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Train or car to travel within the Netherlands

Even though I've been to Europe many times, I haven't been back to the Netherlands since I was a 26 yr old backpacker in the early 1990s. I'm pretty excited to help my daughter get set for her semester abroad at the University of Utrecht. We are especially excited to go to Friesland, where my ancestors come from (even though I have no connections to visit, sadly). My other daughter, who is living in Switzerland, is going to join us. We want to go to Friesland, Giethoorn, Gronigen, Delft, The Hague, Rotterdam.

This sounds like a car trip to me. Do you agree? When I visited my ancestral homeland in 1992, we had Europasses, so it was hours getting up there around the sea, and involved train changes, buses . . . and then we had to rent bikes. If we'd had a car, we would have been back in Amsterdam late afternoon. And we're looking at 2-3 people, so economically a car looks like the best choice?*

This reminds me-- my daughter is going to be in the Netherlands from late August to at least January . . . is there a transit pass she should buy?

  • Also, I just realized I've never driven in Europe. My husband loves it, so I just leave it to him. But he won't be on this trip. Rural Netherlands seems pretty easy though. But I'm happy to be swayed toward the trains
Posted by
4223 posts

To me, the first, northern part is a car trip, then it becomes a train trip for Utrecht, Delft, Rotterdam, the Hague. Car rental is expensive this year so it pays to minimize rental duration to the days when you really need a car.
Driving in the Netherlands is quite easy, but traffic is heavy in the south.

Posted by
279 posts

What a great trip to look forward to? Where exactly in Friesland do you want to go to? And by Groningen (mind the spelling), do you mean the entire province or only the city with the same name? Depending on these answers you may not even need a car for your visit in the northern part of our country. You definitely do not need or even want a car when you visit The Hague, Delft and Rotterdam.

Posted by
28145 posts

You really really won't want to be driving anywhere between Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The area is really busy, parking very very hard to find, and bicycles (they have the right of way) everywhere. Really.

The first part might benefit from a car.

Dutch speed limits are low and they invented the speed camera. There is a reason. If you go over the speed limit they will get you.

Posted by
494 posts

I agree with all above. Rent a car for the Northern part of the country, trains, trams, & buses for the rest. Not only is renting a car expensive, but parking is also. Learn to love round abouts.
There are tours that go to Geithorn.
And do watch out for bikes. They do have the right of way, and will take it without so much as a glance in your direction.
There is no transit pass that I know of, but there is the OV chip card which has to have money (euros) loaded on to it. It is good for buses, trams and trains. Swipe in, swipe out.
https://www.ov-chipkaart.nl/purchase-an-ov-chipkaart.htm

Posted by
300 posts

Thanks everyone, that all makes good sense

For Friesland, I'm looking at wee little villages. When I went in 1992, we took a train to Groningen, then a bus to Leeuwarden, and then we rented bikes to go the rest of the way. A car sounds a lot easier, but then public transportation may have improved since then too.

Posted by
60 posts

I don't want to put you off driving here but having driven in 40+ countries I reckon that NL is perhaps the most tricky one. This is mostly due to the occasional priority-from-the-right which is very difficult to get used to when coming from USA/Canada/UK.

Most of continental Europe has pretty much done away priority-from-the-right but there is still plenty in NL especially in smaller villages.

The other reason is of course the bikes as has been mentioned. Always carefully check there are no bikes coming up on the rhs when turning right or when leaving a roundabout.

I find highway speed limit signposting to still be very confusing. Don't forget that the new blanket limit is 100 kph from 06:00hrs to 19:00hrs everywhere. This is not indicated anywhere. Outside those times you have to check the posted limits.

Edited to add: if there is no posted limit on the highway and it is between 19:00hrs and 06:00hrs then the national limit applies which is 130 kph.

Posted by
300 posts

Markwilson - thanks for your detailed warning ;-)
I'm already having second thoughts about driving even the relatively less populated north. I will explore public transportation before I make my decision

Posted by
279 posts

“ I will explore public transportation before I make my decision”
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you will be doing your daughter a huge favor by letting her do the exploration of public transport. It’s an absolute must for any (international) student in the Netherlands to know how to navigate public transport. There’s no time like the present to start learning, so she might as well start now. That way she’ll be more confident in planning and using public transport when she’s here on her own. Tell her to use Google maps or the public transport planner https://9292.nl/en The website and app of the national railway company are a must have as well www.ns.nl/en
I’m not sure what your entire route was back in 1992, but train to Groningen and bus to Leeuwarden is a very odd way to get to Leeuwarden, unless you started your journey in Germany. There are direct trains from Utrecht to Leeuwarden.
You haven’t mentioned what places in Friesland you want to visit, but your daughter will be able to tell you how to get there with the help of Google maps and the travel planners.

Posted by
60 posts

"Transit pass" - As far as I know, ALL university students in NL get a special package of free public transport (OV) for the duration of their course (my daughter certainly has one, she uses it all the time as she doesn't drive yet).

The student can choose for either free OV during weekdays or free at the weekend (starts at 16:00hrs on Friday). All other times outside her package she gets a 40% reduction. This package is loaded onto her OV chip card. She has a personal OV chip card linked to her bank account which automatically tops it up (with €20) when it gets below €20. (If lost, the OV card can be easily cancelled and the € balance transferred to a new card.)

For me, it's another reason why it is such a delight to live in NL.

Posted by
279 posts

The OP’s daughter should check with the university to see if she, as a temporary exchange student, qualifies to receive the free public transport for students. Not all exchange students are eligible for free public transport, which is essentially a gift paid for by the Dutch taxpayers.

Posted by
60 posts

Yes, of course, best to check.

I would add that my daughter was a temporary (5 months) exchange student in Belgium last year and she received a free OV package as part of her enrolment.

Posted by
300 posts

OP here: Thanks for everyone who has commented since my last update. All good information! I will get her to explore that information.

My older daughter did her semester abroad in Switzerland and she didn't get any student deal (BTW, that was 2017 and she now lives there).

This daughter is 22 and a geography student in her last year of her degree. I imagine one reads "mom taking college student to Europe" and think she's 18. Actually, she's a year late finishing her degree because she took a gap year to work and then travel Europe for 4+ months, including doing Greece, Hungary, Czechia and Austria all on her own (other times she met up with family or friends and she hit all the countries of Western Europe except Spain).

So really the mom part is that this mom wants an excuse to go to Europe :-)

Posted by
300 posts

Dutch_traveler

Yes, that IS an odd route, isn't' it! *

Yet that's the info we got back in 1992. No internet, obviously, so we had to go with what the tourist info or train offices told us. We were doing the Europass packpacker thing, and in each place we'd go to the office and ask "how do we go there?" We were already in our mid-20s so even then it seemed a bit silly but we were up for the adventure. It just made for a really long day. The funny part was when we got to the town where they said "Uhm? Maybe the one hotel in town will rent you a bike?" and then we went there and they said "Okay? take the bike, pay when you get back" and somehow I just followed the sun and the stupid hand drawn map, and there were bike paths through cow fields that got us to this tiny village. And then we cycled back and the hotel said, oh, pay us X guilders (equal to $1 ea). It was rather delightful and we have some awesome pictures.

  • in 1992 we were doing Amsterdam to Friesland. My aunt, who gave me the hand drawn maps, had done it all the year before in an afternoon because they rented a car from Amsterdam
Posted by
60 posts

If you (or your daughters) want to see what bike paths are available these days, have a look at the route planner from the Dutch Cyclists' Association (in English) https://en.routeplanner.fietsersbond.nl/

Just zoom in on the map to see some of the 20,000 miles of cycle paths in NL.

Or create a route and click on "more options" and select "scenic route" or "car restricted route" to find those same paths crossing the cow fields.

If you click on the button on the map marked "LF and Junction Network" you will see revealed the famous nationwide "knooppunten" network (in green) which enables cyclists to create and follow a recreational route by simply following a series of two digit numbers (no map or smartphone needed).

Posted by
279 posts

I’m sorry but while you gave a lot of information, most of it is not relevant in trying to help you plan your trip. Friesland is the name of the province in the north of our country. It’s a vast area with lots of waterways and beautiful historical cities dotted around. It’s impossible to see the entire province in 1 day, not by car and most certainly not by bike. So where in Friesland do you want to go to? What villages/cities do you want to visit?

Posted by
300 posts

Dutch_traveler - Yes, of course Friesland is a province. I wasn't specific because it's not like I have one specific spot I want to go. The hand drawn map that I have covers the area SW of Leeuwarden, no further than Sneek, and not as far west as the sea. I thought saying we biked from Leeuwarden kinda gave that idea. The town we went to was Winsum, where I found gravestones with a family name. So anywhere in that area is where I plan to return to with my daughters.

Posted by
787 posts

In July 2019 when I was in the Netherlands, I only went to Amsterdam, Harlem, The Hague, and Delft. Those cities are all in North Holland and South Holland. Start by writing a day-by-day itinerary. List the specific towns you are going to go to. Check Google maps and rome2rio to see if public transportation is likely to work for you.

I would be interested to hear whether you encounter the Frisian language.

Posted by
279 posts

“I would be interested to hear whether you encounter the Frisian language.”
Anyone going to Friesland will encounter the Frisian language, since it is an official language in the Netherlands. This means that official government publications etc must be made available in the Frisian language. Any tourist who pays attention will encounter street signs, signs in museums etc in the Frisian language. And if you know what to look (or hear) for, you will hear locals speaking Frisian amongst each other.