Layover in Amsterdam at Schiphol Airport? Perhaps not even sure which European country you’re in? Allow me to help.
You are in The Netherlands, or Nederland, as the Dutch call it (I wish we all called it that; the plurality is grammatically vexing). The people, the language, and all things from there are called “Dutch.” These different names are to confuse you. Some people get all messed up and call The Netherlands Holland, which is incorrect; North and South Holland are provinces of Nederland. If you are at Schiphol, you are in the province of North Holland. The Netherlands is part of The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes Caribbean countries Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles.
Map here: The Netherlands
So. Now you know where you are. Here’s what you can do!
Shorter (2 hour) layovers
Nederland is known for windmills, tulips, cheese, art, wooden clogs, and letting people do drugs. You can find all these things, with the probable exception of the last one, right at Schiphol airport.
Schiphol is a sprawling airport with a lot of floors of a lot of stuff. You’ll find gift shops stocked with mini windmills and porcelain imitations of wooden shoes sold right alongside fancy cheeses and chocolates. If you’re really up for the chocolates, though (wherever you’re going, it never hurts to show up with a box of Dutch chocolates), hit Leonidas for an excellent selection. They’re cool about selling you just one truffle, too, if you just want a quick little nom.
Up for more shopping? Hit up the duty free shops. You’ll get one of those bright yellow “See Buy Fly” bags; a status symbol for when you’re sipping cocktails afterward. If you’re not headed home yet and don’t want to carry your purchase on your vacation? You can pick it up when you get back to Amsterdam with their Pick Up On Return program.
If you’re on the way back from roughing it and are hurting for some Americanization, there’s Burger King, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Sbarro, but I’ve always been a fan of the oddly placed, impromptu-seeming Sushi Bar. It’s near Lounge 2 and very tasty. Amsterdam is not terribly famous for food, so don’t kill yourself trying to find an authentic local dish. Just get a Heinkein or a gin (the Dutch originated Jenever) and eat what you want.
Harried? Hit up the Silence Centre. Alternatively, hit the restrooms for the calming tulip images emblazoned all over the stalls.
The most important thing to see at Schiphol? Not the massages, not the exclusive club with the iris scan, not the Kids’ Forest (unless you have kids), not the casino, but the museum that’s right there! Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol is a great (and free) place to forget you’re at the airport. Good info here, and I highly recommend the Schiphol Museum Shop, too.
Longer layovers (4+ hours)
Got 4+ hours? Good news: You are already at the train station.
Ditch your bags in the basement of Schiphol for just a few dollars (they have these crazy high-tech storage lockers), and get on the train to see some of Amsterdam!
For interested parties, here’s a good guide to buying drugs in Amsterdam, but as you know, you really, really can’t take it with you on the plane (and shouldn’t try), and airlines have the right to refuse passengers who’ve had too many beers, let alone too many mushrooms. If you’re not staying the night in Amsterdam, I’d advise you not to step through the looking glass, so to speak.
Here are some ideas for what you can do pretty quickly:
Here’s all the info you’ll need to get around.
Alternatively, you can hit the Sheraton Fitness & Spa facility (open 24/7) — a day pass is just EUR 20 — or take a nap by booking a tiny room at YOTEL (minimum four hours).
Lastly, here’s how to say the name of the airport without sounding like an idiot: “SKIH-pole.” Hope that helps!