Though it doesn’t get as much attention as other European destinations, Belgium is a beautiful country with lots to offer visitors. During our weeklong trip to the country, we visited Brussels, Brugge, Ghent, and Antwerp and ate our weight in waffles and chocolate in each one.
Since we covered a lot of ground , we chose to travel by rail. Belgian trains are quick, affordable, and comfortable. They are also fairly easy to use once you get the hang of it.
Here are some things to know before traveling Belgium by train:
1. Belgian Rail is the primary operator.
If you are taking trains domestically, you will likely use Belgian Rail (also referred to simply as “B”).
2. Purchase domestic tickets at the station.
Though it goes against my nature as a type-A over-planner, we didn’t buy any of our domestic train tickets in advance. There are plenty of kiosks available in every train station, so purchasing tickets shortly before boarding is super easy and allows for more travel flexibility.
3. Purchase international tickets in advance.
That said, it is important to purchase international train tickets in advance (ideally a few weeks or a month) to avoid paying an exorbitant amount last-minute.
We booked our train from Amsterdam to Brussels here.
4. Many of the cities have multiple train stations.
In major Belgian cities, there are several train station options. Do a little research to determine which one is most convenient for you.
5. Most tickets are zone to zone (not station to station).
Rather than specifying a specific departure or arrival station (ex. Brussels Nord), Belgian train tickets often indicate zones (ex. Brussels Zone). In that case, the ticket is valid for arrival or departure from any of the stations in that zone.
6. Domestic tickets don’t have assigned time/seat/carriage.
Domestic train tickets purchased at the station are typically valid for the whole day. So if you purchase a return ticket from Brussels to Ghent, you can hop on any B train headed to Ghent that day.
7. Trains have two classes.
All the trains in Belgium have 1st and 2nd class, which you can choose between when booking your tickets. When you board, be sure to choose a carriage that corresponds with the class on your ticket (there will be a “1” or a “2” written near the train door to indicate the carriage’s class).
We always traveled 2nd class and were perfectly comfortable, so I’m not sure that 1st class would be worth the extra expense.
8. A conductor typically checks tickets.
Unlike on airplanes, we didn’t have to show our ticket to enter the train. But a conductor would often come through the cars after the train was in motion to check tickets. So we strongly discourage anyone from attempting to board a Belgian train without a ticket.
9. Weekend tickets are cheaper.
Special “weekend tickets” are available from Friday evening through Sunday for half the price of regular tickets. We recommend taking your most expensive day trip (for us that was Brussels to Brugge) on the weekend to maximize savings. Just be warned that many places are closed on Sunday.
10. Cheaper ticket for youth.
For travelers younger than 26, discounted tickets are available.
11. Trains are not always punctual.
While we had generally good experiences using the Belgian rail system, we found that the trains were not as punctual as in other European countries we’ve visited. Trains were often delayed 10 or 15 minutes and several were cancelled altogether. We recommend including a buffer in your schedule just in case.
12. Bathrooms are not free.
One thing that surprised me when traveling Belgium was the lack of free public bathrooms, including the train stations. Most bathrooms in train stations cost between 50 cents and 1 Euro to use.
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