A short and sweet user manual to Dutch public transport

Though biking is considered the ruling method of transportation in the Netherlands, there’s more to getting around than simply using your bike. Don’t get us wrong, using a bike outweighs public transport in that it is free, and you can usually get places faster and with a more direct route. Also, you can visit lots of amazing places with your bike. However, that doesn’t mean you should totally rule out using Dutch public transport. No, you should consider using Dutch public transport, and we will tell you exactly why and how. You see, the Netherlands has their own specific way of doing things, so let’s get you on the right track (see what we did there).

Image of Dutch flag

Pros of using Dutch public transport

The types of public transport you will find in the Netherlands include tram, bus and metro. These are all found in most cities. Additionally, there are intercity and international trains.

Public transport can come in handy in several situations. If you are new to a city and don’t want to risk getting lost, then taking a tram or a bus can ensure you don’t get muddled up with all the cycling roads and junctions. Also, if you are carrying major baggage, you don’t want to try a balancing act on your bike, only to cause an accident or hurt yourself. Taking a train or bus is also helpful when you want to go long stretches, or even in bad weather. Or, if you are planning to go to a place where you are anxious you might get your bike stolen (sometimes a likely scenario).

OV chip cards (and regular tickets)

The first thing you should know is that most, if not all, public transport uses the OV chip card method rather than tickets. The OV chip card is a card (no, really?) that you load money onto. You can get a personalized one with your name and photo, or an ‘anonymous’ one. They both work in the same way.

How do they work?

The cards replace single tickets. By single tickets, we mean ones that aren’t permanent or reusable like a card. Many other countries follow a similar system. In the Netherlands, you pay for exactly the fare you take. So, if you travel 2 stops, you pay for 2 stops. If you travel 10 stops, you pay for 10 stops, and so on. This contrasts to the single ticket (which you can also buy on whatever transport you are using), which costs a fixed amount, somewhere around €3. With this single ticket, you pay the fixed amount no matter how many stops you travel. This ticket is usually valid for something like an hour on all forms of public transport.

The benefits of having the card is that you save money. If a single ticket costs €4 for a fare, but you might only need to go 2 or 3 stops, then you’ve paid for a trip which only costs a few cents or €1 with the OV card. Also, it’s more useful to have a card; you simply have it with you and use it at your convenience.

Image of Dutch public transport

How do you get one?

You can buy an OV chip card at a central station, for example. Use this page to put in your postcode to find the nearest sales station to you.

If you don’t want to get an OV chip card, you can buy a single ticket from the conductor on the train or bus. The prices vary depending where you are, but they are usually a couple of euros. Again, ask the conductor for how long your ticket is valid and for what modes of public transportation!

As mentioned, you need to load money onto your OV chip card. You can do this using machines found at almost every metro station and major tram stop. Some supermarkets even have a small machine where you can load your card. Most machines take cards, like MasterCard. Others, sometimes older, machines allow you to use cash. You can load as much or as little as you want. But your card can also reach a negative balance, so make sure to avoid this. You can check your balance by using the OV website and putting in your card number.

Also remember to request a new one when your first one expires! The expiry date will be on the back of the card. You can also apply for a refund for the money on your expired card.

How do you use them?

When you enter a tram, for example, you will see a little machine with a flat surface and digital screen directly inside the doors to your left and right. You swipe your card against the machine, and will hear a beeping noise. The screen will confirm that you’ve checked in, and will display your card’s balance. This process is referred to as ‘checking in’.

When you leave the tram or other form of transport, you need to swipe your card again to ‘check out’. Simply do the same as you did coming in, placing your card against the machine next to the door. It will beep and confirm you’ve checked out, and show your balance again. Don’t forget to do this! The point of swiping out is that you are only charged for the journey you made. If you forget, you will be charged the full amount for a journey, which is €4.

In short, you are charged the boarding fare of €4 when you check in. When you check out, you are refunded and only charged for the number of kilometres you travelled. If you bought a single ticket, you don’t need to check out.

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Apps like NS or 9292

It can be handy to know when your transport comes and goes. Instead of blindly waiting at your tram stop, hoping it will come at some point in the near future, you can use an app. Nothing new there, right? 9292 shows you the real-time times of trams, buses, metros and more. You can also plan your route, and it even shows you how much time it takes to walk to the nearest stop.

NS is also good for planning tram trips or intercity trains.

Intercity and international trains

If you want to travel outside your own city, you can easily do that! If you want to visit other cities or areas within the Netherlands, you can use intercity trains. They are literally what they say they are: trains going between cities. For example, you can travel to Amsterdam from Rotterdam with an intercity train. You might have to take more than one train, depending on where you want to go. But these trains run regularly, and you can check their times using 9292 or NS.nl. You can use your OV chip cards on intercity trains, just make sure you have enough money on your card!

If you want to travel internationally, i.e. to another country, you must take an international train or two. You cannot use your OV chip card for this, so you will need to buy a ticket. A great website to find cheap tickets other than on NS.nl is GoEuro.


And there you have it: a short beginners guide on using Dutch public transport. Given, the procedures might not be 100% identical wherever you go. But the good thing is, you can always ask, right? We aren’t saying to neglect that wonderful bike of yours, but giving public transport a go can also be a great way to explore your city…