Let’s be honest – airport layovers stink, especially on international trips. But if you’re on a trip that takes you through Amsterdam and you have more than 5 hours to spare, you can have some fun during your layover. The city of Amsterdam is a quick train trip from the airport, and getting a taste of the city is easy.
A return ticket from Schipol Airport (AMS) to Centraal Station is only €9.40, and the trip takes about 30 minutes. As the name implies, Centraal is centrally-located relative to the rest of the city. After exiting the train you’re just a quick walk from the canals, shops and sights of the city. If you’ve got more than a few hours there are lots of museums and sights to see, as Teresa Carnegie writes about in her excellent post on Amsterdam. But when you’re pressed for time, there’s still a lot to do and see.
Getting Out Of The Airport
If you don’t want to carry bags with you on the train, storage lockers are available at the airport. Keep in mind that you will have to clear security and customs to re-enter the airport, so leave 2 hours at a minimum for this process.
If you’ve got less than 5 hours between flights it probably doesn’t make sense to take the trip into the city…just enjoy the airport, which is nice in its own right. But if you have the time, go and see the canals, have a coffee, and soak up the Dutch ambiance.
Amsterdam’s Centraal Station
As the name implies, the central station is the hub of Amsterdam’s rail network. It’s also the country’s biggest transfer point for locals and visitors. If you’re catching a train to other parts of the country or other places in Europe, chances are you’ll transit through the central station.
It’s also the location for one of Amsterdam’s main tourist offices. In this office you can find city maps and guides as well as abundant information to plan a longer trip.
Because it is so essential to the city’s transportation network, you’ll find lots of services available in the station. If you find you’ve got baggage to store, lockers are also available here. The station contains lots of shops and restaurants with many different food choices. Most are open from 7AM to 1AM, so tasty eats are nearly always available.
The station also offers bicycle rental service which will allow you to experience the city’s bike culture.
Things To Do Near Central Station
If you’re pressed for time, it’s wise to stick close to the train station for a quick trip back to the airport. But there are lots of things to do and see in a short period of time. Below are just a few ideas:
Oude Kerk (Old Church)
The Old Church is Amsterdam’s oldest building, dating from 1213. The church holds regular services three times a week, but is also more than a religious institution. The church also serves as an art museum and hosts many temporary art and culture exhibits. More information on visiting the church can be found on its website. The church is also within one of Amsterdam’s most widely-recognized tourist attractions: its Red Light District.
Red Light District
The website Amsterdam.info states that “…everything you’ve heard about the Red Light District is probably true.” Even if you have no plans to avail yourself of the services offered in the District, it’s still an interesting slice of Amsterdam’s culture. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, but not on city streets – so the women (and men) of the District sit inside shops behind glass windows.
If you visit this area, whatever you do – DO NOT take photographs of the women. The same applies inside clubs and restaurants in the District. It is strictly forbidden, and locals may become very aggressive when photographed. Keep in mind that the people plying their trade in this district are just that: people. Regardless of how you feel about what they do, they still deserve respect and courtesy.
If you visit during the day, you’ll probably find the District pretty tame. It only really gets going in the evenings. That said, it’s still an interesting place to walk through.
Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam (Royal Palace Amsterdam)
The Royal Palace is one of the three places in The Netherlands that are reserved for the use of the royal family. It was originally built as a city hall in 1655, and became a royal palace in the early 1800s. The palace offers free audio tours in multiple languages. It is filled with many beautiful works of art, and the architecture is interesting in its own right. Opening hours vary, and the Palace is only accessible to the public when the royal family is not in residence. More information can be found on the Palace’s website.
Rembrandt House Museum
Rembrandt van Rijn is widely viewed as one of the greatest painters in history, and the most important figure in the Dutch world of art. His paintings may be seen in museums around the world, and his style spawned an entire movement of art in the mid-17th century.
Rembrandt lived and worked in the center of Amsterdam for 20 years, and his house has been turned into a gallery and museum of his life and work. It has been refurnished with period furniture, colors and decorations. If you’re in Amsterdam for a longer stay, the museum also offers educational and cultural programs to people of all ages.
Much more information about the Museum can be found on their website.
So much to do, so little time…
Just the central district of Amsterdam alone holds lots of interesting places to see and explore. You won’t be able to do everything with a short layover, but it’s enough to give you a nice appetizer of the city. Make sure to pick up some information at the local tourist office, and plan for your next stay in lovely Amsterdam!