Train confusion

Please help, I am all kinds of confused! I'm trying to figure out what the best choice is for my family (2 adults, kids 15, 13, 9) for getting around France and Belgium. Here's our travel plan: Take train from Paris to Lyon Take train from Lyon to Limoges Take train from Limoges to Loire Valley Drive from Loire Valley to Normandy Drive from Normandy to Paris, drop off car and take train to Belgium Stay in Brussels and visit Bruges and Ghent on the same or two separate days Take train from Belgium back to Paris I'm looking at buying the Eurail Benelux and France passes separately (3 days and 4 days, respectively), and the total price is $1687. Plus I have to pay for a reservation on Thalys, yes? Best I can tell, that's another $200 or so. But going from Paris to Brussels uses one day off each country's pass, I think, so am I one short for France? Another option as I see it is the Eurail Benelux-France pass for 8 days, which is $2106, but 8 days seems like overkill as I don't need that many. Or I could buy the France pass for $1188, plus the Thalys reservation fee, and pay for our Belgium trains out of pocket, the cost of which is the biggest part I'm having trouble getting information about. Regardless of any of this, my best estimation is that the rail pass is only $100 or so more expensive for all of us total than piece meal, and therefore worth it for the convenience of not worrying about riding on the cheapest fares. True? On a semi-side note, if we decide to stop in Ghent going to or from Bruges, are we free to step off the train for a couple hours regardless of whether we have a rail pass or piece meal tickets? Many thanks!

Posted by Kristi
Asheville, NC, US
25 posts

I tried editing, but it didn't stick. I just wanted to add that I just recalculated for the Thalys fee, and came up with $706-- could that possibly be right, on top of the rail pass?!?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8724 posts

if we decide to stop in Ghent going to or from Bruges, are we free to step off the train for a couple hours regardless of whether we have a rail pass or piece meal tickets? Only with a rail pass or a full fare ticket. Most Belgian discount tickets do not allow a "Break in Journey". Check the Ts&Cs on the SNCB website for the specific ticket you want to use. Doesn't matter much though, as Belgian tickets are very cheap and plenty of deals are available, and are very easy to buy. It is a waste of money to use a railpass in Belgium unless you use a SNCB pass and only then if you use the bejeebers out of it. the Thalys reservation fee is HUGE. It is considerably cheaper to buy cheap advance tickets on Thalys rather than pay the huge Passholder reservation fee. Price out your French trains - Don't use (or be used by) RailEurope - and compare the cheap Prems and iTGV prices you can get with the railpass daily charge (the cost of the Pass plus any shipping charge divided by the number of days you will actually use it) and I think you will find, on balance, the Pass is likely to lose. visit Bruges and Ghent on the same or two separate days
Don't do that. They would both suffer and neither would be experienced in a way that would be easy for you to enjoy. Especially if you are doing it from Brussels. Drive from Normandy to Paris, drop off car and take train to Belgium Consider dropping the car off in Lille instead of Paris. Then take a regional train across the border to Belgium and on to Brugge, Gent or Brussel.

Posted by Kristi
Asheville, NC, US
25 posts

Hi Nigel, Thank you for the in-depth answer. It had actually occurred to me shortly after posting that we might drive all the way to Lille and catch the train there, so I've been doing the math. It looks like we could buy a France 4-day pass, rent a car in Normandy and drive to Lille, catch the train to Brussels and back, and the train back from Lille to Paris for about $1650. Add in the cost of Brussels to Bruges and Ghent (separate days!), and we still come out ahead, I think. Prems and iTGV?-- I'm not familiar with them. I did do a search for prems and wound up on voyages-sncf.com in French. When I clicked on English, it just went to the ticket purchase page. Thanks again!

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1963 posts

It would be much less expensive to rent a car for four than to take the train. If you don't want a car in the city, you could take the train to Lyon and rent the car when you are ready to leave Lyon, and then drop it off in Lille. If you do stay with the train, SNCF has all kinds of tickets for people traveling as couples and groups, in addition to the advance purchase tickets. The rail pass seems like a very expensive way to get around.

Posted by Pam
SF Bay Area, CA, USA
77 posts

Kristi, I would recommend checking out www.seat61.com which provides detailed information for purchasing train tickets within Europe. You may find that a rail pass may not be the best fit for your family, and on some of your routes you can consider renting a car. I would develop a spreadsheet comparing car travel (car rental, travel time, total costs including highway tolls and fuel - GoogleMaps will calc. fuel for you) and then decide the best option for each leg of your trip. seat61.com has links to all the train websites with associated costs. Note that you can book early in many cases (90+ days in advance) and get some great deals. Regarding Belgium, you may want to consider staying in Brugge instead of Brussels. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8724 posts

Kristi - Do you prefer small and perfectly formed with plenty of places to wander and small intimate world class B&Bs at a very reasonable cost? Or do you prefer a large urban city with associated metro and underground railway, trams and many mnay people with many business class hotels? The first is Brugge (Bruges). The second is Bruxelles (Brussel or Brussels). Take your pick. Or... Gent (Ghent) is a medium sized universtity town with fewer tourists, less hustle and bustle, with a lovely cathedral and world famous Lamb, with a neat mediaval centre and trams (many) and buses (few) and what we believe, after years of careful taste testing, is the best chocolate in Belgium - therefore the world. The three places are all quite different from each other.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2170 posts

Rent a car in Lyon, use it for your following trips, then drop the car off in Lille.

Posted by Kristi
Asheville, NC, US
25 posts

Bets and Andre, thank you for the suggestion to drive from Lyon to Lille it's definitely something I'll consider. The cost of the rail passes isn't really my concern though, so much as the crazy fee to get from Paris to Brussels that one makes me rather angry! Pam, I found that website yesterday, although have not had a chance to look it over, but I will take a look today. As for Brussels, we're not set on staying there over Brugge, but I understand Brugge is considerably smaller? What makes it your personal preference? Thanks for the advice!

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8636 posts

I agree with Bets and Andre. Take the train to Lyon. Rent a car there and drop it off in Lille. Take the train from Lille to either Bruges or Brussels. Take a Thalys train from Brussels to Paris. Book Paris-Lyon on tgv-europe.com ASAP (up to three months allowed) to get a Prem's fare as low as €25.00. You can take IC trains from Lille to Bruges. No discount for advance booking. You can take a TGV or the Eurostar from Lille to Brussels. There is a discount for advance booking. Book Brussels-Paris ASAP (up to 90 days allowed) on thalys.com to get a discount fare as low as €29.00.