A Short and Sweet User Manual to Dutch Public Transport

Though biking is considered the main 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 more directly. You can also 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 to use it.

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Pros of using Dutch public transport

The Dutch public transportation system includes trams, buses 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 confused by all the cycling roads and junctions. Also, if you are carrying a lot of baggage, you shouldn't try a balancing act on your bike in case you 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. Public transport also come sin handy if you are planning to go to a place where you are anxious you might get your bike stolen.

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 in addition to tickets. Though you can buy single tickers, the OV chip card is a card 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 the distance traveled. 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 board), which costs a fixed amount. It's around €2 for the bus and varies according to city and method of transportation. With this single ticket, you pay a 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 travel for 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.

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How do you get one for Dutch public transport?

You can buy an OV chip card at a trains station. Use this page to put in your postcode to find the nearest sales point.

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 on your location 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 you can take with it!

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. Other, sometimes older, machines allow you to use cash. You can load as much or as little as you want. If you want to take an intercity train, your balance needs to be at least 20eur for an anonymous chip card and 10 for a personal OV.  Your card can also reach a negative balance. In this situation, you are no longer allowed to travel. 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 on Dutch public transport?

When you enter a tram, for example, you will see a little machine with a flat surface and digital screen, inside the tram, next to 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: place 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 kilometers you traveled. 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. 9292 shows you the real-time schedule of trams, buses, metros and more. You can also plan your route. 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 Omio.


And there you have it: a short beginners guide to using Dutch public transport. Now, it might not be the same everywhere in the Netherlands. The good thing is that 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…

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