Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (pronounced "Skip-pole") is the fourth-busiest European gateway, with nearly 28 million passengers and 322,000 takeoffs and landings in a typical year. It isn't uncommon for 100,000 travelers to pass through the airport in a single day.
Schiphol's popularity is good and bad. It's good, because it means you can fly just about anywhere from Schiphol and enjoy some of Europe's best airport shopping within its terminals. And it's bad, because Schiphol's departure gates are poorly designed for large numbers of passengers.
Accentuating the positive
Unlike some major airports, Schiphol has all its terminals under one roof. This is far more convenient than, say, JFK in New York or LAX in Los Angeles.
Schiphol is a relatively easy airport to get around in, and there are no major hassles in finding your way from an international arrival gate to a connecting flight's departure area. (However, you may need to go through Passport Control several times if you go back and forth from terminal to terminal during an extended layover.)
When you arrive at Schiphol, you'll see maps and plenty of signs to help you figure out where to go next. If you have a boarding pass for your connecting flight, you can simply proceed to the gate; if you need a boarding pass, go to one of the clearly marked transfer desks. Luggage carts are free and easy to find--a convenience that U.S. airports would do well to emulate.
Do you have a few hours to kill between flights? There's plenty of seating--including free sleeper chairs--in public lounges, and restaurants are available if you're hungry.
If you have four or more hours until your next flight, you can take advantage of special tours from the airport. (Another possibility is to ride into Amsterdam and back; the train trip to the central railroad station takes only 15 or 20 minutes, leaving time to gulp a smoked herring and catch a glimpse of central Amsterdam before returning to the airport.)
Duty-free shopping is another possibility. The transit area is peppered with shops that sell chocolates, liquor, perfume, cameras, books, CDs, luggage, clothing, toys, Dutch gifts, and other items. You can pay in any currency, or--better yet--you can save money on the currency exchange by using a major credit card. There's also an airport bank where you can change money, and several ATMs are scattered around the airport.
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Top photo: Devy Masselink.
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