The Dutch city of Amsterdam has always been popular with tourists, but most visitors have traditionally traveled there by plane. This includes myself. A few years ago, I took a weekend trip from the UK to Amsterdam by air. It was fast, easy, and inexpensive. I never even thought of getting the train. But all of that has changed now, and with rising awareness of climate change, delays and disruptions at airports, and the rising cost of air travel, more and more people are switching to land and sea as better ways to travel.
It takes just under 4 hours to get to Amsterdam from London by train, faster than getting to Edinburgh from London! There used to be a change at Brussels on the way, but it’s now an uninterrupted journey without any stops, making it a smooth and seamless trip. But if you haven’t done it before, there are a few things to bear in mind. Here are my six tips for taking the train from London to Amsterdam.
1. Booking A Ticket
Wherever you plan to travel using the Eurostar, it’s best to book early and directly through its website. You’ll be getting the best price available, and if you book early, you’ll be getting it cheaper than if you purchase closer to your scheduled time. Sometimes tickets can be as low as 20 euros ($19.93) when booked in advance.
Your choice of tickets are: standard, standard premier, and business class. The main difference in these is the amount of legroom you are offered in your seat and the catering options available to you. Business class is roomy with waiter service at your seat and the option of a three-course meal. But standard is still a really good choice. The seats are comfortable and there’s a good variety of snacks and drinks from the canteen. You can download your ticket to your phone, which most travelers do, or you can print it out and use the QR code for scanning at the gates.
2. Be Prepared
Make sure you get to the station at St. Pancras early. If you’re confused about the station in London, know that St. Pancras and Kings Cross appear to be the same building, but they are actually separate, and the Eurostar departs from St. Pancras.
Depending on how busy it is, getting through security can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, so it’s worth getting there in plenty of time. Security isn’t as strict as it is at an airport. You might be asked to remove shoes and belts, though not always, but it’s unlikely you’ll need to take out laptops or liquids from your carry-on bag.
Be ready with your passport, as any member of staff can ask to see it. EU travelers can go through the E gates, but everyone else has to wait in line for their passport to be checked. This can take a while, but again, it depends on how busy the station is on the day you travel. If you’re traveling standard class, make sure to bring some snacks if you don’t want to pay the canteen prices on the train. You can take food onto the train, and it’s much cheaper to buy from a kiosk in the station before you board.
3. Know Your Ticket
The waiting area is a bit like an airport lounge. There’s plenty of seating, so you can relax while you wait. Information about your train will appear on the screens, so keep a look out for boarding. There’s always a bit of a scramble once boarding is announced, but you can take your time to make your way through. Don’t be tempted to join in with the rush, there’s plenty of time to get to the train. The dash for the train can get a bit claustrophobic, so hang back and relax; you’re not going to miss the train because you didn’t stampede forward with the crowd.
Make sure you know your carriage and seat numbers before you approach the train. It’s best to familiarize yourself with these while you relax in the waiting lounge. It can be tricky to move down the train if you’re in the wrong carriage, and as people are maneuvering to find their seats, knowing which one is yours makes your life easier.
4. Enjoy The Journey
One of the greatest things about traveling through Europe by train, rather than plane, is the scenery. You can sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful landscapes you pass. On a plane, all you see is sky and the map-like land below you. On the train, you are literally a part of the landscape you’re moving through.
You’ll be on the train for about 30 minutes before you reach the Channel Tunnel, or ‘Chunnel’ as it’s affectionately termed, and then you’ll be traveling through it for about 20 minutes more. And then, you’ll emerge from the tunnel and travel through stunning scenery in northern France and Belgium, before entering the Netherlands and arriving in Amsterdam. You can sit back and watch this picture-perfect world go by, relax, and enjoy seeing some of France and Belgium before getting to your destination. Have a camera ready, you can capture some action shots and short videos of the scenery as it goes by.
5. Arriving In Amsterdam
When you arrive in Amsterdam, make sure you have your ticket ready, either on your phone or a paper ticket printed out before departure, as you’ll need it to scan in at the NS ticket gate before you can leave.
Amsterdam Central Station is a beautiful old-gothic building and it’s worth spending some time taking in the splendor of the architecture before you head out. It was designed by the same architect who designed the famous Rijksmuseum, which you’ll be able to see in the city. Having studied the station, you’ll see the similarities when you look at the museum. From the station, you have easy access to the metro system if you need to travel any distance to your hotel or you want to explore further afield. You can also pick up a free map of the city from the tourist office in the station, and there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops if you need anything before you head off. The station is right in the center of the city and Amsterdam is very walkable, so you might find your hotel very nearby. The tram system is also right there by the station and you can easily catch a tram to your hotel if need be. The station can serve as a focal point for the city. Once you know where the transport is in relation to the station, you have your bearings.
6. Your Return Journey
I’m unsure if it takes any longer to get through security and passport control in Amsterdam, but officials there ask that you arrive 60–75 minutes before your train is due, rather than the 45–60 minutes that’s recommended in London. Ticket checks close 30 minutes before the train is due to depart and you can access the platform up to 90 minutes before your train. It’s always good to be there in plenty of time, in case there are lines building up and the station is busy. The Eurostar departs from platform 15B, but do check this before you make your way there. You can scan your tickets in the same way you did when you arrived at the Amsterdam station — at the NS ticket gate.
If you’re unsure whether to get the plane or the train from London to Amsterdam, I’d definitely encourage you to try the train. It’s a much more relaxed way to travel, and at just 4 hours, it’s a quick and easy journey to make.
Learn more about Amsterdam in 9 Things To Know Before Your First Trip To Amsterdam.