Do you need a car in Amsterdam?
( AMS )
Amsterdam city centre has a reputation as a cyclists’ paradise and a driver’s nightmare. Is that still the case for the area around the city, and for the rest of the Netherlands? Is Amsterdam car hire ever really an option?
Amsterdam is also world-famous as a party city, with its infamous red light district and coffee shops. We presume that you already know this, so we won’t waste much time simply regurgitating the obvious: For a short stay in the centre of Amsterdam, there is absolutely no point whatsoever in even considering hiring a car.
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So, when we look at Amsterdam car hire, we’re looking at a longer trip. This might be using Amsterdam as a base or a start point for exploring not just the local area, but the significant hinterland beyond.
Do you need a car in Amsterdam? Reasons why you might!
In and around Amsterdam
- Good roads: Whilst it is true that many more journeys in the Netherlands are made by bike than they are in the UK or the USA, the quality of the roads is still very high. Because public transport is also of a very high standard, there is less congestion. This means there is more space on the roads for those people who do want to drive.
- The Netherlands also has three times as many miles of motorway per capita as the UK does, so it is easy to get around by any means.
- Low congestion – it’s actually a great myth to say you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” drive in Amsterdam, especially if you are staying in a suburban location and travelling around the country. Because it has such a well developed cycling and public transport network, Amsterdam is actually one of the least congested major cities in Europe. You will find the same situation in other Dutch cities too. The emphasis is always on encouraging alternatives, and restricting “through” traffic in town centres.
- Cost of trains: We (in the UK or the USA) might look to the Netherlands as having a high standard of public transport, but the trains are still relatively pricey on a per mile basis. There are no off-peak or advance purchase discounts for visitors. Bring over a family, and a hire car easily works out as better value than going by train.
Driving beyond the Amsterdam area
- Get out: This isn’t just about the city centre of Amsterdam — Schiphol airport is a gateway for a vast hinterland beyond Amsterdam itself. There are so many flight routes operating here that aren’t available at many of the other nearby airports, or even at major neighbouring cities like Brussels or Dusseldorf.
- Architecture: Architecture buffs will find that the Netherlands is full of all kinds of interesting historic and modern buildings. These are sometimes in small towns or in the suburbs — even bland industrial units in the Netherlands can often be meticulously put together. The best way to conduct a self-guided architectural tour is to have the flexibility of a car. Of particular note are the unique self built houses in the new city of Almere, the cube houses in Rotterdam. You could also follow the Dudok trail in Hilversum. It’s also worth diverting to look at the three bridges designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in Hoofddorp, near Schiphol Airport.
- Engineering Polders: The Netherlands has an impressive system of holding back the sea, a feat regarded by many engineers as one of the most impressive pieces of civil engineering in the 20th century. You will find a car useful to drive across Ijsselmeer using the N302 or the A7 Afsluitdijk. Even though this is a motorway crossing, a slow (and cycling) lane is still available – if you can tolerate the wind!
- Rivers & Islands: To explore the many mouths of the Rhine or the relatively deserted islands of the Waddenzee, a car is essential.
- Dutch landscapes: A hire car is best to appreciate the typical Dutch springtime landscape of tulips, canals and windmills – but a bike will do as well.
Amsterdam area without a car
- Obvious isn’t it? Cities in Netherlands are tightly packed — easy to get between, and even easier to get around.
- Bike it: Cycle hire facilities are widely available at Amsterdam Centraal and most major NS railway stations, no pre-booking required.
- Canals: Amsterdam is a city of canals, surely the best way of getting around is to take a boat trip?
- Public transport is excellent, who needs to even consider a rental car?
Beyond Amsterdam without a car
- Nationwide Travelcard: To use the public transport network, users can purchase an OV-Chipkaart, which works nationwide. The cost is €7.50 for a pay as you go card.
- High Speed Trains: The FYRA train takes you direct from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Rotterdam in just 27 minutes. Thalys provides rapid connections to Antwerp and Brussels. Heading in the other direction, regular fast German ICE train services provide links to Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Cologne and beyond. Note that the dedicated FYRA trains have been cancelled due to endless technical problems. A traditional locomotive hauled service currently operates, taking a minute or two longer. FYRA is still fast because it makes very few stops.
Do you need a car in Amsterdam? For longer stays with more flexibility for travelling between Dutch cities and enjoying the Dutch landscape, a hire car is certainly useful, but by no means essential.
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