Köln / Cologne / Koeln to Bruxelles / Brussels by train

How to take the rail journey from Cologne/Köln to Brussels/Bruxelles

What's fairly unusual about taking the journey by train from Cologne/Köln to Brussels/Bruxelles to is that alternative services operate on this route; the Thalys trains managed by the French & Belgian national rail operators and the ICE trains operated by Germany's national rail company.

They depart from Köln hbf in different hours so if you need to depart from Cologne/Köln or arrive in Brussels/Bruxelles at a specific time, you'll be travelling on an ICE or a Thalys train.

Though if travelling at the cheapest price is your key criteria, be guided by that; it is timings rather than the type of train, which have a bigger impact on prices, the cheapest tickets inevitably sell out faster on the more popular departures.
SMTJ prefers the on the board ambience of the ICE trains, but it's not worth paying more to travel by them, particularly on such a comparatively short route.

Though rail pass users should take the ICE trains and ignore the Thalys trains.



From Köln/Cologne Hbf to Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel Zuid

Travel Information

The service of high speed trains between Brussels/Bruxelles and Cologne/Koln is split between
ICE and Thalys trains.
The timetable is arranged so that either one of these types of trains departs in each hour

Final Destination: Paris Nord – the Thalys trains

Final Destination: Bruxelles Midi – the ICE trains

10 - 12 x trains per day

There are 5 x daily Thalys trains, plus
6 x ICE trains on Mon-Thurs
7 x ICE departures on Friday

However, due to ongoing technical problems with the international type of ICE trains used on this route, many of the departures by ICE train are currently experiencing short notice cancellations.


Book early and save: Yes

Online bookings usually open:
6 months ahead of the travel date on the ICE trains*
4 month ahead of the travel date on the Thalys trains

Booking Tickets:

What type of train you will be travelling by generally makes little different to the cost of tickets, the popularity of each departure has a bigger impact on prices.
The tickets for the ICE trains are made available two months ahead of the Thalys trains, so the very cheapest tickets for the ICE trains can have sold out before the Thalys tickets have been placed on sale.

When making an online booking, check that you’re looking at booking info for the direct trains.

Trains departing at different times can be cheaper than others leaving on the same day, so you may need to look through the day's departures to find the cheapest fares.
Use the ‘earlier trains’ and ‘later trains’ buttons to search for the cheapest ticket prices.

It can also be worth comparing the prices across the agents, particularly if you want to take a specific trains, as there can be variations in price.
DB (the booking site of Germany's national rail operator) tends to offer the lowest prices for the journeys by ICE train.
And DB now ALSO sell tickets for the Thalys services; though you will see 'Determine price' listed on the DB website for Thalys departures

Seat Reservations:

Book 1st class ticket journey tickets for the ICE trains and your seat reservation is included - but they're optional when booking 2nd class tickets, or if you will be travelling with a 1st or 2nd class rail pass.
In contrast seats will automatically be assigned when booking any ticket for the Thalys trains.

Look out for this when comparing prices of 2nd class tickets on the ICE and Thalys trains.
Some ticket agents will automatically include the reservation fee for the ICE train, even though it's optional (you can choose to remove it); on other agents including DB, the initial 2nd class price you see won't include the seat reservation charge.

Using rail passes:

If you will be travelling from Cologne/Koln to Bruxelles to with a valid Eurail or InterRail pass, target the ICE trains.

You won't have to pay any rail pass reservation fees to travel by those trains; though the optional fees of €5.30 in 1st class and €.4 in 2nd class are relatively expensive for such a comparatively short journey.
In contrast the rail pass reservation fees for the Thalys trains will be €30 in 1st class and €20 in 2nd class.

Where to book
Ticket Provider Approximate Cost
B-Europe from €19.90

B-Europe Guide

B-Europe is the website provided by Belgium's national railway operator for the sale of international rail journeys from and to Belgium.
Therefore tickets can be booked for the following international train services to/from Belgium

  • Eurostar
  • IC trains to France, Luxembourg and The Netherlands
  • ICE trains to Germany
  • Thalys trains to Germany, The Netherlands and Paris
  • TGV trains to destination in France other than Paris
    B-Europe offers a 'Best Fares' policy for journey by these trains.

It also sells international end-to-end journeys solely by train, with connections outside of Belgium, if you will be heading to popular destinations in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

Users of Eurail and InterRail passes can also book seat reservations on the Eurostar and Thalys services without paying booking fees.

DB from €19.90

DB Guide

DB is the national railway operator in Germany, so its website can be used for booking journeys by German express trains; the ICE and IC trains and it doesn't charge booking fees.
It also sells tickets for journeys by direct trains on all international routes from Germany regardless of whether DB is operating the train service.

It also sells an extensive range of end-to-end journeys which involve making connections both within Germany and in neighboring countries, but journeys between Germany and Britain cannot be booked on DB.

A key feature of DB website worth keeping mind is that it offers 1st class ticket purchasers complimentary seat reservations on journeys both within and to/from Germany.
Seat reservations for daytime in both 1st and 2nd class can also be booked separately from tickets.

Two types of ticket have recently been made available;

  1. Cheaper 'Young' tickets which can only be booked by those aged 15-26 on the travel date.
  2. Flexi Plus tickets, which are now the most expensive type of ticket, but they're the only type of 2nd class tickets which DO include a seat reservation.
Save A Train from €19.90

Save A Train Guide

Trainline from €19.90

Trainline Guide

On this journey

Journey Features

Scenic - NoHigh Speed (partial journey)

Good to Know

All trains also call at:  Aachen and Liege

Most of the ICE trains also call at: Bruxelles-Nord
Note that the Thalys trains do NOT call at Bruxelles-Nord.

Neither the ICE or Thalys trains call at Bruxelles-Centraal.

The ICE trains travel at the same speed as the Thalys trains - most of the ICE trains are around 4 mins slower than the Thalys trains due to their additional station call at Bruxelles-Nord.

Between Koln and Aachen Between Koln and Aachen
Between Aachen and Liege Between Aachen and Liege
Between Liege and Brussels Between Liege and Brussels

For virtually the entire train journey from Koln to Bruxelles the trains, will either be travelling at up to 290 km/h on purpose built high speed lines, or up to 200km/h on section of railway, that has been re-engineered to allow trains to travel faster.

It is a journey of six distinct phases:

  1. Between Koln and Aachen the trains travel at up to 200 km/h on a re-engineered stretch of railway.
  2. Then for most of the the 25 min journey between Aachen and Liege the train will travel at up to 290 km/h on a high speed line; this is also the most scenic part of the trip.
  3. Then for around five minutes after departure from Liege, the train will travel fairly slowly on a route which ascends from the city.
  4. Next up is the HS2 Belgian high speed route as far as Leuven, in theory the ICE and Thalys trains can accelerate back up to around 290 km/h on this part of the trip.
  5. From Leuven to just north of Brussel-Nord station the maximum speed is 200 km/h.
  6. For most of the journey between Brussel-Nord and Brussel-Zuid the railway crosses the city centre in a tunnel.
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