One word you’ll often hear when talking about Belgium is “cute.” Indeed, you can’t get much cuter than some of its small towns, especially Bruges. For centuries, artists from around the world have depicted its canals, historic bridges and stone churches on canvas. But as charming as Belgium may be, it’s also modern and efficient, especially when it comes to getting around.
Its position near France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands makes it easily combinable with visits to other countries, whether you’re traveling by plane, train or car. Be sure to purchase flights early if you’re planning a trip between May and September (the busiest time of year for tourists). Read on to learn about your best Belgium transportation options.
Flying to Belgium
Brussels is a major hub, and its airport (code: BRU) is one of the busiest in Europe. It’s within easy reach of the city center, just eight miles northeast. Many top carriers fly here, including Brussels Airlines, the country’s national airline, which operates flights between Brussels and many European, North American and African cities. Other airlines with service between North America and Brussels are Delta, Jet Airways, American and United.
In Charleroi, you’ll find the second largest airport in Belgium, Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL), which is about 35 miles from the Brussels city center. It is served by several budget airlines, including Ryanair and Wizz Air, which fly between many cities in Europe.
A shuttle runs regularly between Brussels Airport and the city center, a 20-minute journey. It’s on the lower level of the airport and offers service to the North, South and Central stations of the city. Purchase your ticket prior to boarding the train to avoid a surcharge.
Taxis are another, pricier option. They’re available just outside the airport 24 hours a day. The fare will be displayed on the meter.
Getting around Belgium from Charleroi Airport is also quite simple, as there is an Airport Express bus that takes you to the Charleroi Sud train station; from there you can continue to any train station in Belgium, using combination tickets that can be purchased at the airport. There are frequent shuttle buses to Brussels from the airport, as well as taxis.
Belgium by Train
There are two high-speed train networks that connect Belgium with other countries in Europe. The Eurostar zips between Brussels South Station and London in less than two hours, with frequent arrivals/departures throughout the day. You must reserve seats in advance through the Rail Europe, Belgian Rail or Eurostar websites.
The Thalys train links Paris and Brussels in just under 90 minutes. There are more than two dozen trains departing daily in each direction between Paris and Brussels. They arrive/depart from Brussels South Station. The Thalys train also stops at other Belgian train stations including Liege-Guillemins, Antwerp-Berchem, Mons, Charleroi-South, Namur, Bruges and Ghent-St-Pieters. Thalys tickets must be reserved in advance through Rail Europe, Belgian Rail or Thalys.
Eurostar trains have three classes of service (Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier), catering to all budgets. In Standard class, passengers can purchase snacks and beverages in buffet cars, while Standard Premier passengers are served a light meal in their seats. Business Premier tickets come with three-course seated meals, as well as free magazines and newspapers. All trains are non-smoking and have dedicated areas for families with young kids.
Thalys offers two classes of seating. Wi-Fi is free onboard for those in Comfort 1 class or for Comfort 2 passengers who purchase certain fares. Other passengers can buy Wi-Fi credits. Comfort 1 passengers also enjoy complimentary meals and newspapers.
Be sure to book your tickets in advance if you are traveling on either of these trains during the peak tourist season (summer).
If you’re planning to travel by train to other countries, consider a rail pass; Eurail offers a Benelux Pass for train travel in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Once within Belgium, you can use an extensive train network that spans the country. You can research timetables and prices and purchase tickets online prior to your trip. You cannot make seat reservations (except for groups), and tickets are valid only for the dates shown. You can sit in first or second class; the former offers more space for luggage and is generally less crowded.
There are coin-operated lockers as well as luggage storage service available at all major train stations.
Belgian Rail offers numerous discounts and special fares, including reduced rates for children under 12 and seniors over 65. If you’ll be taking a lot of trains, you may want to consider the Belgian Rail Pass, which offers a discounted price for 10 trips within Belgium. B-Excursion passes allow reductions on trains and certain attractions.
Belgium by Bus
Eurolines offers long-distance bus service between Belgium and other European countries aboard modern, comfortable coaches with air conditioning, bathroom facilities, reclining seats and, in some countries, free Wi-Fi.
Most of Belgium is well covered by the rail network, so buses are used only for short distances, usually connecting train stations with other rail lines. Three companies providing service around the country include STIB-MIVB in Brussels, DeLijn in the Flemish-speaking areas and TEC in Wallonia.
Belgium Bus Resources:
(French and German only)
Belgium by Car
Unless you plan to do a lot of exploring in the countryside, there’s really no need to rent a car when visiting Belgium. You can easily travel between cities by train, and once in the cities, you can get around on foot, by taxi or via public transportation. Having a car can also be a burden during rush hour traffic jams.
Keep in mind that aside from international signage, road signs in the Brussels region are in both French and Dutch. In Flanders, they are in Dutch and in Wallonia, French.
That said, most of the internationally recognized car rental company names are represented at the Brussels Airport and other locations throughout the country. It’s best to reserve the vehicle in advance for a guaranteed rate in your own home currency. The minimum age for renting cars is 25 years old (with some exceptions). A valid U.S. driver’s license is accepted for stays of less than 90 days.
Traffic drives on the right. Headlights must be used inside tunnels.
Seatbelts are required for all drivers and passengers. Unless otherwise indicated, the speed limit on motorways is 120 kph (about 75 mph) and 90 khh (about 56 mph) on other roads.
Travel Within Cities
The only Belgian city with a metro (subway) is Brussels. There is a standard flat-fare system, and you can buy multi-trip passes to save on the cost. Tickets can be purchased at all metro stations and newspaper stands.
Brussels Metro Resources:
–written by Susan Farewell
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