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Belgium Train Station Names

I am planning my first trip to Belgium. I plan to use the Belgium Train System. I am not familiar with any of the train networks.
Where can I find a list of the station names so that I can purchase tickets?
It all seams very confusing. If I want to purchase tickets from point A to point B, they want the name
of the station.
Would the best suggestion be to buy RS Tour Book on Belgium?
Any and all information will be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
2487 posts

Yes, Belgian city names can be a little bit confusing. Being a bilingual country - trilingual is you include German, which is spoken by a small community in the eastern part - many have both a Dutch (Flemish) and French (Walloon) name. And to complicate it further, the major ones have a slightly different name in English. Dear Gent (as I, as a Dutchman call is), is also »Gand« and »Ghent«. And for the capital you've got »Brussel«, »Bruxelles« and »Brussels«. Nice Mons in Wallonia is in Flanders known as »Bergen«. And larger cities have more than one station. Even medium-sized Mechelen (Malines) has two.
That being said this link www.b-rail.be/nat/N/assets/netkaart_nmbs_mobility.pdf will give you a reasonably detailed map. When a city has more stations, Google Maps will show you which is nearest to your destination.

Posted by
28108 posts

An easier way around this would be for you to share where you intend to go. If you haven't looked at a guidebook, how are you choosing what you want to see?

Several of us here know Belgium (and Luxembourg and the Netherlands) quite well.

Are you happier thinking in Flemish or French?

When is your trip?

Posted by
1683 posts

Indeed, if you are more specific about the route you are planning we can help you better.

Posted by
2487 posts

For the unwary it is indeed all very confusing. On a Flemish station you don't find any »Braine-l'Alleud« displayed, the station for visiting the Waterloo memorial. There it's »Eigenbrakel«. And on the Brussels stations the displays change constantly, switching from Dutch to French and vice versa. Not a different train, but the same train with the same destinations, only in a different language. »Antwerpen« and »Anvers« already make you think to be different places, but who would think that the »Malines« on a French-speaking station is the same »Mechelen« which you saw in Antwerpen Centraal? (Nice city, by the way. Much overlooked. Last year I stayed there as a base for visiting Antwerpen/Anvers, Brussel/Bruxelles and Gent/Gand.)

Posted by
504 posts

We found that it was pretty easy once we got there. You don't really need to buy your tickets in advance. Just tell the person at the ticket counter where you want to go, and you will get a ticket to go there. The Belgian Rail site at http://www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx is pretty good for planning schedules.

Posted by
12980 posts

If you're taking a Thalys train through Belgium, you'll hear the announcements made in 5 languages.

Posted by
11292 posts

The key point is that, except for the Thalys, there is no discount for advance purchase for Belgian trains. So, you don't need to buy tickets online in advance; you can buy them when you get there.

Rick's book covers Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent. If you want to learn about other destinations in the country, you will need additional sources (always a good idea anyway, as Rick's books are highly selective about what they cover in each destination).

Since you said you're in the early planning stage, look at the website for ARAU: http://www.arau.org/en

Their Art Nouveau tour was, by far, my favorite thing in Brussels. If I go again, I would definitely plan my Brussels time around the availability of one of their English language tours.

Posted by
5572 posts

And if you buy walkup tickets on the weekend, there is a tremendous discount for same day round-trips. While it's true that some ticket agents are uncomfortable in English, they've certainly heard the words before. Your biggest problem will not be getting understood, but the total time spent in line to use an american credit card to buy tickets from a human. The machines won't take your card.

As others have stated, local trains in Belgium are frequent, cheap, and useful. Don't worry for a moment about your daytrips. You'll have a good time.

Another problem is that a few important towns, like Gent, have more than one station, and choosing the wrong one may not disclose all the trains to Gent from wherever you are. You just have to check both stations in the NMBS website. Another thought is that in a few cases, like Antwerp-Mechelen (OK, not everyone goes to Mechelen, even on Saturday market-day), you can take a longish but even cheaper, regular city bus ride that shows you a little more of Belgium than the train does.

If you're mainly traveling in the most visited cities in the Flemish region, you'll only need to know one version of the names. (However, I might add that Bruxelles-Midi and Brussel-Zuid alternate on the columns you see through the window of the train, and I was quite confused the first time I took the chunnel train to Brussels. And the announcements are often like the announcements on the Boston or New York City public transit - fast and unintelligible, even if you have a crib sheet of place names! All I can suggest is print out a map, relax, and enjoy. I love Belgium.

Posted by
2487 posts

the total time spent in line to use an American credit card
For which situation cash comes handy.
It is indeed a lovely country. I live in nearby Netherlands. Two hours on the train and I'm in Antwerpen. It is totally different. It covers the whole spectrum: from absolute ugliness to absolute beauty. But after a while that ugliness becomes interesting and gets its own special kind of beauty. It's never boring.
The problem with the country is its town planning, or rather lack of it. The ribbon development has ruined it. The Belgians themselves are complaining about it. Everybody wants to build its own house along an existing road, which makes it apparently impossible to end.

Posted by
13693 posts

The Belgium Rail website can be confusing as city listings can include bus stops as well as trains, and train stations in both French and Dutch! You get the hang of it after awhile but I had the same problem. I hate like the devil to use Wikipedia but it might be a helpful place to start?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_railway_stations_in_Belgium

Another suggestion I'll throw out is to get around ticket lines by buying a 10-journey pass if you think you'll be traveling enough to make it worthwhile and the math works versus individual tickets. My husband and I shared a 2nd-class pass on the last trip, and it was nice just to fill out our departure/arrival locations and jump on the train.

http://www.belgianrail.be/en/travel-tickets/passes-cards/rail-pass.aspx

If you're under 26, look at the even-cheaper Go Pass:

http://www.belgianrail.be/en/travel-tickets/passes-cards/go-pass-10.aspx

Posted by
12040 posts

Your biggest problem will not be getting understood, but the total time spent in line to use an american credit card to buy tickets from a human. The machines won't take your card.

For some reason, they only accept a single kind of credit card... I forget which one, but even my Visa issued by a bank in Belgium wasn't accepted! All the more strange that the ticket counter seems to accept most of the major credit cards available in Europe.

Provided you're not heading to some more obscure destination, don't worry about it. Traveling between major cities in Belgium by rail couldn't be easier.

Posted by
68 posts

All suggestions are very much appreciated.
I planned a vacation to Italy and purchased tickets on TrenItalia. After playing with the website for awhile, I was able to figure it out and it was not so confusing.
However, the Belgium train system seems a bit daunting.
Thank you, everyone, for your input. It REALLY helps.

Posted by
68 posts

I would like to ask Tim about his mention of the NMBS website. Not sure what that is.
Thanks.

Posted by
28108 posts

Belgium has two main languages (three if you count the relatively small German speaking area).

NMBS (Flemish) = SNCB (French) = Belgian National Railways.

English language website - http://www.belgianrail.be/en