Welcome to the guide on how to save money, time and confusion when travelling in and from/to Belgium by train.
When compared to most of the larger countries in Europe, travelling around Belgium by train is wonderfully simple.
Which is convenient as what Belgium lacks in terms of scenic journeys, it more than makes up for with a plethora of must see towns that can be reached on short and easy trips by train.
And because when travelling within Belgium, tickets cost the same price when booking last minute at the station as they do online, you can be spontaneous and head wherever inspires you.
Belgian trains may not be the most stylish, but they’re more than adequate for the relatively short distances involved
Or if you would like help with planning a train journey within or to/from Belgium or want to add some Belgian destinations to a European train travel itinerary, take a look at ShowMeTheJourney's new Concierge Service.
The official travel advice and information page for train journeys within Belgium is available here though the most relevant piece of info is that it is mandatory for all those aged 13 and over to wear face masks on trains.
The temporary entry requirements for travel into Belgium can be looked up on this website.
Train services within Belgium have largely returned to the usual timetable and the usual policies regarding refunds and exchanges tickets for domestic travel are in place.
International trains from and to Belgium:
Many of the international services to and from Belgium have resumed, with the exception of the usual Eurostar services.
It is currently operating a reduced timetable with only four or five services per day available in each direction on the London - Lille - Bruxelles route; and with one train per day available in each direction between Bruxelles and Amsterdam.
The station calls at Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International remain suspended until further notice.
Eurostar has published a travel information guide.
Thalys, the operator of the high speed services on the Bruxelles <> Amsterdam and Paris and Dortmund routes has produced a travel requirements guide
The enhanced terms and conditions for ticket exchanges remain in place.
Seven things which are particularly worth knowing about Belgian train tickets:
1. There is no need to book tickets for domestic journeys solely within Belgium online to save money, they will cost the same price if booked at the station.
2. The ticket machines at the stations are fairly easy to use, so you can avoid having to queue at a ticket counter.
3. Reservations are not available on SNCB's national train services that operate wholly in Belgium.
So seats aren’t guaranteed, hence the advice to avoid travelling into big cities in the morning peak and from big cities during the evening rush.
4. Each adult ticket enables up to 4 accompanied children age under 12 to travel for free in both 1st class and 2nd class; you will need to be able to provide proof of the age of the children on request.
5. Children aged 12 and over have to travel at the adult rates.
6. 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.
7. Booking tickets for travel by most of the international train services from/to Belgium is a different end to end experience, in comparison to booking tickets for journeys solely within Belgium.
Reservations are compulsory on some of the high speed trains from and to Belgium and limited numbers of discounted tickets will be made available on most routes.
Hence the existence of B-Europe; a dedicated online booking service for the international train services from and to Belgium.
Seven things that are good to know:
1. Seats can’t be reserved on national trains operated by SNCB (the national rail operator in Belgium) , which includes virtually all train services; so it’s a good idea to avoid travelling at peak business hours.
2. Wi-fi also isn't generally available, but don't panic as very few journeys take more than 90 mins.
3. National train services tend to operate to a fixed timetable throughout the day; meaning that departures are at the same minutes past every hour.
However, they operate to different timetables on Sat/Sun compared to the Mon-Fri timetable.
On Mon-Friday there are a minimum of two trains per hour on the most popular routes, with a minimum of 3 x trains hour operate between Bruxelles/Brussels and Antwerpen/Brugge/Gent and Liege.
Virtually all other services operate at least hourly.
Trains generally operate less frequently at weekends, but the express IC trains still operate at a minimum of hourly intervals on all of their routes.
4. It isn't possible to make journeys between Belgian cities on the international high speed trains.
So you can't travel between Bruxelles/Brussels and Antwerpen on Thalys trains, or between Bruxelles/Brussels and Liege by Thalys or ICE trains.
5. Catering facilities aren’t available on train journeys within Belgium.
6. A yellow band above the windows indicates 1st class coaches/seats.
7. Folded bikes can be taken on trains free of charge, but bike tickets that cost €5, need to be purchased before taking NON-folding bikes on any train.
Day bike passes are available if you will be making multiple train journeys with your bike in a single day.
Eight things that are good to know:
1. What can be confusing is that because Belgium is a multi-lingual country, different names of towns and cities are used on the electronic departure information at stations; particularly on the platforms.
The electronic departure information switches between Flemish (French) and Dutch; so be patient if you can't initially see your destination listed.
For example you may see 'Liuk' on a departure indicator, but the train will be heading to/calling at Liege.
The particularly confusing dual namings are:
Antwerpen = Anvers
Liege = Luik
Lille = Rijsel
Louvain = Leuven
Kortijk = Courtrai
Namur = Namen
Mons = Bergen
Gent = Gand
Ypres = Ieper (capital 'I' not 'L')
2. The electronic departure displays only list the final destination of the train and one or two of it's main calling points; they don't list all stations.
So if you can't see your destination listed, check the paper departure sheets.
The sheets with blue headers are for Mon-Fri and those with orange headers are used for departures on Sat/Sun, so be careful not to confuse the two.
3. These paper sheets can be particularly useful when changing trains.
Don’t leave the platform you have just arrived at until you have checked the departure details of your connecting train - you might be able to remain where you are.
4. For international trains, the train numbers are shown on the main electronic departure displays and paper departure sheets.
Which can be useful when you have tickets/reservations for international trains, as the train number will be printed on your ticket(s).
5. The electronic indicators on each specific platform will only show the details of the next departure; and your train many not be the next to depart.
6. Because seats can't be reserved on Belgian trains, the platforms/tracks at Belgian stations aren't zoned.
7. While Belgian trains may not have the wow factor, the main stations in Antwerp and Liege definitely do have it!
And the rebuild of Gent-St-Pieters will soon be joining them on this list of Europe's most awe-inspiring stations.
8. The majority of domestic trains to/from Brussels/Bruxelles will call at more than one station in the city centre.
Bruxelles Central station lives up to its name with a city centre location and it has direct connections to metro/subway trains – metro connections are also available at Bruxelles Midi/Zuid.
The main railway station in the Belgian Capital is fairly quirky:
High speed trains comprise most of the international rail services from and to Belgium; pictured above are the TGVs used on the services to cities in France, the ICEs which travel to Germany; the Thalys trains which connect Belgium to Paris, Germany and The Netherlands; and a Eurostar train,
Trains from Belgium to France primarily take one of five routes.
(1) via the LGV Nord high speed line:
Four different train services take this route:
They then travel beyond these stations on various routes across France, to provide direct rail links from Bruxelles to multiple cities including: Avignon; Lyon; Marseille; Montpellier; Nimes; Strasbourg and Valence.
So if you target these trains you can avoid having to make the transfer between stations across central Paris
(2) Mouscron > Tourcoing:
Hourly Belgian IC trains travel from Kortrijk to Lille on this route and most, but not all, of these trains commence their journeys in Antwerpen and also call at Gent.
These are by far the most frequent trains from Antwerp/Antwerpen to Lille and the only trains from Gent/Ghent to Lille; easy connections are available in Gent with trains from Brugge/Bruges.
(3) via Blandain:
On Monday to Friday hourly IC trains take a Namur – Charleroi Sud – Mons – Tournai – Lille route*, but at weekends these trains only travel between Tournai and Lille.
*You may have to change trains in Tournai no matter which day of the week you will making this journey.
The Izy train service which provides a cheaper, but slower and much less frequent alternative to Thalys trains from Bruxelles to Paris, also comes this way.
One train per day departs Bruxelles for Paris on Mondays-Thursdays and Saturdays, but there are two departures per day on Fridays and Sundays.
(4) via Aulnoye:
Two trains per day now travel across the border from Mons to Aulnoye, where they have guaranteed connections into TER trains on to Paris Gare Du Nord.
(5) Jeumont - Maubeuge:
Two trains per day now travel to Maubeuge from Namur via Charleroi-Sud station (they don't call in Jeumont).
At Maubeuge station they have guaranteed connections into TER trains on to Paris Gare Du Nord; and Eurail and InterRail users can avoid paying the rail pass reservation fees on the Thalys trains by taking this route.
There are connecting trains available from Liege to Namur.
Trains from Belgium to Germany take one of two routes.
1: the high speed line:
Two different high speed trains services travel on this line:
(1) Up to 6 x ICE trains per day follow this route: Bruxelles-Midi – Bruxelles-Nord – Liege – Aachen – Koln/Cologne – Frankfurt Flughafen/Airport – Frankfurt (Main)
Connections are available in Frankfurt (Main) on to multiple other desinations including, Dresden, Linz, Munchen/Munich, Nurnberg, Stuttgart and Wien/Vienna.
Change trains in Koln/Cologne if you'll be heading to these other cities, which have no direct trains from Belgium - Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover.
2: via Welkenraedt:
Hourly local trains operate on a Spa – Verviers – Welkenraedt - Aachen route .
Hourly Belgian IC trains, which connect into these trains, operate on a Oostende – Brugge – Gent – Bruxelles – Leuven – Liege – Welkenraedt route.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays a Nightjet train now travels on this route Bruxelles - Liege - Nurnberg - Linz - Wien/Vienna
This is the only direct train service from from Belgium to Austria.
Hourly Belgian IC trains take a Bruxelles – Namur – Libramont - Arlon – Luxembourg route
On Mondays – Fridays there are also hourly local trains that take a different route from Libramont to Arlon via Virton.
Every other hour trains travel from Liege to Luxembourg on Belgium's most scenic railway line
Connections are available in Luxembourg into trains on to Metz, so this is the optimum route for a train journey from eastern Belgium to eastern France.
Trains from Belgium to The Netherlands follow three routes.
1: the high speed line:
Two train services travel on the high speed line from Belgium to The Netherlands:
(1) Up to 14 x Thalys trains per day take this route: Bruxelles-Midi – Antwerpen Central – Rottterdam – Schiphol Airport – Amsterdam
(2) InterCity Bruxelles trains which take the high speed line, but don’t travel at high speed.
These trains operate hourly on this route: Bruxelles-Midi - Bruxelles-Central – Bruxelles Nord – Bruxelles Aeroport – Mechelen – Antwerpen Berchem – Antwerpen Central – Breda* - Rotterdam
Three of these trains per day continue beyond Rotterdam to Den Haag HS, but the other trains all continue on to Amsterdam via Schiphol.
*Connections are available in Breda into trains which travel on to Arnhem via Den Bosch and Nijmegen
2: Essen > Roosendaal
Local trains still use the older line between Belgium and The Netherlands, they depart Antwerpen Centraal hourly and head over the border to Roosendaal where further connections are available into trains to Den Bosch, to Vlissingen via Middleburg; and for IC trains to Amsterdam, which call at Dordrecht, Delft and Leiden.
On the departure screens in Antwerpen these trains may be shown as heading to Belgian border town, Essen (not to be confused with Essen in Germany).
But on arrival in Essen the same train forms the service on to Roosendaal
3: via Vise
Hourly local trains depart Liege for Maastricht, connect there for a Dutch IC train to Den Helder, which travels via Eindhoven, Den Bosch, Utrecht and Amsterdam.
This is one of more than 150 train 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.