Until 2018, this was the fastest way of getting to Amsterdam by train. It involves a Eurostar to Brussels Midi, a 40 minute connection and a Thalys train from there to Amsterdam. The total journey time is 4 hours 40 minutes. I say until 2018 because this year a direct London to Eurostar service was introduced, shaving an hour off the journey time.
The direct train has its limitations though – there’s only two per day at 08.31 and 17.31, not great if you are travelling into London for the morning departure and the evening departure doesn’t arrive in Amsterdam until after 10pm. Not only that but until a new check-in area at Amsterdam Centraal is built, they only run to Amsterdam, not from.
Therefore the Eurostar+Thalys option is often going to be the best choice. As I live outside London I’ve usually caught the 10.58 or 12.58 departures from St Pancras arriving into Brussels Midi at 14.05 or 16.05. The London to Brussels leg of the journey is described here.
On arrival at Brussels Midi, if the train is on time (it always has been in my experience) you have time for a coffee or beer at one of the cafes outside the main station entrance. If you’re a bit pushed for time you can use the Connections exit and head straight for the platform for the Thalys train to Amsterdam. There’s no check in area, just show your ticket to one of the stewards before boarding the train.
When returning from Amsterdam, there’s around a 50 minute connection time at Brussels Midi. You’ll need to make your way straight from the Thalys train to the Eurostar check in area on the main concourse, this is smaller than at St. Pancras but has recently been refurbished.
The Thalys is similar in style and class to a Eurostar train, though about half the length. Comfort 2 is the standard class, Comfort 1 is first class. Like Eurostar, you get more leg room, a light meal and drink in Comfort 1.
Tip – if you can find a good through fare on Eurostar.com for Standard Premier, this will include travel in Comfort 1 on Thalys. Usually however the Standard Premier ticket is more than twice the price of a Standard ticket – so in this case you could buy a Standard ticket to Brussels from Eurostar and buy a Comfort 1 ticket from Brussels to Amsterdam from the Thalys website.
Theres an alternative to the Thalys – the hourly NS International train that runs mainly on the high speed line from Brussels to Amsterdam but makes more calls – and sometimes only runs to The Hague. It can be cheaper and offers more flexibility, especially for connections to South Holland.
The journey on Thalys is on standard rail lines from Brussels to Antwerp (although runs non-stop to Antwerp), and from there on the high speed line calling at Rotterdam Centraal and Schiphol Airport only. The journey time is 1 hour 50 minutes, so with the 10.58 departure from London you’re in Amsterdam at 16.42 local time (including the hour time difference).
The scenery on the route is rather flat and uninspiring, although the stations en-route are impressive. Antwerp Centraal is a smaller version of St. Pancras, an old station transformed by a sympathetic restoration and additional modern platforms and facilities. Rotterdam Centraal is new, modern and all clean lines, steel and glass.
As you approach Amsterdam Centraal you see the IJ river on the left hand side before arriving at the platform under two huge arches. Take the elevator down to the concourse and pass the throngs of commuters and tourists before emerging into the sights sounds and smells (some quite sweet or pungent) of Amsterdam. But take a look back at the station before you move on, it’s worth it!
Through tickets from London to Amsterdam via Thalys start from £45 one way. A return ticket booked two months in advance is usually between £120 and £150.