Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's guide to booking train tickets for journeys within AND from/to Belgium, the info covers the core basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.
The intention is to provide is some context for the tickets and journey options you should encounter, in normal circumstances, when making a booking either online or at the station.
SMTJ has striven to ensure that the included advice is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.
If you want to go right ahead with a booking, you can go use the content menu to go direct to the booking agents which sell train journeys to and from Belgium.
Though before doing so, having an idea of what's available is recommended, hence the in-depth guide.
In summary three things which are good to know about tickets for train journeys within and from/to Belgium are:
Travelling in Belgium by train is comparatively straightforward which makes it relatively easy to explore the country by train; hence the list of questions being comparatively short!
The simple answer is 'no it isn't possible'.
Tickets aren’t discounted if purchased online on BelgianRail in advance of the travel date, you pay the same price at the station as you do online, even if you will be buying tickets last minute at the station immediately before boarding the train.
So there’s no need to book online to obtain the cheapest price.
Therefore if you’re visiting Belgium, the balance tips in favour of buying at the station, where you can save time by taking an advantage of the straightforward ticket machines.
If you will be making a RETURN trip in Belgium by train between 19:00 on Fridays and midnight on Sundays, you can purchase Weekend Tickets, which give a 50% discount.
Or if you will be in Belgium for an extended period of time and want to explore the country by train, which is highly recommended, then this rail pass can be the best option.
For only €83 it provides for 10 train journeys anywhere in Belgium in 2nd class, or for an additional €45 you can travel 1st class.
So this pass can be used to travel around Belgium on an itinerary, or for 5 day trips by train.
In comparison a 5 day InterRail Benelux pass, which also covers The Netherlands and Luxembourg, is €169.
Children aged under 12:
If you have young children exploring Belgium by train as a family is fantastic value for money!
Each adult (12 and over) ticket enables up to 4 accompanied children age under 12 to travel for free, in both 1st class and 2nd class.
Though be aware that you will need to be able to provide proof of the age of the children to the conductors, so take their passports with you on journeys within Belgium
You don't need to book these 'free' child tickets; the adult ticket will be valid for the children too.
Children aged 12 and over:
Not such good news if your children are teenagers! Children aged 12 and over have to travel at the adult rates.
Seats can’t be reserved on any domestic train service within Belgium (they're available/compulsory on the high speed trains from and to Belgium).
Therefore booking online in advance doesn’t guarantee you a seat, though SMTJ has taken dozens of Belgian trains and has yet to encounter a train on which no spare seats were available.
Standard prices are charged based on distance, so you won’t have to pay a premium at peak times.
However, as a result the trains at peak times can be crowded and no reservations means that seats may not be available on all trains.
So if possible avoid travelling at rush hours, particularly when travelling from/to Brussels/Bruxelles.
On routes served by both stopping (S) trains and express IC trains, tickets will be valid on any train.
So you don't have to buy special tickets, or pay a premium to travel on the faster IC trains.
However, there are two exceptions to this rule:
(1) If you are travelling between Bruxelles and Antwerpen, tickets can't be used on Thalys trains.
(They can be used on the IC ('Intercity Brussels') trains that will be travelling between Belgium and The Netherlands).
In contrast to tickets for train journeys within Belgium, booking tickets for the international trains from and to Belgium can be a little more complicated.
However, for most journeys it's worth persevering with booking online in advance, as it's possible to make big savings!
Belgium's national rail operator NMBS/SNCB doesn't apply any special rules for journeys between Belgium and Luxembourg.
Therefore booking tickets for journeys to Luxembourg is no different to booking tickets to Belgian cities, so tickets won't be discounted online and seats can't be reserved.
Travelling from Britain to Luxembourg by train:
Eurostar does not sell tickets for journeys between London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford and Luxembourg.
However, an option is to
B-Europe sells tickets for journeys by:
(1) Thalys trains to/from Paris, The Netherlands and Germany
(2) ICE trains to/from Germany
(3) IC trains to/from The Netherlands
(4) Eurostar trains
(5) TGV trains between Bruxelles and towns/cities in France other than Paris
(6) IC trains between Belgium and Lille
Limited numbers of discounted tickets will be available on the routes taken by the international trains from and to Belgium listed above; except for the IC trains between Belgium and Lille.
So the further ahead you can book, the bigger the savings you can make, particularly if you be travelling on one of the high speed services: Eurostar, ICE, Thalys and TGB (TGV).
On B-Europe the cheapest advance tickets are named ‘Non Flex’ and they live up to their name.
They are valid only for travel on the specific trains you chose to travel by when making a booking AND don’t allow for any subsequent change of travel plans - so 'Non-Flex' tickets can't be exchanged or refunded.
However, Non-Flex tickets are rarely still available if you're not booking more than 2 months ahead; particularly on the high speed services/routes.
They also inevitably tend to sell out fastest on the most popular trains, so you may need to search through the departures in order to track them down on your first choice of travel date.
B-Europe's 'Best Fares' Policy:
If you will be making an international train journey particularly from Belgium, but also to Belgium, the advice is to always check the prices being offered by B-Europe, as it operates a ‘Best Fares' policy
This depends on the train service you will be travelling by:
(1) Thalys trains to/from Paris, Lille, The Netherlands and Germany = 4 months ahead of the travel date
(2) ICE trains to/from Germany = 6 months ahead of the travel date
(3) IC trains to/from The Netherlands = 6 months ahead of the travel date
Note that that the IC trains can be booked two months ahead of the Thalys trains, so if you look up journeys more than 4 months ahead you will only see the IC trains available for booking and NOT the Thalys trains.
(4) Eurostar trains = 190 days ahead of the travel date (usually)
(5) TGV France-Belgium trains = 3 months ahead of the travel date
However, if you will be searching for journeys between mid-September and mid-November AND travelling after the second weekend in December - the booking windows may be shorter while the new timetables for the year ahead are confirmed.
In contrast to train services within Belgium, seat reservations are available on most, but not all, international train services from and to Belgium.
(1) Thalys trains to/from Paris, Lille, The Netherlands and Germany = reservations are included in the ticket price, so seats will be automatically assigned when making a booking
(2) ICE trains to/from Germany = Reservations are included in the price of 1st class tickets, so seats will be automatically assigned when booking 1st class.
However, when booking 2nd class seats for a journey by ICE train, they are optional.
B-Europe will initially assign reservations for 2nd class journeys by ICE trains and the reservation fee will be included in the ticket price ; but as reservations are optional you can choose to remove it.
If you do so the price will reduce.
Without a reservation seats are not guaranteed on the ICE trains; reservations are particularly recommended in 2nd class if you will be travelling at evening business hours, or in the afternoon/evening on Fridays and Sundays.
(3) IC trains to/from The Netherlands, Lille in France and Luxembourg = Reservations are NOT available.
Note that that reservations aren't available on the IC trains between Belgium and The Netherlands; in contrast they are included when booking tickets to travel by the Thalys trains.
However, spare seats on these IC (Intercity Brussels) trains are usually available, though avoid travelling north from Bruxelles in 2nd class in the evening business hours.
(4) Eurostar trains = reservations are included in the ticket price, so seats will be automatically assigned when making a booking
(5) TGV France-Belgium trains = reservations are included in the ticket price, so seats will be automatically assigned when making a booking
There is a difference between how Eurail and InterRail passes can be used on trains in Belgium compared to how they can be used on MOST international trains; hence the dedicated guide to using rail passes on the trains to and from Belgium which you'll find below.
As reservations aren't required on any train operated by NMBS/SNCB, you can hop on and off virtually any train in Belgium if you're travelling with a Eurail or InterRail Pass.
The only notable exceptions are the Thalys trains between Brussels/Bruxelles and both Antwerpen and Liege/Luik.
To get value for money out of your pass, plan multi stop day trips and see more than one great city in a single day.
Viable itineraries for exploring with a rail pass include:
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.