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Layover suggestions at Brussels Central (not Midi)

Edited 1/1/19 to update new itinerary in comments below

On 17 June, my granddaughter and I will be arriving in Brussels from Amsterdam via a Thalys train and connecting to the Eurostar 16:56 train to London. We would like to book an early enough Thalys train to give us a several hour layover. I am thinking about arriving on the 10:08 Thalys train, spending 5 hours in Brussels and then an estimated generous 1.5 hours to get back to the station and checked in. Any suggestions for activities in the area that are walkable? Just some neat shopping areas and moderately priced casual cafes. Really don't want to take a tour or use public transportation.

Thanks for any advice!

Posted by
4071 posts

The most obvious thing to do is walk around the Grand Place, the huge square at the center of Brussels. It's very touristy, but the square is worth seeing. You can see famed Manneken Pis just a block or two off the square.

You can walk to the square easily from Brussels Central station. There are three main train stations in central Brussels. The Eurostar uses Midi station like the Thalys does. But otherwise, many local trains pass through all three stations. You can simply hop one of the trains going from Midi to Central, get off and walk around, then take another train back to Midi, which has bag storage. (Technically I think you need to buy a ticket even though you are arriving and departing on trains passing through; I doubt anyone will check tickets between the three stations however.)

https://www.seat61.com/luggage-lockers-at-stations.htm#Left_luggage_in_Brussels

Posted by
42 posts

We’ll be leaving the bulk of our luggage in London while we spend the weekend in Amsterdam. Checking out and back into the same b&b and they’ve agreed to hold our large bags. Probably only have small carryons with us but hadn’t thought about what to do with it during the layover. A small locker is a good idea and worth the small charge. Thanks for the info!

Posted by
4358 posts

The area around Gare de Midi is pretty unattractive. I'd give up on the idea unless you are willing to take further public transport. The Grand Place area is a good suggestion as you can get back to Midi by either metro from Bourse or rail from Gare Centrale, if the other is disrupted.

Posted by
21570 posts

Second on the dodgy area in the Gare du Midi area. Much nicer around Central/Centrale/Centraal. Not good to walk between - take the train or Metro.

Posted by
136 posts

How old is your grand daughter and what interests you two? You can get between Midi and Central for free in your situation and it takes a mere few minutes. Walking around the Grand Place -a short walk from central station- is the most obvious thing to do. While I agree with the other posters that the neighborhood around Midi is not worth visiting, if at all interested in beer, the Cantillon brewery is about a 10 minute walk from Midi station and is a wonderful experience. It is child friendly and a good time.

Posted by
42 posts

Updated 1/1/19 Thank you all for your replies! They have helped me fine tune our layover in Brussels. Due to your fine suggestions, we will be taking the 7:15ish Thalys train from Amsterdam to Midi arriving approx 9:08 (will purchase 120 days ahead $29 each. I like the comfort and speed of the Thalys over Intercity- willing to sacrifice it not being flexible like the Intercity. We have no problem getting up in the morning) then backtracking via train to the Central station closer to tourist sites. We will have approximately 6 hours to explore and then another generous 1.5 hours to get back to Central for our Euostar departure 16:56 (check in 15:30-16:00)- already purchased.

Now that that's all settled, what tourist sites, cafes and shopping do you all recommend close to Central station? My granddaughter will be almost 19 at the time of the trip, so looking for a mix of history and shopping to interest a young adult.

Thanks for all you help and Happy New Year!

Posted by
21570 posts

You know, really, with that amount of time I'd dump the luggage and grab a train to Gent/Ghent or Bruges/Brugge. You could have a nice walk around either.

In Bruges, horse drawn carriages, lace, chocolate, bell tower, frites, church on church, two main squares and a lake, amongst others.

In Ghent, students, graffiti alley, mustard store, honey store, Mystic Lamb, the best chocolate, beautiful riverside architecture and much more.

In Brussels if you want to stay, there's a boy who needs a toilet statue, a girl in a similar condition, a dog in a similar condition, and other unusual statues. Good buildings around the main square. Some chocolate. Very high curbs/kerbs - be careful.

If 'twere I, I'd hie for Bruges or Gent with a 19 year old.

Posted by
4071 posts

With just a wee bit more time? Yes, I'd opt for Ghent or Bruges, too. But once you figure in not just the train travel times but getting two and from train stations, needing to make sure you get back to the train on time, train schedules maybe not lining up perfectly...it seems like very little time in Bruges or Ghent. Even though I much prefer them to Brussels, I still think I'd make it simple and stress-free and stick to Brussels. I did a similar stop off the train in Brussels for a few hours between Paris and Amsterdam once upon a time, and it was really fun. I came back years later to visit Bruges and Ghent.

Posted by
444 posts

I agree with Nigel. You have seven and half hours. What is the Thalys recommend check in time? 30 minutes before departure? Could you drop your bags there and do an early check in? If not I agree with heading to Brugge. Walk into town via the Minnewater past the Lake of Love and a stone bridge going to the Nunnery, then walk to de Zevendel Hemmel (iot used to be an excellent restaurant, but I have not been in years so check current reviews) on Walplein Strasse, then head to the Markt (main square) Be sure to have some frites avec mayo in front of the church on the square. You can walk to a Windmill just outside the ring road of the town. There are lots of chocolate shops. Enjoy.

Posted by
3788 posts

Note that Thalys and Eurostar both include any one Belgian Rail train to the two other stations in downtown Brussels. So you can take any of the 6-10 per hour you need. Check for advance Midi check-in time requirement for UK IMMIGRATION screening for Eurostar. This could be as much as one hour before boarding! Midi is easier to negotiate than Centraal, but you won't have far to walk if you use Belgian Rail to get there. Grand Place and even the big art museums are walkable from Centraal.

Check your Thalys ticket as to which station it's going to. I am opposed to Brugge because it's a long ride and you have to take the bus to get to the historic area. Too much for a stopover.

Posted by
1336 posts

In case you think going to Bruges or Ghent is too much of a hassle you can take the Thalys from Amsterdam to Antwerpen-Centraal to visit Antwerp for a few hours. After that the intercity (50 min.) to Brussel-Centraal for a 10min. walk to the Grand Place (main square). For the final leg to the Eurostar in Brussel-Zuid/Bruxelles-Midi you can take one of the very frequent trains, in addition to Tim you don’t need a seperate ticket as in this case yours will be valid for “Zone Brussel”, meaning your destination can be any station within the conurbation of Brussels. Within that you can change trains as long as you take the most direct route and don’t backtrack during the day the ticket is valid. As far as I know the same for the Thalys and Eurostar ticket, but ask to be sure.

But speaking for my self I would find out first if Bruges is doable, ofcourse to you to decide.