are plenty of issues. I live in a small town and my friends and I could only buy tickets with coins because there is no office where to buy tickets. And yet we managed to do it. When I moved here, my boyfriend knew little of the trains because he mostly moves around by car, and I was able to learn how to do it on my own. The last trip I took home from Amsterdam took 1.5 hours longer because of repairs, and yet I cannot complain because I made it home thanks to the NS people that guided my way. In my personal experience, out of every 10 trips I take on the train, only 1 is troublesome. To me that is not a lot.

      I hope your next trip to the Netherlands runs smoother train wise (if you do not live here), and if you come across any trouble, I would be happy to guide/help. No matter where you go, everything seems easier when a person living there lends a helping hand!

  3. Ilja DeYoung:

    On a language note:
    treinmeisje would be spelled as one word. This is a typical Dutch thing. We can make word really long if we want to. Unlike English where there would be a space between train and girl in Dutch is one word.

    About your blog:
    Thank you for your positive mentions of our country. Their are enough negative stories on the internet already, so I appriciate a sunny outlook and a positive blog 🙂

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Ilja DeYoung Ilja,

      It is funny that you mention “treinmeisje” because my boyfriend, who checks my posts beforehand for any Dutch mistakes I might have, and I discussed this before I posted. He was of the opinion that it should be separate while I thought it should be together since, like you said, in Dutch you can make a word very long.

      About being positive, I can find in the Netherlands as much positive and negative as I did in the States and in Mexico. My aim is to write as truthfully as I can in the manner I see it.

  4. Sab:

    I’m a huge fan of NS and have been since I moved here 7 years ago. So much so that I’m working to become a conductor on said trains. I hear so much negative about NS, it’s refreshing to hear a positive review. Thank you!

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Sab Sab, I am a big fan too! Good luck with your future job 🙂

  5. Peter Simon:

    Dear Karoly, I agree with and support your positive intentions. However, I’m not the blogger, I’m a visitor, and while admitting that there’re a lot of negative stuff about this or that on the net, I don’t find them at all, and I find this disturbing. As a result, I felt that for the sake of balance and truth, I should write a little bit about what’s not so good about NS.

    Yes, I live in the Netherlands, and when I had to commute to work, I found more than 1 out of 10 trains gave me trouble (I mean real trouble, not only a minute’s delay). Even at 10%, I don’t think a proud national railway system like NS can be considered satisfied, and satisfying, and the railways are not only NS. I think your readers deserve to be shown the reality, as not everything is so great about the Netherlands. About no country, for that matter, even if one’s task is to gloss it up as much as possible. I’m not a negativist. I know, and enjoy, the world a lot more than that – I’m a realist. And your blog also deserves to be realistic. If you only show the bright side, I’ll be here to provide a balance if I see fit, though there are a lot of negative things I don’t care about. The country as a whole is a lot better than worth musing about bad things.