The Amsterdam Layover

It’s no secret that Amsterdam serves as a hub for international travel. Whether you are flying to Europe, or merely stopping there on your way to somewhere else, there is a high likelihood that you will have many hours to spend at the Schipol Airport.

Sometimes you will stay in the airport even longer than the amount of time it took you to get there in the first place. So what are you supposed to do? Fortunately, the airport gods know that you might be spending a lot of time there, so you can stay, eat and sleep in an uncomfortable chair, although, to be fair, they do have a couple of lounges you can try sleeping in. Or you can stare mindlessly waiting for your plane to arrive (hey, it’s tiring flying for 10 hours straight). But venturing out into the city is your best option. Here’s how you can maximize what little time you have to spend there.

This is what I did on my way back from Kenya nearly two years ago. It had been years since my time studying abroad in Germany and England and I was desperate to touch down on European soil. To possibly grab a good cup of coffee, baked goodie and sandwich that would carry be over until I could get back to Europe for a longer, more thorough stint. So I mapped out the journey, checked the train schedules and made it happen. Even though I arrived in Amsterdam incredibly early in the morning and on a Sunday no less.

Sundays are truly a day of rest and relaxation for a good chunk of Europeans. Many stores and restaurants remain closed, limiting your exploration opportunities. Honestly, I had kind of forgotten about this when I decided to go. Fortunately, trains still run and food stalls at train stations still open, which is all I truly needed to get from the airport to the city. It would have been great to everything open, but it wasn’t needed for me to at least walk around the city, take in the canals and make plans to come back in the future to truly see the city.

If you want to explore the city for a few hours during a layover, here is what you need to do:

Place your bags in storage

This was something that I didn’t do, but should have. Weighed down with a heavy purse and laptop bag, I couldn’t roam around the city as quickly and nimbly as I would have normally. It limited me significantly and I was distracted by the weight and bulk of the bags.

Fortunately, the airport has storage lockers to help you avoid a similar fate. Cost ranges depending on how big your luggage is and the locker room is available-hours a day.  

Grab some cash

While most places take credit cards, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on your when you go into a foreign country. Even if it is just briefly. I ate the ATM fees and withdrew 40 Euros for the morning. Lines can be long at the ATM so prepare for that and double check with your bank to see if they have an international banking partners that won’t charge you a transaction fee. You will also want to alert your bank that you will be visiting the Netherlands. You don’t want to have them denying you the ability to use your debit or credit cards.

Hop on the train

Fortunately, right outside (and underneath) the arrivals gate lies the train station, ready to take you into the city. You’ll want to grab a ticket first, then hop onto the train that only takes 15 to 20 minutes to get to the city. Trains run 24-hours a day with limited service between Midnight and 6:00 a.m. If you want to avoid some of the hassle of buying a ticket first thing in the morning after a long flight, you can get your tickets online in advance, just make sure to have it on you in case someone comes on the train to check it, (which happened to me even though the train was running at the crack of dawn).

Arrive in Amsterdam City Centre

You’ve made it! The outside of the train station is the typical gorgeous rail station you will find all over Europe. A city of bikes sits immediately outside the station and the entrance gives way to the streets of Amsterdam itself. I didn’t have much of a plan when I was there beyond seeing the canals and taking in historic buildings. I arrived the morning after pride, so the streets were littered with confetti and rainbow flags hung everywhere. I certainly missed one hell of a party. Or maybe that is how Amsterdam looks every Sunday morning.

What I should have done was had a map on my person while walking around. Wandering around was fine, but I didn’t see as much as I could have (and again, it was hard to run around with so much luggage on me). Fortunately, I did find a city map that I took a picture of and referenced while I roamed.

Take the train back

Whenever you leave the confines of an airport, you have to go back through security. You will want to build in time to do this. While I breezed through, this might not always be the case. You will want to have some extra time to get one final coffee and pastry before taking off on the next leg of your journey.