Amsterdam Schiphol is a major international airport hub which handles many transfer passengers.
If you have a layover at Schiphol airport then our guide below will help you make the most of your time - either at the airport or if you head into Amsterdam city.
What you can do during your Amsterdam Schiphol layover depends on a number of factors:
Time available between your flights - You need at least 4 hours transit time to comfortably reach the city. 4 hours may be a bit of a rush, whilst 6-7 hours would hopefully allow a more stress-free visit.
Time to get through the airport - Schiphol has 5 runways - if you land on the one furthest away (the Polderbaan) it could take 10-15 minutes taxi time to reach your gate. You then need to walk from the gate to passport control and the luggage/customs area - this process can take 5-20 minutes, depending on gate location and immigration queues. Obviously if you have checked luggage to pick-up this will slow you down a few more minutes. There are various luggage locker facilities at Schiphol (including at arrivals hall 3 and the -1 basement level between arrivals 1 and 2). Costs €6-11.50 for 24 hours.
Note there are also transfer desks and self-service KLM transfer kiosks in each main pier where you can get info and/or check-in for your next flight.
Luggage - For layovers it is optimal to have your luggage already checked through to your next destination. Allow extra time if you need to collect, store and re-check bags.
Passport control - You will need to go through a passport control if arriving from outside the European "Schengen area" or when departing to a country outside Schengen (such as UK or US). Obviously transit passengers from certain countries who wish to make a quick trip to Amsterdam will still need a suitable Schengen visa to enter the Netherlands.
Time of day - An ideal layover would be arriving on a sunny morning, having a day in Amsterdam then departing in the evening. Some layovers are overnight and you may require a hotel stay.
Security - There could be long queues at security, especially during peak hours. If travelling to the US expect more thorough security controls.
Time of year - Summer is the best time to visit as the days are long and the weather should be at its best (although be prepared for rain!). If you come in the winter months the days are short (dark by 5pm) and it can be very cold and windy - so ensure you have some warm clothing.
Schiphol layover less than 4 hours: stay at the airport
There is not really enough time to consider a trip into the city. You will have to entertain yourself at the airport. Amsterdam Schiphol happens to be an excellent airport with many things to do. Remember that Schiphol is effectively partitioned into 3 zones: (1) the Schengen terminal area, (2) the non-Schengen terminal area - you need to go through passport control to move between these - and (3) the public area outside which includes the Schiphol Plaza mall.
Things to do at Amsterdam Schiphol during transit
Lounge about on the easy chairs, many of which are located in the terminal's upper level.
Browse the web - free WiFi is available throughout the airport - it used to be 1 hour only but now it is unlimited.
Take a shower (€15) at either the terminal's Mercure hotel or YOTEL. There are also free showers at the public toilets near the lounges/meditation room - but you need your own towels and soap.
Take a Behind The Scenes Tour of Schiphol airport which includes visiting the fire station, aircraft hangars, the snow fleet and more stops of interest not normally seen by the public. Tours depart all year round at 0930/1100/1300/1430/1630 from bus stop A15, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays). You need to first check-in with ID at the Planes@Plaza store in Schiphol Plaza. Tickets cost €15.50 for adults, €7.75 for children 4-12 or €35 for a family ticket (2 adults + 2 children). The tour lasts 1 hour. See our review here.
Take a room at the YOTEL or Mercure, both located in the terminal. The minimum stay at the Yotel is 4 hours.
Head up to the panorama terrace (public side, departures 1) to look at the planes.
Check out some 17th century Dutch paintings at Rijksmuseum Schiphol (free entry) on Holland Boulevard (non-Schengen). Please note, the museum is currently closed until summer 2016 due to a major airport renovation.
Visit the Schiphol library (next to the Rijksmuseum) which has books available to read, comfy chairs and iPads for surfing. Note the library is closed until Feb 2016 due to a major airport renovation.
Visit one of the Schiphol airport lounges if you have access.
Have some quiet time at the Meditation centre on the upper level.
Get a massage or a spa treatment at Rituals Spa or Xpress Spa.
Work out at the Sheraton Hotel Fitness & Spa (€20 day pass), on the public side close to Schiphol Plaza/station hall.
Have a flutter at the Holland Casino between piers E and F.
Have a look at the small NEMO Science Museum interactive exhibition at the beginning of pier D.
There are a number of shops at Schiphol - the See Buy Fly are on departures terminal side while the Schiphol Plaza mall on the public side includes a supermarket and various chain stores.
There are at least 50 places to eat and drink at the airport! On the terminal side, places of note include: Murphy's Irish Pub (near gate D10), Grand Café Het Paleis, Dutch Kitchen (try a raw herring), Bubbles Seafood bar and Park Café which has an outside patio. The public side includes a La Place Restaurant, La Place Express, DUTCH & delicious (Dutch snacks), a Vlaamse Frites (Flemish chip shop) and Burger King - some places are open 24 hours.
Exchange Avenue (3rd floor of departures 1, public side) has meeting rooms for 2 to 80 people.
The airport has plenty of ATM machines to get out some euros and various bureau de change counters.
Check out our Schiphol airport tips guide with more details.
Overnight at Schiphol
See our Schiphol airport hotel guide. Aside from the Mercure and Yotel, there are 3 hotels located a short walk from the airport terminal. The budget CitizenM design hotel has small capsule-style rooms. The Sheraton is a very comfortable but more expensive option with spacious rooms and an atrium bar. Finally the new Hilton (opened 2015) is within walking distance and has modern rooms. Book a Schiphol hotel here.
It may be possible to "sleep" at the airport either inside the terminal on one of the comfy chairs (if you happen to be departures side) or finding a spot in Schiphol Plaza public area - however you will probably be checked there by security and moved on early in the morning.
Schiphol layover greater than 4 hours: consider visiting the city
A transit time of over 4 hours should give you enough time to visit the city by train. For a comfortable visit our recommendation would be to have 6-7 hours transit.
Schiphol airport lies some 17km (11 miles) south-west of Amsterdam and there is a frequent train service to Amsterdam Central station which takes 15-20 minutes. Read our detailed transport guide How to get to Amsterdam from Schiphol
You need to buy a day return ticket which costs €8.40 (2016 price) plus a €1 surcharge for a disposable ticket. The OV-chip smart card system is now used on Dutch railways so you need to check-in and check-out of your journey using the card readers near the platforms.
Just make sure you get on the correct train by checking the overhead platform boards (destination Amsterdam Centraal, the train may also stop at Amsterdam Sloterdijk and Amsterdam Lelylaan). Do not get on trains going to Amsterdam Zuid, Amsterdam RAI or Amsterdam Bijlmer - this is a different line!
As you arrive at Amsterdam Central station the city centre is located on your right side (facing forward). From the platform head down the stairs to the tunnels which take you to the main exit.
What you do during your time in Amsterdam is up to you and also depends if you are a first time visitor.
If this is your first visit to Amsterdam then it is highly recommended that you take a 1 hour canal tour (rondvaart) on a glass-topped boat - there are a number of companies running tours from just outside central station and tours cost €10-13. Commentary is in multiple languages and you get a unique perspective of the city.
To the front of central station is the VVV tourist office (for info, maps, advice etc - though it can often be busy); there is also the GVB Tickets & Info which sells public transport tickets (OV-chip cards) and also has a useful free map.
Museums - You may have enough time to fit a flying visit to one of Amsterdam's museums. Those within about a 15 minute brisk walk from the station include the Anne Frank House (buy tickets online first as queues can be really long), the Amsterdam Museum and the Rembrandt House.
The famous Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum are located a bit further out in the museum quarter (take trams 2 or 5 or allow 30 minutes each way for walking). The Hermitage is on the Amstel river (about 20 minutes walk away, or take a metro to Waterlooplein).
An alternative option could be the EYE Film Institute on the north bank of the IJ - go to the other side of central station via the tunnel walkways, cross the road and hop on a free ferry to "Buiksloterweg" just across the water. For a longer free ferry ride (15 mins) head over to NDSM wharf.
Explore - There are various areas around central station which can be explored on foot. Heading down the (tacky) Damrak strip will get you to Dam Square which has the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and Bijenkorf department store. From Dam runs the Kalverstraat shopping street; the striking Magna Plaza mall is also nearby. Head out further west to the Negen Straatjes (9 streets) and Jordaan area with pretty canals and independent shops. Or to the east of Dam/Damrak can be found Zeedijk (Chinatown), Nieuwmarkt and also the red-light district.
There are loads of cafes, bars and restaurants in the city. For a no nonsense self-service budget option try V&D La Place at the end of Kalverstraat near Muntplein. Do try to avoid the touristy places along the Damrak. For Asian food, Zeedijk is the place to be. Other Amsterdam cheap eats info here.
Train back to Schiphol
Head back to Amsterdam Central in good time - there you should see a screen advising you of the next departing trains to Schiphol. These run up to 10x hourly and usually go from platforms 10, 13, 14 or 15. Trains operate between 0600 and 0030; there is an hourly night train service as well. Be aware that most trains will have a destination beyond Schiphol.
Alternatives to Amsterdam
The town of Hoofdorp is just 5 minutes train ride from Schiphol. Whilst this modern town is nothing special there are good shopping facilities about 15 minutes walk from the station including a large supermarket (Albert Heijn XL) and all the major Dutch chains.
Keukenhof is the flower garden park open only in springtime located near the town of Lisse, about 35 minutes by Connexxion bus 858 from Schiphol. Leiden is a historic city about 16 minutes train ride west of Schiphol.