By Rick Steves
Are rail passes a good value for Belgium?
Most visits to Belgium don't cover enough miles to justify buying a rail pass, even if you're visiting the Netherlands as well. (All rail passes that cover Belgium also cover the Netherlands and Luxembourg as well; together they're called "Benelux," and count as one country as far as rail passes are concerned.) If your itinerary extends beyond this relatively small region, adding Benelux to a multi-country rail pass may be a good deal (but it always pays to double-check). If you decide against a pass, see our general tips for buying point-to-point tickets in Europe.
How do I see whether a rail pass doesn't make sense for my trip in particular?
Use this map to add up approximate pay-as-you-go fares for your itinerary, and compare that cost to the price of a rail pass for the number of days you expect to spend on the train. Also, follow the links below for:
- More tips for figuring out whether a pass makes sense for your trip
- The basics on choosing among rail passes
- More tips on how to save money by fine-tuning your rail pass
- Advice on deciding between first and second class
- Fare-estimate maps outside Benelux
- Answers to frequently asked rail-pass questions
Choose one of the passes below to check prices and to buy your pass (orders are fulfilled by Rail Europe).
Do I need to make seat reservations on Belgian trains?
For the most part, you can hop on nearly any Belgian train with just your rail pass in hand. But the fast Thalys trains that run between Brussels and Amsterdam, Cologne, and Paris do require reservations — and they're expensive (point-to-point tickets also cost more on these trains than other trains on these routes). On Brussels–Amsterdam and Brussels–Cologne trains, you can avoid this extra cost simply by choosing a regular non-Thalys train, which doesn't require seat reservations. The Brussels–Paris direct route, however, is served only by Thalys trains, and reservations cost $40–95 in addition to a rail pass that covers both Benelux and France. To avoid Thalys fees when heading from Bruges or Brussels to Paris (or from Paris to Brussels or Bruges), you can take a little more time and connect in Lille to a TGV train (still requires reservations, but only cost $11, provided you reserve ahead, as TGV limits the number of seat reservations sold to rail-pass holders).
What do rail passes cover in Belgium?
Aside from the extra reservation fees required for certain classes of train (see above), rail passes cover all travel on trains run by the SNCB, Belgium's national railway. Rail passes do not, however, cover the full cost of these two popular high-speed trains:
- Thalys: Even with a rail pass that covers your whole route, you'll still need to pay a hefty seat reservation to ride this train (see above).
- Eurostar: The trains that cross the English channel aren't covered by rail passes, but passholders are eligible for special fares provided their pass covers either Benelux or England (these fares also sell out in advance of the rest of the train). Fortunately, Eurostar tickets to/from Brussels also cover the cost of any direct connecting train within Belgium.
If a rail pass doesn't pencil out for your trip, you may be able to shave off the cost of your train tickets with some local deals. For example, seniors (65 and older) can hop any train for just €6 round-trip, provided it's not a high-speed express (or Thalys) train, and provided it's not a weekday before 9 a.m. Youths (25 and younger) can take advantage of a similar deal on etickets.
Belgium Rail Passes: Key Details
Benelux Eurail Pass: Valid on Thalys trains within the "Benelux" region (with expensive seat reservation), but not on trains to/from Paris. While the other passes covering this region offer a two-month window, this pass allows travel only within a one-month period.
Benelux–France Eurail Pass: Valid on Thalys trains between Amsterdam, Brussels, or Cologne and Paris, but only with a seat reservation, which costs an additional $40–95. If you expect to be taking several long train trips in France, however, this pass can still save you money (since French trains require either a reasonably priced extra reservation fee, or none at all). Still, be aware that both the Thalys trains and TGV trains limit the number of seat reservations sold to rail-pass holders — reserve as far ahead as you can.
Benelux–Germany Eurail Pass: If your only travel in Benelux is between Amsterdam and the German border at Emmerich ($20 in second class), it's cheaper to get a rail pass that doesn't include Benelux, and instead buy that train ticket for that stretch once you're in Europe (available at any staffed station).