Schiphol Airport (IATA: AMS) is one of the busiest airports in the world, situated 15 km southwest of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It serves the city of Amsterdam and the surrounding area, with connecting flights to destinations in Asia, Europe and North America. It is home to KLM, the Dutch flag carrier airline and the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name.
Schiphol is divided in many different zones. The ground floor before passport control has the entrance of the airport, the railway station (with the platforms underground), the four Arrivals halls, and Schiphol Plaza, the central shopping zone. On the 1st floor you can find the check-in desks and Departure Halls 1, 2 and 3. From this floor you can go to passport control and enter the transit area.
The area after passport control is known as Schiphol World Avenue and has four sections: Lounge 1, Lounge 2, Holland Boulevard and Lounge 3. Holland Boulevard is the area's central plaza with a casino and a museum. Gates B-H can be accessed from all of these lounges. Lounge 4 for low-cost carriers is completely separated and only connects with gate M. It has very few facilities.
Schiphol opened on 16 September 1916 as a military airbase, with a few barracks and a field serving as platform and runways. When civil aircraft started to use the field (17 December 1920), it was often called Schiphol-les-bains. The Fokker aircraft manufacturer started a factory near Schiphol Airport in 1919. Schiphol's name is derived from a former fortification named Fort Schiphol which was part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam. Before 1852, the Haarlemmermeer polder in which the airport lies was a large lake, in the shallow waters of which sudden violent storms could claim many ships. This was the main reason for reclaiming it. In English, Schiphol translates to 'ship grave', a reference to the many ships lost in the area.
KLM was founded on 7 October 1919 by Albert Plesman, making it the oldest carrier in the world still operating under its original name, though the company stopped operating during World War II—apart from the operations in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean. The first KLM flight was on 17 May 1920, from Croydon Airport, London to Amsterdam carrying two British journalists and a number of newspapers. In 1921 KLM started scheduled services, and by 1926 it was offering flights to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Paris, London, Bremen, Copenhagen and Malmö. Intercontinental flights to the Netherlands East Indies started in 1929. This was for several years the world's longest scheduled air route.
On 1 November 1958 the airline opened the trans-polar route from Amsterdam via Anchorage to Tokyo. Each crew flying the transpolar route over the Arctic was equipped with a winter survival kit, including an AR-10 carbine for use against polar bears in the event the plane was forced down onto the polar ice. KLM merged with Air France in May 2004 to form Air France-KLM, but both airlines continue to fly under their distinct brand names.
KLM and its partner Delta Air Lines offer worldwide connections. Asia, Europe and North America are particularly well served. British Airways offer up to 15 flights per day to three airports in London. Transavia, Jet2, Easyjet and other low-cost carriers provide a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other cities in Europe.
Schiphol has one giant terminal with all facilities under a single roof radiating from the central plaza (Holland Boulevard). The area is divided into three lounges designated 1, 2 and 3. Gates or concourses are connected to these lounges, but it is possible to walk from one gate to another, even to those connected to different lounges. The exception to this is Lounge 4: it is connected to gate M for low-cost carriers, and once past security, passengers cannot access any other lounges or gates. Lounge 4 has very few facilities.
Few airlines and destinations have a dedicated gate. KLM and Transavia use all gates except H and M.
- Lounge 1 consists of gates B and C, dedicated to Schengen areas.
- Lounge 2 consists of gates D and E. Gate D has two levels. The lower floor is used for non-Schengen flights, the upper floor for Schengen flights. Gate E is a dedicated non-Schengen area.
- Lounge 3 consists of gates F, G and H. They serve non-Schengen areas. Gate H is used by low-cost carriers.
- Lounge 4 consists of gate M, a dedicated Schengen area for low-cost carriers.
From Schiphol there is a direct train to Amsterdam Centraal, for €4.00 (or €8.00 for same-day return) using an OV-chipkaart (€5.00 single and €9.00 return on a single-use card), in 20 min. Most major destinations in the Netherlands can be reached from Schiphol either directly or with a single transfer. Use the ticket machines or ticket desks. Not all machines accept credit or debit cards, and those that do require chip-and-PIN cards. Alternatively, you can buy a Amsterdam Travel Ticket, which includes a train return ticket to and from Schiphol to any of Amsterdam's stations, plus unlimited travel on all GVB trams, metros and (night)busses for 1, 2 or 3 days.
The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall; trains to Amsterdam Centraal usually run from platform 1 or 2. Note: this is not specific, one is never sure which platform it arrives. Information signs are updated when the train enters the tunnel. It is the same platform, though it matters on which side the train stops. This is why you'll see a lot of locals and tourists waiting just at the end of the escalators or stairs. They eventually go to the right track when it is updated.
For most destinations there are 1 or 2 trains per hour, for more regional destinations trains are more frequent. There are 4 to 5 trains per hour between Schiphol and Amsterdam in peak times. Regional trains run all night, although between 1am and 5am only once an hour. The price and duration of the journey are the same as during the day. However, trains for further destinations will generally not run at night. Check before you travel.
Many trains southbound from Amsterdam stop at Schiphol then continue on to Belgium or France. If you are going to one of those countries, it is usually possible to pick up a train direct from Schiphol.
If you are desperately trying to save money or are staying near Leidseplein, you could use local transport from Schiphol to central Amsterdam. A trip takes about 30 min and leads directly to the south-west of the centre of Amsterdam (namely Museumplein and Leidseplein). Take local bus 197 which costs you €2.91 to Leidseplein using the OV-chipkaart (see Netherlands#OV-chipkaart types and obtaining a card), or €5.00 on board.
Bus 197 currently runs every 15 min for most of the day, daily from 5:01AM till midnight. From midnight till 5AM, night buses run to and from the airport. If you don't want to change buses, take night bus N97 for €4. This bus runs once an hour.
Do not use a taxi unless there is no alternative; travel to Schiphol by train or by bus, if possible. Taxis from Schiphol are expensive and priced unexpectedly. You pay around €7.50 (as of Oct 08) as a minimum charge and that includes the first 2 km. Then the meter starts racing. The ride costs about €40-50 to go to, say, the Leidseplein. Depending on the time of day and traffic levels, it could take only 25 min. If you're unlucky, it could take twice as long. Choose the nicest cab as that driver is more likely to be reputable. You don't have to pick the first taxi in line. If possible, reserve a cab up-front , this will ensure a fixed price for the ride.
There is a way to get 50% discount on your ride to Amsterdam or 20% discount to other destinations. Here's how it works: Look for an upcoming TCA taxi (spot the roof light!) at the departure halls (on the first floor). Say 'hello' to the driver while the passengers step off. This works out for you and the driver as he's not allowed to wait for customers at the airport and this way he doesn't have to drive back empty.
By shuttle bus
The Connexxion Hotel Shuttle serves over 100 city centre hotels, with 8-seater shared van departures about every 30 minutes between 6 AM and 9 PM, cost to most city centre destinations €15.50/25.00 one-way/return—more convenient than the train if you have heavy luggage and still cheaper than a taxi. Buses depart from platform A7 and can be reserved for the trip back ☎ +31 38 3394741.
By rental car
If you plan to rent a car for the duration of your stay, Schiphol has several car rental companies on site . Typical opening hours are 6AM-11PM daily. The car rental desk can be found in Schiphol Plaza, on the same level as the Arrivals. The A4 motorway leads straight from Schiphol to the Amsterdam ring road A10, in about 10 min.
If you decided to bring your bicycle on the plane with you, there is a 15-kilometer sign-posted bike route from the airport to Amsterdam. Turn right as you leave the airport terminal: the cycle path starts about 200 metres down the road. There is a map of the cycle paths around Schiphol available on this PDF (green lines are cycle paths).
The airport is large, but you can only get around on foot (and travelator). Expect to walk long distances, especially if arriving on an international flight and connecting to another... likely in another terminal.
If you are entering the European Union, you must go through customs and immigration as well as security processing. During busy times (often) this can take 20-30 or more minutes than just walking to an assigned departure gate. Choose flights with adequate connection times.
Before passport control
- Panorama Terrace (Panoramaterras), 3F (go upstairs from Schiphol Plaza between Arrivals 1 and 2 or at Arrivals 3). Nov-Mar 09:00-17:00, Apr-Oct 07:00-20:00. The panorama terrace at the top floor oversees planes arriving and leaving gates C, D, E and F. Bring your camera or use the telescopes. A Fokker 100 airplane is displayed on the terrace; it has a tiny museum inside about the history of Fokker, the largest Dutch airplane manufacturer. Especially fun for children. There are restaurants and bars on and around the terrace (smoking allowed). Free.
- Sheraton Fitness & Spa, Sheraton Hotel, Schiphol Boulevard 101 (between Schiphol Plaza and the World Trade Center), ☎ +31 20 316-4300. 24 hours daily (sauna, steam room 06:00-23:00). You can get a day pass for an unlimited use of the fitness room, sauna, rainforest showers, steam room and wellness area. €20/day.
After passport control
- Airport Library, Holland Boulevard, Schiphol World Avenue (between gates E and F). The world's first airport library. Reading books and listening to music is mostly done digitally, using tablet computers. You can download the books to your own digital device for reading on your journey. An interesting way to learn more about Dutch culture and literature. Free.
- Airport Park, Lounge 1, Schiphol World Avenue (above gate D). Who would expect a city park right inside an airport terminal? Obviously, it's not an ordinary city park, as the butterflies are projected onto the walls, and the sounds of nature come from the park's speakers. Still, it's the most tranquil environment you'll find in an airport serving millions of travelers each year. Free.
- Holland Casino, Holland Boulevard, Schiphol World Avenue (between gates E and F). 06:30-19:30 daily. A full casino within the airport's terminal walls. Free lockers are provided for hand baggage. A boarding card and valid ID are required for entry, 18+ only. Free.
- Rijksmuseum, Holland Boulevard, Schiphol World Avenue (between gates E and F). 07:00-20:00 daily. Since 9 December 2002 Schiphol has an annex of the acclaimed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in its terminal. The permanent exhibition displays ten works by well-known painters from the Dutch Golden Age (17th century). The temporary exhibition changes a few times a year. Souvenirs are available at the museum shop. Free.
Eat and Drink
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants at the airport, both before and after passport control. Most are quite expensive, so the fast-food joints are the only option if you're on a budget.
- Burger King, Schiphol Plaza. 24 hours. Not just your average Burger King, this is the busiest one in the world with 1.3 million visitors a year. It has never closed since its opening in 1993. But the menu is the still the same. Burgers. €.
- McDonald's Lounge 2, Lounge 2, Schiphol World Avenue. 05:30-21:00 daily. €.
- McDonald's Lounge 3, Lounge 3, Schiphol World Avenue. 06:00-22:00 daily. €.
There are drinking water fountains available throughout the airport, but in the majority of cases these are located before security checks. If you want to fill your empty water bottle after security checks: this might be possible depending on the gate. On piers H and M, toilets are available with cold drinking water, all the way at the end of the pier. At the other piers, the security checks are often arranged by gate, where each gate has its own after-security zone. Depending on the size of this zone, which can be just a waiting room, there might or might not be toilets and taps available.
The most important thing you need to remember in these European airports is the duty laws for the nation it applies to. There are many shopping options in the airport, though.
The free Wi-Fi at the airport is only for one hour per day. They are separated into two 30-minute sessions; you need to agree with the terms and conditions before every session.
Coin-operated storage lockers are located along the main hallway through the transit/departure area, across from the start of the E wing. From €6 per 24 hr, maximum one week.
- citizenM Amsterdam Airport, Jan Plezierweg 2, ☎ +31 20 811-7080. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. A modern budget hotel with trendy design rooms. Every room has Wi-Fi access, films-on-demand and an LCD television. €69-€120.
- Mercure, Lounge 3, Schiphol World Avenue, ☎ +31 20 820-1850. The only full-fledged hotel after passport control. It can only be booked if you are on transit. €85-95.
- Sheraton, Schiphol Boulevard 101, ☎ +31 20 316-4300. €269-616.
- Yotel, Lounge 2, Schiphol World Avenue (near gate D), ☎ +31 20 890-3983. Automatically operated hotel cabins that can be booked by the hour (with a minimum stay of 4 hours). Good for a short nap if you're in onward transit. Food and drinks can be ordered with the computerized interface. Free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel. €46-68 for 4 hours, €10 for any additional hour.
Watch out for pickpockets and baggage thieves on trains: a common trick is a knock on your window to distract you, so that an accomplice can steal your luggage or laptop. Another one is to have an accomplice jam the doors and then steal your luggage. The thief jumps out and the door immediately closes, making it impossible to catch them.
However, in recent years, railway police have made a great effort to reduce this sort of crime; nowadays it is at 'normal', big-city like levels. It however is recommended not to leave your baggage unattended. This is also announced in the station regularly.
Schiphol was built on reclaimed land, and so are the suburban cities around it. Hoofddorp is the closest town, but it only has a few hotels that could be of use. The most popular attractions for tourists are in Amsterdam, a 20 minute train ride.