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Train travel in Belgium – who runs Belgian trains, where to go and how to buy tickets

For a small nation, Belgium’s wide range of languages and cultural influences can be a tricky concept to navigate. Luckily, the railway network there is well connected and easy to navigate, meaning that exploring Belgium is quite straightforward.

First things first, the train network in Belgium is run by the SNCB which stands for Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges. As Belgium is also a Dutch (Flemish) speaking nation, you’ll also see and hear SNCB referred to as Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen (NMBS). It’s a good idea to get to grips with the Flemish and French names as this could be confusing if you’re a first-time traveler in Belgium.

Read on to find out how trains in Belgium work, the great cities you can visit, and how to buy cheap Belgian train tickets with ease.

Belgian train tickets

Buying and collecting train tickets in Belgium is easy to do. You can usually buy a ticket on the day of travel (online, at a ticket machine or from a ticket office) as the prices stay the same regardless if they are purchased in advance or not.

Standard tickets

One-way domestic tickets are valid on any SNCB train on the date for which they are issued. A round trip is usually twice the price of a one-way ticket and is only valid on the date for which is issued unless it's a weekend return.

Belgian train ticket prices are fixed and are calculated based on distance rather than the time of the day or seasonality.

First Class tickets

Travelling in First Class will usually cost around 50% more than Standard Class and gets you nicer and more comfortable seating. That usually means more leg and elbow room, and in some trains, carpet rather than synthetic flooring.

Due to the short distances trains in Belgium cover, most regional trains don’t offer any form of onboard catering but you'll find this available on most cross-country routes.

Senior tickets

If you're aged 65 or over, you can buy discounted Standard and First Class Senior tickets for any domestic journey in Belgium. This is for train travel at weekends or any time after 09:00 on weekdays.

As with the other tickets, it covers a one-way or same-day round trip between the stations you choose. It's available all year round, although not valid most weekends in July and August.

How to book train tickets in Belgium with us

As trusted sellers of SNCB and other cross-border services in Belgium, we’ll show you train times, ticket options and highlight the cheapest prices. Here’s a step-by-step guide to booking train tickets in Belgium with us:

1

If you're on our website, enter your departure and arrival stations into our Journey Planner at the top of the page, or enter them in the Search tab if you're using our app. Don't know the name of the station? You can also search by city.

2

Select a time and the class you'd like to travel in from our search results. Once you’re happy with your choice, continue to choose your seat preference, seat type and which deck you'd like to sit on if it's a double-decker train.

3

Enter an email to send your ticket confirmation to, along with the full name of each passenger you’re booking tickets for (the name must match their IDs).

4

Continue to the checkout to make your payment and book your train tickets!

Belgium Rail Passes

If you've got restless feet, spread your wings and fly around Belgium by train. Here are some good reasons to buy a Rail Pass instead of individual tickets.

If you’re planning on making multiple train journeys within Belgium, then an Interrail Pass (for EU residents) or a Eurail Pass (non-EU citizens) may be your best bet. The main benefit of one of these passes is that Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg all count as one country, The Benelux.

That’s three countries to explore for the price of a One Country Pass! Once you’ve seen all that Belgium has to offer, you can use your Interrail or Eurail Pass to sample the likes of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Luxembourg City to name but a few wonderful destinations.

Rail Passes are a great way to save some cash by consolidating all the single tickets in your planned itinerary into one, more affordable option. They also offer the option of flexible train travel should you decide to add new destinations to your trip at the drop of a hat.

Belgium train map (how the rail network works)

Belgium's major destinations are all well connected by rail, and there's the added bonus of quick cross-border journeys too. Our Belgium train map highlights some of the most popular places to visit in the country and how they're connected by train.

As well as SNCB, the other major train operating companies in Belgium are Thalys, Eurostar and Deutsche Banh’s ICE trains (more on that in our train companies section further down the page). As Belgium is quite a small country, it only takes a few hours at most to travel between the main cities.

Quick cross-border connections

If you are heading to London, Lille or Amsterdam from Belgium you can take a Eurostar or Thaly trains. The Eurostar has fast become the preference over flying for skipping along to England, France and the Netherlands, and doesn’t take a great deal longer if you factor in the check-in times. For example, it takes just 2h to travel from Brussels to London on the fastest Eurostar services.

Train companies in Belgium

Although SNCB are the main operators of domestic trains in Belgium, there are also a number of other companies that run cross-border services in and out of the country as well. We’ve broken down the different brands and their services below.

SNCB

  • Domestic routes
  • Main train operator in Belgium

SNCB stands for Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges. As the main train company operating in Belgium, step on a train here and it’ll most likely be an SNCB service, especially for domestic routes. 

Find out more about SNCB trains.

Eurostar

  • International routes from Belgium to the UK
  • High-speed: 200 mph (321 km/h)

Eurostar operate modern high-speed services between Brussels and London, via a trip through the Channel Tunnel.

Find out more about Eurostar trains.

Thalys

  • International routes between Belgium and France
  • High speed: up to 186 mph (300 km/h)

Thalys trains connect some of the biggest cities in Europe via high-speed rail. This includes Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne. Enjoy comfortable and quick cross-border travel on these trains, perfect for if you’re on a country-hopping holiday.

Find out more about Thalys trains and Thalys First Class.

Deutsche Bahn

  • International routes between Belgium and Germany
  • High speed: up to 186 mph (300 km/h)

Deutsche Bahn's high-speed ICE trains (InterCity Express) run between Brussels, Liege, Aachen, Cologne and Frankfurt several times a day.

Find out more about Deutsche Bahn trains.

Eurocity

  • International routes between Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland and Italy
  • Connects major European cities 

A slower form of international train travel than some of the others we’ve mentioned, Eurocity trains usually visits at least two countries on most of their routes.

Find out more about Eurocity trains.

Types of train services in Belgium

There are four main train services run by SNCB that you'll see mentioned on tickets, arrival and departure boards, and on our booking system. You may see the same type of train being used across these different services. Their names are usually abbreviated by letters and you can find out more about each type below.

Intercity (IC)

Intercity (IC) trains are the most common train service in Belgium and travel short distances between the major cities in Belgium, as well as some services to neighbouring countries such as Germany, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. They have both First and Second Class seats and the carriages are open-plan by design.

Many of the trains used on Intercity services can also be found on Local (L) trains, both train services being separated only by the number of stops on journeys. IC trains shouldn’t be confused with ICE (InterCity Express) trains which also operate in Belgium but are an international service.

Local (L)

Local or (L) trains connect Belgium’s provincial towns and villages with destinations such as Brussels, Liege and Antwerp. (L) trains stop regularly but make reaching otherwise remote locations possible. They also provide a great link between smaller stops and the Intercity (IC) network.

Train D’Heure de Pointe (P)

Train D’Heure de Pointe (P) means 'rush hour' or 'peak' trains and they provide relief to the train network during busy times. Predictably, they only run during early mornings and late afternoons and seat reservations aren’t possible, but you can select either First or Second class seats. (P) trains use different models of trains to help ease congestion and even out the railway network in Belgium.

Reseau Express Regional (S)

Reseau Express Regional (S) trains run on mostly suburban lines in and around the capital Brussels. (S) trains operate at regular and frequent intervals and because of this, reservations aren’t possible on this service. They also have space to transport bicycles and newer models also come equipped with power sockets. Reseau Express Regional trains are sometimes called the RER in French or GEN in Flemish (Dutch).

International high-speed trains (INT)

High-speed trains are used mostly on cross-country journeys from Brussels, Liege and Antwerp towards cities in France, Germany and The Netherlands. International trains running to and from Belgium include Thalys (THA), Eurostar (EST), Deutsche Bahn's Intercity Express trains (ICE) and SNCF's TGV trains (TGV).

As an example of how quickly you can travel from Belgium to another country by train, a Thalys service from Brussels to Cologne could take as little as 1h 50m. That’s city centre to city centre in just under two hours.

Airport transfers

If you arrive in Belgium by plane, it’s highly likely that you’ll be landing at Brussels Zaventem Airport or Antwerp International Airport. You’ll find easy connections from Brussels Airport Zaventem to Brussels Central as well as trains from Brussels Airport Zaventem to Brussels Midi station. Either journey takes less than half an hour and leaves you perfectly placed in the centre of town, where inner-city transport connections are frequent and plentiful.

Travel Belgium by train

There are loads of amazing places you can visit by train in Belgium, and the interconnected rail network makes travelling through the country quick and easy. To find some inspiration on where to go, check out these city highlights below.

Brussels

Grand-Place / Marollen / Zavel / Etterbeek 

Home of the European Union, Belgium’s capital is a delight for food, art and beer lovers. In recent years, Brussels is also making a name for itself as a must-visit destination for fans of music and the arts.

Trains to Brussels

Main stations

Bruges

Belfry of Bruges / Rozenhoedkaai / Minnewater Lake 

Bruges is a lively destination built on its fishing trade history which is still flourishing today. Be prepared to be dazzled by its winding canals, cobbled streets and medieval architecture.

Trains to Bruges

Main stations

Antwerp

Rubenshuis / Museum aan de Stroom / Antwerp Port / Grote Markt 

The port city of Antwerp is a real example of Flemish architecture and tradition and a great getaway alternative to Brussels and Bruges. Come see Belgium’s Dutch influences for yourself.

Trains to Antwerp

Main stations

Ghent

Patershol / Werregarenstraat / Kouter flower market / St Bavo’s Cathedral 

Ghent is Belgium’s best-kept secret but is slowly becoming a hub of tourist activity. A mixture of fabulous Canalside architecture, quirky bars, and Belgium’s most fascinating museums are just a few of the reasons why.

Trains to Ghent

Main stations

Leuven

Oude markt / Brewery tours / Arenberg Park / Mechelsestraat 

If Belgium is well-known internationally for its beers, then Leuven is where Belgians go for their brews. A historic town just east of Brussels, Leuven is also famous for its university and gothic architecture.

Trains to Leuven

Main stations

Buses in Belgium

If you’re travelling on a budget or prefer the open road over train tracks, we also sell bus and coach tickets for some of the most popular routes in Belgium. International bus companies such as Flixbus can take you from one point to another in Belgium if you’re not short on time.

To go from one of Belgium’s biggest cities to other locations in Europe, BlaBlaBus and Eurolines both have extensive cross-country coach and bus networks that can get you there. Travelling by bus is an affordable way of exploring Belgium and most coaches come equipped with comfortable seating, air-conditioning and WiFi connections.

Check out our guide to buses in Europe to find out more.

Good to know (FAQs)

If you haven't already learnt enough about trains in Belgium, we've added these extra handy tips and FAQs to make your life just that little bit sweeter.

On all SNCB trains (Reseau Express Regional/Gewestelijk Expresnet, Train D’Heure de Pointe/Piekuurtrein, InterCity and Local), making a reservation isn’t possible. For ICE and Eurocity services, reservation is optional but Eurostar, TGV and Thalys trains require a reservation.

You can break up your train journey with Belgian train tickets. You can do this if the station you stop at is part of the planned route and you complete your trip on the same day.

You don’t need a passport to travel by train from Belgium to most destinations in Europe if you’re an EU citizen. For those visiting from other parts of the world, it’s best to carry a valid passport or form of identity with you at all times.

At larger train stations in Belgium, there are luggage lockers and staffed left luggage desks where you can leave your suitcases and heavier items. At Brussels-Midi for example, you’ll find these facilities next to the Thalys reception and Eurostar check-in areas. At smaller stations in rural Belgium, you find these services less and less.

Most major train stations in Belgium will have English-speaking staff but, in case you can’t find anyone nearby, here are some important words you should look out for on the arrivals/departures board:

On time - à l’heure (French) - op tijd (Dutch - Flemish)

Delay – retard - vertraging

Cancelled – annulé - geannuleerd

Platform – quai - spoor

Ticket counters/booth - guichets - ticketloket

Train service – nature – aard

Leaving from – en provenance de – verlaten van

Going to – à destination de – gaan naar

In need of some inspiration?

If you’re in need of some ideas for your trip, look no further than our Belgium travel inspiration hub. Our dedicated travel writers have been putting together exciting and inspiring guides to travelling around Belgium by train. We’ve highlighted some of our most popular itineraries below.

Learn more about train travel in Europe

So you’ve come to the end of our guide to train travel in and around Belgium. We hope you now know your Intercitys from your Reseau Express Regionals. We’ve covered domestic and cross-border train travel, how to buy your tickets and which ones can save you the most money.

Ready to book your train travel in Belgium? Start your search for times and tickets in our Journey Planner at the top of the page. Not quite found what you’re looking for yet? Check out our other pages about train travel within Europe, or our guides to taking the train in other European countries.

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