Riding the tram.
If you’re not a cyclist, and you’re going further than a comfortable walk, the trams can be very handy. As you use them, you grow familiar with which trams go where in the city.
Amsterdam is crisscrossed by 16 different tram (streetcar) lines. Many of the lines run radially out from Centraal Station; others cross the city laterally east and west. They’re electrically powered by overhead cables. The tram tracks share the street with other traffic, usually in their own lanes down the middle of the street. Tram lanes are also used by buses, taxis and emergency vehicles. So keep your eyes open when you’re crossing the street.
The switches in the tracks enable the tram to go around corners where the tracks cross. This also means they can navigate around obstacles in their normal route, like when there's a car accident or construction work. When that happens, they call it an omleiding, or detour.
The only sad part is that the trams stop running between around midnight and six in the morning. So tram users who stay out late need to find a different way home.
You wait at a tram stop, or tramhalte, until the tram you want is coming. Then you should wave at it to let the driver know you want to get on this tram, not some other one. (Many tram stops serve multiple lines.)
Something that's not totally obvious is that the tram has specific doors for entering and exiting. You're expected to enter through either the driver's door (front) or the conductor's door (second-last). And to exit through any other door, not the entry doors. When people are aware of this, there's less aggravation for passengers getting on and off, and the whole ride goes smoother.
There are a couple of ways to pay for your ride. You can buy a ticket from the conductor. Or you can save a little money and get yourself an ‘OV chipkaart’ ahead of time. That’s the electronic transit pass people use here. ‘OV’ means openbaar vervoer, or public transport.
First you buy the card itself, either from a vending machine at a Metro station, or from one of those tobacco-and-magazine shops like Primera. Then, you stick that card, plus your bank card, into a yellow machine, and follow the instructions to load up the card’s value — to a maximum of €150. Essentially this transfers money from your bank account onto your transit pass. (An American friend tells me this works with foreign bank cards as well as Dutch ones, but it probably depends on your bank.)
Now as you step onto a tram, you ‘check in’ with your card by holding it up to the card reader, so it beeps and tells you ‘goede reis’ (good trip).
Normally, a recorded voice announces each stop as you approach it. In case that's broken, it helps to know the name of the stop just before the one you want to get off at. As soon as your stop is coming up next, you press one of the 'stop' buttons to let the driver know you want to get off there. If nobody’s interested in that stop, they might just roll on past it. You move to one of the exits, and as the tram stops, press the button to open the door. (The doors don’t open automatically at every stop, and that confuses some visitors.)
As you get off, again you hold your card to the reader to check out, and it makes a different beep, and briefly displays how much your card is still worth. The cost of the ride now gets subtracted from the value on your card. There’s a base price to get on, plus a certain amount per kilometer of travel. As of this writing that’s 86 cents plus about 15 cents per kilometer. That’s why it’s good to remember to check out otherwise they charge you for the full journey to the end of the line.
There are enough tram lines in Amsterdam that really most places you’d want to go are within walking distance of a tramhalte. If you’re wondering how to get someplace, you have a few internet options.
Nowadays Google maps (https://maps.google.nl) shows tram and metro icons, so you can click a destination to see which lines go there.
The GVB, or Gemeente Vervoerbedrijf, runs public transportation in Amsterdam. On their website (http://en.gvb.nl) you can find maps and timetables and lots of other info.
There’s also 9292.nl (http://9292.nl/en), which gives public transit directions from anywhere to anywhere else in the whole of Nederland.