With its position in Europe as well as globally, the city of Amsterdam and its main airport Schiphol serve as a major international transit point for travellers going all over the world. Whilst a great number of people are coming to visit the Dutch capital, a just as great number are passing through the airport between flights and unfortunately will not go any further than the international transit area of the airport.
I have recently come back from the Baltics where I spent a couple of days between Christmas and New Year. Due to lack of direct flights from my home airport of Manchester to Tallinn, where I visited in Estonia, I had to take 2 flights there and back, changing planes in Amsterdam.
Having never visited Amsterdam or The Netherlands before I wanted to take advantage of where I was and where I had to pass through anyway. My outbound flight was a simple 2 hour connection in Schiphol and then I was on my way, however with my inbound flight I opted for a later flight time back to Manchester meaning I had a significant chunk of time to really explore Amsterdam! So in this post I am going to tell you some of my practical tips and advice for how you can have a similar stress free long layover and see some of this incredible city!
Layover Tip! Make sure you have enough time to make a visit out of the airport on a layover feasible! Work it out! You will need to factor in about 1 hour for disembarking the aircraft, travelling through the enormous terminal and transport to the city when arriving and then at least 2 hours for transport from the city to the airport, security, passport control (if applicable) and finding your gate when when departing!
For me fortunately besides the actual stopover time between my 2 return flights being great enough to make this stopover possible in the first place another couple of factors came into play meaning that I had even more time there;
- My return flight from Vilnius, Lithuania actually landed about 30 minutes earlier than estimated which gave me more time
- I was travelling hand luggage only and so didn’t have to wait for any checked baggage to arrive on the baggage carousel.
- My flight from Vilnius, Lithuania to Schiphol was a Schengen Area to Schengen Area flight meaning that I didn’t have to go through any passport control, when I landed back in The Netherlands I just simple walked out.
Layover Tip: If possible instead of carrying your baggage around the city with you, try to look for baggage storage in the airport, its worth every penny!
Having just 2 carry on bags, I didn’t want to take these around Amsterdam all day so instead I dropped them off at the Baggage Storage area in Schiphol airport, its located near the arrivals area between terminal 1 and 2 (there are signs for it, alternatively ask at one of the information desk for the location) its a secure, staffed area so don’t worry about anything going missing, however for extra security you could put a padlock around the area of your hand luggage with the most valuable stuff in!
It costs 6Euros for one hand luggage sized bag for the day (by fixing one bag to the other and essentially creating 1 bag I saved 6Euros! as I would have been charged for 2 bags otherwise), you drop your bag off you are giving a ticket stub which you then give back later on when you come back to pick it up. You also pay for the service at the end when you return.
Layover Tip: Don’t use airport to city transfers at major international airports as the public transport is quicker and more reliable and a lot cheaper!
At an airport as big as Schiphol, do not even think of getting a taxi or a shuttle service! they are very expensive and can take just as long as public transport. Instead just take the train, to get from Schiphol to Amsterdam Central it takes about 15 minutes and it costs nearly 10Euros for a day return ticket which you can buy at self service counters in the arrivals area of the airport (in my opinion I think that is expensive for such a short journey but it is still cheaper than taking a taxi or transfer service)
As you might have guessed by its name, Amsterdam Central station is literally in the centre of the city with all the canals and surrounding streets going outwards from it, so its a perfect place to start your mini trip to the Dutch Capital.
Layover Tip: Use the Hop On Hop Off services to travel around the city!
Amsterdam has several tour bus companies operating in the area, one of the more popular is the ‘Hop On Hop Off’. The HOHO service is popular for tourists and they operate in most cities around the world. The nice addition to the service in Amsterdam is that they offer a canal boat route as well!
You can actually buy tickets in advance online before you travel, to get the bus only for 24 hours validity it cost €21 and to get the bus and boat combination it costs €25. There is also an option for a 48 hour validity for both however if you are only in the city on a layover then these would be a bit of waste of money. You can book these here.
When you exit Amsterdam Central Station there is a short walk to where you can board the bus or boat, as the both routes start from this area of the city; there is one bus stop  and two boat stops . Be aware that you need to go into this building first  and exchange your online reservation for a ticket or pay for a ticket altogether if you have not reserved one online but it only takes a couple of minutes. When you are ready to go you are looking for either a big red bus or a big red boat, both with the HOHO logo on.
There are also very friendly and helpful staff at both of these start points as well at certain stops along the routes that will assist you if you have any questions.
Both bus and boat routes have 10 stops each and the bus route typically takes just over an hour to do the full route, where the boat route will take around 2.5 hours to do. On my layover trip I didn’t actually get off at any of the stops along the way as I wanted to see as much of the city as I could in the short space of time that I had, however if you were in Amsterdam for more than just a day you could easily use this bus as your main transport (as opposed to taxis or Uber rides) and visit all of the various attractions that do take a bit of time to see, such as the Heineken Factory and Anne Franks house.
The busses and boats have audio points by the seats where you can listen to an audio commentary as you drive or sail along (with 18 languages to choose from there is a good chance that they have the language of your choice) just pick up a pair of headphones when you hop onboard either the bus or boat and plug in.
Layover Tip! Feeling a bit peckish? Give FEBO a try!
Fancy a quick snack whilst walking around? give FEBO a go! They are dotted all over the capital and whilst you can order food to go and wait for it, they offer a quicker option for hot food where you simply insert coins into wall size Vending Machine and open one of the little doors of your choice and take the contents out.
Layover Tip! Need to pee? you got to pay!
One little inconvenience, which is kind of becoming the norm in most major cities, especially in Europe is that if you get caught short and need to visit the restroom, if you were in the situation like I was and were on a layover which meant you didn’t have any accommodation to quickly nip back to you are stuck with using public facilities and you have got to pay! Its typically between 50c and €1 so make sure you have change on you. Don’t even expect places like McDonalds to have free restrooms!
My advice if you get caught short in the Dutch Capital is to go to the Tourist Information centre right outside of Central Station, go in the building and down the stairs and there are some public toilets there, they cost a €1 to use each time. From my experience using them a couple of times throughout the day were spotless and getting regularly cleaned as people were going in and out!
From this post you should have all the information you need to see the amazing Dutch capital, be it for a short layover or a couple of days, I am due to revisit Amsterdam later in the year for a stag do so will be able to see even more of the city then.
Although it wasn’t mentioned anywhere else in this post it would be wrong for me not to mention it! The 2 things that most (British) tourists associate with ‘The Dam’; weed and prostitutes, they are both very visible and available in the city, from the hum of weed as you are walking past the dozens of Coffee Shops along the canal or from the shop fronts with red lights around the windows. If you are looking for it you don’t need my advice on where to find it and it certainly won’t take you a long time before you do find it!