Holland is a great place for sightseeing because it's so compact. Whether you choose to drive or use the excellent Dutch public transportation, getting around is relatively easy in the Netherlands. Roads and expressways are excellent, and the rail network is one of Europe's finest.
Schedule and fare information about travel by train and other public transportation (openbaar vervoer) in the Netherlands is available by calling tel. 0900/9292, or visiting www.9292ov.nl. For international trains, call tel. 0900/9296.
Cards & Fares
From 2009, all public transportation in the Netherlands should be using an electronic stored-value card called the OV-chipkaart. This replaces the old system of tickets, "strip cards," and fare zones. "OV" are the initials for openbaar vervoer, which is Dutch for public transportation. Three main types of OV-chipkaart are available: reloadable "personal" cards that can be used only by their pictured owner; reloadable "anonymous" cards that can be used by anyone; and nonreloadable "throwaway" cards. The personal and anonymous cards, both valid for 5 years, cost 7.50€ ($12) and can be loaded and reloaded with up to 30€ ($48). Throwaway cards, which are likely to be the card of choice for short-term visitors, cost 2.50€ ($4) for one ride and 4.80€ ($7.70) for two rides. Electronic readers on Metro and train station platforms and onboard trams and buses deduct the correct fare; just hold your card up against the reader at both the start and the end of the ride. Reduced-rate cards are available for seniors and children ages 4 to 11; children 3 and under ride free.
Purchase cards from the local transit company's offices and ticket booths in the big cities, from Netherlands Railways booths in train stations, from automats at Metro and train stations, and from automats onboard some trams. Not every kind of card is available from each of these sources. Note that the cards are valid throughout the Netherlands, no matter where you purchase them.
All major tourist destinations in Holland are within 2 1/2 hours of Amsterdam via Nederlandse Spoorwegen/NS (tel. 0900/9292; www.ns.nl), Holland's national rail system. Generally clean and on time, the trains are a good way to travel with the Dutch, who use them even for short journeys to the next town up the line.
In addition to Amsterdam, other destinations easily reached by train from Schiphol Airport's rail station include the Hague (40 min.), Rotterdam (45 min.), and Utrecht (40 min.). The trains run so often that you can just go to the station and wait for the next one -- your wait will be short. At even the smallest stations, there is half-hour service in both directions, and major destination points have between four and eight trains an hour in both directions. Service begins as early as 5am (slightly later on Sun and holidays) and runs until around 1am. A special night train service operates between Utrecht and Rotterdam, via Amsterdam, Schiphol, Leiden, and the Hague.
If all or most of your travel will be by rail, consider investing in one of the NS special programs, such as a Zomertour (Summer Tour) or Eurail Holland Pass. The Zomertour pass, available between July 1 and September 9, permits unlimited 3-day travel in second class for one or two persons, over 10 consecutive days. Zomertour Plus (Summer Tour Plus) allows you to use other public transportation modes as well, such as the tram, bus, and Metro. The price ranges from 65€ ($104) for the basic pass for one, to 99€ ($158) for the Plus option for three.
Regional service is usually slow because buses stop at so many places en route, and you may have to change at an intermediate town or city on the way. Traveling by train is faster, but it is possible to travel long distances using the bus. Regional and intercity bus service is operated by Connexxion (tel. 0900/266-6399; www.connexxion.nl) and Arriva (tel. 0900/202-2022; www.arriva.nl).
Driving in Holland is easy -- except in the cities and towns where traffic congestion can be ulcer-inducing. Outside of these, snelwegen (expressways/motorways) and local roads are excellent; they're well planned (as you'd expect from the efficient Dutch), well maintained, and well signposted. However, they are often jampacked with traffic, particularly during the twice-daily rush hours, so avoid these times if possible.
Surprisingly enough, the biggest problem on the roads is other drivers: Many Dutch cast off their usual social skills and conscience when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle and become as bad tempered, erratic, and downright dangerous as, well, as the Belgians, whose roadway recklessness is infamous.
Rentals -- Rental cars are available from Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S., and tel. 020/502-0240 in Holland; www.hertz.nl), Avis (tel. 800/331-2112 in the U.S., and tel. 0900/235-2847 in Holland; www.avis.nl), Budget (tel. 0900/1576; www.budget.nl), and Europcar (tel. 0900/0540; www.europcar.nl). All four companies have desks at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, and rental offices (or agencies) in Rotterdam, the Hague, Utrecht, Maastricht, and other towns and cities. Expect to pay from 60€ ($96) a day and 75€ ($120) for a weekend, including insurance and other charges, and for unlimited mileage.
Driving Rules -- To drive in the Netherlands, you need only a valid passport, a driver's license, and registration for the car you drive. The minimum age for drivers is 18. The speed limit is 120kmph (75 mph) on expressways, 100kmph (60 mph) on some marked stretches of expressway near cities, 50kmph (30 mph) in cities and urban areas, and 80kmph (48 mph) in the outskirts of towns and cities. Lower limits might be posted. Traffic approaching from the right has the right of way, unless the road you are on has signposts with an orange diamond. Pedestrians on the crosswalks always have the right of way. Watch out for bicycle riders, who are vulnerable road users but don't always act like it.
Road Maps -- Adequate road maps for Holland and street maps for major cities are available from local VVV tourist information offices. Road maps are published by the ANWB and KNAC motoring organizations, and by various private concerns -- among them the excellent Michelin map nos. 210 and 211, which cover the country and are available from bookstores and some news vendors.
Breakdowns/Assistance -- If you're a member of a national automobile club, like the American Automobile Association, you're automatically entitled to the services of ANWB. This organization sponsors a fleet of yellow Wegenwacht (tel. 088/269-2888; www.anwb.nl) vans, a sort of repair shop on wheels that you see patrolling the highways. There are special yellow call boxes on all major roads to bring them to your assistance. Emergency call boxes marked POLITIE will bring the police.
Because Holland is so small, you really need to fly from one city to another only if you're extremely pressed for time (even then you might get there quicker by car or train). But if you must fly, KLM subsidiaries KLM Cityhopper and KLM exel (tel. 020/474-7747; www.klm.nl) serve Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Groningen, and Enschede.
Holland has 16 million people and 11 million bicycles. To fully engage in the Dutch experience, you must climb aboard a bike at some point and head out into the wide green yonder. You can rent bikes at many railway stations around the country to tour the local highlights. Tourism authorities have marked out many biking tour routes and publish descriptive booklets and maps, available from VVV offices.
Biking in Holland is safe, easy, and pleasant. Almost all roads have designated bike paths, often separated from the road by a screen of trees or bushes, and there are separate traffic lights and signs for bikes. (Mopeds, called brommers in Holland, and motor scooters also use the bicycle paths.) An unpleasant surprise for those who think an absence of hills makes for easy riding is that in a totally flat landscape, nothing blocks the wind -- which is great when the wind is behind you and not so great when it's blowing in your face.
Dutch Railways (tel. 0900/9296; www.ns.nl/en) has some handy arrangements for bicycles; you can pick up a bike at one station and drop it off at another.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.