The Netherlands has excellent public transportation. There's almost no need to hire a car, although hiring a bicycle is a good way to explore several places, including Amsterdam. The smoothest way to get from one city to another is by train. Den Haag to Amsterdam Centraal, for instance, takes between 47 and 59 minutes.

NS LogoCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Planning your journey

Visitors to Holland have it very good. Not only do almost all employees of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS, the state-owned train operator which provides the majority of services; logo shown here) and other rail companies (which include Arriva, Connexxion and Syntus) speak good English, but NS also operates a very user-friendly website on which it's easy to find travel information. One piece of advice: When entering a place name, ensure you have the correct Dutch spelling rather than an anglicized version. For instance, you'll need to type in Den Haag or 's-Gravenhage instead of The Hague.

Doubledecker TrainCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Once you've used the website to determine train times and fares, you'll need a valid ticket in the form of an OV-chipkaart. Although there are no physical barriers to prevent you from boarding or leaving a train without a ticket, don't even consider traveling without a proper ticket, as an inspector will scan your OV-chipkaart almost every journey. Also, make sure to "check in" before boarding (swipe your card in front of a sensor) and "check out" as soon as you get off (another swipe does the trick). If you don't do the former, you'll be penalized for not having a proper ticket. Forget to do the latter and the OV-chipkaart's central computer will assume you stayed on the train to the terminal station. In other words, you'll be paying for traveling you didn't do.

What's an OV-chipkaart?

If you're going to be using public transportation in Holland, you're urged to get an anonymous OV-chipkaart, a super-convenient stored-value smart card which can be used on all trains and buses as well as Amsterdam's fabulous tram network and even few short-distance ferries. These cards can be bought at thousands of places around the country, including Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and can be topped up at any railway station with cash (by going to the ticket office) or by credit card (through a vending machine). Single-journey chipkaarts are also available but these work out significantly more expensive.

1st class, 2nd class and silent cars 

All trains in Holland have 1st class and 2nd class sections. The former are a little plusher but the seats are no larger. However, because the bulk of rail travelers use 2nd class, 1st class sections are seldom crowded, even during rush hours. 1st class travel is 70% more expensive than 2nd class. Rotterdam to Eindhoven, for instance, is 17.4 euros in 2nd class and 29.6 euros in 1st class; journey time is about an hour and a quarter.

Most trains have some "silent cars" (known in some countries as "quiet carriages"), where conversations should be whispered and iPods turned down so people can sleep, read or work. These are labelled with the letter "S" and the appropriate words in Dutch and English: "stilte" and "silence" (see picture). If you're a little noisy in one of these carriages, don't be surprised if a fellow passenger shushes you, or sternly points out the "S." The Dutch take silence seriously!

Silent Car SignCredit: Creative Commons

The Netherlands is one of a few countries where double-decker trains are commonplace. For the best views over the countryside - expect to see farms, wind turbines and quaint farmsteads - do sit upstairs.

Discounts for children

Infants under the age of four don't need to pay anything to take a train in the Netherlands, while those aged four to eleven can travel under a Railrunner ticket. They can be accompanied or unaccompanied if in 2nd class, but for some reason kids in 1st class must be accompanied by an adult. Railrunners are a bargain at just 2.5 euros per child, regardless of distance, for journeys within the Netherlands. To give an idea of how much money you could save, full fare from Den Haag to Groningen (a Hanseatic city in the northeast and home to the country's second-oldest university) is 25.4 euros.

A Railrunner ticket can be added to an OV-chipkaart (but not one personalized under another person's name) or bought separately as a single-use card from vending machines and ticket offices. Railrunner tickets aren't valid on international expresses or Thalys trains. (Thalys is a network of high-speed trains connecting Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Cologne.)

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: The Netherlands
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