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Taking trains in the Netherlands and Belgium

So, we now have our airline reservations, and I've booked a hotel in Haarlem for our May trip. I had wanted to stay in Amsterdam, but Haarlem was more affordable. We are not very experienced with trains - tend to get a car, but on this trip we will not. We will be taking day trips virtually every day. How does that work with the tickets? Do we buy a block of tickets or just that day when we depart? I noticed it mentioned in Belgium that there are senior rates - is that true? Is it true in the Netherlands? We will be 7 days in the Netherlands and 7 days in Belgium (we have our second hotel in Bruges). How expensive is train travel? What can we expect to pay? Thanks.

Posted by
8954 posts

For regular inter-city trains in both Belgium and Holland, you can simply purchase tickets at the station on the day of your journey. Trains are frequent to most touristy destinations. There is a senior rate in Belguim, off the top of my head I believe it's only valid after 9am. I'm not aware of a senior rate in Holland. You can get prices and schedules at the Dutch rail site: http://tinyurl.com/6af5
Belgian Rail site: http://tinyurl.com/6s2ycot

Posted by
1425 posts

Sharon, I found this site that has pretty good instructions on train travel in the Netherlands.

http://www.amsterdamtips.com/tips/train-tickets-in-netherlands.php

http://www.amsterdamtips.com/tips/ov-chipkaart.php

One thing that's not clear to me with the anonymous card is how you get back your 20-euro balance. I kind of get the impression you're better off just buying one-off tickets and paying the 1-euro surcharge. (Note that you pay the surcharge twice if you buy two one-way tickets, so you always want to buy a round-trip ticket.)

[EDIT: According to this site: https://www.ov-chipkaart.nl/apply-1/which-card-is-right-for-you/tourists.htm, you can get back your unused balance on an anonymous card for a 2.5 euro administrative fee. I think it's probably not worth it, and you're better off using the disposable cards.]

I'll be staying in Haarlem in May as well; maybe I'll see you on the train!

Posted by
2487 posts

I'm also afraid you have to forget about the OV-chipkaart. It'll be a nuisance to get the balance back on your bank account. And if you forget to check in or out on a train journey (which you might easily do at unfamiliar stations and with other things on your mind), you'll see they've charged you for the full EUR 20. The safest way is to buy your ticket at the window. Ask for a return ticket.
The Belgian railways are much nicer than the Dutch ones. The NS has discounts for senior travellers, but to be entitled to those you must first buy some card.
For the timetables and prices check http://www.ns.nl/en/travellers/home for the Dutch railways and http://www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx for the Belgian. (The Belgian website is a little bit more complicated: the first destinations which appear in the pop-up window are railway stations; the others are bus stops.)

Posted by
1005 posts

Please be aware that most US credit cards--even the new ones with a chip, won't work at Dutch ticket machines OR at the ticket office. If your card is a TRUE chip-and-PIN card that works off-line, then you are OK, but most American cards are chip-and-signature, and they won't be accepted. If you want to use cash at the ticket machines, they only take coins. So be prepared to carry a lot of coins to the train station, or have cash on hand when you go to the ticket window.

Posted by
4524 posts

^^^ T is correct. ONLY chip and PIN cards will work at Netherlands train stations. A US based chip & signature or oldie magnetic strip card will not work. Be prepared to use the ticket window and pay in cash. In a few cases there won't be a ticket window (there was none recently in Delft) and so you will need coins to pay in the machine. There might be a coin change machine, but it might be broken (such as when we were recently in Delft).

Local trips should only be a few euro depending on how far you are going.

We paid about 40 some euro for an intercity train from Brussels to Amsterdam. I'd expect about the same from Amsterdam to Bruges.

Posted by
1399 posts

WOW! This is all so interesting - would not have known about the credit card issues there and the need to take lots of cash and change. THANK YOU!

Posted by
14399 posts

In some countries there are ticket machines that take only credit cards and some that take both cards and cash. There will be a picture prominently displayed on the machine. Don't end up standing in line for a machine only to realize when you get to it that there's no slot for cash.

Posted by
12040 posts

In some countries there are ticket machines that take only credit cards and some that take both cards and cash. There will be a picture prominently displayed on the machine. Don't end up standing in line for a machine only to realize when you get to it that there's no slot for cash.

Belgium is even weirder in that the ticket machines only accept one particular credit card. I forget which one, but it's not Visa, Mastercard or Maestrocard. For several years, I had a debit and credit card, Chip and Pin, ISSUED BY A BELGIAN BANK, that didn't work on Belgian rail ticket machines.

Fortunately, the stations have staffed counters that accept the usual cards and cash. I can't think of a single Belgian rail station that doesn't have a ticket counter.

Posted by
21243 posts

As I remember, there is an additional fee to use the ticket window with a live person. Just a cost of traveling.

Posted by
2 posts

There is indeed a surcharge of 0,50 euro for buying a ticket at the ticket office. The larger train stations still have ticket offices, the smaller only have the ticket booths. Of course Haarlem and Amsterdam have ticket offices.
FYI - credit cards aren't widely used by Dutch people. Most pay with Maestro bankcards or cash. At most larger (tourist) shops credit cards are accepted although some only accept Mastercards.

Posted by
4 posts

Stayed in Amsterdam and Haarlem, prefer Haarlem now. It's mini Amsterdam easy to get around very friendly.
I've used the 300 bus from Schiphol Centrum, Airport/Plaza to Haarlem, Station
One-Way approx: $2 USD (2€). You can catch this Red bus just outside the main exit of Schipol . It has room for luggage…. If your hotel is near the 'main' square then get off by the V&D dept store.
We did AMS and Brugge in 2011 by train takes about 3 hrs loved Brugge another easy town to navie!

Posted by
4941 posts

Unless your Brugge hotel is near the station, you will probably want to buy a ten-trip municipal bus card (which is sharable, by putting it in the machine, say, twice on the bus.) This card is good in all cities except Brussels.

While local trains in Belgium are frequent and cheap (especially on weekends), I have had disappointments with long lines to buy tickets and crowded trains at rush hour, and student travel between home and school. I am pretty sure that Belgian train tickets are only valid for the date they are issued, so you can't buy them in advance.

I am not confident that train-age discounts are available to non EU customers. But I was surprised to get an over-62 discount at the Castle of the Counts (... missable) in Gent, Belgium. And they accepted a xerox of my US passport.

You will probably be able to use your US credit card at the hotel, but the previous post is correct about the rest of the Netherlands. Belgium is not yet as strictly converted, but it's true that you can't use the ticket machines there. I did once buy a 10-trip paper Belgian rail ticket (which is also sharable), but from Brugge to Gent or Antwerp, you would be losing money on this "pass". (It's not a pass, it's a big paper ticket with blanks to write in the 10 dates and destinations.) But leaving from Antwerp for my day trips, I saw morning lines of 20 minutes and more at the staffed ticket counter! I missed a few trains that way until I bought the 10-trip.

The two country rail websites are useful and helpful in estimating costs. Note that some cites, like Gent, have two stations. There's also a dual language problem in seeing two names for stations in Belgium.

These two countries are in fact, ideal for your plans. If you have time, consider Amersfoort, which seems a little far from Haarlem. For Rick Steves forced-march travelers, Amersfoort could be a half-day with another small city!

Posted by
186 posts

Sharon: Congratulations on your upcoming trip. Others have provided good information regarding the mechanics of getting tickets, etc. I wanted to add a cautionary note from our train travel between Amsterdam and Bruges in the link from a previous post I made this fall: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/my-great-train-robbery We are seasoned travelers and we still had some inattentive moments which led to some aggravation--although Belgian beer seemed to mitigate it somewhat. Anyway, safe travels,

Posted by
1399 posts

Thanks for the information, Darrel. That would be very stressful - we will watch carefully for this.

Posted by
2828 posts

I recommend getting an OV-Chipkaart anyway because it makes it easier to use other forms of transportation within Amsterdam (trams and subways) easily, without the need to buy tickets for them. Your train tickets Haarlem-Amsterdam do not include local transportation.