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Train Travel Help Needed: Paris-to-Bruges and Bruges-to-Haarlem and Gare du Nord tips

My husband and I will be traveling from Paris to Bruges via train and stay in Bruges for several days. And then travel from Bruges to Haarlem (near Amsterdam) by train and stay there for several days. All our travel will occur on weekdays in April, and we'll have one carry-on each.

Based on my early research, it appears the best Paris-Bruges route is a Thalys train from Paris to Brussels and then a Belgium National Railway (SNCB) train from Brussels to Bruges.

The Bruges-Haarlem route is less straightforward. The best options (per Google) include, from quickest to slowest, Bruges-Brussels-Rotterdam-Haarlem or Bruges-Antwerp-Rotterdam-Haarlem or Bruges-Antwerp-Amsterdam-Haarlem. These use a combination of Thalys or Eurostar, along with Belgium and Netherlands (NS) railways.

I’m not sure how to determine the best route or go about purchasing tickets for both trips. I’m hoping RS Forum users might be able to help. For example, is there a single website I can use to book these itineraries, or do I need to book each leg of each route separately on different websites? It appears Thalys and Eurostar may already be getting low on tickets for our dates, so I’d like to take care of this sooner rather than later.

Last, if anyone has advice about the different levels on Thalys (standard, comfort, premium) or any of the other trains on this route, that would be wonderful.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Posted by
18 posts

Hi AB, for your journey from Bruges to Haarlem, I would recommend to plan your journey at the website of NS International, which is the International department of NS, the Dutch railway company. At this website you can book all the trains at once, including seat reservations.

Posted by
998 posts

Another option with fewer changes is to catch a Flixbus from Bruges to Amsterdam, then another bus or train to Haarlem.

Check out rome2rio for your options.

Posted by
2009 posts

My rule of thumb for booking train travel is: "use the website of the national railway of the country where the trip starts". Do not bother with google, omio or rome2rio for planning.
But often the website of the national railway of the country where the trip ends is a good option as well. And you can do that in this case: Book both on www.b-europe.com, the site for international bookings of the Belgian Railways, where you can see the prices and schedules of the different options.

Posted by
7671 posts

My experience?

Thalys from Paris to Brussels is about your only choice, then the SNCB train is your only option to Bruges. It might vary whether you have to change trains in Ghent, usually not. You need only book your Thalys leg far ahead, the leg from Brussels to Bruges you could even buy when you arrive.

From Bruges to Haarlem, in my view it is not worth the cost to head back to Brussels and take the Thalys to Amsterdam. You really save no time to speak of. Basically, I would go Bruges to Ghent to Antwerp, then catch an intercity train to Amsterdam Centraal, again, no great need for a fast train from Antwerp to Amsterdam. However there is no need to go into Centraal, get off the train at Amsterdam Sloterdijk and catch the next frequent train to Haarlem. The advantage of using intercity trains is that there is no chance of "selling out", no real need to book too far ahead, and the ticket should be good for any intercity (sprinter) train on that route, that day...you are not committing to a specific train.

Posted by
28 posts

Thank you all for your input – super helpful! I’ve purchased the Thalys tix from Paris to Bruxelles-Midi, and I see several connecting trains on b-europe.com to get us from there to Brugge, so we’ll get those tickets once we get to Bruxelles, or close to it.

For the Brugge-Haarlem leg, we’ll take your advice and also get those tickets at the time of travel. I’m sure our B&B hosts in Brugge can help us navigate the system too, if needed.

So, again, thank you so much.

One last question: How much lead time should we allow once we arrive at Gare du Nord for our Thalys train? Our ticket confirmation doesn’t say anything about how early to get there, and I don’t know if there are security lines, passport checks, etc. for an international train journey, similar to an international flight. Your advice as always would be helpful!

Posted by
1393 posts

“ Thank you all for your input – super helpful! I’ve purchased the Thalys tix from Paris to Bruxelles-Midi, and I see several connecting trains on b-europe.com to get us from there to Brugge, so we’ll get those tickets once we get to Bruxelles, or close to it.”

It’s too late now unfortunately, but instead of buying a Thalys ticket from Paris to Brussels, you could have bought a ticket from Paris to ABS. ABS stands for Any Belgian Station. This ticket would have allowed you to continue your train journey to literally any train station in Belgium after disembarking from the Thalys.
Domestic trains in Belgium are mass transit. Trains have free seating, trains can’t be booked. If you have a ticket from Brussels to Bruges you can take any train from Brussels to Bruges on the date mentioned on your ticket.

With regards to your question about security and passport checks for international trains and planes. If you travel within the Schengen zone, whether by train, plane or car there are no passport checks. France and Belgium are both members of the Schengen zone, so there is no passport control. Nor is there any security check. Gare du Nord is a huge train station though, so you may want to allow yourself some time to get your bearings. Arriving 30 minutes before departure should be plenty of time.

Posted by
7671 posts

trains can’t be booked

Well to be clear, you can buy your tickets ahead, for the route and day you wish to travel, the app, or at the station, will allow you to choose a time, but as you mention, the ticket would be valid for any time that day. I do not believe, I could be wrong, that there is much advantage in price in buying ahead in Belgium (at least in my experience), in the Netherlands, there can be.

Posted by
33147 posts

If you are over 65 you can travel very inexpensively in Belgium with a senior ticket. https://www.belgiantrain.be/en/tickets-and-railcards/senior-ticket

Quoting the webpage:

Are you over 65? Then you are entitled to enjoy return rail travel for
€ 7,20*.

compulsory return on the same day starting from 9 a.m. on weekdays (or
anytime during the weekend) to any destination throughout Belgium (not
including border points) 1st class comfort for € 15,30

I know it says mandatory return on the same day. I treat that as €7.20 per person to the destination and no extra charge if they return the same day, If you want to return the next day, or in fact go somewhere else the next day or later just buy another ticket. You do need to specify origin and destination when buying. So you could have (after 9am M-F, anytime weekend) one from Brussels zone to Brugge and then for the next leg, one from Brugge to Antwerpen. Then you just need the International Train ticket. Easy and cheap.

If you are under 65 disregard the above, or wait to go to Belgium until you are....

Posted by
1393 posts

Paul, please don’t quote part of my sentence as it should be read in its full context.
My full sentence read “ Trains have free seating, trains can’t be booked.”

Domestic trains in Belgium can’t be booked. Yes, you can buy train tickets in advance, but you can’t nor need to book tickets for a specific train. If you buy a ticket it will only show you the “From” and “To” and the date(s) the ticket is valid on. It won’t show you a specific time or a specific train number, because domestic trains in Belgium can’t be booked. Your ticket is valid on all trains to your destination. You’re even allowed to interrupt your journey along the way. There’s free seating in domestic trains and if all seats are taken, you will need to stand.

In the Netherlands you can save 10% by buying tickets at least 4 days in advance, but only if you travel in the off-peak hours.

Posted by
1 posts

I'm also travelling from Paris to Bruges but will do so in June. The Thalys route may be pretty expensive so I'm looking at travelling to Lille with SNCF and then connecting to Bruges by transferring at Kortrijk. Has anyone tried this route and can compare with the standard Thalys route of Paris - Brussels - Bruges?
Thanks!

Posted by
9794 posts

How much lead time should we allow once we arrive at Gare du Nord for our Thalys train? Our ticket confirmation doesn’t say anything about how early to get there, and I don’t know if there are security lines, passport checks, etc. for an international train journey, similar to an international flight.

To the OP - I took Thalys Friday night, on a train that departed Gare du Nord at 19:25 - I had received instructions from Thalys to be "checked in" by 19:10.

In practice, they posted (on the big board) our train platform at 18:59, so I went through and got my ticket scanned then. It was good I was among the first people, because I was in the very last carriage, and it took my a good little while to walk all the way down there !

They don't do any i.d. check or bag x-ray or anything, it's just a matter of walking up with everyone else and having a Thalys employee scan your ticket.

You will also of course need time to get oriented at Gare du Nord, so add that in too.