As a seasoned traveler through Schiphol Airport who lives in Holland, I’ve been asked quite a few times about making the most of a layover in Amsterdam while transiting through Schiphol Airport. Although I’ve flown a lot, I find Schiphol to be one of the better airports that I’ve flown through due to its easy public transit connection with Amsterdam, its clear signage in English, and how quickly you can get out of the airport once you get your bags. This guide to a layover in Schiphol will help you think of some nice activities to fill up your Schiphol layover.
Note: I am not responsible for missed flights, so please plan accordingly for your flight given the length of your layover. Similarly, depending on your passport, you may require a Schengen visa, so please do your research before flying/leaving the airport. Once you exit the airport, you will need to pass through passport control and security, so plan smartly with your time.
On short layovers at Schiphol
It is not a good idea to leave the airport if you have less than 6 hours in Schiphol in my opinion although you’ll find Schiphol has good wi-fi, plenty of shops, and even a miniature art museum within it. Download your favorite show on Netflix onto your phone and enjoy! You can click for my guide to Schiphol Airport with where to eat.
If you’ll be arriving after midnight, it’s best to pay for one of the airport hotels within the airport as after you leave Schiphol, the airport will be mostly shut-down, so you will be forced to stay in Schiphol Plaza until security arrives (typically around 6am) and the airport reopens for the morning. There’s a hotel within the airport if you have a valid boarding pass for the next day.
If you are flying to the United States or a non-Schengen destination, you should be back at Schiphol at least 3 hours before your flights. For Schengen destinations, 2 hours is usually sufficient for intra-EU flights within the Schengen zone. During especially busy times at Schiphol (the Dutch news typically discusses this), it’s best to give yourself extra time to get through passport control and security.
If you have more than 6 hours in Amsterdam…
The great thing about Schiphol is that it’s a short skip and a hop to Amsterdam from here. You can follow this guide on how to buy a ticket to go from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam by train, which is the fastest way most of the time in my opinion. The train runs pretty frequently although it runs less often in the evening. The train journey itself is about 15 minutes, however, give yourself a bit of extra time to purchase a round-trip ticket, tap-in with your ticket (before you descend to the trains), find your train, tap-out with your ticket at the gates, and get out of Centraal.
Once you walk out of Amsterdam Centraal, you’ll already see canals! Right next to Amsterdam Centraal train station, you can take a canal cruise along Amsterdam’s scenic canals, which is a great introduction to Amsterdam if you only have a few hours to play with. From here, it’s lovely to explore the quieter canals (such as Herengracht), stop for a beer or tea at one of Amsterdam’s atmospheric brown bars, or snack on some frites.
If you only have about 7-8 hours in Amsterdam, that should be enough time to get lunch, take a canal cruise, wander a bit around the center, get a drink, and head back. (The Red Light District is fairly close to Centraal if you’re curious about it.) You can click here for a self-guided walking route through Amsterdam that should take up most of one day!
I’d still give yourself at least 2-3 hours from the moment that you arrive at Amsterdam Centraal to head back to Schiphol to be safe, so don’t be afraid to put on an alarm to ensure that you don’t miss your flight!
Longer layovers in Amsterdam (24-48+ hour layovers)
For an even longer layover in Amsterdam (e.g. 24 hours in Amsterdam and/or before a river cruise), I recommend enjoying getting away from Schiphol Aiport whether to visit Leiden or head into Amsterdam for your layover. If you’ve been to Amsterdam before, consider enjoying one of Holland’s beautiful cities that have a fraction of the crowds.
My cousin arrived one day early in Amsterdam and ended up staying in Leiden, which has inexpensive hotels, picturesque canals, and a fraction of the tourists. It’s very easy to see Leiden in only a few hours, so if you’re jetlagged and still looking for some culture, Leiden is a good choice. I have a number blogs about Leiden, including what to do
The perfect layover for Amsterdam in April*
If you’re lucky enough to visit Amsterdam in April and you have the advantage of daylight, you’ll be able to enjoy the tulips. Directly at Schiphol, you’ll see a bus to Keukenhof if you follow the tulip signs. I’d say that you need about 4 hours to enjoy the gardens of Keukenhof before taking the bus back to Schiphol, so plan smartly in terms of your time. I recommend buying tickets in advance. If you’re in less of a rush (+3 hours), you can also rent bikes at Keukenhof to cycle throughout the surrounding tulip fields. Click for my complete guide to Keukenhof!
Unfortunately, April is the peak time for tulips. Outside of this period, you can still buy tulip bulbs, but you will not see them in the fields in bloom. Sometimes, you can get lucky by seeing the beginnings in late March or the end of the season in early May, but it’s not a guarantee.
I hope that this handy guide to a layover in Schiphol Airport helped you figure out what is possible. For more handy tips about Holland, you can read my posts here: