Discounted train travel in the Netherlands – tips & tricks
Let’s start with a frank fact. As an international student you cannot travel in the Netherlands for free. Yes, Dutch students do have that privilege, but unfortunately that doesn’t extend to us internationals. So now you must wonder if you really have to purge out all that money for a train ticket to Amsterdam or elsewhere. Travelling by train in the Netherlands certainly doesn’t seem cheap. But, if you learn your way around, you can travel with huge discounts!
Getting an OV – the Dutch public transport card
The easiest way to travel around by train, bus, tram etc, is by using the OV chipkaart. When you first arrive to the Netherlands, you can get the anonymous card. You simply have to upload money on the card and travel around. But once you have a Dutch bank account, you can get a personal OV. With this one, you can sign up for all kinds of discounts.
Don’t rush into buying the personal OV immediately. As you sign up for a travel subscription (abonnement in Dutch), you will get the OV for free (otherwise it’s €7). Now, let’s look at the different travel discounts for the train.
Choosing between different train discounts
Of course, signing up for a discount makes sense if you travel more often. If you travel less than twice a month, check out the next section!
The NS website (the website of the Dutch train system) gives you an overview of discounts available (and you can change the website into English). Then, from the menu, choose “season tickets”. That’s where you’ll find the following options, and I’ll give you a quick overview of these options. I’m not going into all of the options, just the most relevant ones for you.
- Dal voordeel – allows you to travel with 40% discount off peak hours (6.30 – 9.00, 16.00 – 18.30) and all day during the weekend.
- Altijd voordeel – with this one the previous applies, but you also travel with 20% discount during peak hours.
- Weekend vrij – travelling for free during the weekend, as much as you want, everywhere you want (but by train only).
- NS Flex – This is a new and quite an interesting option – you can change your subscription every month. Let’s say you are eager to travel a lot during the weekends in October – then you sign up for the “weekend vrij” for that month (€32). During your internship you may have to travel more during peak hours – then you can change for the “altijd voordeel” for those months (€24). Or if you go away for the summer months, you can change it to “no discount” and pay nothing for that month (€0). Of if you opt for the “dal voordeel”, that’s just €2 a month. Instead of making sure you always have money before you travel, you will simply get a bill at the end of the month with all your travel costs.
Occasional discounts without the OV card
Now, if you don’t have to the OV, you can look for discounted return trips at the spoordeelwinkel. This one is unfortunately in Dutch, but quite easy to navigate, I’d say. What you find here, is return trips to specific cities. Usually these come together with an entrance to a museum or a free coffee and cake at a specific café. Sometimes you are also free to choose your destination. The prices of these return trips are usually around €20. PS! If you travel further, these cards may even be cheaper than travelling with the 40% discount on the OV!
And last, but perhaps the cheapest option of all. Sometimes you’ll see the popular stores selling discounted day tickets as well. These usually allow you to travel as much as you want on a given day off peak hours. These usually cost around €15, but may vary of course. You can find them at the Albert Heijn, Blokker, Etos, Kruidvat, etc. So keep your eyes open when passing these stores in the city centre to get the best deals.
My personal experience
Honestly, I’ve made use of all the options I explained above. During my master I mainly had the “dag voordeel” for discounted trips during the weekend. But sometimes I still seeked out even cheaper options via the spoordeelwinkel or from the AH and other shops. Now that I’m doing my internship, I changed to NS flex. Simply because I cannot avoid travelling during peak hours anymore.
As you see, there are many options available with different prices. I hope my tips give you a bit of an idea what is available and help you to get ahead with choosing the best option for you.
Do you already have experience with traveling with a discount in the Netherlands? Do you know other tips other students can benefit from? Let us know in the comments!