Hi - I'm reading that we should book train travel at least a month in advance, for travel between cities like Ghent and Luxembourg. We assume we could just purchase our tickets for the next leg of our travels when we arrived in a city. Do we need to book in advance? We are traveling in May, starting in Amsterdam, then Ghent, Luxembourg, ending in Brussel. Any info appreciated! Thanks!
There's a difference between daytrips and longer distances. You are not specific about your itinerary, but national rail companies are not dumb. They've seen what airlines can do with Advance Purchase Discounts and Non-Changeable, Non-Refundable Fares. You can be as free as the wind, but you'll have to pay for it. And you'll have to wait in line for a ticket window. In season, seat-reservation only trains can sell out. too.
Where do you read that, I wonder?
It's not even possible to book trains within Belgium and on to Luxembourg.
For Amsterdam to Antwerp (for Gent) or Brussels, you have the choice between:
- faster Thalys trains that you can book up to 120 days in advance. You need to take the train you booked, and they can get expensive closer to the date.
- slightly slower intercity trains that don't need to be booked ahead, but if you know on which day you travel, then you should book, because it is cheaper and you can still use any train that day.
An excellent resource is "the man in Seat 61" website for all things train related.
I beg to differ about driving. Cars can be helpful for specific travel plans, and for hitting three attractions in one day, if they're not too far apart. But even ten years ago, my wife often worked in Beerse, Belgium, but preferred to sleep in Antwerp. Her short-ish trip each morning was like taking the Long Island Expressway (or the Schuylkill Expressway, take your choice ... ) for the same distance during rush hour: Bumper to Bumper. One day, a reckless motorcyclist swerving between stopped cars hit her side mirror. Whatever happened to the Hell's Angel, he keep going ...
It isn't just parking in historic districts, it's one-travel-lane curved medieval streets, archways built for horse-carts, and parking stalls (and garage ramps) so economically narrow that they'd be illegal at The Mall of America.
I wouldn’t use a car for driving between these places. In theory a car is quicker but not so sure about this in the real world. Antwerp and Brussels are notorious for traffic jams, you can easily loose a half hour and even more. If you are not used to drive in Ghent it will become a real challenge finding your way there.
Traveling with two even the costs of highspeed trains can be competitive if booked well ahead. For exploring the countryside in that case a car is to prefer. For tickets and time tables you can use this Belgian website (select "International travel" for cross border trains).: https://www.belgiantrain.be/en?journey=0
Or this Dutch website: https://www.nsinternational.com/en
If you're sure of your itinerary, buy your tickets in advance. I typically buy tickets the same day or the day before, however, and I've never had a problem. For me, the flexibility is well worth the extra cost.
Thank you all for such good information, especially the website, "the man in seat 61" website - thanks!
As for driving, we are retired seniors who would rather relax on a train than figure out roads/signs, although we did drive in Europe when we were younger. We take our time, see fewer places, but more in depth. Happy traveling!
Camille, thanks for the additional information that you are both seniors and prefer not to drive.
We can save you a bit of money.
Internal travel in Luxembourg (the whole country, not just the city) is free for all now in 2nd class. From the official website of CFL, "Public transport within the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is free to use for all, except in 1st class by train. Discover our offers for your 1st class travel in Luxembourg and find out about our points of sale. All tickets are valid on all forms of public transport in Luxembourg." https://www.cfl.lu/en-gb#nav-main-0
Seniors get a real bargain in Belgium. https://www.belgiantrain.be/en is the main entry to the Belgian train website, and then have a look at https://www.belgiantrain.be/en/tickets-and-railcards/senior-ticket How does 7.20€ each return (round trip) for each of you sound - to anywhere in Belgium from anywhere in Belgium? Just have an extra cup of coffee in the morning and start your travel after 9am M-F or anytime on the weekend.
Want to go to Luxembourg? Senior ticket to the last Belgian station and cheap ticket from there to the first Luxembourg station, then free.