The man sitting next to me on the plane looked a bit flustered. We were about to land at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol after an eight hour flight from Vancouver and aside from the polite “hello” when I settled in my seat, we didn’t speak a word to each other throughout the flight. He turned to me and muttered that he had a five-hour layover in Amsterdam and asked me if I was flying on to another destination as well. “No, I live here”, I replied. “What does one do at Amsterdam Airport to kill five hours?”, he countered. I thought about that for a moment. A five-hour transit did sound tiresome but then again, this is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol – one of Europe’s best airports with a broad array of things to do and see. I asked him if he’d been in Amsterdam before. The answer was negative, “no, just the airport many years ago”. It was a familiar answer. About 40% of all arriving passengers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol are in transit to another destination. I didn’t hesitate for a moment: “This is your chance then to see a bit of Amsterdam”. I gave him some tips, suggested what to do and see and traced a walking route on the map of Amsterdam in the inflight magazine.
Transit in Amsterdam – things to do
The conversation on the plane prompted me to write this post about things to do while in transit at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Millions of transit passengers travel through the airport every year without grabbing the opportunity to explore Amsterdam’s UNESCO World Heritage canals for a few hours. I’ve listed below things to do at the airport or if you opt to see a bit of Amsterdam for an hour or two (depending on the length of your layover):
1 – 2 hours
You’d better get moving to your next flight!
2 – 4 hours
There are many things you can do to keep occupied:
Relax: You can relax at one of the lounge chairs that are scattered throughout the airport or grab a shower. Or you can indulge yourself with a shiatsu massage in one of the Massage-o-Matic chairs or at the Back-to-Life centre (which offers massages and enriched-oxygen treatments). There’s also the XpresSpa which offers a variety of spa treatments as well as waxing, manicures and pedicures.
An alternative is to sit in the Library where you can check your emails, read the papers or browse through the books. Or you can do what many transit passengers do: sit around at one of the many bars and cafés, and mingle with fellow transit passengers or the bartender.
Active: If you love to shop, you’ll love the variety of shops at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, from fashion to consumer electronics, to books and chocolates, toys, sports gear, accessories and jewellery. If you fancy some art, head for the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol. The museum houses a permanent collection of works by some of the great Dutch masters, including Rembrandt and Frans Hals, and there are also themed exhibitions. You can also opt to sit at one of the tables at the Holland Casino (though I’m not too sure if gambling and jetlag go well together).
4 hours or longer
A layover of four hours or longer makes a quick visit into Amsterdam a real option, especially if your luggage has been checked through to your final destination and you have your boarding pass for the onward flight. I’m surprised by how few people actually consider this. I mean, Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world! Trains run directly from the airport (the station is a minute’s walk from any of the Arrival Halls) on a very frequent basis and the journey to Amsterdam Centraal (Central Station) takes approximately 20 minutes. Please note that, depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to enter The Netherlands. Here are several options for a quick visit to Amsterdam:
Go it alone: Purchase a return ticket, then take the train to Amsterdam Centraal (make sure you only board a train that goes to Centraal). When you exit Amsterdam Centraal, you can either opt for a canal tour (boats leave from and return to the station’s doorstep) for a 1.5 hour tour along the canals. You can also choose to stretch your legs – I’ve included suggested walking routes below which can be done in an hour or as long as several hours (depending on your pace or how much time you have). These routes takes you past some of my favourite parts of Amsterdam including the Brouwersgracht (one of the most picturesque canals), the Jordaan neighbourhood, the Anne Frank House, the Nine Streets neighbourhood, the intersection of the Keizersgracht/Leidsegracht, the Begijnhof (or Nunnery) and the Groenburgwal (another impossibly picturesque canal) before leading you back to the station.
View Quick walk around Amsterdam in a larger map
Joining a tour from the airport: It’s also possible to book a tour at the airport either upon arrival or in advance. You can also book a private tour of Amsterdam in advance.
If you’re travelling in a group, you could opt to book your own customised group tour that shows you the sights of Amsterdam before dropping you and your group back at the airport.
In the spring months (April-May), you could join a tour that takes you to the nearby tulip fields and the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens.
As a final note, if you’ve never been to Amsterdam and you have a layover at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, you might as well change your flight schedule (if your itinerary permits it) and spend a few days in Amsterdam. This is your golden opportunity to explore this fantastic city! Search for hotels in Amsterdam.