How to get around Amsterdam, one of Europe’s easiest cities to explore

Sensible shoes and a good sense of direction will get you far in Amsterdam, one of the world’s easiest places to get around.

The Dutch capital is compact and thus extremely walkable – perhaps too walkable, as its main streets tend to get very crowded with visitors. Luckily, public transport connecting central Amsterdam to more spacious outer districts is extensive, reliable and well-priced.

Free ferry rides let you play Amsterdam commuter – and whisk you to the trendy emerging Noord neighborhood.

And of course, no trip to the Netherlands is complete without a fiets (bicycle) ride. Bicycles are more common than cars here – and are an essential (not to mention sustainable) means of transport.

From bus to boat to bike, read on for top tips on getting around Amsterdam.

Getting into the city from Schiphol Airport 

From Amsterdam’s global hub, you can get to the center by train, bus or taxi (assuming you won’t have have your own car). Frequent trains are a very good option, and run to multiple stations, including Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, 24 hours a day.

This is the cheapest option for getting into the city, though the fare is not included on an I Amsterdam card (more on that below) and requires a separate ticket. You can easily purchase one at the airport, in addition to bus tickets and the OV-chip card for public transport in town, which you can top off as you go.

City and regional bus stops can be found outside Schiphol Plaza to take you into the city. The Amsterdam Airport Express bus costs a couple more euros, but is the quickest way to places near Museumplein and Leidseplein. You can catch it just outside the arrivals hall door, along with a shuttle van that goes to hotels – a more expensive yet convenient option.

After midnight, when trains from Schiphol Airport to Centraal run hourly rather than every 10–15 minutes, a taxi could be your best option. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to the city center and costs from €35 to €55, although you might save a bit with a ride-hailing service.

The right travel card can save you money

GVB is Amsterdam’s public-transport agency. Downloading its app will come in handy.

Purchasing single-use, one-hour tickets is cumbersome and requires unnecessary waiting in line. We recommend instead buying a disposable OV chipkaart from stations and establishments like supermarkets.

We also are fans of the GVB’s multiday ticket offers or the I Amsterdam City Card, which combines sightseeing attractions with unlimited public transport. You can purchase both before you arrive.

The GVB’s multiday tickets come in durations from one to seven days. The I Amsterdam card is available for durations from one to five days, and includes admission to attractions such as the Rijksmuseum (plus time-slot bookings), a canal cruise, bike rental and discounts at certain venues.

Tip for buying tickets: Most GVB tickets purchased online are mailed by post, so it’s best to place your order at least four to six weeks before travel. You’ll pick up your I Amsterdam card from the I Amsterdam shop at Centraal Station, so be sure to bring proof of purchase.

Tip for using travel cards: Don’t forget to validate your card on each ride. (Some trams have ticket barriers; otherwise, look for the yellow readers and hold your card to one.) Your card will be valid from the beginning of your first journey.

If you get caught with an unactivated ticket or card, you’ll face a fine. Swiping in is especially important with an OV chipkaart: otherwise, you risk paying more.

Trams crisscross central Amsterdam, and are the most convenient form of public transport for visitors © Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock

Get to know the tram map

Most public transport within the city is by tram; after long days of roaming around, you’ll likely get to know the tram map well. If you don’t have a multiday GVB card (see above), you can buy a single ticket on board.

Tip for tram tickets: The purchase of tickets on trams is cashless; make sure to have a credit or debit card.

Central Amsterdam is best explored on foot

Walking around the city center offers you the chance to stumble upon cobblestone lanes, alleyway shops and clandestine restaurants you might otherwise miss. 

Navigating around the central grachtengordel (canal ring) is easy when you remember that the major canals all run in a loop in the shape of a horseshoe, in alphabetical order. (The sole exception is the Singel Canal, once a fortification line, which forms the innermost ring.)

House numbers on canal streets run from low to the west and high to the east. Learning the rough locations of the main downtown squares Dam (in front of Centraal Station), Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein will keep you on track.

Two cyclists exploring a street in central Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Do as the Dutch do and hop on a bike to explore Amsterdam © Drazen_ / Getty Images

Take advantage of Amsterdam’s copious cycling lanes 

Cycling is the most beloved mode of transport in the Netherlands – and Amsterdam is no exception. Pedaling offers a relaxing and sustainable way to access parks and open spaces in less-touristy neighborhoods, and take in city from a wonderful, moving perspective. (Beware, however, of navigating certain streets in the inner city, where cycling etiquette and sharing the road don’t come as naturally to visitors as to the Dutch.)

You’ll find bike rental shops everywhere; a day’s rental usually costs about €10. Choosing a rental company without branding will help you blend in. Take care to ride your bike in the red asphalt-covered bike lanes, not on the footpaths for pedestrians.

Tip for cycling: Bike thieves in Amsterdam know how to get creative, so consider purchasing theft insurance (starting at about €3 per day). Alternatively, bike-renting apps with pay-per-minute plans – like Donkey Republic – are good for short distances.

People on bicycles riding off a shuttle ferry service on the waterfront in Amsterdam, Netherlands
You’ll feel like a local when you take your bike aboard a free shuttle across the IJ River © Ceri Breeze / Shutterstock

Escape the crowds on a ferry

Free ferries depart from behind Centraal Station and cross the IJ River are a great way to escape the crowds and explore up-and-coming areas like Amsterdam Noord and NDSM-Werf. During rush hours, you’ll share the boat with lots of locals breathing in the fresh air, trusty bicycles and mopeds in tow.

The main ferry connection to Buiksloterweg (most popular for sightseeing in Noord) runs several times per hour, 24 hours a day.

MOVE CityCar, a modern small electric car, in front of Hash Marihuana Museum, Amsterdam, the
We don’t recommend driving in Amsterdam – but if you do, pick as small a car as possible © PixelBiss / Shutterstock

Driving is not ideal in Amsterdam

Driving in central Amsterdam is not recommended, for a few reasons: narrow streets, abundant bicycle lanes and scant parking (which is also astronomically expensive). Amsterdam accommodations rarely offer parking.

If you do decide to drive, all streets in the downtown canal ring are one-way, and you always drive on the right. When approaching intersections, some canal bridges might not have traffic signs; treat them as a four-way stop. (To refresh: the first vehicle to arrive has the right of way; if two vehicles arrive simultaneously, the vehicle furthest to the right goes first; turning right has priority over turning left.)

Use taxis late at night

Given Amsterdam’s maze of streets and canals, taxis tend to be expensive slowpokes. Locals rarely use them since they are usually only available at stands and in busy areas. Many locals, especially those in the city’s booming tech scene, prefer to call a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft instead.

Yet taxis come in handy once regular public transport stops between midnight and 6am. Buses take over during the wee hours to serve the main central areas and the suburbs. But be forewarned: they take ages to get around.

People walking in Amsterdam
Walking is the ideal way to see central Amsterdam © Getty Images

Accessible travel

Travelers with reduced mobility will find Amsterdam moderately equipped to meet their needs. Do keep in mind, though, that many budget and midrange hotels, especially in central Amsterdam’s older buildings, offer limited accessibility due to steep and narrow stairwells. 

Most museums and attractions have elevators or ramps and accessible toilets, with the Anne Frank Huis a notable exception. Most restaurants are located on the ground floor (though they may require a few steps to get inside). Before visiting somewhere, it’s usually good practice to ask for a few details about the entrance and outdoor cobblestone.

Most canal cruises, buses and metro stations are wheelchair accessible. Some trams have raised platforms; those that don’t will not be easy for those in wheelchairs. Check the GVB website for a complete list of wheelchair-friendly stops.

Accessible Travel Netherlands and the Able Amsterdam blog are excellent resources for further information.

This article was first published Sep 29, 2021 and updated Jun 13, 2024.

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