Luxe Layovers: AMS
Remember the days when the thought of an airport layover brought shudders and a sense of dread? Today’s airports are breaking out of that mold—and breaking all the old rules — to offer bespoke services to modern travelers. From luxury lounges, modern spas and art museums to wine bars, gourmet restaurants and markets filled with fresh produce, airports around the world are revolutionizing the travel experience. Discover a new place each month for your next luxe layover.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, The Netherlands: AMS
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (pronounced shki-pole) had its beginnings back in 1916 when a little military two-seater flew into a field outside Amsterdam. Just four years later, in May of 1920, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines landed the first commercial plane there, with two journalists from England on board the plane. Over the next half-dozen years, Schiphol earned the nickname “Schiphol Bathing Resort” because, more often than not, the field was a mud bath due to heavy rainfall. The airlines even hired big burly Dutchmen to carry passengers off the plane on their backs. In 1926, the city of Amsterdam took ownership of the new airport in anticipation of the 1928 Olympics, and created an impressive system of tarmacs to prevent planes and passengers from sinking.
All the advances in what was then one of the world’s most modern airports were destroyed during World War II. After The Netherlands was invaded by German forces, Schiphol’s modern airport — only minutes by air from England — became a major threat to the Allies. In one 30-minute stretch during December 1943, US bombers dropped more than 400,000 kilos of bombs on the airstrips, leaving them unusable for German troops. The Germans then destroyed anything remaining, effectively annihilating Schiphol.
Following the war, however, the industrious Dutch quickly rebuilt their airport, opening the first terminal in 1949. By 1950, more than 350,000 passengers flew through Schiphol every year. To handle growth demand, the city of Amsterdam and The Netherlands joined forces to begin operating the airport and to expand it based on designs of Jan Dellaert. On April 28, 1967, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, with a revolutionary new one-terminal concept and modern conveniences, opened. Today, AMS serves 99 airlines, flies to 323 direct destinations and welcomed 52.6 million passengers in 2013.
Today, AMS is known as an “AirportCity”, with a city park, art galleries, library, free WiFi, shops, restaurants, hotels, spas, a museum and even a casino. Here are a few of the things you can find to keep you busy on your next layover at AMS.
Understanding the AMS Layout
Unlike most airports, AMS continues to have a one-terminal concept. The Arrivals hall and Schiphol Plaza, with most of the shopping, are on the first level of the airport. You will also find baggage claim, airport hotels and transportation on this level.
When you depart AMS, you will go up to the second level. Depending on your airline, you will find automated baggage checks and ticket counters in Departure areas 1, 2 or 3. Once through security, you will notice that the Departure level is divided into four “lounges”—Lounges 1, 2, 3 and 4. The B and C gates are in Lounge 1; D and E gates are in Lounge 2; while the F, G and H gates are in Lounge 3. All of those lounges are connected and you can move between them easily. Lounge 4 is home to the new M Gates, which serve the low-cost carriers of BMIbaby, Flyby, Easy Jet, Jet-2 and Air Berlin. While there are restrooms in Lounge 4, there are no other services in that area.
For those who have previously traveled through AMS, you might remember clearing security, walking through shops and restaurants, then needing to go through security a second time to get to the gates. This has always been a bit inconvenient, and you couldn’t take some items through second level security. As part of its major redesign, AMS is centralizing security through five checkpoints—three in the Departure Halls and two for transfers. After the remodel is complete in early 2015, you will clear that one security and be free to shop, eat, make purchases and find your gate without any additional security. Due to these major renovations, much of the airport is under construction through mid-2015.
Airport Clubs & Lounges
As with most modern airports, AMS has its share of lounges, where you can relax while you wait for your flight. The most popular lounge at AMS, because it serves as the headquarters for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, is the KLM Crown Lounge, which recently underwent a major renovation. The Crown Lounge, shown above, is in Departures 2. The lounge, open from 4:45 am until the last KLM flight departs each night, has rest areas, entertainment, magazines and newspapers, snacks and drinks, free WiFi, fax and photocopiers, computers and a designated smoking area.
Depending on which airline you are flying, you may be able to use the KLM lounge if you are on a partner airline and/or Skyteam alliance. British Airways operates a British Airways Galleries lounge in Departures 3 for Oneworld alliance members. All others can use the Servisair Lounge in Departures 2. Servisair Lounge is a fee-based lounge open to anyone, no matter which airline you fly or which class of service. The fee for three hours starts at a little more than $30, depending on the exchange rate. Servisair Lounge has free WiFi, papers and magazines, wines, beers, spirits, free snacks and hot food. The lounge overlooks the airfield, so you can watch planes come and go while you wait. For an additional fee, you can use the showers and there are also smoking facilities available. The lounge is open daily (except for Christmas Day) from 5:30 am to 11 pm.
In addition to these regular lounges, there are also two additional facilities that cater to VIP travelers and business travelers. Schiphol’s VIP Service is available to anyone arriving/departing from AMS or even transferring at the airport. If you book VIP Service for an outbound flight, there is a special check-in location away from the main terminal (detailed directions are on the website). There, the concierge greets you, takes your baggage and your passport to get you checked in, while you relax in the lounge with free WiFi, coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer, wine, snacks and even showers. The VIP service gets your bags on the plane for you (you keep your cabin baggage with you). Then, about 15 minutes before departure, they escort you through a private security screening and drive you to the plane in a personal town car. The service works the same way on incoming flights—you are met plane-side, escorted to the private lounge where you wait in style while the concierge collects your luggage. The price is €270 (approximately $335) for incoming or departing flights (an additional €100 or $125 for each extra person in your party). To assist you with transfers—picking you up from an incoming flight, taking you to the lounge while luggage is transferred and the flight boards, then taking you to the connecting flight—is €400 or about $500.
Finally, Airport Business Point is a convenient lounge located outside of security in the middle of Arrivals Hall 2. The lounge, open 9 am to 6 pm, is ideal for meeting a driver, business partners or other associates. While you wait, you can use the WiFi and relax out of the fray of incoming passengers.
Restaurants & Bars
AMS consistently ranks in the top airports around the world, in large part because of the variety of food you can find during a layover. As with all airports, there’s an ample supply of grab and go type food and even the requisite McDonald’s, but for those who want something a bit more memorable and even healthy, there are amazing options for international cuisine at AMS.
- Café Rembrandt: This is an authentic recreation of a typical Amsterdam “brown cafe.” The feeling is rich, with Rembrandt’s work on the walls, wood floors, dark red curtains, a large bar and a sheltered and heated outdoor café for smoking guests. This classic cafe is open 9 am to midnight in Arrival Hall 1, outside Passport Control.
- Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar: Munch on caviar while sipping champagne at this centrally located bar in Lounge 1. Be sure to check out the saltwater aquarium in the middle of the bar. Open 6 am to 9 pm.
- Café Coco: An upscale bar that will take center stage in the revamped Lounge 2 that opens by Summer 2015. You’ll be able to sip champagne or order up a custom cocktail.
- Café Amsterdam: Another typical local Amsterdam bar, Café Amsterdam is a great spot to sit and read the paper while you sip a drink or order up a meal. The café is open 7 am to 9 pm in Lounge 3.
- Café Chocolat: This is the spot for all chocoholics, where you can sample an array of chocolates for eating or drinking. The café is located in Lounge 1 and open 6 am to 8:30 pm.
- Say Cheese: This is the go-to spot for finding the best Dutch cheeses, all of which you can get in bit sized pieces to eat while you’re in the airport, or in larger helpings to stash in your carry-on bag. Be sure to ask about taking cheese into the U.S. While there are many varieties available at Say Cheese you can bring home, there are others (the unpasteurized varieties) that you need to eat before you have to clear customs back in the US. Say Cheese is center stage in Lounge 3.
- NL+: This is a fun little shop that sells an array of flavors you’ll find only in the Netherlands. Most of the products are packaged in handy carry-on sizes. NL+ is located in Lounge 3.
- Grand Café Het Paleis: Is an all-day eatery, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (and you can order breakfast all day). The restaurant also has a full bar. It is located in Lounge 1 and open 6:30 am to 8 pm.
- EAST bar & bites: This cosmopolitan bar has an Asian flair. You can order up such specialties as Japanese Yakitori and sushi—an extensive list of Asian finger foods. You can also sample one of the sake cocktails. EAST is in Lounge 3.
- Harvest Market: Located on Pier D in the Departures area, you will think you’re wandering through a Dutch street market when you shop at Harvest Market. You can find cheese, organic beef, fruit and vegetables from local farmers. Of course, once you pick out what you like, the market prepares your market fresh dishes for eating before your flight. The market is open 6 am to 9 pm.
- Neuhaus: Although Neuhaus is not a Dutch shop, it is a must-do when you visit Schiphol. The shop sells luxury chocolates from Belgian chocolatier Neuhaus. I never purchase quite enough.
In addition to great food, AMS is known for its great variety of shops, from places to pick up little trinkets to shops where you can take home a Rolex watch or Gucci purse. One of my favorite shopping areas for Dutch products is Holland Boulevard. This is part of the AMS renovation, and some shops will be alternately opening and closing now through Summer 2015. Here are some of the shops you will find at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
- Schiphol Plaza: Schiphol Plaza boasts more than 60 shops and restaurants, many of which offer luxury products and services. Schiphol Plaza is in the lower Arrivals level of the terminal. Some favorites include Paolo Salotto Luxury Leathergoods, with bags by Tumi and Victorinox (among others); Shoes by Paolo Salotto, offering women’s fine shoes and handbags; Victoria’s Secret. There is also a drugstore and a Service Point that offers dry cleaning, shoe mending and other personal services.
- Holland Boulevard: There are several shops that sell Dutch products, from a bar and kitchen to a shop that sells souvenirs. Perhaps the most popular is House of Tulips. What could say Dutch more than tulips? At House of Tulips—you can’t miss the bright green glass “green house” that hydraulically lifts during the shop’s open hours—you can pick up tulip bulbs to take home for your own garden. The shop is located next to Say Cheese in Lounge 3 Central Square.
- Shops at the Airport Park: For something a bit different, head to the Airport Park (see below) in Lounge 1 for some fun nature-themed gifts. You can also pick up tulip bulbs and other flower bulbs and seeds here.
- Luxury Shops in Departure Halls & Lounges: There are more than 75 shops in the Departure Halls and in Lounges after Passport Control, many of which offer luxury items. In fact, when the remodel of Lounge 2 is unveiled by Summer 2015 (see the video below), there will be an entire section dedicated to luxury experiences. Some favorite shops include Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Omega, Bulgari, Mont Blanc, Rolex, Apple, Burberry, Hermès, Swarovski and Victoria’s Secret. Be sure to stop by Exquisite in Lounge 3 for fine spirits and cigars and by the FineFood outlet, also in Lounge 3, to take home some gourmet goodies.
Museums & Art Work
In a city renowned for Great Dutch Masters, it seems fitting that the airport embrace art as well. The official airport position is that “Art adds human perspective and creates restful focal points” in the airport. It definitely adds to the character of AMS. There are more than 80 art pieces on display throughout the airport, including the annex to the famed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The museum inside the airport is currently closed during remodel, but will be open again, with free viewing of some of the world’s greatest art, by late 2015.
In addition to the museum, the airport is filled with major works of art, including the one shown above, Niijima Floats, by Dale Chihuly. The massive glass balls, installed on water at the entrance to the adjoining World Trade Center, are designed after Japanese glass fishing baubles.
In addition to the Chihuly works, some of the most popular include these works:
- Coda by Dennis Adams: a collection of 28 red and white objects found at airports, such as towers and signposts. This is a perfect meeting spot, located outside security in the Arrivals Hall.
- P2 Tunnel is an installation lithograph by Stanislaw Lewkowicz. Since 1999, this display has been highlighting the passageway to one of the parking garages.
- Metamorphosis is a 158-foot-long work by Escher. This piece has been on loan to the airport, and can be found in Departure Lounge 4.
- Tracing Reality is a colorful glass facade covering almost 5,000 square feet from Departure Lounge 1 to Pier B. The work is a compilation of places near the airport, including Amsterdamse Bos city woodland and the Aalsmeer flower auction.
Another fun thing to do during a layover is to visit the Panorama Terrace on the route between Arrival Halls 1 and 2. Although it is currently undergoing renovations, the terrace will reopen in mid-2015. The terrace is home to a KLM Fokker 100. You can climb into the plane to learn about the history of aviation, sit in the cockpit, take a seat in the original seats. Kids of all ages enjoy exploring the living aviation museum. The plane is open 9 am to 5 pm in winter and 7 am to 8 pm during the summer, weather permitting. The display is free and open to the general public since it does not require going through Passport Control.
For Fun, Relaxation & Pampering
Depending on the length of your layover—and whether or not you spend your entire layover shopping—there are plenty of other things to do at AMS. One of the best ways to explore Schiphol is by taking the Behind the Scenes Tour. This is a great way to experience the airport in a way most people never do. The bus tour takes about an hour and gives you a chance to learn about the airport’s history. You will have a chance to see Schiphol East (the cargo part of the airport), the fire station, snow clearance squad, the old air traffic control tower and some of the large aircraft hangars. The experience includes fun stories and multimedia experiences. You will need to go outside security, exit the terminal and head to the bus lane in front of Schiphol Plaza. You can go online to purchase tickets in advance. Reservations are required. If you don’t have time before you leave, you can also purchase tickets in Schiphol Plaza before your tour. The cost for the one hour tour is €15.50 per adult ($19.50), €7.75 per child ages 4 to 12 ($10) or €35 ($45) for a family with two adults and two children.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is one of the few airports in the world that includes a casino; not just a few slot machines like you find in Las Vegas, but a full casino. In fact, Holland Casino is a full-service casino with slots and table games. It is free to enter and open to anyone 18 and over with a boarding pass and an ID. The casino is in Departure Hall 2, behind Passport Control between Gates E and F. The casino is open daily from 6:30 am to 7:45 pm.
If you’re after a little quiet time, head to the Airport Library in Holland Boulevard. The library has books available in about 20 different languages, as well as electronic materials for downloading to your own device. The library is closed for remodeling until late 2015.
AMS is one of the only hotels in the world with an Airport Park. In fact, the Airport Park is a unique faux park concept, with indoor spaces simulating a city park, a real 130-year-old tree anchoring the space, as well as an actual outdoor terrace. There are great lounge chairs where you can rest, animal sounds are filtered throughout, interactive screens project images of people riding bikes through open parks and even butterfly projections dot the floors. For something really unique, you can hop on one of the stationary bikes to charge your phone. When you head outside, you can enjoy the open air and watch planes come and go in the distance. The café in the Airport Park serves up organic snacks and fair-trade coffee you can enjoy at any of the numerous picnic tables. The Airport Park is located in Lounge 1, toward Pier D, on the second floor.
Most of us get off a flight, even after a night sleeping in one of the fully-flat seats, feeling a little achy and perhaps a bit jet lagged. AMS has several options for relaxing:
- XpresSpa: This successful airport spa chain has three locations at AMS where you can get everything from a full body massage to a quick back and neck massage; facial; manicure; pedicure; wasting; oxygen treatment; or an automated massage chair. You can find XpresSpa on Holland Boulevard, Lounge 1 between Gates E and F; on Level 2 of Lounge 3; and in Concourse D. Each location is open daily from 7 am to 9 pm.
- Rituals Spa: This local Dutch company offers a variety of products to help the body and soul. In addition to offering products, you can also get a hand and/or foot treatment. The spa is in Lounge 1 toward Piers B and C and is open 6 am to 8 pm daily.
- Massage-O-Matic: For a completely automated experience, check out the Massage-O-Matic units scattered throughout the airport. These modern units have a shiatsu massage chair and calming music. For 2€ ($2.50), you can relax for 5 minutes between flights.
- Silence Meditation Centre: This is a quiet area located on Holland Boulevard. You can find books in many different languages, quiet area for prayer and/or meditation. Although it is open 24 hours, it is staffed from 9 am to 5 pm daily. There is a church service every Sunday at 11 am—Mass, Anglican and Protestant that is delivered in English.
Rest Your Head
Most airports have a plethora of hotels nearby, but international travelers often find themselves needing somewhere to rest between flights, whether it’s overnight or simply for a few hours. To be able to simply walk from the arrivals area to an adjoining hotel is the ultimate in ease. There are several hotels at AMS that offer overnight stays or rooms when you need to refresh for a few hours.
- citizenM Schiphol Airport: A hotel with modern design, flat-screen TVs and a Philips Moodpad that lets you modify room colors with LED lights, room temperature, blinds and black-out curtains. Each room has a rain shower, free WiFi, free movies, in-room adapters for US, UK and Eu plugs. The restaurant/bar CanteenM is open 24/7. You walk to citizenM from the Arrivals Hall at the terminal.
- Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: There are sound proof rooms, flat-screen TVs, a minibar and modern décor in every room. The hotel also has a gourmet restaurant and separate sports bar and hotel bar. For guests who want to get in some exercise between flights, there is a 24-hour fitness center with sauna. The hotel is adjacent to the terminal via a covered walkway. You will exit the Arrivals Hall to Schiphol Plaza and follow the signs to WTC/Sheraton. The hotel is about 50 yards past the parking ticket machines.
- Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: You access the Hilton via covered walkway. Each soundproof room has a bathtub, black-out curtains and coffee/tea service. There is free WiFi in the public areas, a fitness center with sauna and several restaurants, including the Teppanyaki Table, Greenhouse Restaurant and Stopover Bar. The hotel is about 100 yards from some great shopping.
- Hilton Hotel at Schiphol Centre (Mecanoo): This modern Hilton Hotel is expected to open adjacent to the terminal in mid-2015. The 433-room property, in a unique cube shaped building with rounded corners and diamond-shaped windows, will boast a 35-foot-high atrium. You will be able to access the hotel via covered walkway from the terminal.
While these full service hotels adjacent to the terminal offer a great night’s sleep and all the amenities, there are also a couple of options if you are looking for something inside the terminal for just a few hours’ sleep. Here are two alternatives to renting a regular hotel room:
- Hotel Mercure Schiphol Terminal: This is a unique mixture of overnight hotel and short-term rooms. There are 33 rooms at the Hotel Mercure, which is located inside the terminal on Holland Boulevard after Passport Control, making it ideal for those transferring to another flight in a few hours. Each room has a bath or shower, toilet, phone, TV and minibar. If you don’t need an entire room, you can rent a shower room, which includes shower, toilet, hair dryer, soap, shampoo and towel.
- Hotel Yotel: These pod-style hotel rooms are intended for short term stays between flights. Every room has an electric pull-out bed with luxury linens, ensuite bathroom with monsoon rain shower, free WiFi, LCD TV, sound systems, ambient lighting, chair, table, wall sockets with international adapters and free hot drinks. You can select a Standard cabin of 75 square feet with a single bunk style bed; a Premium cabin with a sofa that converts into a double bed to sleep two in 110 square feet, and extra luggage storage under the bed; or a Premium with double bunk room that has one double and two single bunks in 248 square feet to sleep four. Hotel Yotel is located on the second floor behind Passport Control in Lounge 2 at the beginning of Pier D.
For a quick rest when you don’t even have time for a sleeping pod, you can find a couple of options at Schiphol. There are lovely lounge chairs in the Airport Park, and AMS is known for its more than 400 “Snooze Chairs.” These amazingly comfortable black reclining chairs are close to each of the Departure Points (1, 2 and 3) and then up a level.
Whether you have an hour or a few hours, there’s always something to do at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, AMS. Whether you choose to catch a few hours of sleep, relax with a massage, go shopping at world class boutiques, sip champagne, nibble chocolate and cheese, order a fine dining meal, try to win a fortune at the casino or want to enjoy the outdoors at the Panorama Terrace or Airport Park Terrace, there’s plenty to see and do to help pass the time. Be sure to check carefully if you travel throughout 2015, as stores will be opening and closing to make way for beautiful renovations. Modern conveniences and upgraded shopping, dining and experiences are likely to bump the popularity of AMS to the top of the list. For more on Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, visit online at www.schiphol.nl.