Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam

If you have to be stranded at an airport, Amsterdam is not a bad place for it to happen.

On a recent trip to Kenya, my family missed our connecting flight in Amsterdam, forcing us to spend nine hours waiting in Schiphol Airport. While a missed connection is never fun, Schiphol's many amenities made it easier to take.

Tired? Sleepy?  Head upstairs and find the dimly lit areas with lounge chairs. It was just what we needed after our overnight flight, and it cost nothing. (Just be sure to set your alarm so you don't sleep past your boarding time.) There are also restrooms with showers in this area.
A flower shop in Schiphol Plaza

There are some cute whimsically designed restaurants inside the airport, and even a small museum. There's a bigger selection of shops and restaurants if you exit out through passport control and enter Schiphol Plaza, which is something like a shopping mall at the airport. Don't worry, as long as you have your passport and boarding pass, you'll have no trouble getting back in.

Want to watch planes taking off and landing? Once outside passport control, follow the signs to the Panorama Deck, an enormous viewing area on top of the airport.

If you have enough time, you can easily take the train into central Amsterdam. Buy tickets to Amsterdam Centraal station either at the kiosks or at the ticket counter. If you're returning the same day, you can buy round-trip tickets (second-class tickets are fine; no need to spend more for first-class passage). U.S.-style magnetic strip credit cards don't work at the kiosks, so you'll have to go to the counter, where there's a extra fee of 50 cents per ticket.

Once you have your tickets, head downstairs to board your train. Trains to Centraal leave pretty frequently and only take 20 minutes once you're on them.

In our experience, there was a crush of people getting on the train, but once on, the ride was quiet and amazingly smooth. By the way, there were no turnstiles to get to the train and no one ever checked if we had tickets. I'm just saying.

At Schiphol, they do security at each gate rather than immediately after check-in. I'm not sure why they do it that way, but it did prevent us from our usual routine of bringing empty water bottles through security and then filling them at a drinking fountain. Be sure to go the bathroom before going through security, because there are no restrooms in the "secure area. "

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