Train Tickets Netherlands

Last Updated: May 29, 2023
By: Gerrit

The Netherlands is a tiny but beautiful country in Europe. The fact that it’s small and has an excellent transit system makes it easy to get around the Netherlands. And that makes travel in the Netherlands so easy. 

Trains run frequently, are safe, and are also used by most locals. Transit can be something unknown in you’re from the USA. But here, it’s the preferred way to get around, especially between cities. Traveling by train is an integral part of Dutch life. And when you’re visiting, it most likely will be part of yours too.

And since there are so many train departures throughout the day, it is easy to take day trips from Amsterdam to places like Haarlem, Rotterdam, Delft, Utrecht, Amersfoort, and many more.

The main advantage of travel by rail is that you can travel city centre to city centre without parking issues. Or stress navigating small streets and heavy bicycle traffic. The train is often faster than travel by car (or taxi/uber).

When you arrive at Amsterdam Airport, you immediately have to choose: will you travel by Train, Bus, Taxi, or Uber? There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them. So I wrote a comprehensive guide on that topic alone to make the right decision. Make sure to read it. (Most people opt for the train).

Today, in this post, I’m focusing on Train Tickets Netherlands. Because although the system is easy, you’ll have many questions if you’re new to it. Of course, I grew up using the system, so it’s 2nd nature for me. But when I have friends visiting from abroad, I see it through their lens, and they need help. I’m here today to ensure your questions will be answered by the end of this post.

NS Intercity train in Dutch countryside.
NS Intercity train in Dutch countryside – Photo: NS

Here are some questions you might have:

  • What ticket to get? Where to buy them?
  • Do you need seat reservations?
  • Which class to travel in?
  • Are tickets train-specific?
  • How to use the app?
  • How to use the Check-in Check-Out System?
  • Is it possible to travel with a rail pass for discounts?
  • Are the prices differences for direct trains vs. indirect services?
  • Is there a difference in train fares between peak (commuter) and off-peak hours?
  •  Is it true kids can travel for just €2,50?
  • Can I take a bike on the train?
  • And more. 

I will answer all of these questions for you in detail and more. This is the only guide you’ll need on buying a ticket for Dutch trains.

This post will likely contain affiliate links. I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost if you make a purchase. By doing so, you support this website and my free content. Commissions never influence my opinion. I also provide non-affiliate links when it benefits you most.

Understanding the Dutch Rail Network

The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) operates most rail services in the Netherlands, covering nearly every part of the country. This network facilitates efficient and fast connections between major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and many more. Making train travel an excellent option for tourists.

Local public transport companies run some regional train services. One ticket is valid on all operators, so it’s of no concern to you whether you travel on an NS train. Except for the check-in check-out procedure, but more about that later. 

Different Types Of Trains in Holland

NS Intercity Train on bridge.
NS Intercity Train on the bridge – Photo: NS

The most common train services you’ll encounter in the Netherlands are:

  1. Intercity trains that connect larger cities and typically only stop at major stations. This is often the fasted way to travel.
  2. Sprinters: These local trains stop at all stations along the route. They serve as feeder services to the network or can be used for more accessible travel (more about that later). For most visitors, the faster services will be the most convenient.

Ticket prices are the same for one or the other. There is no fare difference.

There are also three other types of train services:

  1. The Domestic High-Speed train – IC Direct – between Amsterdam Centraal and Rotterdam. They run every 15 minutes. For this train, you need a regular ticket plus a supplement that costs a few euros extras. It saves you 30 minutes in travel time between those two cities.
  2. International Regular Speed Services like Intercity Brussels and Intercity Berlin. You can use them as a local train in the Netherlands, but be mindful of passengers with international seat reservations on some trains. There is no supplement using these trains.
  3. International High-Speed Trains. You can’t just take these trains. They work more like airplane fares, and tickets are sold on availability and vary in pricing. These trains usually are not used for domestic travel.
    1. Thalys train to Paris
    2. Eurostar to London
    3. ICE International to Frankfurt and further (these can be used for domestic travel at a supplement)

Buying Train Tickets Netherlands

There are many ticket options available to you. But since the arrival of OVpay, it – finally – has become easy to pay for your ticket when you need a regular ticket between two cities and want to travel in standard class (second class or the blue seats) without any discounts, special fares, or supplements. You can pay with your contactless debit/credit card, Google Wallet, or Apple Pay. This is by far the most convenient way to travel for most people. 

Pricing is based on distance, not when you purchase your tickets.

How OVpay works

Before you leave home, check if contactless payments are activated on your card. Then tap at the gates (larger train stations) or check-in poles (smaller stations and the airport). See the images below. Do this before your start your journey and at your arrival stations. That’s it. OVpay is the most convenient way to travel on Dutch trains.

Checking in at ticket gate Dutch train station.
Check-in at station entry gates – Photo: © Hidden Holland

If you travel on the fast Intercity Direct trains between Rotterdam and Schiphol/Amsterdam, you must also tap the supplement payment pole on the platform. See the image below. (The information screens will also say IC Direct and supplement required).

Pay for your supplement to use the IC Direct high speed train between Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
Tap your card here to pay for your IC direct Supplement – Photo: © Hidden Holland

The correct price is automatically calculated and deducted from your account after your journey. It’s the most convenient way to travel. (Ps, this also works on trams, buses, and metros)

It does not work for these situations:

  • If your payment card does not support OVpay 💳
  • For First class travel 🥇
  • If you travel with a kid (aged 4-11) 👩‍👧(under four travel free 👶)
  • If traveling with a Dutch discount card (OVpay only works for full fare) 🧮
  • If you’re traveling internationally (into Belgium, France, Germany, or the UK) 🇪🇺🇬🇧

If any of the four exceptions above apply to you, keep reading.

Online Purchases Through a Website

You can book your train tickets online through the NS website, but why this option exists, I don’t know. The main drawback of this method is that tickets need to be printed (thus, you need a printer), a screenshot or PDF is not valid. This is NOT helpful when you’re traveling.

If you have no printer, the only way to use these tickets is by loading them into the app. And if you do that, why not buy them directly in the app? So I keep this one short > not useful.

Also, be aware that ticket sites like Tiquets, offer train tickets between the airport and the city at (much) higher than standard pricing. They sell it to you as peace of mind before you leave. But it’s completely redundant, and they charge you extra. If you use OVPay instead (just tapping in and out with your bank card), there is no loss of time, and you pay about 30% less. So don’t fall for this “tourist trap.”

NS Mobile App

The NS also offers a mobile app in Dutch or English for iOS and Android devices. This app is convenient for buying e-tickets, planning your journey, and seeing train times (departure and arrival) for each service.

Once you get a ticket inside the app, you can show it on your screen to the conductor if needed. This is a great way to purchase tickets if OVpay does not apply to you.

For example, when you’re looking at First-class travel. OVPay is only for Standard class, not First. I highly recommend paying extra for First Class for a long journey since it offers a little more comfort and quiet. (Anything longer than 30 minutes).

Although you can buy tickets in advance, I recommend buying them on the day of travel. Tickets are non-refundable, so you could lose money buying too far in advance if travel plans change. There are always train tickets available.

Also, know ticket prices do not fluctuate. There is seldom an advantage to buying earlier.

Step-by-step Instructions on How to Use the NS App

The App can be confusing, especially to first-time users, until you know how to use it. Below I’ll walk you through with easy to follow step-by-step images on how to buy your tickets.

Step 1:

For Schedules and ticket buying, you start the same way. In the App, select the departure station and the arrival station. Then select your preferred travel day and time. You still need to select something even if you don’t know yet. Also, choose between arrival times, departure times, or now. You can ignore the button Options. Click “Plan Your Journey”.

Step 1 NS App select your journey.
Select the correct Station.
Then select your time of travel.
Make sure the select the right time.

Step 2:

On the next screen, you see different departures. Again ignore the “options” button here (unless you need accessible travel options). You can click earlier or later if the times don’t work for you. Or select a journey to see pricing and book an e-ticket.

Now the odd thing is that you do not buy a ticket for that specific departure. Tickets are valid all day on the same date for any train (unless you have a discounted ticket, but normally you can take any train). Don’t be concerned when you get to this step.

In this step you need select a journey, whether you take it or not.
Pick any departure (you don’t have to travel on it)

Step 3:

Now you can purchase your ticket (and, if needed, a supplement) by clicking on “Order Train Ticket” or “Order supplement.” If you need the supplement, you need to do both apart from each other. The supplement is only applicable between Amsterdam and Rotterdam (IC direct trains only) and Amsterdam and Arnhem (ICE trains only). For the majority of trains, including between the airport and the city center, you buy a regular ticket only.

In step3  of booking a train ticket in The Netherlands you see the pricing and the buy buttons.
Here you can order a ticket.

Step 4:

You can choose between a one-way ticket or a return on the final screen. Know that the price of two one-way tickets is the same as a return. You do not save money by buying a return ticket. A return ticket is also only valid on the same day. Because it’s restrictive and doesn’t save you money, it’s best to buy one-way tickets in most cases.

This is the screen where you select to travel in 2nd class (standard) or 1st class. The number of people in your party and if travel full fare or with a discount. Note that unless you travel with a discount card holder (a local Dutch person), you always choose “Regular Full Fare.” Then click Next.

The next screen asks for passengers’ names. Ensure the initials and last name match your official ID (Passport). Tickets are personal. After that, you click pay to checkout.

To find your tickets after purchase, click More (in the menu bar at the bottom > My Tickets).

In the final step you purchase your Dutch train tickets.
Select the class of travel and party size.

Ticket Machines

Since the introduction of OVpay and the app, ticket machines have become obsolete. But they are surprisingly still available at every station. And most visitors use them to buy their tickets. Just look at the long lines at Schiphol Airport. Don’t use them. You pay a €1 surcharge for every ticket purchased at these machines for the paper chip ticket it prints. It’s such a waste of money and completely unnecessary.

Be careful at Schiphol Airport, where they programmed the machines to sell you first-class tickets as the default option for tickets to Amsterdam. That is ridiculous for such a short trip.

They do this because many tourists sat in first class anyway, claiming not knowing (maybe rightfully so), but now they charge anybody if you’re careful. When you travel this short distance of just 15 minutes, get a standard ticket (2nd class), sit in the area with blue seats (most of them), or stay in the entry hallways with your luggage. Again the easiest travel option is to use OVPay.

Train Tickets Netherlands. Where to buy your ticket. Ticket machines are both busy and more expensive. Use the app instead.
Ticket Machines (avoid these to avoid a surcharge) – Photo: NS

Ticket Offices

If you prefer to purchase your ticket from a staff member, you can go to a ticket desk at larger stations. This is a good option if you have complex travel plans or prefer personal assistance. But be aware they also levy the extra surcharge of €1.

OV-Chip Card (do not use anymore)

Before OVpay was introduced, it was almost criminal how complex the Dutch system was for foreign visitors. You had to buy an anonymous OV Chipcard. For the train, this was avoidable by buying paper tickets with the surcharge, but if you wanted to use the tram, bus, or metro system, you needed one.

The cost was €7.50 for the card alone (non-refundable), and it gave you €0 travel credit, then the minimum amount you had to load on it was €20. Whenever it dipped below €20, you had to top up to use it again. In practicality, your minimum balance needed to be higher. The maximum travel credit could be €150.

When you’re finished with the card, you could only get your remaining balance back if you had or knew someone with, a Dutch bank account. It was incredibly inconvenient and expensive. Today this is still an option. But there are enough other options to ignore this one.

International Train Tickets

Eurostar high speed train at Rotterdam Central Station.
Eurostar High-Speed train leaving Rotterdam – Photo: NS

Booking train tickets in advance is only necessary when you travel internationally and is most convenient through the website of NS International. Here you can get tickets for journeys between Amsterdam and Brussels, the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, the Eurostar train to London, and other destinations in Belgium and Germany, like Brussels and Cologne.

If you book your international train tickets beforehand, cheaper train tickets can be available. The best prices can be had 2-3 months in advance.

Understanding Different Type Of Rail Tickets and Class Differences

Back to Dutch train travel: Train tickets in the Netherlands come in different types and classes to cater to travel needs and preferences.

Regular Ticket Types

  1. Single tickets: Perfect for one-way journeys.
  2. Return tickets > Since pricing for one-way is precisely half of a return fare, it’s better to buy separate tickets or tap in and out with a bank card.

Other Train Tickets

There are also special tickets available in the Netherlands, like:

  1. Day tickets: Unlimited travel for a single day > These are so expensive it’s rarely worth it.
  2. Group tickets can be worth it if you travel with two people or more on longer distances (available in-app and only for off-peak hours, second class)
  3. Railrunner tickets: Children between 4 and 11 (included) pay €2.50 no matter their destination when they travel with a paying adult (buy in-app).
  4. Dog ticket: if you travel with your four-legged friend who does not fit into a handbag or under the seat, then you need to get a dog ticket (€3.30, buy in-app)
  5. Bicycle ticket: this is the country of bikes. If you want to take one with you, you need to buy a ticket for €7.50 (buy in-app, off-peak hours only) – (read below for extra advice)

Entering the Station and Getting on The Train

Checking in for your Dutch train journey.
Checking in for your Dutch train journey – Photo: © Hidden Holland

Smaller stations in the Netherlands have open platforms with check-in poles, while larger ones have check-in and check-out gates. If you travel with a contactless bank or credit card, you tap in and tap out here. If you travel with a paper ticket or an e-ticket, you can open the gates by scanning the QR code.

You are not charged if you cancel your check-in by tapping out at the same station within 30 minutes. Handy if you want to pass through from one side to the other.

Before boarding a train, pay attention to the electronic information screens on the platform. They show the next train, its departure time, stops, the length of the train, and its final destination. It also has a countdown function.

Electronic Information Screens on Dutch train stations.
Electronic Information Screens on Dutch train stations – Photo: © Hidden Holland

Trains in the Netherlands are usually on-time. If you miss it, don’t sweat it. Take the next one. Departures are frequent. Unless you have an off-peak ticket (highly unlikely unless you travel with a Dutch person, group ticket or bicycle), you can board any service on the same date as your ticket. Tickets are not train-bound but date bound.

Extra advice On Checking In And Out When Using OVpay (when to tap your card)

As long as you travel with one carrier, most likely with NS, you only tap at the start and end of your trip. Generally, when you transfer on a different train, you do not need to tap until you reach your final destination. NS trains can be recognized by their yellow and dark blue colors. The trip from the Airport to the City is always with NS.

Switch between two train carriers when you transfer trains, first check-out with the original carrier, and then check-in with the next carrier.
Switch between two train carriers – Photo: © Hidden Holland

Other train carriers often have red trains like Arriva or are light blue. If you transfer to one of these, you can tap out with NS and tap in at the other carrier. This is often clearly signposted on the platform—and extra marked by the coloring of the checkout gates. This will only be important to you if you travel to the outskirts of the country. But for 99% of tourist journeys, this will not be applicable.

Also, when you transfer from one mode of transportation to another, you check out and check in again. For example, if you take a train journey first and then continue onwards by bus or tram. 

Accessible Travel On Trains

Wheelchair assistance on dutch train.
Assistance for entering the trains, Sprinter trains are an alternative – Photo: NS

When you travel on long-distance trains with a wheelchair, it’s good to know you should travel with a standard class ticket (first class is a waste of money since you won’t be able to enter the first class section). Also, there is a stair to enter there. You must always book (free) assistance if you are in a wheelchair, which is available at most major and midsize stations. 

Or you can travel by Sprinter trains only. They have low-level entry and can be entered and exited by yourself in a wheelchair without extra assistance. This is why the app has an option for Sprinter trains only, so you don’t have to bother booking assistance (or when you want to travel to a station that doesn’t offer it). The app also allows you to search for stations that offer assistance. 

This is where you find it:

Finding the extra accessibility options in the NS app.
Select the class of travel and party size.

Right below the planner, you see a button called “Options.” Click it. There you can select “Show Sprinters Only” and “Show only accessible journeys” to see stations that offer this service.

Seat Reservations And Where To Sit

2nd class seats on Dutch trains. Which are blue.
This is 2nd class (standard) recognizable by the blue color – Photo: NS

It’s impossible to make reservations on Dutch trains. That can make it tricky to find a seat during peak hours. Try to avoid these times for a more relaxed journey.

If you travel on the train to Berlin (in the Netherlands), know that international passengers might have a reservation, and you need to make way for them.

You must make reservations on most international services, except for the train from Amsterdam to Brussels by SNCB / NS. I highly recommend doing so, even when it’s optional. On the NS International website, you can add this option to your journey for trains that offer it.

Quiet Zones

Some train carriages are designated quiet zones, marked with a “Stilte/Silence” sign. Refrain from loud conversations or playing music in these zones. Even be mindful of the volume of your earbuds. Ps playing amplified music is never allowed, but unfortunately, it happens more often nowadays, especially now social media has started to play automatic videos. My best advice is to reseat yourself if that happens. I never sit in the quiet zones because it annoys me when people make noise. But it’s good to know it’s available.

Netherlands Rail Passes 

If you’re serious about train travel, a few “train passes” are available to save money on tickets.

Voordeelurenkaart (Off Peak Hours Card)

Traveling with a Dutch person with a paid “Voordeelurenkaart” subscription is the most common. You must check-in and out at the same station, but then you can travel with a 40% discount on off-peak trains. If you recognize me at a station, walk up to me, say hi, and travel with me with a discount 😉 

Amsterdam & Region Travel ticket

The Amsterdam & Region Travel ticket can be a fantastic deal for travel in the Amsterdam area. It includes unlimited travel between the airport and the city, to cities like Haarlem, the Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam, Marken, Zandvoort Beach, Muiden (Amsterdam Castle), Hilversum, and in season, the flower gardens in Lisse. Plus, it’s your unlimited ticket for local transportation in Amsterdam, like trams, buses, and metros. This is great if you want to venture from the city a little. You can buy this ticket here.

But if you travel only inside Amsterdam, it’s best to get regular tickets between the airport and the city and get a GVB travel pass (get it here) for unlimited local transportation. Or an I Amsterdam Card with museums and attractions included, on top of local transport (read here if that is valuable for you).

Eurail pass For International Travel

Another option for the international traveler is looking into a EUrail pass. You can buy them for a country, or a combination of countries like the Benelux, even all of Europe. Of course, prices are accordingly, and double-check if they’re valid on the services you like to use (often there are restrictions for HSL trains like Thalys or Eurostar).

When it works for you, using it can be a bargain. My main tip here is to do your homework beforehand.

Are you looking for more information on these passes? Click here to visit EUrail’s website.

How do I buy Train Tickets in The Netherlands Online?

You can buy Dutch train tickets online via the NS website. But you must print them. It is better to buy your ticket in the NS App. Then you can travel with the e-ticket it generates. Both the website and the app are available in English and accept all major credit cards.

If you want to travel 2nd class (standard class) and have a contactless bank or credit card, you don’t need a ticket. Just tap your card when you enter the platform and tap again at your final destination when you exit. You will automatically be charged the regular fare.

Read the post for instructions on using the app and buying other tickets, like first-class tickets and kids’ discounts. Reservations are not possible, and prices do not fluctuate. Buying online in advance has no benefits to traveling contactless or with a ticket in the app.

Can I buy Train Tickets in the Netherlands at The Station?

Yes, you can buy tickets from ticket machines with a debit or credit card. Or at ticket offices located at major train stations. Not that smaller stations don’t have staffed ticket offices.

For tickets from the ticket machines or ticket offices, there is a surcharge of €1 per printed ticket.

You can better use the NS app for your tickets or travel with a contactless debit or credit card. Just tap in at the station, and tap out at your destination. For tips and exceptions, read the full post.

What’s The Difference Between 1st and 2nd Class?

1st Class: This is where you’ll find more comfortable and spacious seating, including power outlets (on most trains). It’s often quieter too. I chose this class for journeys over 30 minutes. First-class carriages can be recognized by their red-colored seats and the number one next to the entry door.

2nd Class: second class carriages are in the majority. And be can be recognized by their blue color. Although most seats are in this standard class, it can still be crowded throughout the day. It’s the best option for short journeys or traveling during peak hours (because first class is then also crowded).

Can I Bring My Bike On The Train?

You can take your bicycle on the train, but you’ll need a special ticket and must use the designated spaces. You can recognize the bike logo next to the entry door outside the train. Note bikes can only be in a train during off-peak hours, that is, before 6:30 am or between 6:30 am and 4 pm, and then again after 6:30 pm on weekdays—all day on weekends, public holidays, and during July and August.

The train conductor always has the final say. If the number of passengers is too high, he or she might refuse you and tell you to wait for the next departure. Then that is what it is. Most often, they will try to accommodate you, however. An alternative is renting a bike to your final destination and not taking your own bike.

You can buy the bike ticket from the app or at a surcharge from the ticket machine or ticket office.

Are trains in the Netherlands punctual?

You would not believe it when you talk to a Dutch person. Since trains are their next favorite topic of complaint right after the weather. But Dutch trains are among the most punctual in the world.

Don’t be late if you want to catch a specific train; don’t get nervous when your transfer time is just 5 or 10 minutes. You’ll often make it without any problems.

Can I Travel With Luggage on Dutch Trains?

Trains have no specific luggage limit, but remember that space is limited. Try to pack light, especially during peak hours. You can not block or hold a seat for luggage if a passenger requests the space. An excuse like “But I can’t help it” won’t help you. Then you take a standing place or go to the hallway. And the Dutch are known to be direct so they will tell you.

Also, don’t leave your luggage unattended, for example, by leaving it in the hallway next to the doors while you take a seat in the compartment. Train travel is safe. But thieves do operate on some routes. You don’t want your luggage stolen.

So either bring it to your seat and keep it within reach or better place it on the inside. Or stay with your luggage in the hallway.

PS When you arrive, you can store luggage at larger stations like Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Eindhoven. You can check if your destination has luggage storage by checking this link and entering your destination station.

Is All Of This Information Overwhelming?

Gerrit at Amsterdam Central Station.
Can I help plan your journey? – Photo: © Hidden Holland

I can understand. It’s a NORMAL feeling. I have used this system my entire life, which is why it’s easy for me.

Know that paying for your ticket is straightforward for most visitors with OVpay.

But there are many if’s, but’s, and how-tos.

I can help you simplify it for your trip. Consider booking a Netherlands Vacation Coaching call with me. We hop on a 30 or 60-minute video call together. And plan your journey together.

I will simplify everything for you. Promised.

Do You Think Train Tickets in Netherlands Are Complicated?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: Are you planning to travel by public transport Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬.

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Hi I'm Gerrit 👋, a Dutch native with a passion for my homeland that was inspired by my grandmother. I enjoy sharing my expertise in discovering hidden gems and connecting travelers with Dutch culture for an unforgettable experience. Let's explore the beauty of the Netherlands together!

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