The ideal way of getting around in a city like Amsterdam is by bike, but the second-best way is using public transportation: the high number of connection busses, trams and metro stations all over the city makes it super easy for tourists and Dutch citizens to commute to the centre, their working places or anywhere, really.
You cannot pay with cash inside any bus or tram in Amsterdam. You can use your OV-transportation card to pay for the ride, pay with debit or credit card for a single, daily or longer ticket, get your tickets in advance at a machine, in Central Station or get them online.
A characteristic of the Dutch society is that they prefer paying for everything using a card or their phone. It is simpler, more convenient, time-efficient and they apply it to everything, including public transportation. For tourists, not being able to pay with cash for something as simple as a tram ride is a little bit of a shock, but if you are reading this article, you will know exactly where to go and what to do to travel the city like a pro.
Getting a Tram or Bus Ticket in Amsterdam
Unless you are planning on becoming Dutch and renting a bicycle to get around the city no matter how much it rains, getting to know the public transportation system is key to have a smooth holiday in Amsterdam.
The first thing that you need to know is that you can get your tickets inside the bus or tram, buying it from the driver. However, you won’t be able to pay with cash. This is, besides the fact that Dutch people like to do everything with “pinnen” because it is safer and more convenient for the driver to sell the tickets while driving if he doesn’t have to count the change, coins and so on.
So, what type of cards do they accept in public transportations? Well, if you are lucky enough to be able to pay by card, you can purchase your tickets inside the tram or bus and pay with them. Not so long ago I wrote an article about what credit and debit cards you can use in the Netherlands (read here) but basically VISA, Maestro, Mastercard, Bancomat and many others are accepted, both credit and debit cards.
What if you can only pay with cash? What if you don’t have any credit or debit card with you? Well, there are other ways of purchasing one:
- GVB service points: next to some stops you will be able to find the GVB machines, therefore you will be able to purchase tickets for bus, metro and tram. You can easily find them inside metro stops and next to some busses and tram stops. You can ask around, at your hotel or inside museums or any touristic place for the closest one to you. You will be able to pay for the tickets with cash on these machines.
- Train Stations: inside the train stations you will be able to purchase your tickets for both locals trips and travelling by train to other cities. You will have the chance to get them on the same GVB machines and for bigger stations such as Amstel Station or Centraal Station, you will also have employees from the train rail company and transportation in the Netherlands where you will be able to purchase as many tickets as you need. The advantage here is that you will also be able to get a ticket for a longer stay: over 48 hours of public transportation if you are staying for a long time.
- Supermarkets: in some supermarkets and stores you will also be able to get tickets. Once again, you will sometimes find machines, sometimes you will have to ask ad the tobacco stores inside supermarkets like AH, sometimes in kiosks and sometimes you will only find NS yellow machines to charge your OV card if you happen to have one. It is all about asking and it depends on where you are.
- Metro Stations: of course inside metro stations you will also be able to find machines and sometimes people where you will be able to purchase your tickets with cash. The important thing to know is that a metro ticket works for tram and busses too, so it is not only for taking the metro exclusively.
- OV-Chipkaart: if you arrive in Schiphol, you can purchase an OV chipkaart at the counters in the train station once you arrive. You can use it for the bus going to the city centre, to take a train or basically any public transportation in the whole country. It is only convenient if you are planning on staying for a really long time in the Netherlands or if someone has given you the OV card after their trip. Basically, you will always have to pay for the plastic card to keep reusing and it is not convenient for a two or three days trip. It is, however, the cheapest way to travel around the whole country if you are staying for longer. The cost of the plastic card itself is around 7 euros.
- Online: if you want to purchase your ticket to travel around Amsterdam online you can do it here. It is also very convenient and broadly used.
Important Information: Public Transportation in Amsterdam
As simple as it seems to just go inside the tram or a bus in the Netherlands, I remember how nervous and how many articles like these I read and how hard it was for me to understand how it works. For some extra information for those of you who like to plan your trips and know exactly what to expect, here are some of the most useful pieces of information, things I wish I knew and things that thanks godness I did know.
Plan your route
One of the main things you need to do when travelling is checking what tram or bus you should take and where exactly it is that you are going. Nowadays, everybody uses google to go around, and let me tell you that using Google Maps in Amsterdam is indeed a good idea. It is accurate and updated and it will inform you properly of the tram numbers you need to take, prices, exact timing and so on.
Dutch people also use a couple of other apps that may be useful if besides going around in Amsterdam you are also planning on travelling somewhere else, such as doing a day trip to the North, visiting other cities, etc. These are NS.NL and 9292.nl. They are both in Dutch but it is very easy to use and even more precise than Google.
Types of tickets
You can purchase a 1-hour ticket for 3 euros, a 1-day ticket for 7,50 (therefore much more convenient if you are using it for over 3 times in 24 hours) and multi-day ticket. The maximum days you can buy in the tram are 3-days tickets.
It is important to know that a day is not considered the date that you are purchasing it but 24 hours starting from the first time you activate your ticket, the first time you use public transportation.
For children under 4 years old, it is free. For children between 4 and 11 years old, you can get a discount as you can do with people over 65 years old.
Travelling to the Airport
You cannot travel to the airport on the GVB bus with a 1 day or 2 days or 1-hour ticket you purchase on the tram. The only card you can use for both the airport bus and the trams in Amsterdam is the OV-card. With any other type of ticket, you will have to purchase a separate one. This is because it is not a city bus but a Connexion bus that it will bring you to a different city, Schiphol.
IAmsterdam City Card
If you are planning on getting an IAmsterdam City Card, you will not only have the tickets for the attractions you want to visit in the city, but also the advantage of being able to travel for free inside the city. The most convenient thing to do would be to activate it either at the airport or at any Tourist and Tickets or Museum store. Sometimes some hotels also activate it for you if they sell it. In any case, you won’t have to worry about public transportation.
If you are hesitant about what city cards to get, HERE there is an article I wrote comparing all the available ones, each advantage and disadvantage, prices, etc.
Tip: How it Works
One of the main things you need to know about travelling with any transportation ticket in Amsterdam is the way it works: you have to activate your travelling card when you get inside the tram or bus and then when you get down you have to de-activate it. This is mostly for those who own an OV-card because it will take the exact money of the exact distance you have done on your trip instead of taking all the money you have inside your card. However, you will also have to do it with a 1 day or 2 days card because otherwise, you won’t be able to use it to take another tram if it is not deactivated from the tram you took before.