In contrast to train travel within Belgium, on which both discounted tickets and reservations aren't available, different terms and conditions apply to MOST of the international train services that operate to/from Belgium.
And the FIVE things that are good to know about taking a train from Belgium are:
(1) Tickets will be cheaper if booked in advance for journeys by the high speed trains - the Eurostar, ICE, Thalys, and the TGV Bruxelles-France trains and for journeys by the IC train service to The Netherlands.
(2) Reservations are compulsory (and included on the ticket) on Eurostar, Thalys and TGB (TGV) trains.
(3) Reservations are available, but not compulsory on the ICE trains to/from Germany.
(4) In contrast to the high speed trains, discounted tickets and reservations are NOT available on the IC trains between Belgium and Luxembourg, or between Belgium and Lille in France.
(5) There are now overnight trains to/from Belgium - on two nights per week a Nightjet train travels from Bruxelles to Innsbruck via Munich and to Vienna - and it calls in Leuven and Liege.
These trains operate on these four routes:
(1) Bruxelles Midi/Zuid– Antwerpen – Rotterdam – Schiphol - Amsterdam
(2) Bruxelles Midi/Zuid - Paris Gare du Nord
(3) Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Liege – Aachen – Koln – Essen – Dusseldorf – Dortmund
(4) Antwerpen - Bruxelles Midi/Zuid - Marne La Vallée for Disneyland Paris
The direct Thalys trains between Brugge, Charleroi, Mons, Namur, Oostende and Paris have been withdrawn.
Note that tickets can't be purchased either online or at the station for journeys by Thalys train between Bruxelles and both Antwerpen and Liege.
These trains operate on this route:
Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Bruxelles Nord - Liege – Aachen – Koln Hbf – Frankfurt Flughafen/Airport – Frankfurt (Main) Hbf.
(Note that The ICE trains call at Bruxelles Nord station, but the Thalys trains don’t call there).
For rail pass users the ICE trains are a much better option than the Thalys trains for journeys between Belgium and Germany.
If you won’t be travelling with a rail pass then you have a choice of Thalys or ICE trains for direct journeys between Brussels/Bruxelles* or Liege and Koln/Cologne or Aachen.
Choose whatever departure time/price suits you – both Thalys and ICE trains are sold on B-Europe, the ICE trains can be cheaper than the Thalys trains and vice versa.
Note that tickets can't be purchased either online at the station for journeys by ICE train between Bruxelles and Liege.
Hourly trains typically operate in both directions on a Spa - Verviers - Welkenraedt - Aachen route.
They are now the only regularly scheduled trains which operate over the Belgian/German border, on what was the main line, before the opening of the high speed route between Liege and Aachen, which the ICE and Thalys trains typically use.
At Aachen Hbf connections are available to/from RE trains which link Aachen with Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Essen Koln/Cologne, Monchengladbach and Wuppertal.
So an alternative to the ICE and Thalys trains for a Bruxelles to Koln/Cologne journey, when the direct high-speed trains aren't available, or if you will be using rail passes and what to avoid the Thalys trains and don't want to wait for an ICE train, is to use these connections.
They operate on this route: Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Lille Europe – (Calais Frethun) – (Ashford International) – Ebbsfleet International – London St Pancras International.
Stations in France that have direct TGVs from Bruxelles Midi/Zuid include: Aeroport Charles De Gaulle, Aix-en-Provence TGV, Avignon TGV, Lyon Part Dieu, Marne La Vallée, Marseille St Charles, Montpellier, Nimes and Strasbourg.
(On the latest timetable update the direct TGV trains between Bruxelles and Antibes, Cannes, Nice, St Raphael and Toulon were discontinued - though connecting in Marseille and NOT Paris is an option).
Seats cannot be reserved on any these international IC trains and no on-board catering is available.
Non-high speed IC (Intercity) trains on operate on these five routes from/to Belgium:
(1) Antwerpen/Anvers – Gent – Kortrijk – Lille Flandres (change of train many be required at Kortrijk)
(2) Mons – Tournai - Lille Flandres (change of train may be required at Tournai)
(3) Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Bruxelles Central – Bruxelles Nord – Bruxelles Luxembourg – Namur – Arlon – Luxembourg
The trains used on these three routes are Belgian IC trains, pictured above, which happen to have their journeys extended over the borders.
(4) Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Bruxelles Central – Bruxelles Nord – Bruxelles Aeroport – Mechelen – Antwerpen – Breda – Rotterdam – Schiphol – Amsterdam Centraal*
(5) Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Bruxelles Central – Bruxelles Nord – Bruxelles Aeroport – Mechelen – Antwerpen – Breda – Rotterdam – Den Haag/The Hague HS*
*These IC trains between Belgium and The Netherlands, pictured above, can be referred to online as ‘InterCity Brussels’ trains, but they don’t carry this branding, though they can have stickers on the doors showing that they operate between Amsterdam Centraal and Bruxelles Midi/Brussel Zuid.
For rail journeys between Belgium and The Netherlands they're a slower alternative to the Thalys trains as they're not high speed trains.
Although when the most heavily discounted tickets for the Thalys trains have sold, they're (much) cheaper.
These IC trains are also a much cheaper option for rail pass users than the Thalys trains, as they have no additional charges.
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.
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