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Travel between Brussels and Ghent (one way) and Brussels and Waterloo (round trip)

Hello and thanks for looking at my questions. #1) I will be traveling from Brussels to Ghent and train seems like the best way to go. Right now (perhaps because I am 4 months away) only one company is offering a train ticket and that is from Brussels Midi station. Is that the only train station offering a straight shot to Ghent or, if I wait, will there be others? #2) I am looking for a round trip day tour of Waterloo and think I have found a good private guide. Again, train seems to be the best travel option, but no trains are being offered yet (the calendar "greys out" in July. Where does the train to Waterloo depart from? Are their options as to station? Finally, and a bit off my original question, are their any recommended hotels near the train stations (I would prefer I think to stay in the Lower Town)? And, last but not least, are most Brussels museums and sites closed on Monday? Thanks for the help. Trying to get this somewhat squared away now. I appreciate your time.

Posted by
16941 posts

Since the Belgian National Railway (SNCB) runs all the trains, I hope you are looking at them. If you're looking at Rail Europe. fuggetaboutit. They will only show expensive express trains that they can make money on.

You can also look at schedules at www.bahn.com, even see where every train goes for its entire route. Since these are short hauls. It will be fine to just buy tickets as you go.

Looking at Brussels to Ghent, I am seeing direct trains every 15 minutes in the morning. They call at Brussels Nord, Central, and Midi.

Trains to Waterloo go every hour and start at Brussels Nord and also stop at Central and Midi.

Posted by
5574 posts

Ray, you should scan some other Belgium posts here (search box top center Desktop version of site.) Train is the best way, and as noted when you say "Train company" you actually mean "internet entreprenur and intermediary trying to scam you when you could buy direct from the NMBS." In fact, these trains are unreserved and there is no advantage to buying in advance - except maybe skipping the line to pay just before departure. A day ticket bought at the station is good anytime that day. I don't know about the advance purchase ticket from the website. They have an English site option at the top of their page, so you can research this.

All the trains to Gent stop at all three "Brussels" downtown stations. Not the airport, but you didn't ask about that.

Yes, Monday is a poor day to see Brussels. But there are some attractive outdoor sites, and churches, and you'll find a museum or two open - maybe the Bozar. It's all on the internet. Get clicking.

I have not been to Waterloo, but other posters suggest that it requires a lot of imagination to see Napoleon on the green farmland that's there now. You might want to make sure that this outing will be worth the excursion. There is plenty of history in Belgium, but maybe not so much to "see" there.

Looking at the NMBS site, I believe you can leave from any of the three Brussels stations for Waterloo, but you have to change, once, at Braine-L Alleud. Make sure your guide and you can both reach the location where you agree to meet. (As I wrote, I've never been to Waterloo.)

Posted by
1068 posts

Thanks for the info. Having a bit of trouble figuring out the National Train Site (gave me a ton of departing places in Brussels and arrival places in Waterloo.) As to Monday vs Sunday, I will essentially have a full day in Brussels and possibly a bit of a morning. So some of the sites I checked (churches etc.) were open all days and the couple of museums I have most interest in also seemed to be open Sunday. I am likely more interested in the Lower/Old town but a couple of the churches there were open Mon but not Sun (likely for services.) So I was just double checking that (like a number of places) Monday is less of a "museum day" in Brussels than Sunday. Waterloo is a special interest of mine and I have studied and read a number of articles and books about it. I found a fairly good (at least in his description of where we will go and what to see) for a lengthy private tour. While I have read other reviews here saying there is not much to see, I wonder how many of those going knew much about the 3 days of battle before they went. In any event, I may never return and if there isn't much to see, so be it. Appreciate the warning and thoughts though.

Posted by
1068 posts

Well, a good idea to do a search. I had read a few previous queries but looked at about 10 pages worth. I still have questions about using the Belgium Rail Site. It says from: Station, Stop, Address, B-Excursion and to: Station, Stop, Address, B-Excursion. When I type in Brussels and Waterloo I get: Your input is ambiguous, please select from the station list (which lists dozens of stops?) I assume I want a fairly central train station in Brussels (hope to stay in the Lower Town) and the "main" station in Waterloo (and the main station in Ghent a few days later.) How can I figure out what "Station, Stop, Address or B-Excursion" I want? Sorry if this is a dumb question but I do appreciate your time and any suggestions.

Posted by
177 posts

Ray we just returned from Belgium last week and we had to take the train from Brussels to Ghent. When I was looking into tickets for this I only saw that the train leaves from Brussels Mini. When we went to the train station on the morning of our train trip (Friday) we were able to get a direct train from Brussels Central. It depends on the day you will be traveling because when they checked our ticket on the train and saw that it was a one way they wanted to know when we would be returning to Brussels because the scheduled was different. This was not an issue for us since we were starting our RS tour in Ghent.

Posted by
8889 posts

Ray, What you are getting is a complete list of all metro and commuter stations, and possibly bus stops as well.
A Belgian would look up on a map the nearest stop to where he wants to go from or to, and enter that.
There are 3 stations in central Brussels, and each has two names, in French and Flemish. Most trains stop at all 3, so pick the closest:

  • French: Bruxelles-Midi, Flemish: Brussel-Zuid. This is the largest one.
  • French: Bruxelles-Central, Flemish: Brussel-Centraal
  • French: Bruxelles-Nord, Flemish: Brussel-Noord

In Waterloo, look for plain "Waterloo", or "Waterloo gare" (French for station)

Posted by
11292 posts

Brussels has three "central area" train stations - North, Central, and South. The names in Flemish are Brussel Noord, Brussel Centraal, and Brussel Zuid. The names in French are Bruxelles Nord, Bruxelles Centrale, and Bruxelles Midi (note Midi is not the middle station, but the southern one). As you pass through these stations, the names are announced in Flemish and French but not English. In other parts of Belgium outside of Brussels, names are announced in the regional language only (Flemish or French but not both).

Express trains from other countries (like the Thalys from Paris and Amsterdam, or the Eurostar from London) stop only at Brussels South station. Local Belgian trains (like those to Ghent and Waterloo) stop at all three stations. Most hotels you will want to stay in will be closest to Brussels Central station. So, just use Central station when searching. It's only about 5 minutes between each of the three center stations.

Local trains do not require or accept reservations. To find schedules, it's often easiest to use the Bahn (German Rail) website http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en, following Rick's tutorial: http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/online-schedules

Trains from Brussels to Ghent go direct (no changes) three times an hour; search from "Brussels Central" to "Gent St Peters" to find trains. Trains from Brussels to Waterloo go direct once an hour; search for "Brussels Central" to "Waterloo" for these. if you click "show details" on the Bahn website, you can see what the train's final destination is (handy to make sure you're on the right train, when getting on at the station).

Again, no need to pre-book tickets from home; just buy when you get there. And if you find it more convenient to depart from Brussels North or South stations, these trains make those stops as well.

Posted by
1068 posts

Many thanks to all of the posters. Just did a quick trial on the Belgium website and it (essentially) worked (although there are several Walterloo gares and I am not sure which one I will want.) Will try the German website in a bit. All of this (first 2 posts and last 3) were extremely helpful. And to Carol from Tallahassee..... Go Noles (from an FSU alum.)---Note: Just checked the German site.... much easier to use.

Posted by
1684 posts

Belgium is a bilingual country making things to put it mildly not so easy :) .

Over the years I have visited Waterloo 3 times and for history buffs certainly a place of interest. For getting to the battle site you can take the train to Braine-l’Alleud and for the final leg the bus. From there you can take the bus to Waterloo centre for visiting the Wellington Museum, the train station of Waterloo itself is at walking distance for catching the train back to Brussels.

There is also a direct bus connection (line 365a) from Bruxelles-Midi to the centre of Waterloo with a stop just in front of the Wellington Museum, which is open every day of the week. At the battle site there is a bus stop too on the same line. Have to say that the Walloon (French speaking) bus company TEC has not a big reputation about customer-friendliness, but think this is the most straight forward way to get to these two places. If you make use of a guide he wil certainly help you finding the best mode of transport.

http://www.museewellington.be/the-museum/
http://www.waterloo1815.be/index.php?page=opening-times-and-acces

At the battle site you have to buy a combined ticket for the in 2015 opened museum Memorial1815, the Panorama and The Lion’s Mound, the place for overviewing the site. The site itself is pretty well intact since 1815, so the decisive and strategic places of the battle are still there. Ofcourse the victors have left a number of monuments, with The Lion’s Mound (La Butte du Lion) as the most striking and the best spot for overviewing the site.

For discussing/studying the battle in detail you need somebody who can show you around as many places are too far away for public transport or to walk to like Hougoumont farm. The last headquarters of Napoleon is also along the same bus line 365a (with a stop) south from Waterloo, never visited it so have no idea if it’s worth the detour.

A bit more info:
https://projecthougoumont.com/visiting-waterloo (btw project must be finished in the meanwhile)

Posted by
1005 posts

Just to add a bit about Waterloo, I'd take the train directly from Brussels to Braine-l'Alleud and then the bus from there to the battlefield site. The Memorial 1815 museum is really one of the best war museums in Europe (and I've seen many of them). You can spend hours there following the rise and fall of Napoleon, or just skim the surface if you haven't much time or interest. The 3-D movie (with extra special effects that make them call it "4-D") clearly explains the events of the battle day. The Lion's Butte and panorama are not worth the trip--but the museum is definitely worth it.

I wouldn't bother visiting the town of Waterloo and the Wellington Museum--very second rate compare to Memorial 1815.

Posted by
1068 posts

Appreciate the input. My guide may be flaking out on me and I may be looking for different ways to do this.

Posted by
12040 posts

I have not been to Waterloo, but other posters suggest that it requires a lot of imagination to see Napoleon on the green farmland that's there now.

Unless they've really changed things in the half decade since I last visited, that would be my description as well. If you expect something like the preservation of a US Civil War battlefield, you might be disappointed. Descriptive historical markers are few and far between, and a good portion of the historic battlefield war torn up to build an adjacent highway. I found the cyclorama the most interesting part, followed next by the huge memorial mound that gives you a decent overview of the strategic landscape. Actually walking through the battlefield, however, could be any sugar beet field in Belgium, except for the very rare 19th century monument or modern interpretitive plaque.

Posted by
1068 posts

Tom, thanks for posting, I hope I have a different experience as I have read a number of books on Waterloo (and Napoleon in general) and purchased 4 more for this trip (including one on the state of the battlefield.) This is what I am slated to do in my day there:

1)We start at the crossroads at the centre of the battlefield, with a step-by-step explanation of the campaign and the battle, to give you the big picture.
2)Study the ground and describe the dispositions of the armies, the French bombardement and d'Erlon's massive infantry attack on the British left
3)Follow the British cavalry counter-attack and then visit the Eastern part of battlefield covering the advance of the Prussians in the afternoon
4)Visit Plancenoît and Napoleon's HQ at La Belle Alliance, then on to La Haie Sainte farm, the allied strongpoint in the centre:
5)The Western sector: follow Ney's mighty cavalry charge, the allied squares, Mercer's troop of horse artillery;
6)Visit to the newly restored Hougoumont Farm, decisive redoubt on the British right flank with its excellent new exhibition
7)Visit Napoleon's last bivouac at Le Caillou, now a museum

8)Visit to the spectacular new visitor centre, the Lion Mound, and the great panoramic painting.

I am fairly familiar with these events and whether there is not much there or not, I suspect it will be meaningful to me. But I have been wrong in the past. Anyway, that is my plan given my fascination with Waterloo.

Posted by
1005 posts

Note to Tom: Yes, things have really changed in the last half-decade at the battlefield. The Belgians have spent about 10 million euros to build a state-of-the-art museum and visitors center called Memorial 1815. I agree that there wasn't much worth seeing in the past, but now with the museum, it's worth a visit.

Posted by
1684 posts

As far as I know the site around the Lion’s Mound remained pretty much the same as 200 hundred years back so still in use as farmland as it was during the battle. Not everything is preserved further away, but to my opinion there is enough left for looking around for discussing the battle in detail as you are planning to do.

The new museum Memorial1815 makes the place certainly more interesting for a visit but for having a more overall impression adding a visit to the Wellington museum is to my opinion worth too. As your main goal is getting more insight in the battle itself as you already have, much will depend about how well informed your private guide will be and will show you also the less obvious places. So hopefully he will meet expectations.

Posted by
1068 posts

Woinparis,

I have tentatively booked my private guide for Monday and that should give me 1.5 days to see Brussels. My hotel is about a 5 minute walk from the Central Train Station. I will spend about 2-2.5 days in Ghent. I have read Cornwell's book "Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles" and found it an excellent source. Currently, I am reading Buttery's "Waterloo: Battlefield Guide" which provides a nice overview of the battle as well as what it looks like today (or 2013--when the book was published) and compares it to what it was in 1815. I already posted the guide's suggested itinerary for the day and think I will get a pretty good idea of the third day of the battle (or the Battle of Waterloo if you prefer to think of June 16th and 17th as separate battles.) Needless to say, I am pretty excited to go there in person. Thanks for your info.

Posted by
1068 posts

Okay, just because I want to check my understanding/reading of train schedules I am resurrecting this old thread for a bit. To be clear: On the DB Bahn Site I understand there is a train (no changes) from Brussels Central to Waterloo on Sept 18th. Leaving 8:51 am getting in 9:15 am, if I am correct (yes/no?) Anyway, I have been in train stations so in addition to confirming my reading of the schedule: 1) Regarding the tickets: Do you buy the ticket in advance? If so, from the website or at the station? If at the station: from machines or from a person? (I have had trouble with a regular credit card buying from a machine, but in the past my debit card has worked, so will have that ready if I have to buy it from a machine) Do you get it stamped by a person or machine before boarding or on the train? (have missed the stamping machines in the past but luckily was not checked...so now I'm pretty careful) 2) I am pretty slow and methodical when taking public transportation (checking which train line it is on etc.) How early do people start boarding? (London Tube like when the train pulls up for 2 minutes before leaving?) 3) Are seats reserved?

Posted by
8889 posts

1) Regarding the tickets: Do you buy the ticket in advance? If so, from the website or at the station? If at the station: from machines or from a person?

No advantage to buying in advance. buy on the day from a machine or a person.

Do you get it stamped by a person or machine before boarding or on the train?

Not necessary in Belgium.

2) I am pretty slow and methodical when taking public transportation (checking which train line it is on etc.) How early do people start boarding? (London Tube like when the train pulls up for 2 minutes before leaving?)

You would never get a train stopping for 2 minutes on the London Tube, more like 20-30 seconds.
People start boarding as soon as the train arrives and the arriving passengers have got off. For an intermediate station (not the starting point), the stop could be typically 1-3 minutes.

3) Are seats reserved?

No, service is designed to be "turn-up-and-go". A ticket is valid on any train that day.

Posted by
5574 posts

Ray, I encourage you to also look at the Belgian train site.

http://www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx

Beware of using American Chip and Pin cards in ticket machines. I haven't been there in a while, but it used to be impossible. I had to wait in a line of humans for a human clerk. Google Maps works very well for looking at Belgian cities and towns. It is possible for your Belgian train to be a double-decker "commuter" car, where big luggage could never get into the aisle, forcing you to stand in the (large) vestibule for the duration of the trip. (This is not a crisis situation, but your highjack question is so comprehensive that it should be brought up.) Local travel by train in Belgium is extremely easy and convenient, except sometimes for ticket buying lines. Typically the tickets are cancelled by a conductor. As previously noted, there is not usually a validation machine at the station.

Perhaps you already know that Brussels has a different internal transit (bus and tram and subway) agency than does the other parts of the country. So left over Brussels bus trips (or Euros) on a card won't work in Gent or Waterloo.

Posted by
1068 posts

Thanks for the info. Will show up early for the train and wait patiently to leap on!!! The trip to Waterloo and back is with no luggage. I have looked at the Belgium train site as well, but it is more confusing (to me) than the German one. As I won't be buying tickets in advance, I am just using the sites for information.

Posted by
12998 posts

Great that you are visiting Waterloo. Set aside 6-7 hrs for seeing as much as you can. Be sure that one of the sources you've read up on Waterloo itself is Andrew Roberts, "Waterloo" and his coverage of the campaign in a larger context in "Napoleon, A Life" (2015), aside from D.Chlander, "Waterloo" (1973)

As pointed out because of the bicentennial, the 1815 Museum provides more coverage of the events. I was at Waterloo only once (1984) under a time constraint too with basically having only 6.5 to 7 hrs., That I was motorised then helped in seeing more of the monuments and the farm house but still missed many sites, among them Plancenoit, Wavre, and Charleroi to start off.

Posted by
12998 posts

Hi,

Which side's perspective you want to read on the three days from 16 June to 18 June? If it's the Prussian side you want to read about, I suggest the British historian, Roger Parkinson, "Clausewitz." since he was attached to one of the three Prussian corps that Wellington was relying on. You also could look at Müffling's Memoirs (trans), since he was the Prussian liaison officer at Wellington's HQ.

Posted by
1068 posts

My private guide has things pretty well lined up to see the (so called) 5 major events of the battle on June 18th (unfortunately, will not have time to view sites from June 16 or 17.) I am not particularly looking to read any more that this time, but have read probably 10 books prior to this year on Napoleon and/or Waterloo and another 4 this year. Frankly, the Napoleonic era is not my historical bailiwick but an interesting side note. I have my thoughts about the Prussian contribution and will be interested to hear what the guide thinks. Thanks for the reply.

Posted by
12998 posts

Hi,

Did any of your reading include those of Andrew Roberts on Napoleon?

Posted by
1068 posts

Not sure. I've been reading various books and articles about Napoleon and Waterloo since I was about 7 or 8. Hard to keep track.

Posted by
12998 posts

Hi,

Fantastic ! Allow me to suggest these historians and scholarly writers on Napoleonic historiography....D. Chandler, A. Horne, F. Markham, H. Parker, F.L. Petre, A.Palmer, G. Rothenberg, S.Ross, MV Leggiere, Andrew Roberts (2015), J. Luvaas, and if you can read French, Thierry Lentz.

Posted by
1068 posts

Thanks for the suggestions. Will save the e-mail and look into them. As I said the Napoleonic era is not my forte, but I have enjoyed reading about it (and almost any era in history) from time to time. Always looking for good books!