Layover in Amsterdam: How Much Time Do You Need?

Kimberly Viruet Travel 7 Comments


We just got back from a two and a half week vacation across Europe. On our way to our first destination, we had a six hour and twenty minute layover in Amsterdam. So we needed to calculate if that was enough time to get on the train to the city center, walk around and take a few pictures before catching our next flight. So if you’re ever in Amsterdam with a long layover and are not sure what to do, this post is for you.

Layovers in Amsterdam are pretty streamlined. Once you are dropped off from the previous flight at the gate, and go through passport control, you are already pre-checked through security and are good to go to hop on the next flight. But leaving and re-entering the airport is very time consuming and should be your main consideration before exploring the city. Time is easily lost in exiting the aircraft, passing through passport control and storing your luggage. So calculating all these factors is important so you don’t miss your layover. So if you plan on leaving the airport, I would say bare minimum, you need at least a 6 hour layover. Otherwise, I’d suggest you stay at the airport, relax and avoid all the hustle and enjoy the Amsterdam Airport, which has a lot of things to keep you entertained.

We suggest at least a 6 hour layover to be able to enjoy the city!

View of one of the canals so characteristc of Amsterdam

Here’s a rundown of our stop in Amsterdam, which was exactly 6 hours and 20 minutes. From DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth), our flight landed at 7:35 AM in Amsterdam and we had a little more than 6 hours until our flight out to Zagreb. So we decided to make the most of our time, like Anthony Bourdain’s show “The Layover”. From wheels down to taxing to our gate and getting everyone off the plane, it took us a good 30 minutes. You’re on a time constraint, so every minute counts. Once we were off the plane, we hauled ass through the airport to be one of the first ones in line for customs. But another plane had just landed before us. So even though we were one of the first to get to the line, there were easily 200 people in line in front of us to go through passport control. This really can be a hit or miss. Sometimes you breeze right through and sometimes it can take some time. So always factor in 20-30 minutes for passport control just to be safe.

There are bikes everywhere, you definitely have to look before crossing the road!

Now you’re free to exit the airport and cleared to visit the country. But first, if you got here from an overnight flight you might want to stop at the restroom to brush your teeth, change your shirt and freshen up. Second, unless you’ve checked all your luggage, you don’t want to carry all your bags with you around the city, so we highly recommend storing it at the luggage lockers provided by the airport. It took us a few minutes just to find the lockers so always add in extra time for finding your way around. You’re not always going to jump off the airplane knowing where everything is unless you’ve frequented this airport before. Once we finally found the lockers, renting one was pretty straight forward. It’s a big room with a bunch of different size lockers, and there is a man at the desk if you’d prefer him to lock your luggage behind the counter. We rented a medium locker that fit a carry-on roller bag and both a 50 liter and a 44 liter backpack. It cost about 9 EUR ($10 USD) for 24 hours. Once your locker is closed, you cannot reopen until you are ready to retrieve your luggage or it will make you pay again.

Hanging out at the plaza by the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum

Third stop, getting metro tickets into the city, which were about 5 euros per person. I had done my research ahead of time and learned that AMS airport was only 15 minutes to the city center by train. When using cards in Europe, it is best to have a card with a chip. They are slowly becoming more common in the United States. Now, I don’t know why, because trains in major cities in Europe often come every 3 to 5 minutes, but we had to wait 20 minutes for the train. So there was another 20 minutes gone. Always factor in plenty of cushion time.

Tip: Sometimes credit card transactions require a pin number. This is not common practice in the U.S. but no reason to be alarmed. Call your card issuer for assistance.

To recap, we were wheels down at 7:35 AM and after all these stops, we did not even get to the Amsterdam city center until 10:00 AM! Yes, 2.5 hours had just flown by! Our boarding time to Zagreb was 1:35 PM. Factor in that you have to return to the airport, retrieve your bags, go through security checkpoint and walk to your gate. So after all of that work, we really only got to explore Amsterdam for one hour and a half. This is why some people don’t bother leaving the airport!

Ok, so what can you accomplish in 1.5 hours? You might have time for a quick canal boat ride or a tour of the Anne Frank House. If you have a little longer, maybe visit the Heineken Experience. There are also plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, and shopping if you just want to walk around and not worry about planning activities. And that’s exactly what we did.

Basic rundown: Always factor in your time to leave the airport and multiply times two, plus plenty of cushion time, and then the amount of time you want to spend in the city. I know with long layovers it’s tempting to want to leave the airport, but sometimes it is less stress just to stay and wait. No matter what you decide to do, we hope you enjoy your layover in Amsterdam!

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