Amsterdam: Tips for navigating Schipol Airport


Schipol Airport in Amsterdam
Welcome to Amsterdam. Photo by jack_nealy

Schipol Airport in Amsterdam gets its name from its former days as a large lake where ships easily sunk from bad weather – the translation literally means “ship hole” (insert joke here).  It’s the third largest airport in Europe and in the world for international passenger traffic. To help keep you afloat, here are some tips on getting in and out quickly and at ease.

Trains are below the terminal

The Dutch are amazing at making the most of a small space. The entire airport train station is located down, way down, below the main passenger area. Escalator ramps tow visitors to the lower deck, while train departure information can be checked from the main floor. (FYI: It’s about a 20-minute trip to Amsterdam Central Station.)

Train tickets? Head to the yellow kiosks

Yellow electronic box kiosks are placed throughout the passenger terminal area and serve as a fast and easy way to buy a train ticket to your destination. All are locked and loaded with a touch screen, credit card payment (and coins) and English language option (see the UK flag on the bottom right of the screen). It takes just a few minutes and beats waiting in line to buy the same yellow ticket from the service desk.

You have nothing to declare, period

When it comes to Dutch airport authority, be polite yet direct. Never have a vague purpose for your trip; always have an answer. The Declarations wing is not for tourists or travelers, and just because you arrive from an international flight does not mean you have to stop each time you see an official.

“Americans might think they need to go through customs, but they just have to walk through Nothing To Declare without looking guilty,” says Lynelle Barrett, an editor at, an info site for expatriates. “That can save you from getting caught in a situation you don’t have to deal with in the first place.”

Leave your Amsterdam “trinkets” in Amsterdam

Departing from Schipol to catch a flight home? Regardless of where you’re going, soft drugs like marijuana are illegal to traffic – and that’s exactly what you’re doing if you don’t toss your party favors before boarding. Not to mention the obvious truth of these substances most likely being illegal where you land. Any trace can be detected, counted, and lead to serious trouble.

Tulips and cheese

Tulips going to the US need an official gold stamp, or seal, to certify it is safe to plant this bulb in American soil. These stamps can be purchased for a few euros from the flower shop, and some bulb bags might already have this seal. Either way, be 100 percent sure you’ve got the gold – it would be a pity to dump Dutch tulips with your liquids.

Dutch farm cheese is tricky – it depends on your customs officer. The rule is any cheese coming in to the US must be pasteurized, and this is not always the case in Europe. To up your chances, wrap your cheese well and go for the hard stuff.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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5 thoughts on “Amsterdam: Tips for navigating Schipol Airport”

  1. When you first arrive at the airport, don’t give in to the temptation of getting in line at the Starbucks in the main lobby. There is a bigger, yet way less crowded Starbucks at the end of the concourse by Departure 3. There’s also another one inside one of the terminals as well (can’t remember which one).

  2. Regarding train tickets: The yellow electronic box kiosks accept only chip & pin credit cards, not the magnetic strip cards U.S. banks issue. Go to the service desk to purchase your tickets with your credit card or Euros. Bit of a hassle but can be done fairly easily.

  3. Here are a few of my tips, though granted they don’t really apply to navigation per se:
    – KPN operates WiFi throughout the airport. You can buy access time with a credit card but you may also be able to login using your own phone company or ISP login details. Check the login page to see they’re on the list. Even better, apparently they now offer 1 hour of internet access free:
    – There are several decent supermarkets near the entrance of the airport and train station where you can buy food to bring on your plane (don’t forget the rules of liquids). The choice is more extensive than the small food kiosks in most of the terminals after security. The Terminal 3 West that EasyJet, among a few others, flies out of has particularly meagre options.
    – KLM flights to other European destinations, particularly less popular ones go out of a distant part of the airport whose gates only open a few minutes before the flights and with little to do nearby. Only bother heading towards the end of the terminal and the gate when the flight is about to board.

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