Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is one of the busiest in Europe, welcoming more than 70 million passengers a year to the Dutch capital. With hundreds of flights arriving and leaving every day, chances are good that if you’re traveling in northern Europe, you’ll find yourself here are some point.
Whether you’re coming to enjoy Amsterdam or traveling on to another destination, you can pass the time between flights at Schiphol quite easily.
Drop off your bags at a luggage storage locker at Schiphol, and you’ll find plenty of things to do to keep you occupied. Thanks to its proximity to the city it serves and some excellent transportation links, you can visit Amsterdam from the airport even if you only have a few hours to spare.
Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, and for good reason. The city’s canals, museums, and friendly atmosphere make it a great place to spend a few hours (or days) exploring.
But if you only have a limited amount of time, there are a few things you can do to make the most of your layover.
Visit the Rijksmuseum
One of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions is the Rijksmuseum, which houses Dutch masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The museum is located in the city center, about 20 minutes from Schiphol by train.
If you only have an hour or two to spare, you can visit the museum’s highlights without having to spend too much time lining up. Simply head to the second floor and follow the signs to the Gallery of Honor, where some of the museum’s most famous paintings are on display.
Amsterdam Canal Cruise
Another great way to see the city is from the water. Amsterdam’s canals are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a cruise is a great way to see them. There are a number of different companies offering canal cruises departing from Schiphol, and most of them take around an hour.
If you want to combine your canal cruise with a visit to the Rijksmuseum, there are companies that offer combo tickets that will save you money.
Get out of town
If you’re not interested in visiting Amsterdam, there are plenty of other things to do in the surrounding area. One option is to head to Utrecht, which is about 30 minutes from Schiphol by train. Utrecht is a lively university town with plenty of things to see and do, including a number of museums and art galleries.
If you’re looking for something a bit more active, you could go for a hike or bike ride in the nearby Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park. With more than 30 miles of trails to explore, it’s a great way to get out into nature.
If you have a longer layover, there are plenty of other things to do in and around Amsterdam. Here are some ideas:
Visit Keukenhof Gardens
Just outside Amsterdam is Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Covering more than 32 hectares, the garden is home to millions of flowers, making it a great place to see Dutch tulips in bloom (usually between mid-March and mid-May).
Keukenhof is located in the town of Lisse, about 45 minutes from Schiphol by bus. If you’re pressed for time, you can also take a tour from Amsterdam that will get you there and back in a few hours.
Haarlem is a charming town located just outside Amsterdam. With its cobbled streets and historic buildings, it’s well worth spending a few hours exploring. Highlights include the Frans Hals Museum, which houses works by the Dutch Golden Age painter, and the Teyler Museum, which has an impressive collection of fossils and minerals.
Haarlem is about 20 minutes from Schiphol by train.
Take a day trip to Rotterdam
Rotterdam is Holland’s second-largest city, and it’s well worth spending a day here. Highlights include the iconic Erasmus Bridge, the Markthal food hall, and the Museum Quarter.
Rotterdam is located about an hour from Schiphol by train. If you’re short on time, there are also companies that offer tours from Amsterdam that will get you there and back in a day.
Packing for your flight
No matter how long your layover is, there are a few things you should always pack in your carry-on bag to make sure you’re prepared.
First, make sure you have your passport and travel documents. Even if you’re not leaving the airport, you’ll need them to get through security.
Second, pack any medications you might need, as well as any essentials like eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Third, bring along a change of clothes in case your flight is delayed and you have to spend the night at the airport.
Fourth, pack snacks and drinks to keep yourself fueled during your layover.
Finally, don’t forget to pack your entertainment. Bring along a book, download some movies or tv shows onto your tablet, or pack some games to keep yourself entertained.
Schiphol Airport is well connected to Amsterdam’s excellent public transit network. And because the Netherlands is a relatively small country, it’s not hard to travel from Schiphol by train and see plenty of interesting sites both in Amsterdam itself and outside the city.
If you find yourself with a layover in Amsterdam, don’t waste your time reading a magazine in the airport lounge when you could be exploring. Visit some of these locations and turn your time in Amsterdam into a minivacation.