How to Read Signage in Dutch Train Stations

Hello, impending Netherlands visitors. Today our “Dutch Lesson” covers a basic visitor task: reading train signage. When you find yourself at a train station in the Netherlands, there’s no need to be apprehensive. The Dutch trains mostly run like clockwork, and you can find someone who speaks English if you’re confused. There is usually a multi-lingual help desk in the station itself, and there will also be ticket machines on which you can choose the British flag icon. There are usually public toilets at the train stations (labeled “WC”) that cost 50 cents (a common thing here—actually means they’re reasonably clean).

So here above track 1 in Delft we’ve got the typical sign showing the next train that will arrive on this platform. “Spoor 1” means you’re on track 1. “Vertrek” is the time the train departs; here, 11:47. “Stoptrein” tells you what kind of train this is. A stoptrein is a slower train that stops at all the small stations. The station in larger font in the lower right-hand corner tells you the ultimate destination of the train: Den Haag Centraal. The smaller font stations under “Vertrek” tell you all the stops in order that the train will make along the way. Here we have three intermediate stops; sometimes there are a lot more and sometimes there are none. If you see text in red on this board, that indicates a problem. Usually it’s a delay and the text includes something like “+10.”

Simple, right? So if you get to the station and you don’t know what train you’re going to take, look for an electronic board like this:

Here you can read the departing trains by (columns from left to right) time they depart, ultimate destination, track, kind of train, and stops along the way. There are also yellow poster-size charts of the weekly train schedules, but the most accurate info will be on the electronic boards.

Once you’ve taken your ride (Look for the blue and white signs telling you what station you’re in at stops. If you don’t speak Dutch, the pronunciation of the conductor may throw you off.), follow the signage. Arrows will direct you toward other tracks if you’re changing trains (the signs in this picture that show the numbers 2 and 3 are pointing you to other tracks) or toward the exit and other forms of transportation if you’re done. It’s a safe bet to head toward the centrum—the city center.

You can buy a ticket:

  • ahead of time, on http://ns.nl (within Netherlands) or www.hispeed.nl (international from within the Netherlands). If you can plan ahead, do it, because the international train fares fluctuate and you’ll get the best deal earlier. I am kicking myself for not buying tickets to Paris a month ago!
  • at the station’s help desk (subject to business hours). They will charge you a small fee (I think it’s 50 cents), but they are helpful and can be your best bet if you don’t have a European credit or debit card. See following…
  • at the electronic ticket machines, but this requires you to either have the amount in coin Euros (not bills) (it will give change—don’t need exact) or a pin-encoded card. For example, not our American credit cards.

Residents can buy paper tickets from the machines, or use the transportation debit OV Chipkaart.

If you buy a ticket at the machine, you choose first or second class (second is cheaper and perfectly fine) (when you board, look for the giant numbers on the train cars) and you have the opportunity to choose a “korting”—a discount. You probably don’t have one if you’re a tourist. The discounts come from local programs or resident age distinctions. You can also choose carriage for a bicycle on certain trains (for an extra fee).

If you buy a paper ticket, carry it with you. A worker may come around and check for them. In our experience we rarely get checked, but the fine if you are caught without is high, so best to just buy the ticket. Happy travels!

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