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THE NETHERLANDS

The Netherlands really is a land of windmills, tulips, and canals, while being a progressive 21st-century nation. The capital, Amsterdam, is famous for its waterways and its laid-back atmosphere. The Hague is home to the queen and a center for international diplomacy. And Delft and Haarlem are smaller, character-rich cities.

EXPLORE THE NETHERLANDS

TRAVEL TIPS

AIR TRAVEL

The least expensive airfares to the Netherlands originate from the United Kingdom and other European countries, are priced for round-trip travel, and must usually be purchased in advance online. Airlines generally allow you to change your return date for a fee; most low-fare tickets, however, are nonrefundable.

EasyJet has low fares to Amsterdam from Belfast, Berlin, Edinburgh, Geneva, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (Gatwick, Luton, and Stansted), Manchester, Milan, Nice, Rome, Vienna, and numerous other cities. Transavia flies to Amsterdam, Groningen, and Rotterdam from Barcelona, Nice, and other cities. Ryanair flies to the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven from London (Stansted), and a dozen other cities around Europe.

Flying time to Amsterdam is 7 hours from New York, 8 hours from Chicago, 10½ hours from Los Angeles, 9 hours from Dallas, 6½ hours from Montreal, 9½ hours from Vancouver, and 20 hours from Sydney.

Always ask your carrier about its check-in policy. Plan to arrive at the airport about two hours before your scheduled departure time—and don’t forget your passport. If you are flying within Europe, check with the airline to find out whether food is served on the flight. If you have dietary concerns, request special meals when booking. Low-cost airlines don’t provide complimentary in-flight service but snacks and drinks can be purchased on board. For help picking the most comfortable seats, check out SeatGuru.com, which has information about specific seat configurations for different types of aircraft.

You are not required to reconfirm flights, but you should confirm the departure time if you made your reservation considerably in advance as flight schedules are subject to change without notice.

Airlines and Airports

Airline and Airport Links.com. This helpful website has links to many of the world’s airlines and airports. www.airlineandairportlinks.com.

Airline Security Issues

A 2004 European Union (EU) regulation standardized the rights of passengers to compensation in the event of flight cancellations or long delays. The law covers all passengers departing from an airport within the EU, and all passengers traveling into the EU on an EU carrier unless they received assistance in the country of departure. Full details are available from the airlines and are posted prominently in all EU airports.

Airports

Located 11 miles southeast of Amsterdam, Schiphol (pronounced “Shh-kip-hole”) is the main passenger airport for Holland. With an annual number of passengers using Schiphol at around 55 million, it’s ranked among the world’s best-connected airports. Several hotels, parking lots, and a main office of the Netherlands tourist board (in Schiphol Plaza and known as Holland Tourist Information) are all useful.

Rotterdam is the largest of the regional airport options and provides daily service to many European cities. Another regional airport is Eindhoven. An increasing number of international charter flights and some budget carriers choose these airports, due to benefits that include shorter check-in times and ample parking. However, there are no rail links that connect such regional airports with their respective nearby cities, so passengers must resort to taking buses or taxis.

Ground Transportation

The Schiphol Rail Link operates between the airport and the city 24 hours a day, with service to Amsterdam Centraal Station (usually abbreviated to Amsterdam CS), and to stations in the south of the city. At peak times, there are up to eight trains each hour to Centraal; later in the evening there are four; after 1 am, there is one train every hour. The trip takes about 15–20 minutes and costs €4.10. Schiphol Station is beneath Schiphol Plaza. From Centraal Station, Tram Nos. 1, 2, and 5 go to Leidseplein and the Museum Quarter. Keep in mind that Schiphol Station is one of Holland’s busiest—make sure you catch the shuttle to Amsterdam and not a train heading to The Hague! As always, when arriving at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, keep an eye out for pickpockets. You may wish to hop aboard a tram or bus to get to your hotel, so go to one of the Gemeentevervoerbedrijf (GVB) Amsterdam Municipal Transport booths found in front of the Centraal Station. Here you can find directions, fare information, and schedules.

Connexxion Schiphol Hotel Shuttle operates a shuttle bus service between Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and all of the city’s major hotels. The trip takes about a half-hour and costs €17 one-way, or €27 round-trip. It runs from 6 am–9 pm, with shuttles every half hour.

There is also a taxi stand directly in front of the arrival hall at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Taxi fares are fixed from Schiphol to Amsterdam; depending on the neighborhood, a trip will cost around €40 or more (a service charge is included, but small additional tips are not unwelcome). The Schiphol Travel Taxi is a good option for budget travelers: the taxi needs to be booked at least 24 hours in advance and rides are shared, so the trip will take a bit longer as the taxi stops to pick up and drop off passengers. Make bookings via the Schiphol website. A shared taxi ride costs around €23.

Flights

When flying internationally to the Netherlands, you usually choose between a domestic carrier, the national flag carrier of the country, and a foreign carrier from a third country. You may, for example, choose to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to the Netherlands for the basic reason that, as the national flag carrier, it has the greatest number of nonstop flights. Domestic carriers offer connections to smaller destinations. Third-party carriers may have a price advantage.

KLM and its global alliance partner Delta Air Lines—together with their regional partner airlines—fly from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to more than 600 destinations in more than 80 countries. Nearly 100 of those are European destinations, with three to four daily flights to most airports and up to 17 flights a day to London alone. Delta now handles all reservations and ticket office activities on behalf of KLM in the United States and Canada. KLM’s direct flights connect Amsterdam to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, and numerous others. Including connections via KLM’s hubs, the airline flies to more than 120 destinations in the United States from Amsterdam. In Canada, KLM serves Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. For further information about schedules and fare promotions, go to KLM’s website.

Other international carriers include American Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways. The Dutch charter airline Martinair has direct flights to Amsterdam from Orlando and Miami. None of these carriers makes a transatlantic flight to any of the Netherlands’ regional airports. If your carrier offers Rotterdam as a final destination, for example, you fly into Amsterdam, then transfer. KLM Cityhopper offers flights connecting Amsterdam with the smaller regional airports. Transavia Airlines flies from Amsterdam and Rotterdam to a number of European destinations, and many other carriers link European capitals with Amsterdam. EasyJet has budget flights to Amsterdam from numerous European destinations; Ryanair offers a similar service out of Eindhoven Airport. Check online or with your travel agent for details.

BOAT TRAVEL

Hire your own boat or take a guided city canal tour of Amsterdam, Leiden, or Delft; alternatively, take a harbor tour to check out Rotterdam’s extensive Europoort, Europe’s biggest harbor, and the flood barrier. There are pedestrian ferries behind Amsterdam’s Centraal Station across the IJ.

Passenger Terminal Amsterdam. Passengers visiting Amsterdam as part of a cruise will find themselves arriving at the shiny Passenger Terminal, 400 yards east of Central Station. After entering Holland’s great North Sea Canal at the port city of IJmuiden, most passenger ships then head south to Amsterdam. Once there, besides the usual embarkation and disembarkation facilities, the new terminal has a number of food outlets along with shops offering you a last-minute chance to stock up with some surprisingly tasteful souvenirs. Piet Heinkade 27, Amsterdam, 1019 BR. 020/509–1000; www.ptamsterdam.com.

To/From the United Kingdom and Holland

International ferries link Holland with the United Kingdom. There are two daily Stena line crossings between the Hoek van Holland (Corner of Holland, an industrial shipping area west of Rotterdam) and Harwich, on the car ferry, taking approximately seven hours. The overnight crossing takes about eight hours. There is one P&O Ferries overnight crossing between the Europoort in Rotterdam and Hull, which takes about 11 hours, and one DFDS Seaways overnight crossing from Newcastle to IJmuiden, in Amsterdam, taking 15 hours.

CAR TRAVEL

Autoverhuur (car rental) in Holland is best for exploring the center, north, or east of the country, but is generally to be avoided in Amsterdam itself and in the heavily urbanized northwest, known as the Randstad, where the public transport infrastructure is excellent. A network of well-maintained highways and other roads covers the Netherlands, making car travel convenient, although traffic is exceptionally heavy around the bigger cities, especially on the roads in the Randstad, and those approaching the North Sea beaches on summer weekends. There are no tolls on roads or highways. Major European highways leading into Amsterdam from the borders are E19 from western Belgium; E25 from eastern Belgium; and E22, E30, and E35 from Germany. Follow the signs for “Centrum” to reach the center of the city. At rush hour, traffic is dense but not so dense as to become stationary.

Rental Cars

The major car-rental firms have convenient booths at Schiphol and all the region’s airports, but the airports charge rental companies a fee that is passed on to customers, so you’ll get a better deal at downtown locations. You must be at least 21 years old to rent cars from most agencies. Some agencies require renters to be 25. You can drive in the Netherlands and Belgium with a valid U.S. driver’s license.

Most major American rental-car companies have offices or affiliates in the Netherlands, but the rates are generally better if you make an advance reservation from abroad rather than from within Holland. Rates vary from company to company; daily rates start at approximately €35 for a one-day rental, €70 for a three-day rental, and €160 for a week. This may not include collision insurance or airport fee. Tax is included and weekly rates often include unlimited mileage. Most cars in Europe are stick-shift. An automatic transmission will cost a little extra. Rental cars are European brands and range from economy, such as a Fiat 500, to luxury, such as a Mercedes. They will always be in good condition. It is also possible to rent minivans.

Signage on country roads is usually pretty good, but be prepared to patiently trail behind cyclists blithely riding two abreast (which is illegal), even when the road is not wide enough for you to pass.

Gasoline

Many of the gas stations in the Netherlands (especially those on the high-traffic motorways) are open 24 hours. Those that aren’t open 24 hours generally open early in the morning, around 6 or 7, and close late at night, around 10 or 11. Unleaded regular costs about €1.70 per liter, and major credit cards are widely accepted. If you pay with cash and need a receipt, ask for a bon.

Parking

Parking space is at a premium in Amsterdam as in most towns, especially in the Centrum (historic town center), which has narrow, one-way streets and large areas given over to pedestrians. Most neighborhoods are metered 9 am–2 am, so it’s a good idea (if not the only option) to leave your car only in designated parking areas. Parkeergarages (parking garages) are indicated by a white “P” in a blue square. Illegally parked cars in Amsterdam get clamped by the Dienst Parkeerbeheer (Parking Authority) and, after 24 hours, if you haven’t paid for the clamp to be removed, towed. You’ll be towed immediately in some areas of the city. If you get clamped, a sticker on the windshield indicates where you should go to pay the fine (which can be more than €300).

Road Conditions

Holland has excellent roads, but there is a great deal of traffic using it every day, as you might expect from a country with a high population density. In cities, you’ll usually be driving on narrow one-way streets and sharing the road with other cars, buses, trams, and bicyclists, so remain alert at all times. When driving on smaller roads in cities, you must yield to traffic coming from the right. Traffic lights are located before intersections, rather than after intersections as in the United States. Traffic circles are very popular and come in all sizes. Driving outside of cities is very easy; roads are very smooth and clearly marked with signs. Traffic during peak hours (7–9 am and 4–7 pm) is constantly plagued with files (traffic jams), especially in the western part of the country. If you’re going to drive here, you must be assertive. Drivers are very aggressive; they tailgate and change lanes at high speeds. All road signs use international driving symbols. Electronic message boards are used on some freeways to warn of traffic jams and to slow traffic down to 90, 70, or 50 kph.

Roadside Emergencies

If you haven’t joined a motoring organization, the ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club) offers 24-hour road assistance in the Netherlands. If you aren’t a member, you can call the ANWB after breaking down, but you must pay a €150 charge plus a further €95 for an on-the-spot membership. Emergency crews may not accept credit cards when they pick you up. If your automobile association is affiliated with the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT), and you have proof of membership, you might be entitled to free help–-check your plan. To call for assistance call their 24-hour emergency line or their information number for details about their road rescue service.

Rules of the Road

Driving is on the right in the Netherlands, and regulations are largely the same as in the United States. Speed limits are 130 kph (75 mph) on superhighways and 50 kph (30 mph) on urban roads. Some cities also have 30 kph (20 mph) zones around schools. In the Netherlands, the limit on standard rural highways is 80 kph (50 mph), or 100 kph (62 mph) if the traffic in each direction is separated by a central barrier. For safe driving, go with the flow, stay in the slow lane unless you want to pass, and make way for faster cars wanting to pass you. In cities and towns, approach crossings with care; local drivers may exercise the principle of priority for traffic from the right with some abandon. Although the majority of cyclists observe the stoplights and general road signs, many expect you, even as a driver, to give way. The latest ruling states that unless otherwise marked, all traffic coming from the right has priority, even bicycles. The driver and front-seat passenger are required to wear seat belts, and other passengers are required to wear available seat belts.

Using a handheld mobile phone is illegal while driving, but you are allowed to drive while using a headset or earpiece. Turning right on a red light is not permitted. Fines for driving after drinking are heavy, including the suspension of license and the additional possibility of six months’ imprisonment.

Fog can be a danger on highways in late fall and winter. In such cases, it is obligatory to use your fog lights.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

The Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf or GBV runs Amsterdam’s public transport system, which includes a metro (subway) system, buses, trams, and ferries.

Ferries

Four GVB ferry lines leave from Centraal Station, including one running all night, but not all are of interest to tourists. The Buiksloterwegveer leaves from the pier behind Centraal Station every 8–15 minutes day and night. The ferry transports pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists across the IJ channel to North Amsterdam. There is no fee for the service and the trip takes about five minutes.

Metro

Amsterdam has a subway system, called the metro, but travelers generally find trams and buses more convenient for getting around, as most metro stops are geared for city residents traveling to the outer suburbs. There are four metro lines, including the express tram (sneltram), that serve Amsterdam and the surrounding suburbs. A fifth, the much-vaunted Nord-Zuid metro line, is still being built after lengthy delays—and is the cause of all the construction work you may see around Amsterdam Centraal Station.

It’s possible to transfer from the metro to trains at several shared stops, either by crossing the platform or merely going outside to an adjacent train station. Line No. 50 (Ringlijn) travels from Isolatorweg in the northeastern part of the city to Gein, a southeastern suburb. Line Nos. 51, 53, and 54 all start at Centraal Station and follow the same routes until they head into the suburbs. They act as a subway from Centraal Station to Amstel Station, then whiz along the rest of the routes above ground, parting ways at Spaklerweg. The No. 51 passes through Buitenveldert, stopping at the VU and continuing south into Amstelveen. The No. 53 passes Diemen and ends up southeast in Gaasperplas. The No. 54 also travels southeast and shares the rest of its route with No. 50, passing through Holendrecht and ending at Gein.

Trams and Buses

Many tram and bus routes start from the hub at Centraal Station. A large bus depot is on the Marnixstraat, across from the main police station. Trams and buses run about 6 am–12:30 am daily. The tram routes, with a network of 80 miles of track, make this form of transport more useful than the bus for most tourists. Night owls can make use of the hourly night-bus services, some of which double frequency on Friday and Saturday night.

Between stops, trams brake only when absolutely necessary, so listen for warning bells if you are walking or cycling near tramlines. Taxis often use tramlines, but other cars are allowed onto them only when turning right. As with all urban systems of transportation, keep an eye out for pickpockets.

There are 15 tramlines servicing the city. Tram Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 13, 16, 17, 24, and 26 all start and end their routes at Centraal Station. The trams that are most frequently used by visitors are the Nos. 1, 2, and 5, which stop at the big central Dam Square and, along with Nos. 7 and 10, also stop at Leidseplein square. The Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 12 will get you to Museumplein and the Museum District. Tram Nos. 2, 5, 16, and 24 travel through Amsterdam’s chic Zuid district. The No. 4 tram stops in De Pijp and at the RAI convention center and the No. 5 will take you to Station South/World Trade Center. The remaining lines pass through East and West Amsterdam and take you farther outside the center city (Centrum) to areas generally more off-the-beaten-track for tourists.

More than 40 GVB buses cover all the city’s neighborhoods and are a good way to get closer to specific addresses.

Tickets

To get around by bus, tram, or metro you’ll need an OV-chipkaart (public transport chip card)—an electronic payment system, which you hold up to a detector each time you board and leave any bus or tram. You can buy them preloaded at metro, train, and bus stations, or from some magazine kiosks. The cards are debited according to the distance traveled; you can add value to them at machines in the stations. Visit the OV-chipkaart website (www.ov-chipkaart.nl) or call the help desk (0900/0980) for more information. You can also buy one-hour tickets from bus/tram drivers, although this works out to be more expensive. The OV-chipkaart can also be used on trains (the check-in/check-out detectors for the trains are clearly marked and in the railway stations, not on board). You have to activate your card for rail travel at one of the OV ticket machines at a railway station. Teams of ticket inspectors occasionally make spot checks on trams and buses. This doesn’t happen often but if you are checked and your OV-chipkaart hasn’t been checked in, you face a fine.

Besides the OV-chipkaart system, in Amsterdam you can also buy 24-, 48-, 72-, 96-, 120-, 144-, and 168-hour travel-anywhere tickets (€7.50 for one day, €12 for two days, €16.50 for three days, €21 for four days, €26 for five days, €29.50 for six days, €32 for seven days), which cover all urban bus and tram routes operated by the GVB. Fares are often reduced for children ages 4–11 and for people who are 65 years or older.

The electronic I amsterdam Card provides free or discounted admission to many top attractions and free use of public transport. These can be bought online or from tourist offices in Amsterdam, and cost €59, €69, or €79 for two, three, or four days, respectively.

TAXI TRAVEL

Vacant taxis on the move in Amsterdam are often on call to their dispatcher. Occasionally, if you get lucky, they’ll stop for you if you hail them, but the regular practice is to wait by a taxi stand or telephone for a taxi. Taxi stands are at the major squares and in front of the large hotels. You can also call Taxicentrale Amsterdam (TCA), the main dispatching office. A 5-km (3-mile) ride will cost about €20. An interesting alternative in the city is the WielerTaxi (bike taxi), which resembles a larger version of a child’s pedal car (it’s not very practical in the rain).

TRAIN TRAVEL

Dutch trains are modern and the quickest way to travel between city centers in the country. Service is relatively frequent, with a minimum of two departures per hour for each route, and often more. Although many Dutch people complain about delays, the trains usually run roughly on time. Most staff speak English. Reserving a seat is not possible.

Intercity trains can come double-decker; they stop only at major stations. Sprinters (local trains) usually take in all or most stops on a route, so they are slower. Smoking is not permitted on trains and permitted only in designated zones in stations.

On most trains, you have the choice of first or second class. First-class travel costs around 50% more (depending on the length of the journey), and on local trains gives you a slightly larger seat in a compartment that is less likely to be full. At peak travel times, first-class train travel is worth the difference.

Train tickets for travel within the country can be purchased at the last minute. Normal tickets are either enkele reis (one-way) or retour (round-trip). Round-trip tickets cost approximately 75% of two single tickets. They are valid only on the day you buy them, unless you ask specifically for a ticket with a different date. You can get on and off at will at stops in between your destinations until midnight. You can also use the OV-chipkaart, but remember to activate it for rail travel beforehand, to check in on the platform before you board, and to check out when you leave the train.

You can buy tickets at the ticket desk or at the yellow touch-screen ticket machines in every railway station. These machines accept debit cards and credit cards with a four-digit PIN code. Fares are slightly lower than if you visit a manned ticket desk. Note that you can’t buy tickets aboard the trains, and you risk a hefty fine if you board and travel without one.

Train fares in Holland are lower than in most other European countries, but you can still save money by looking into rail passes—there is a host of special saver tickets that make train travel even cheaper. If you don’t plan to cover many miles, then you’re better off buying individual tickets; a dagkaart (unlimited travel pass for one day) costs €51.40 second-class, €87.40 first-class, but it is almost impossible to rack up enough miles to make it worthwhile. Short of flying, taking the Channel Tunnel is the fastest way to cross the English Channel: it’s 35 minutes from Folkestone to Calais, 60 minutes from motorway to motorway, or a little over two hours from London’s St. Pancras Station to Brussels, where you can change to a Thalys train to Amsterdam.

ADDRESSES

With a history as venerable as Holland’s, it’s no surprise that many of the country’s straten, or streets, take their names from its famous sons and daughters. In Amsterdam, for one example, Hugo de Grootstraat honors Delft’s noted lawyer-philosopher (straat is “street”). In addition, you get all the variations: Hugo de Grootkade (kade is a street running parallel to a canal), Hugo de Grootplein (plein is “square”), etc. In Amsterdam, there’s even an Eerste, Tweede, and Derde (first, second, and third) Hugo de Grootstraat.

Other geographical terms to keep in mind are a dwarsstraat, which runs perpendicular to another street or canal, such as Leidsestraat and Leidsedwarsstraat. A straatje is a small street; a weg is a road; a gracht a canal; a steeg a very small street; a laan is a lane or avenue. Baan is another name for a road—not quite a highway, but busier than an average street. Note that in the Netherlands, the house number always comes after the street name on addresses.

The Dutch also have an infinite range of names for bodies of water, from gracht to singel to kanaal (all meaning “canal”). The difference between a singel and a gracht is hard to define, even for a Dutch person. In fact, the names can be doubly confusing because sometimes there is no water at all—many grachten have been filled in by developers to make room for houses, roads, and so on. Near harbor areas you’ll notice havens (harbors), named after the goods that ships used to bring in, like Wijnhaven (Wine Harbor) in Rotterdam.

Amsterdam streets radiate outward from Centraal Station; in general, street numbers go up as you move away from the station. Don’t let common address abbreviations confuse you. BG stands for Begane Grond (ground floor); SOUS for Souterrain (basement); HS for Huis (a ground-floor apartment or main entry). Common geographical abbreviations include str. for straat (street); gr. for gracht (canal); and pl. for plein(square). For example: Leidsestr. or Koningspl.

COMMUNICATIONS

Internet

If you’re traveling with a laptop, take a spare battery and an electrical-plug adapter with you, as new batteries and replacement adapters are expensive. Many hotels are equipped with jacks for computers with Internet connections, and almost all have Wi-Fi. Some offer this service to hotel guests for free; others charge for access.

Phones

The country code for the Netherlands is 31. The area code for Amsterdam is 020. To call an Amsterdam number within Amsterdam, you don’t need the city code: just dial the seven-digit number. To call Amsterdam from elsewhere in the Netherlands, dial 020 at the start of the number. In addition to the standard city codes, there are three other prefixes used: public information numbers starting with 0800 are free phone numbers, but be aware that information lines with the prefix 0900 are charged at premium rates (up to €1.40 per call). Numbers starting with 06 indicate mobile phones. Mobile signal strength is good throughout the country.

The area codes for other Dutch cities are: Delft, 015; Rotterdam, 010; Utrecht, 030; Haarlem, 023; The Hague, 070.

When dialing a Dutch number from abroad, drop the initial zero from the local area code. Someone calling from New York, for example, to Amsterdam would dial 011 + 31 + 20 + the seven-digit phone number.

To reach an operator, dial 0800/0410. To make a collect call, or dial toll-free to a number outside the Netherlands, dial 0800/0101.

Calling Outside

When dialing from the Netherlands overseas, the country code is 00–1 for the United States and Canada, 00–61 for Australia, and 00–44 for the United Kingdom. All mobile and landline phones in Holland are 10 digits long (although some helplines and information centers have fewer digits).

Calling Cards

Telephone cards are no longer used in public phone booths in the Netherlands. They accept credit cards instead, or local chip cards (available only with Dutch bank passes).

Mobile Phones

British standard cell phones work in the Netherlands, but American and Canadian standard (non-satellite) cell phones may not. If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies than what’s used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, Cingular, and Verizon), you may be able to use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call because text messages have a low set fee. If you’d like to rent a cell phone while traveling, reserve one at least four days before your trip, as most companies will ship it to you before you travel. CellularAbroad rents cell phones packaged with prepaid SIM cards that give you a local cell phone number and calling rates. Planetfone rents GSM phones, which can be used in more than 100 countries. If you just want to make local calls, your best bet may be to consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.

If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

ELECTRICITY

The electrical current in the Netherlands is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take Continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.

Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and mobile phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate on either 110 and 220 volts), so require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.

EMERGENCIES

Police, Ambulance, and Fire. 112.

Police Headquarters. Amsterdam’s police headquarters is at the crossing Marnixstraat/Elandsgracht and can be reached with Tram No. 3, 7, 12, or 17.

HOURS OF OPERATION

Banks are open weekdays from 9 or 10 am to 6 or 7 pm, with some extending their business hours to coordinate with late-night shopping. Some banks are closed Monday mornings.

Apotheken (pharmacies) are open weekdays from 8 or 9 to 5:30 or 6. There are always pharmacies on call during the weekend.

Most shops are open on Monday 1–6, Tuesday–Saturday 9–6. Thursday is a late-night shopping night—Koopavond (buying evening)—with stores staying open until 9. Markten (markets) selling fruit, flowers, and other wares run from 10 to 4 or sometimes 5. Small avondwinkels or nachtwinkels (late-night shops) selling food, wine, and toiletries, are open from afternoon to midnight or later. Most supermarkets are open daily from 7:30 or 8 am until 10 pm.

MONEY

Prices in Amsterdam are considered reasonable in comparison with those in main cities in other European countries.

Here are some sample prices: admission to the Rijksmuseum is €17.50; the cheapest seats at the Stadsschouwburg theater usually run €15 for plays and opera. It’s €8–€12 for a ticket at a movie theater (depending on time of show). Entrance fee to a nightclub might set you back €5–€25. A daily English-language newspaper is €3–€5. A taxi ride (1⅓ km, or ¾ mile) costs about €8. An inexpensive hotel room for two, including breakfast, is about €75–€130, an inexpensive dinner is €25–€40 for two, and a half-liter carafe of house wine is €8–€10. A simple sandwich item on the menu runs about €3.50, a cup of coffee €1.80. A Coke is €2.50, and a half-liter of beer is €5.

Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.

ATMs and Banks

Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.

PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.

The Dutch word for ATM is geldautomaat. They are widespread, and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The majority of machines work with Maestro, Cirrus, and Plus networks.

Credit Cards

It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.

If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.

Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases, you’ll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.

Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don’t always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn’t an option.

Major credit cards are accepted in most hotels, gas stations, restaurants, cafés, shops.

Currency and Exchange

The euro is the official currency of the Netherlands. At this writing, 1 EUR = 1.09 USD. Shop around for the best exchange rates (and also check the rates before leaving home).

There are eight coins—1 and 2 euros, plus 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents. Bills are 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, 100-, 200-, and 500-euro notes. Because of counterfeiting concerns, few shops and restaurants will accept notes higher in value than 50 euros. If you do find yourself with higher denominations, change them in a bank. The Dutch also consider the 1- and 2-cent coins to be an irritation, and many shops round prices up or down to the nearest 5 cents.

These days, the easiest way to get euros is through a geldautomaat. You can find them in airports, train stations, and throughout the cities. ATM rates are excellent because they are based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks. At exchange booths always confirm the rate with the teller before exchanging money—you won’t do as well at exchange booths in airports, or in hotels, restaurants, or stores. To avoid lines at airport exchange booths, get some euros before you leave home.

GWK Travelex is a nationwide financial organization specializing in foreign currencies, where travelers can exchange cash, receive cash against major credit cards, and receive Western Union money transfers. Many of the same services are available at banks.

Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there’s some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh . . . that’s right. The sign didn’t say “no fee.”) And as for rates, you’re almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.

Exchange Services in Amsterdam

GWK Travelex (bureau de change). Throughout the Netherlands, GWK Travelex (bureau de change) branches are found in or near railway stations.

PACKING

When coming to the Netherlands, be flexible: pack an umbrella (or two—the topography results in a blustery wind, which makes short work of a lightweight frame); bring a raincoat (with a thick liner in winter), and always have a sweater or jacket handy. For daytime wear and casual evenings, turtlenecks and thicker shirts are ideal for winter, under a sweater. Unpredictable summer weather means that a long-sleeved cotton shirt and jacket could be perfect one day, whereas the next, a T-shirt is as much as you need. Layers are always a good idea.

Essentially, laid-back is the norm. Stylewise, anything goes. Men aren’t required to wear ties or jackets, except in some smarter hotels and exclusive restaurants; jeans are very popular and worn out in the evenings. Cobblestone streets make walking in high heels perilous—you don’t want a wrenched ankle.

PASSPORTS

All U.S., Canadian, and U.K. citizens—even infants—need only a valid passport to enter the Netherlands for stays of up to 90 days. Note that your passport must be valid for at least three months from your planned date of departure.

It’s a good idea to always carry your passport with you, even if think you don’t need one, for example, if traveling between the Netherlands and other countries within the European Schengen agreement (which includes Belgium, France, and Germany, but not the United Kingdom).

Before your trip, make two copies of your passport’s data page (one for someone at home and another for you to carry separately). Or scan the page and email it to someone at home and/or yourself.

RESTROOMS

Restrooms (toiletten or WC in Dutch) in restaurants, bars, and other public places in the Netherlands are generally very clean, and most are free, although you may have to pay a few cents to an attendant in some cafés, and up to €0.50 in stations. A few older cafés and bars here may have only one unisex restroom. Women shouldn’t be surprised to find a urinal, possibly in use, next to the washbasin in such establishments.

SAFETY

The crime rate in Amsterdam is exceptionally low, so having your bike stolen is the worst thing most likely to happen to you. Still, in crowded intersections and dark alleys, it’s always best to be streetwise and take double safety precautions; it may be best to keep your money in a money belt and not flaunt your expensive camera. Be especially wary of pickpockets in crowds and while riding the tram. And use common sense when going out at night. Keep to well-lighted areas and take a taxi if you’re going to unfamiliar places. Although it’s easy to lose yourself in a romantic 18th-century haze taking a midnight stroll along the canals in Amsterdam, remember that muggings do very occasionally occur. Late at night, it may be best to keep to the main thoroughfares and not venture down deserted streets.

Distribute your cash, credit cards, IDs, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don’t reach for the money pouch once you’re in public.

TAXES

Hotels in Holland always include the service charge and the 6% V.A.T. (BTW in Dutch) in the room rate. Tourist tax is never included and is a few euros extra. If in doubt, inquire when booking. In restaurants, you pay 6% V.A.T. on food items and 21% V.A.T. on beverages, all of which are included in the quoted menu prices. V.A.T. is 21% on clothes and luxury goods, 6% on basic goods. On consumer goods, it is always included in the amount on the price tag, so you can’t actually see what percentage you’re paying.

When making a purchase, ask for a V.A.T. refund form and find out whether the merchant gives refunds—not all stores do, nor are they required to. Have the form stamped like any customs form by customs officials when you leave the country or, if you’re visiting several EU countries when you leave the EU. Note that you should not pack your purchases in your checked luggage as you’ll typically need to show them to the customs officer. After you’re through passport control, take the form to a refund-service counter for an on-the-spot refund (which is usually the quickest and easiest option), or mail it to the address on the form (or the envelope with it) after you arrive home. You receive the total refund stated on the form, but the processing time can be long, especially if you request a credit-card adjustment.

Global Blue is a worldwide service with more than 270,000 affiliated stores and refund counters at major airports and border crossings. Its refund form, called a Tax Free Form, is the most common across the European Continent. The service issues refunds in the form of cash or credit-card adjustment.

TIPPING

In Dutch restaurants, a service charge of about 5% is often included in menu prices. Round the bill up to a convenient figure, or leave a few euros extra, if you’ve really enjoyed the meal and feel that the service was exceptional. If were not satisfied, don’t leave anything. Leave the tip as change rather than putting it on your credit card. Tipping 15%–20% of the cost of a meal is not common practice in the Netherlands. Though a service charge is also included in hotel, taxi, bar, and café bills, the Dutch mostly round up the change to the nearest two to four euros for large bills and to the nearest euro for smaller ones. Consider tipping in bars only if you were served at a table. Restroom attendants and cloakroom attendants usually have fixed charges that are clearly displayed and do not require tipping.

If service is not included, people often round up a bit when paying, but it isn’t offensive to pay the exact amount. Taxi drivers also appreciate a rounding up of the bill, but again, paying the exact amount is perfectly acceptable. Railway porters expect €1 per item. For bellhops and doormen at both hotels and nightspots, a few euros is adequate. Bartenders are tipped only for notably good service; again, rounding off is sufficient.

TRIP INSURANCE

Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.

Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.