Unbelievably, the "best" flight we could get from Rome, Italy to Ljubjana, Slovenia involves a 4 hour and 50 minute layover in Amsterdam. We are two active, senior couples (headed to a hiking tour in the Alps). We also enjoy great local eateries. What would you do with nearly 5 hours in Amsterdam? Make it 4, since we probably need to queue up for security and seating.
You barely have enough time to go to the city walk around a bit in the old center get something to eat and come back. It is a stunning city. And if you've never been you may want to go back.
Direct trains from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Centraal run every 15 mins and take 15 mins.
The best area for a taste of the city is around the Brouwersgracht (Brewers' Canal), directly to the right when you leave Amsterdam Centraal.
I'd say you've got just a little over 3 hours to play with since in addition to deducting that 50 minutes to queue up for security and your seating, you also need to deduct time to purchase a ticket for the train to Centraal, wait for the train to arrive (if you just miss a train by a minute or two, you've got another 15 minutes of standing around waiting til the next one) and wherever you end up in Amsterdam, you'll need some time to make your way back to Centraal to get to the airport.
Naturally, you can just get off the train and walk around and look at the canals and grab some food wherever you stumble across. But if the weather is rainy or you want to add a little cultural pursuit into your extremely brief time in the center, then some options to consider:
1) Taxi or tram from Centraal to the Bloemenmarkt for a quick look at the flowers, pick up a souvenir, then have an Indonesian rice table lunch at Sampurna right there in the middle of the flower market - head back to the station.
2) Taxi from Centraal to the Dutch Resistance Museum. It's a great little museum you could easily see in 60 to 90 minutes, after the museum, head across the street for lunch - there is a nice restaurant (De Plantage) overlooking the grounds of the Artis Zoo. Take a taxi back to Centraal.
3) Taxi from Centraal to Museum Willet-Holthuysen. If you want to see the inside of a historic canal home - this is the kind of museum you can easily pop into and see the entire place in under an hour. Walk over to the Museum of Bags and Purses and just have lunch or high tea in one of their period rooms - really beautiful (reservations required - you can book a time online - don't confuse it with the cafe that's on the 1st floor that also serves food - the period rooms are upstairs and it's a very different atmosphere) and then head back to Centraal. The Museum itself is pretty neat for women to tour, but men might be bored - but I brought my friend and her husband there and he loved eating lunch there.
4) You don't say what time your flight is due to arrive from Rome in Amsterdam or what time your flight is actually departing for Slovenia, but Brouwerij Het'IJ is a brew pub open daily at 2PM that serves some food and immediately next door to the brew pub is the De Gooyer Windmill. If you just want some photos of yourself in front of a windmill (it's not open for tours), you can snap a few, have a local beer, a light snack and head back towards Centraal. If arriving earlier, the Tropenmuseum is within walking distance of the Gooyer Windmill, and it's a nice museum you could spend some time at, then get your photo of the Windmill and head back towards Centraal to get something to quick that you can eat on the train back to the airport (skip the pub if 2PM is too late).
I hope you haven’t booked the tickets yet, the best way to get from Rome to Ljubljana is to fly to Trieste Airport (45 mins) and then a 90-minute shuttle transfer to Ljubljana. It sounds like taking the train to Trieste (5.5 to 6 hrs) and then bus to Ljubljana (90 minutes) would have been faster than connecting in Amsterdam, too.
We have booked the tickets, but the time and money savings would seem to make up for any fee the airlines would charge for cancelation. What is the nature of that shuttle? Is it something we can reserve? Does it go out of the Trieste airport?
There is a website called Destination Layover that I discovered a couple years ago specifically because of a 4.5 hour layover I had in Amsterdam. It gives you an estimate of what you can do with the time available. This website is useful for layovers in any city. I lost my nerve to leave the airport and risk getting delayed and miss my flight, but I discovered that Schiphol airport is full of adventure. You can have a spa treatment, take a nap, have a shower, etc. There is even a museum in the airport. Check out the Schiphol website, and there is also an app which gives you and airport map, flight status, security wait times, etc, and has probably evolved since then. I did really enjoy how friendly the people were there, including the security check guards, which drew me back to the city a year later to visit. Now my boyfriend and I are returning next month and I am very excited.
Thanks a ton to everyone who took the time to give us so much information on how to spend time in Amsterdam. But thanks most of all to Dejan, who suggested we fly to Trieste and get a shuttle. I'd thought of Trieste, but didn't know anything about the shuttle. That suggestion saved us hours of down time and hundreds of dollars! And, because we were able to cancel the flight through Amsterdam within 24 hours, there was no penalty. Wow! I can't thank you all enough! Happy trails to you all. --Marcia