By James | Last updated: December 2017*

Layover in Amsterdam? Visiting Amsterdam VS staying at Schiphol Airport

Houseboats along a canal in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Schiphol is one of the world’s busiest airports, and a popular layover destination for connecting flights. If you’ve never been to Amsterdam before, this layover could be a blessing in disguise. Amsterdam City Centre is only a 15-20 minute train journey from Schiphol Airport, which could give you a reasonable window of time to explore this beautiful European capital.

Alternatively, you could stay in the airport. As one of the world’s largest airports, Amsterdam has plenty of amenities designed for layovers such as hotels, airport lounges, duty-free shopping, and a gym.

In this guide, we look at both visiting Amsterdam and staying at the airport to see which is the best option for you.

Leaving Schiphol Airport & going into Amsterdam

Have enough time to see a few of Amsterdam’s key attractions and make it back again? Here’s our guide for visiting Amsterdam on a layover.

Can I leave the airport?

The first, and most-important question, is whether or not you can leave the airport. The Netherlands is part of the EU and a part of Schengen. You can enter the Netherlands without a visa if you are an EU or EFTA citizen, if you already have a Schengen visa, a long-stay visa or residence permit from one of the Schengen countries, or if you come from a country whose citizens don’t require visas to enter the Schengen area.

A short-stay Schengen visa costs €60, which makes a short layover visit too expensive for most people.

How much time do I need?

When planning a layover, there are a couple of things to bear in mind.

First of all, it will take time for your plane to land, for you to get off and go through immigration, and to put your bag in a locker (if you need to).

Next, it takes time to get to and from the airport. In Amsterdam, the train journey is fast and usually takes between 15 and 20 minutes each way. You should also add on a little extra time for buying your train tickets and just in case you miss your train.

Finally, you will need to be back at Amsterdam Schiphol in time for your next flight. For flights within Europe, you typically need to be at the airport around 2 hours before. For longer flights, many airlines say 3 hours.

Does this leave you enough time to see Amsterdam? Two hours is probably the minimum amount of sightseeing time that you should aim for to make leaving the airport worthwhile.

Making the most of your layover

During a layover, time is of the essence and the most-effective use of your time is to join a tour. Generally, a sightseeing tour bus is more practical than most walking or food tours as you can join at any time of the day. City Sightseeing is the main tour bus company in Amsterdam, and you can hop on at Amsterdam Central train station.

Walking tours, in comparison, only operate at specific times of the day. However, if the timing is right, you may prefer to join a walking tour instead.

There are several walking tour companies that operate in Amsterdam, the most famous of which is Sandeman’s New Europe Tours in Amsterdam. These free walking tours operate several times per day, leaving from National Monument in Dam Square.

Canal cruises are another option. Unlike the bus and walking tours, these don’t focus on taking you to Amsterdam’s main sights but are a fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon – ideal if you’ve already visited Amsterdam before.

What to see & do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam flower and bulb shop
A flower selling in Amsterdam
  • Shopping: Amsterdam is a fantastic destination for shopping, boasting everything from big brands and international chains (typically around Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat) to small, independent boutiques.
  • Flower Market: The Bloemenmarkt, of flower market, is the only floating market in the world. Since 1862, this beautiful flower market has been at the heart of Amsterdam’s trade, and visiting it is definitely recommended.
  • Coffee Shops: Partaking in Amsterdam’s coffee shop culture before a flight is not recommended, however, some visitors may want to take a peak inside one of these famous cafés to see what all of the excitement is about.
  • Red Light District: As well as coffee shops, one of the most famous other aspects of Amsterdam is its Red Light District. Most people visiting Amsterdam take a walk along its neon-lit canals, again just to see what it’s all about.
  • Anne Frank’s House: Anne Frank’s House on the Prinsengracht is one of Amsterdam-s main attractions, and an incredibly important place to visit if you have the opportunity.

Staying at Schiphol

If you don’t have quite enough time to make a trip into Amsterdam worthwhile, or you just can’t muster up the energy to do so, the other option is to stay at Schiphol Airport.

Schiphol Airport at dusk
Schiphol Airport at dusk

Indulge in a little shopping

Schiphol Airport has some fantastic luxury airport shopping, with brands like Rolex, Montblanc, Omega, Gucci, and Bottega Veneta all exhibiting under one roof. As well as luxury shopping, Say Cheese in Lounge 3 is a fantastic place to pick up some Dutch cheese while House of Tulips in Lounge 1 & 2 sells tulips and tulip seeds in virtually every color imaginable.

Relax at the spa

XpressSpa has three outlets at Schiphol Airport: in lounge 2, lounge 3, and on the D-Pier. XpressSpa offers a selection of relaxing treatments that are perfect for relieving the stress and tension of flying including massages, facials, manicures, and pedicures.

Kick back at an airport lounge

Sitting in an airport while you wait for your flight may sound like a bit of a nightmare, but spending that time in an airport lounge can definitely make it that little bit more enjoyable.

Amsterdam Airport has several paid-access airport lounges, which are typically quieter and more relaxing than the rest of the airport. All include Wi-Fi, food, and drinks, and some even include showers as well.

  • Aspire (Non-Schengen)
  • Aspire (Schengen)

Note: Most lounges have a time limit of around 3 hours. If you want to stay longer, you may have to pay for additional entries.

Take the “Behind the Scenes” airport tour

For airport geeks, the behind the scenes tour of Schiphol Airport is the perfect way to pass the time. You-ll get to learn about everything that happens at Schiphol, as well as get to visit parts of the airport that are normally out-of-bounds like the fire station, the snow fleet, the airplane hangers, and the platform at Schiphol Oost.

Work out at the gym

The Sheraton Hotel Fitness & Spa sell day passes, allowing you to workout and blow off some steam in between flights. As well as all of the essential fitness equipment, facilities at the Fitness & Spa also include a steam room and sauna.

Sleep it off at an airport hotel

If your stopover is during the night, or if you are just tired after a long-haul flight, you may want to take the opportunity to catch up on a few hour’s sleep at one of the many airport hotels.

As well as the standard airport hotels, there are also a few hotels like the YOTELAir that can be booked on an hourly basis – perfect if you only have a little bit of time in between flights.

Have you had a layover in Amsterdam? Did you decide to visit the city or stay in the airport? Let us know your Amsterdam experiences by leaving a comment below. 

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