The most popular means of transportation for foreigners coming to Groningen is the excursion boat. While sightseeing the city from this vessel at least once is a must, it will not get you very far since you’ll end up at the same place as where you boarded. For your daily movement there are other ways to get around in Groningen.
The most obvious way is of course: walking. The centre of Groningen is compact since it’s located between the canals which used to border the city in the old days. This means that it’s easy to get around using your legs. Once you’re in the centre you’ll see most of the public stroll by the shops or walk their way through town.
While walking in the centre is popular, an even more favourite means of transportation is the bicycle. As can be seen outside university buildings, bikes are widely used by students. There are bicycle lanes throughout the city with traffic lights especially for cyclists. Since it’s such a popular means of transportation there are also OV-Fietsen (Public Transport Bikes) which you can use for as little as three euro’s a day if you have a subscription, which costs only ten euros a year. Ideal if you only need it occasionally.
Since there are so many bikes in the Netherlands there are plenty of places where you can buy one second-hand: almost all bicycle shops sell them. There are too many to mention here, but the shop which is most easy to find is right at the central station. The municipality collects illegally parked and abandoned bikes, gives them a facelift and sells them on the first and third Friday of the month for a low price. You could also consider asking an international study association like ESN if there are exchange students leaving town who are willing to sell their bike.
Paying a monthly fee for a bike is a relatively new phenomenon to hit Groningen but it’s hitting hard. If you haven’t noticed already, the city centre has an ever increasing number of ‘Swapfiets’. These bikes all look almost identical. They have an iconic blue front tire and slick black paint. When parked next to the average city bike they look particularly inviting.
Swapfiets are available in many other cities throughout The Netherlands however they’ve only come to Groningen in 2017 with an office on Westerbinnensingel 15. Swapfiets are available through the start-up ‘Swapfiets’ or ‘SwapBike’ in English. Their simple mission: to reduce all bike related stress (bike lights, repairs, locks). Did your Swapfiets break down? It’s cool. Swapfiets will send a repairperson to your location! Repair persons are available between 08:00AM to 22:00PM. All in all the monthly total for a Swapfiets rakes up to just €12,- a month with an active student card and €15,- without.
For this amount they make some guarantees:
(picture with permission from www.swapfiets.nl)
You are provided with a high quality bike: The original Swapfiets (above) bike has a retro design, sturdy frame, back and front lights, bell and a blue front tire with double rims. The bike has a back pedal coaster brake and a single gear. Notably, there is no “backseat” which a traditional Dutch bike usually has. Geen achterop!
Flexibility of services: bike subscriptions can be terminated with a months’ notice. There is no deposit.
Stress free: Repairs can be sorted out at your location.
What if my Swapfiets get stolen?
If a bike is locked with the provide AXA chain lock it should be almost impossible to steal. However, in the rare chance that a Swapfiets does get stolen it will cost you a €40,- one off fee. If it was locked with only the back wheel lock it will cost you €60,-. (not too sure how they verify this!)
- Swapfiets bikes are very comfortable and high quality.
- Swapfiets bike repair service comes to you!
- If you’re irregularly in Groningen or are coming for exchange it’s cheaper than buying a new bike.
- Bike lights supplied.
- There is no “backseat” but there is a front seat. However this is a good excuse for not having to transport that one friend without a bike on your backseat.
- Your bike isn’t actually yours
- You can’t spray paint your bike
All in all… a Swapfiets may not be a typical student bike that may gradually litter parts on the route to Zernike or end up at the bottom of a canal but Swapfiets are here to stay! They are also particularly useful for people visiting Groningen for an exchange semester.
Their website is: https://swapfiets.nl/en/groningen/
The most common form of public transport in Groningen is the bus. There are numerous bus lines running through Groningen and there’s always one which can take you where you need to go. There’s no need to wonder which line you need to take since there is a door to door journey-planner on the internet which can give you the fastest way of travelling and which bus line to take wherever you are in the Netherlands. Taxis are not very popular among students, mainly because it’s relatively expensive (tip: share a ride), but when in need they can come in quite handy. For example, you could have a flat tire but definitely don’t want to disappoint that nice boy or girl waiting for you in a bar at the other side of town. In those cases, there are always a few waiting at the station or the central square and of course you can order one by telephone.
Much as using public transportation services might be a mundane matter for many in the Netherlands, it can be tricky for those who are new to using them, especially international students. Therefore, in this article, we intend to talk about some of the nuts and bolts of the Dutch public transportation services, so that international students can use them much easier.
The OV-chipkaart is the general public transportation card which can be used on trains, buses, trams and to arrange a public transportation bicycle. There are two types of OV-chipkaart: the personal OV-chipkaart and the anonymous OV-chipkaart. The personal OV-chipkaart is a yellow plastic card on which the card holder’s photograph has been printed, and contains information on the available amount of credit on the card, on your travel subscription(s) or your pass, and on whether you are entitled to reduced travel costs. This card also gives you the option of automatic top-up. Besides, in case you lose your card, the credit on your card is blocked within a day, and you will receive a replacement card within 3 working days from the date you file a report with the NS customer services. You can request a personal OV-chipkaart online. The anonymous OV-chipkaart is a blue plastic card without the user’s photograph that its use is not exclusive to one individual, hence the term anonymous. For this reason, it is a suitable option for family use. This card, however, does not have many advantages of the personal version. For example, it does not allow an automatic top-up, and you cannot add any travel products such as NS (Dutch Railways) subscriptions or passes to it. Moreover, it is less safe than the personal OV-chipkaart meaning that unlike personal OV-chipkaart holders, if you lose your card or if it is stolen, you cannot protect your anonymous card from misuse by blocking it. A list of sales points for anonymous OV-chipkaarts is available on this page from the official site of NS. Both types of OV-chipkaart cost 7.50. Moreover, no matter how short your trip is, you must have a minimum balance of 20 euros to travel with NS unless you use a travel subscription.
When traveling by an OV-chipkaart, regardless of its type, do not forget to check in before entering the tram, bus, metro, or train and check out when leaving them. Otherwise, a specific amount will be deducted from the credit on your card as a fine. In case of traveling with NS, you can still check out 6 hours after leaving the train and avoid getting fined. However, if you fail to do to so, you can request a refund online or at any of the service counters of the relevant carrier. You can use the online service to request refunds from the most widely used carriers in the Netherlands such as NS, Connexxion, Arriva, Qbuzz etc. No matter what type of OV-chipkaart you have, you can request a refund on your credit.
Students who receive the Studiefinanciering study grant are entitled to a public transportation pass for travelling at reduced prices, called the Studenten OV-chipkaart. For more information on the application procedure, visit this page from the official website of DUO.
Planning your trip
Do you have to rush to be on time for a lecture, and catching a bus seems to be the only way to get there? Then, do not hesitate to visit 9292.nl/en or www.connexion.nl in order to figure out as quickly as possible when and where the next bus departure is. Both websites provide information on bus, train, and ferry departures in the Netherlands, and therefore can be used for planning your trips when you need to use any of those means of transportation. In order to find tram and metro departures, use the travel planner on the official website of GVB. By entering the basic details of your trip, such as the ends of your journey, date, and departure or arrival time, you can receive advice on how to reach your destination from any of these sites. In order to find train departures for NS trains, you can visit the official website of NS or use the software application NS Reisplanner Xtra. These websites and applications more often than not provide reliable information on departures unless public transport is disrupted due to bad weather or other causes.
NS Group Return Tickets (NS Groepsretour)
A popular and rather cheap option to buy a ticket among students is buying group return tickets. The more people travel in one group, the cheaper a group return ticket is. Such tickets cost 7 euros if they are bought in groups of 10 passengers. Many students try to form such groups by visiting Facebook groups created especially for this purpose. There, you can see whether or not any groups of passengers are planning to go on the same journey and on the same date as you are. Unless you agree to buy the tickets for the rest of the group, whether or not you get your ticket is a matter of luck and trust since you usually do not know the individuals who buy such tickets for you. However, the odds of receiving your tickets are usually higher than falling victim to a scam. Although buying return group tickets seem to be an ideal option for reducing your travel costs, especially if you plan to go on long journeys, they can cause you trouble if a train conductor catches you travelling outside the group with which you were supposed to travel. In that case, you might be asked to buy a new ticket or leave the train. For more information on NS group return tickets, you can visit the official page of NS group return tickets.