How to Conquer Public Transportation in Amsterdam

By Jenna Tantillo, Site Specialist

As a compact city lined with canals and narrow streets, Amsterdam is not ideal for car traffic. While studying in Amsterdam, you’ll live like the locals and get around town on some of the city’s other modes of transportation with options suitable for any type of commute.

Public transportation in this modern city is equally as advanced as it is efficient. It is nearly all run by the same company, GVB, so you can use the same rechargeable OV-card with a personalized chip for all journeys. This also allows you to go between different modes of transportation within a single commute, paying the GVB boarding fee only once within a 35-minute period. You’ll scan your OV-card upon entering and exiting the vehicle, being charged the boarding fee plus a small fee per kilometer traveled. You can expect a 10km trip to cost around €2.45. Cash is not accepted as payment on many public transportation options, so be sure to have a working credit or debit card when commuting around Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Central Station
The main entrance to Amsterdam Central Station. (Photo by Jenna Tantillo)

ISA students studying at Vrije Universiteit (VU) and living at the De Boelelaan dorms have a public transportation stop just a block away, in between the dorms and main campus. From the VU stop, it is only a ten minute metro or tram ride to the city center about a seven minute train ride to the airport. Though that is the closest stop, nearly all public transit is connected through Amsterdam’s large and bustling Central Station, located in the heart of town and on the bank of the Ij River.

Amsterdam public transit is nearly all wheelchair-accessible and can accommodate individuals with varying accessibility needs. There is even a GVB app which allows you to see details about the accessibility of particular vehicles and stations, as well as view timetables and plan routes across the different transportation options.


The Amsterdam Metro quickly connects the city center and surrounding suburbs. It has five different lines: three that begin their journeys from Central Station, and two that span the outskirts of the city. Some of the metro stations share their platforms with regular trains, often making the metro a convenient start for longer-distance train travel.

Amsterdam tram departing the station.
Tram departing the station. (Photo by Jenna Tantillo)


Trams in Amsterdam are a fun and convenient way to travel around town. With fifteen different routes and frequent stops, trams are a reliable and efficient way to get to and around the city center. They have large windows and glide on tracks above ground, offering a unique way to stay cozy and enjoy the sights. Trams are recognizable by their dark blue and white color. But be careful; they are nearly silent, so cyclist and pedestrians should be especially mindful when crossing tram tracks.


During the day, buses are mostly used to connect Amsterdam to the greater metropolitan area. While you may use them on your weekly commute, you will even more so when leaving the city center to visit one of the Netherlands’ surrounding beach towns, gardens, or historic villages.

Buses are especially useful after 12:15am when the metro and trams stop running. Night buses depart from each of their stops about every 30 minutes from 12:30am to 7am. Many operate to and from Central Station, with connections all around Amsterdam. Since there are fewer transportation options after dark, night routes are often longer than those in the daytime, so expect lengthier trip times.


Though transportation in Amsterdam used to be highly characterized by boat-travel on the city’s web of canals, today’s canal traffic is mostly comprised of tourist cruises and personal boats. Ferries in Amsterdam instead cross the Ij River, connecting the Amsterdam city center with the north (or Noord) neighborhood. These are free ferries that run 24 hours a day, departing every few minutes. Most leave from Central Station, where you will see a digital countdown clock at each platform counting down the seconds until the next departure.

Train tracks in Amsterdam
Train tracks circling the city. (Photo by Jenna Tantillo)


The train is a quick way to travel to and from Amsterdam as well as the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Central station is the main rail hub, providing quick and easy access to the city center or other modes of public transportation. Trains connect Amsterdam to other Dutch cities, as well as to neighboring Belgium, France, and Germany.


Amsterdam is considered the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world and many consider riding a bike essential to the local experience. The city is flat and compact with large and clearly delineated bike lanes, often making cycling the most efficient way to traverse the city all while taking in in the picturesque views. Bikes are also welcome on most modes of public transportation, making them a useful option even just to travel among other transit routes.

Bikes parked next to street art depicting a tram
Amsterdam is considered the most bike-friendly city in the world. (Photo by Jenna Tantillo)

During your term abroad, there are options to rent a bike for the hour, day, weekend, or entire term. While there are many bike rental shops around town, there is even one on the VU campus where you can rent a bike and a lock for one flat fee. The fee even includes upkeep, advice, and repairs on all bikes during your rental period. If you do chose to participate in Amsterdam’s bike culture, remember to always be alert to your surroundings, wear a helmet, and follow all local laws.

No matter the time or weather, your energy level or abilities, there is always a means to get around the bustling and well-connected city of Amsterdam. There is an undeniable rhythm in the city as locals and visitors alike go about their commutes, sharing the experience with fellow community members rather than sitting alone in cars. While studying in Amsterdam, you’ll be a part of this rhythm and you may even find the transit journey equally as interesting as your destination.  

Learn more about ISA’s study abroad program in Amsterdam. 

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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