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Ghent for a day? Opinions

Just wondering some people's opinions on the matter; we will be traveling From Amsterdam to Paris in early September, considering a stop off in Ghent along the way, likely for somewhere btw 5-7 hours before getting back on the train and continuing on to Paris. Would those that have been there before say that it's worth it vs just spending more time in the Netherlands or Paris?

Posted by
4694 posts

It's a superb city, and not as far off the main rail line as the more visited Bruges. Don't go on Monday, but it actually has plenty to see at street level on Monday too - but some retail can be closed Monday along with the art museum. The Altarpiece is open seven days, but it is partly removed for conservation right now. I personally prefer Antwerp, with more to do, but unlike Gent, Antwerp can't be "done" in one day. Does your train stop in Antwerp anyway? Some do.

Personal interests make a big difference. Antwerp is known for contemporary fashion, for example, while Brussels has some very important art museums. (The Antwerp old-art museum is closed for renovation, but there are plenty of other museums there.)

Because of your (unstated September) date, be sure to look into Openmonumentendaag (poor Dutch spelling ... ) in both BE and NL. It's a weekend when rarely seen interiors may be open. The booklet is typically only in Dutch.

Posted by
3826 posts

We spent three nights in Ghent - using it as a base for day trips...but we did enjoy visiting the churches as well as Gravensteen castle and walking along the river (canal?).

Question - how many days are you spending in Paris and Amsterdam? I mean, if you only have a few days in either, I'd prob skip Ghent and carry on...

Posted by
14004 posts

Ghent isn't exactly on the way. The Thalys train takes 3+ hours from A'dam to Paris. To go to Ghent it's 2+ hours with a transfer (usually seamless) in Antwerp. From Ghent to Paris is another 2+ hours by train with a change in Brussels. The good news is that there are luggage lockers at the Ghent station. From there it's a tram ride (about 15 minutes) to the old town center.

I'm all in favor of day visits en route. I've done several, all have been worthwhile. I've gone back for in-depth visits to some of them on subsequent trips.

Edit - forgot to mention, I really like Ghent and it's even better after dark. Can you spend a night?

Posted by
28 posts

I appreciate the input, we can't spend the night unfortunately. We have 3 n in Amsterdam and 4 in Paris. Looking at the train schedules we can get into Ghent around 0930 and leave around 1630 getting into Paris in the evening.

I like en route trips as well but I'm really on the fence about this one for some reason.

Posted by
224 posts

We did Ghent as a day trip from Brussels and enjoyed it a lot. I think one plus for you is it will have a very different feel from the two larger cities you plan to visit.

Posted by
28 posts

OK, so, Im wondering if anyone has seen this before:

I just booked a ticket from Amsterdam to Ghent and it went through just fine and i have the Thalys tickets in my inbox. I went to purchase the second leg (Ghent to Paris) and it says I have to print them in France and wont be able to retrieve them otherwise. This is for Thalys... so did I just blow money on the first leg? I'm very confused.

Im on trainline.eu, if that helps.

Posted by
1464 posts

Did you by accident book a TGV in Lille (France) instead of a Thalys in Brussels for the leg from Ghent to Paris?

Posted by
4694 posts

MGT, it's not fair for me to dismiss them because I've never used the site you named. But it's a Third Party promoter. Even if they are honest, why wouldn't you buy Thalys tickets from the Belgian National Rail site, or from https://www.thalys.com/de/en/ ? When you insert an intermediary, it can complicate lots of things. I'm a little unhappy that our host, Rick Steves, now partners with RailEurope.

Most people on this newsboard would have gone to NMBS first (the rail company of Belgium) to see if the slower, regular international trains were a lot cheaper or slower. Some years ago, I think I selected a train to Paris based on the fact that it left from Antwerp, which saved me a domestic leg and a seat change in Brussels.

About the only drawback I can think of to a direct purchase is the difficulty with a foreign charge to your credit card. Sometimes they are declined if you don't pre-notify the card company.

Edit: Another confusing issue can be that local Belgian trains don't have advance-purchase advantages or seat reservations. Since Thalys doesn't go to Gent, the fact that you have to get to a Thalys station may be, sort of, hidden in your transaction with a third party. Also, Gent has two rail stations. (I don't mean that this is an actual obstacle. There many unreserved trains each hour between Gent and Brussels.) It is a small obstacle to know that the premium trains in Brussels stop at only one of the three stops in Brussels, "Midi/Zuid", and it's not the "Centraal" or main, station.

Posted by
1464 posts

If it is a Thalys usually you have to go to Brussel-Zuid / Bruxelles-Midi, with an intercity train from Ghent (just needing a half hour). Sounds a bit unlogic if you have to print the ticket in France if the departure is in Belgium. But there are also trains running from Ghent to Lille in France, likely for catching the Thalys there, if so there would be no problem. Otherwise contact trainline.eu, you have some time to solve this till September.

Posted by
28 posts

Thanks, the A leg route from Amsterdam has us going through Antwerp, so that's where I have us returning (luggage lockers). I was able to buy the Thalys ticket from Antwerp to Paris Nord direct from Thalys and I suppose that I will just buy the Belgian regional at Gent St Pieters to get back to Antwerp as it doesn't sound like theres any advantage to not buying them in advance.

Posted by
1464 posts

You can buy national tickets also online, but think only a month in advance. You can use the following website for this: http://www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx

At the station remains ofcourse an option too at the ticket counter but there are also ticket machines. For avoiding unpleasant surprises (like card malfunction or too long waiting lines) is maybe better to buy them as soon as you arrive at Sint-Pieters so you can go straight to the platforms as soon as you arrive at the station back later.

Posted by
4694 posts

Wil, I haven't been to Belgium in a few years. But back then, Americans, even those with Chip-and-PIN cards were UNABLE to use ticket machines in Belgian stations. It wasn't nationality or chip, but the special type of card required. Have things changed?

I feel confident that Thalys tickets would be cheaper purchased well in advance.

Posted by
1464 posts

Tim – Hard to say, I have tried once too with my own bankcard I can use anywhere in the EU and it didn’t work either, so buy the tickets from the counter since. According the NMBS website Belgianrail the machines accept different types of cards but no info exactly which and to make it more interesting for foreign travellers that info is only in Dutch and French. Maybe the machines had an update in the meanwhile so I will try next time.

For buying online tickets you can use Mastercard, American Express and Visa credit/debitcards.

Posted by
785 posts

Last month, we used a chip and signature card to purchase a Rail Pass from a machine in Brussels airport station. I then had to go to a counter to buy the diabolo supplement for the airport departure. It may have been possible to get it from the machine but I didn't realize it was a separate transaction and wasn't looking for it.

Posted by
1464 posts

The Rail Pass is issued by the national carrier NMBS/SNCB. Once the only connection with the rail network was with a commuter train between the airport and Brussels. With realizing the diabolo project some years ago local trains can stop now at the airport, but the pass is not valuable for this “diabolo" line as it is operated by a private company, so in this case payment is seperate. However buying a ticket to the airport the supplement will be included in the ticket price.