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Travel advice Trains in Belgium

 

Belgium is a small but prosperous nation located in the far north-west corner of continental Europe, and its capital Brussels is home to the European Union. Book a train ticket to Belgium and snack on the delicious moules-frites or enjoy the endless selection of beers which you can sample in the majestic squares of Antwerp or along the quaint canals of Ghent.

Visiting Belgium

When you think of Belgium, what comes to mind? Beer? Waffles? Chocolate?

You're certainly not wrong. But there is so much more to this great European destination than indulgent foodstuffs. Between Bruges' winding canals, Antwerp's hipster coffee bars Ypres' sombre war memorials, you'll be wondering just how much you can pack into a visit to Belgium. Take a look at our travel tips below for inspiration.

Brussels

Home to the European Union and a curious trail of peeing statues, Belgium's capital Brussels will be your first port of call if you arrive on the Eurostar. A visit to the Grand Place is a good place to start. It's one of Europe's great squares, awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1998. Be warned, however - it'll be very touristy.

There's no shame in following the crowd, but if you want something a bit more off the beaten track, head to the Marolles flea market to uncover some buried treasures. Second-hand jewellery, old artwork, clothes and silverware – you name it, it's probably at Marolles.

As night falls, tap into Brussels' vibrant music scene by visiting a jazz bar. Often open until the early hours, jazz bars will allow you to enjoy international and homegrown musical talent in intimate settings. We'd recommend L'Archiduc, Sounds Jazz Club or The Music Village.

Antwerp

Full of hipster charm, Antwerp is brimming with unpolished, non-touristy spots – provided you know where to look. Get your fill of the city's speciality coffee at Maurice Coffee Bar, a unique knitting and coffee bar where you can knit – yes, you read that right! – While enjoying an espresso. Beer lovers shouldn't pass up on a visit to De Kulminator beer bar. Highly regarded in beer enthusiast circles, the bar's shelves are stacked top to bottom with an eclectic range of beers. Consult Kulminator's 'Beer Bible' to pick out a brew.

During the summer months, the city-wide Summer of Antwerp festival transforms the city into a living celebration of arts and culture. For two months, you'll find pop up bars, dance halls and free outdoor cinemas scattered across Antwerp. Antwerpenaars take a lot of pride in their city – it's not hard to see why.

Westmalle

Situated to the east of Antwerp, Westmalle is an interesting destination for a day trip from the city. The village is home to the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle which dates back to the 18th century. What's really interesting, however, is that a brewery exists within the abbey walls. The world-famous beers produced and sold by the abbey help to keep the site open. You can sample the beer at Café Trappisten – opposite to the abbey – and follow a trail around the grounds.

If you fancy hopping on a bike for the day, try the Westmalle Beerroute - a picturesque cycle route which starts and ends at Café Trappisten. The 48-km Beerroute takes you through the towns of Malle, Brecht and Zoersel, finishing back at the abbey for a well-deserved drink.

Ypres

The memories of WWI's bloodiest conflicts have been forever preserved at Ypres, and a visit to this city in Western Belgium makes for a very moving experience. The Ypres Salient area is home to numerous military cemeteries, most of which belong to British and Commonwealth Soldiers.

Visit the In Flanders Fields Museum for a glimpse into this region's bloody history; stay for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. This short but moving tribute takes place every evening at 20:00.

Bruges

Provided you can put up with crowds of tourists, Bruges is a stunning destination to visit. Explore its medieval buildings and cobbled streets on foot or explore the canal network by boat – canal tours run from March to mid-November.

For panoramic views of the city, climb the Belfort tower – but the 336-step ascent isn't for the faint-hearted! Complete the trip with a visit to the Groeninge Museum, which houses works by Flemish artists from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Ghent

Ghent is often overlooked in favour of Bruges – its sister city in Flanders – but don't let that put you off. As a student city, Ghent has a far better nightlife scene than Bruges. Cocktail bars such as the quirky Jigger's and nightclubs like Deca Dance and Club 69 stay open until the early hours.

Like Bruges, Ghent has a network of canals winding through the city, so go ahead and rent a boat for the morning. If you don't want to do the legwork, head to the Korenmarkt (the city's central square) and buy a guided boat tour – they'll be cheaper than Bruges, as well. If you've got enough time, visit the city's two main museums – the S.M.A.K (Museum of Contemporary Art) and the MSK (Museum of Fine Arts). Conveniently, they're right across the street from each other.


Belgian Rail

Belgium is a small country with a good rail network. Most destinations are accessible by rail and Belgium's cities are well connected. There are also high-speed services from Brussels, Liege and Antwerp into France, The Netherlands and Germany.

The Belgian rail network is run by SNCB – the National Society of Belgian Railways (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges). You might also see this written in Flemish as Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen (NMBS), so be prepared to encounter both translations on your travels.

Train services in Belgium

SNCB operates four main train services –

  • Intercity (IC). These cover the short-distance routes between cities in Belgium and some longer routes into neighbouring countries like Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Germany.
  • Local (L). Feeding into the Intercity network, Local (L) trains connect towns and villages with main cities.
  • Train D'Heure de Pointe (P). Meaning 'Rush Hour Trains' in English, P trains run during commuter hours to ease the strain on the rail network. As such, you'll only catch a P train in the mornings and late afternoons.
  • Regional (S). Sometimes called RER in French and GEN in Flemish, Regional (S) trains run in and around Brussels on suburban lines.

There are a handful of other train services in Belgium that aren't affiliated with SNCB, including –

  • Thalys. A joint venture between SNCB and France's SNCF, Thalys trains run high-speed trains from Brussels to Paris.
  • Eurostar. This runs from London to Brussels and onwards into Amsterdam. Eurostar has fast become a favoured option over air travel.
  • InterCity Express (ICE). Operated by Germany's Deutsche Bahn, ICE trains run direct from Brussels to Cologne in under two hours. Not to be confused with SNCB's Intercity service.

For more information on the Belgian rail system, visit our Trains in Belgium page.


Visiting Belgium from the USA?

Belgium is a popular destination for American visitors, with the annual number of US tourists to the country frequently exceeding three hundred thousand in recent years. If you're visiting popular tourist cities such as Bruges (or 'Brugge', as you'll see it written in Belgium), chances are you'll bump into other American tourists. You'll certainly be able to pick their brains for travel tips, but we recommend you have a look at our travel tips first!

First, it's worth knowing that Belgium is split into four language regions – Flemish (a variant of Dutch) in the north, French in the south, German in the East and bi-lingual in the Brussels-capital area. Flemish and French speakers make up 99% of the population. As such, don't be surprised to come across multiple languages during your travels.

Thankfully, English is widely spoken as a second language in Belgium. You shouldn't have trouble communicating with locals but do learn a couple of French or Dutch words as a courtesy. 'Thank you' is Merci in French and Dank je in Dutch (pronounced 'dank ye') – you're welcome!

The currency in Belgium is the Euro (€). ATMs are easy to find unless you're in a remote area – they will be in major cities and towns, gas stations, train stations and shopping centres. What's more, most of them will be in English, so you won't accidentally withdraw your life savings! Keep some cash on you for purchases of under €20, but card acceptance is widespread.

Keep in mind that tipping customs vary quite significantly from US norms. Waiters in Belgium earn a living wage, so tipping is not expected. It's a kind thing to do, however, especially if you've received good service.

Finally, you will not need a tourist visa to visit Belgium, provided that your trip is under 90 days. If you do get into difficulties with your passport or visa, the US Embassy is located in Brussels.


Eurostar to Brussels

The Eurostar, which opened back in 1994, has been connecting the United Kingdom with mainland Europe for over two decades. Trains depart from London's St Pancras International Station and stop at Brussels Midi station, with the fastest to Brussels taking just 1 hour and 48 minutes. Some trains are fractionally slower, especially if they make a stop at Lille in northern France.

From Brussels Midi, you can connect to services running to every corner of the country. Belgium's size means that travel times to onward destinations are minimal and most popular destinations are easily accessible from the capital. The table below illustrates connections onwards from Brussels.

Route Fastest journey Direct? Train operating company
Brussels to Bruges 54m Yes SNCB
Brussels to Antwerp 25m Yes SNCB, Thalys
Brussels to Ghent 28m Yes SNCB
Brussels to Liège 37m Yes SNCB, Thalys
Brussels to Leuven 12m Yes SNCB
Brussels to Ostend 1h 10m Yes SNCB

 

For more information on travelling to Brussels, check out our Trains to Brussels page. Otherwise, we bid you adieu on your travels to Belgium!

Average savings on fares booked prior to day of travel vs full price fares on day of travel in France. Subject to availability. Excludes coach.

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