London to Brussels and Belgium

My first ever trip on the Eurostar to Brussels was back in 2012 and since then I’ve made the journey over a dozen times.  Brussels is the gateway for onward train travel to the rest of Belgium, The Netherlands and Northern and Central Germany.  Wonderful places such as Bruges, Amsterdam and Cologne are all within an hour or two of Belgium’s capital by train.

London to Brussels via Eurostar

You start your journey at the best station in the world, London St. Pancras.  Well the best station I’ve visited anyway, although Antwerp Centraal runs it close.  St. Pancras was threatened with closure several times and was in a sorry state before the triumphant restoration that turned it into a truly world class travel hub.

Sir John Betjeman admires St. Pancras station

The magnificent Barlow train shed on the upper level was lovingly restored and now Eurostars to Brussels, Paris and beyond depart from under its span.  Domestic services to Kent also depart from this oldest part of the station, while a modern extension houses trains to the East Midlands.

The middle or circulation concourse houses the Eurostar departures lounge and an array of retail outlets, cafes and restaurants, including some boutique shops.  The lower level has trains to Gatwick and Luton airports.  There’s also several London Underground lines here at King’s Cross St. Pancras underground station – King’s Cross station itself is just across a small square.

Unless you’re on an early morning departure, the best way to start your Eurostar journey is at Searcy’s champagne bar on the upper level.  You can enjoy a glass of champagne and perhaps something to eat while watching the Eurostars come and go on the adjacent tracks.  Hell, you might as well have a glass of champagne even if you’re on an early morning train – you’re on holiday!

Breakfast at Searcy’s

You only need to allow 40 minutes to check in and pass through security before boarding a Eurostar – this and the central location of St .Pancras is where you claw back some of the travel time compared to flying.  Once through passport control you’re in the departures lounge, which includes a café-bar and shop.

When your trains platform is announced, you travel up a ramp to the platforms on the upper level.  There are three classes of train on the Eurostar – Standard, Standard Premier and Business.  More often than not I travel Standard unless there’s only a small increase in cost to Standard Premier (you get more leg room and a complimentary light meal and drink).  Usually though the increase is at least twice the price of Standard and not worth it. Business is strictly for fancy-pants and includes lounge access and other perks, though I can’t see how it’s worth the usual £300+ fare.

The train starts its journey mainly in tunnels before emerging into the industrial wastelands of Essex and North Kent.  I’d try and have a nap for this part of the journey.  As you get nearer the tunnel you see a more picturesque side of Kent, the “garden of England”.

You’re only in the tunnel itself for 20 minutes before emerging in Calais, then arriving in Lille Europe station around 90 minutes after leaving London.  All Eurostars to Brussels call here, the ones to Paris pass through non-stop.  Half an hour later and your train arrives at Brussels Midi/Zuid (South, to you and I) station.  Architecturally the station is nothing to write home about – in fact it’s pretty grey and depressing.  All trains in Brussels start from or pass through Brussels Midi, including International trains to Germany, The Netherlands and France.

Brussels Midi station

There are two exits from the Eurostar platforms.  If you have an onward connection then you can use the Connections exit which takes you straight to the platform corridor for ease of transfer, avoiding the sprawling main concourse.  If you have time to kill before your next train then use the main exit – there are several cafes opposite to sit outside with a coffee or beer and plenty of shops in the main concourse for some retail therapy.

Onward into Belgium

If you’re travelling onto another destination in Belgium, it’s best to put “Any Belgian Station” in the destination box when booking your Eurostar ticket.  For an extra £5 each way, this gives you unlimited travel in Belgium for the day of your journey (both legs if making a return journey).  You can use any trains apart from the international Thalys, TGV and German ICE trains.

It’s possible to book a through train to Antwerp with Eurostar and use the Thalys, but this limits you to a specific Thalys train.  There are regular IC (InterCity) trains to Antwerp that only take a little longer than the Thalys so these are usually the best option.  Indeed there are IC trains to all major Belgian cities leave Brussels at least every half an hour – Antwerp in 45 minutes, Ghent in 30 minutes and Bruges in an hour.

Antwerp station is a wonderful introduction to the historic city, the magnificent old part of the station restored and modern concourses and underground platforms added.  St. Pancras’s little brother.

Antwerp Centraal Station

Ghent St. Pieters and Bruges main station are both functional and modern but lack any architectural flair and at odds with the beautiful cities they serve.  They’re both about a 15 minute walk from the city centre.

Trains from Bruges and Ghent run direct to Antwerp as well as Brussels, so if you’re travelling between either city and the Netherlands, the quickest route is by changing at Antwerp.

Visiting Brussels

Brussels Midi is located south of the city centre – the major tourist destinations are more easily accessed by alighting at Brussels Central.  Use the Connections exit and catch a local train for the 2 minute journey through the tunnel to Central station.  It’s the busiest rail tunnel in Europe so you won’t have to wait long for a train!

International Connections

Thalys trains to the Netherlands and Cologne, and German ICE trains to Cologne and Frankfurt leave from Brussels Midi.  As of 2018 there is usually a 45 minute connection time for the Dutch train, and just 20 minutes for the German trains (so use the connections exit).  There’s also the hourly NS International IC train to Amsterdam which is around an hour slower and serves more destinations.



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