Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) 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 heading into Amsterdam city itself.
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.
As most of the transfer passengers will be flying KLM or Skyteam partners, there are 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.
The Schiphol Baggage Depot between Arrivals 1 and 2 (public side) charges €6-12 for 24 hours to store luggage. Payment can be made only by debit or credit card.
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.
Schiphol airport has installed a number of automatic self-service passport egates. Currently they can only be used by those over 16 with an EU passport that contains a microchip.
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 public area outside which includes the Schiphol Plaza shopping mall; (2) the Schengen terminal area for European departures/arrivals; (3) the non-Schengen terminal area for departures/arrivals outside the European Schengen area. You need to go through Dutch passport control to move in/out of the non-Schengen terminal.
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 – under the “Airport_Free_Wifi” network. Do be aware that Schiphol employs WiFi and Bluetooth tracking of devices.
• Relax at the Schiphol Airport Library which has a selection of books to browse while you wait for your flight. The library collection has some 500 titles translated from Dutch authors and also includes children’s books and coffee table style books on art, design, architecture, history and Amsterdam. The library is open 24 hours and can be found on Holland Boulevard in the non-Schengen departures area.
• Take a room at the YOTELAir (Lounge 2) or Mercure Hotel (Lounge 3), both located in the terminal. The minimum stay at the Yotel is 4 hours.
• Alternatively, take a shower at either the Mercure hotel (€19.50) or YOTELAir (€15). There are also free showers at the public toilets near the lounges/meditation room – but you need your own towels and soap.
• Head up to the panorama terrace (public side, departures 1) to look at the planes. Note, the terrace is open but there is construction/renovation work ongoing.
• Visit one of the Schiphol airport lounges if you have access.
• Have some quiet time at the Meditation centre on the upper level of Lounge 2.
• Get a massage or a spa treatment at Xpress Spa. There are also Massage-O-Matic self-service massage chairs around the airport.
• Get your hair styled at Coiffure En Vogue at Schiphol Plaza (public side).
• Work out at the Sheraton Hotel Fitness & Spa (€30 day pass), on the public side close to Schiphol Plaza/station hall.
• Have a look at the small NEMO Science Museum interactive exhibition. Located between Lounges 2 and 3 (past security), it is open 24 hours per day with free entry for passengers.
• 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 (Lounge 2), Grand Café Het Paleis, Dutch Bar & Kitchen (try a raw herring), Bubbles Seafood bar, Harvest Market 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 TOKO To Go (Indonesian) – some places are open 24 hours.
• Take a Schiphol Experience tour on a bus which includes driving past the fire station, aircraft hangars, the snow fleet and more stops of interest. Tours depart all year round at 1100/1300/1430 from bus stop A15, Tue-Sun (Wed-Sun in the winter months Nov-Mar). You need to first check-in with ID at the Planes@Plaza store in Schiphol Plaza. Tickets cost €16 for adults, €8 for children 4-12.). The tour lasts 1 hour.
• Meeting rooms (public side) are available at the Regus Schiphol Airport Meeting Centre or at the nearby The Office Operators (TOO).
• The airport has plenty of ATM machines to get out some euros and various bureau de change counters.
Check out our Schiphol airport guide with more details.
Overnight at Schiphol
If you have an overnight transfer then you will need to consider staying at one of the Schiphol Airport hotels
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 Hilton 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: visit 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.
Alternatively for those with at least 5 hours transit, it is possible to do a private 3 hour chauffeur tour (€230) for up to 3 people.
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 €10 (2019 price) including the €1 surcharge for a disposable ticket. You could also buy a 1 day Amsterdam Travel Ticket (€17) which is valid for the train trip and unlimited city public transport.
The OV-chip smart card system is used on Dutch railways so you need to check-in and check-out of your journey. At Schiphol the OV-chip card readers are in the station hall just before you go down to the platforms. At Amsterdam Central the card readers are at the gate barriers near the station exits.
Do 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).
There is a different train line going to Amsterdam Zuid station which has a metro station that connects to central Amsterdam. You would need an Amsterdam Travel Ticket or a separate metro ticket for connecting onto the metro.
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 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 €11-16. Commentary is in multiple languages and you get a unique perspective of the city.
At the front of central station is the Iamsterdam Visitor Centre (for info, maps, advice etc – though it can often be busy – there is also an office at Schiphol Arrivals 2); adjacent is the GVB Tickets & Info which sells Amsterdam public transport tickets 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 (essential to buy tickets online in advance), 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 – exit central station on the waterside and hop on a free GVB ferry to “Buiksloterweg” just across the water. There is also the A’DAM Toren building which has panorama deck on the 20th floor.
For a longer free ferry ride (15 mins) head over to NDSM wharf.
For a comprehensive selection of museums, activities and tours in Amsterdam book here
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), Bijenkorf department store and the Kalverstraat, Amsterdam’s main shopping street.
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, good for Asian food), Nieuwmarkt and also the red-light district.
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 Hoofddorp 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 (late March to late May) 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.