The Thalys trains are a joint service of the Belgian, French, Dutch and German railways. They look like French TGV trains, which essentially is what they are.
These trains can reach speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour when the tracks permit. In practice, this means they are very fast between Brussels and Paris, but not on the rest of the system.
Update: As of 2013, the German railway system is no longer a shareholder in Thalys. This means that the Deutsche Bahn no longer sells Thalys tickets, except by snail mail, but the Thalys trains still run on German tracks from Belgium to Cologne and occasionally on to Düsseldorf, Duisburg and Essen.
Second photo: First class in the Thalys between Cologne and Brussels. First class passengers are greeted and get their tickets checked on the platform, and are given a free newspaper in French, Dutch, English or German.
Third photo: Second class in the Thalys. The main difference is that in second class there are four seats across, and in first class only three. Also the people in first class either have more money or they have fewer inhibitions about spending it.
Fourth photo: At the Thalys Bar you can get drinks and snacks. There isn't any real dining car, presumably because most journeys are too short to make it worth while. The Thalys Bar is open from Cologne to Paris except for a few minutes while the train is stopped at the Midi station in Brussels.
To get from Brussels to London, we decided to book the Eurostar which currently has one way fares from £40, return from £69, even with the £4 surcharge to use my credit card it was slightly less expensive on the European site than the US site (I think I saved a whopping $7 total on both tickets). Just like the London-Paris route it takes you city center to city center avoiding the hassle of getting to and from the airports and the added time you need for security when you fly. The journey takes approximately 2 hours and you gain an hour going from Brussels Zud to London St. Pancras.
Will post more when I get back from the trip
Unfortunately I had the bright idea to go to Brussels on a daytrip from Paris well after I planned the rest of the trip and by the time I booked all of the lower fares were gone. THALYS tickets are sold in a similar manner to Eurostar tickets, there are different tiers of fares and once a tier is gone seats on that train bump up to the next fare. Tickets seem to start at 22€ one way if you book well in advance, by the time I figured out I wanted to go there, there were some extremely inconvenient 29€ fares, some still too early 39€ fares and 49€ fares that were manageable and several trains that didn't have the non flexible rate anymore.
Some people report problems using US credit cards on the THALYS site, I used http://www.b-europe.com/ which is still affiliated with THALYS and had the same trains with the same prices. Rail Europe is more expensive but another option if your credit card doesn't work.
The train was a comfortable fast train, it takes you from Gare du Nord in Paris to Brussels Midi, from there you can use your Thalys ticket to get to and from the Central station as there's nothing of interest near the Midi station and some sources said it was a little seedy.
Had my first real experience of Belgian trains last week. A trip from Brussels to Luxembourg.
Prior to that it had only been the Thalys high speed service to/from Paris, or the 20 minute airport shuttle.
It should have been a 3 hour trip, but a staff shortage at Namur (no replacement conductor) turned it into a 4 hour one. That was bad enough, but SNCB was completely unable to tell us why the train had stopped. We found out when a fellow passenger phoned SNCB to complain!
€57 one way in 1st.
Had to queue for 15 mins to buy the ticket at Gare Centrale. No buffet car on the train, although it was running over lunchtime.
Buy a picnic to take with you. Buy your ticket in advance on the internet. Hope their staff turn up for work.
International trains to and from Brussels all stop at the Midi (=South) station.
From here you can get the Thalys to Paris, Amsterdam or Cologne, the ICE to Cologne or the EuroStar going through the Channel Tunnel to London.
Second and third photos: Thalys trains at Midi Station.
Fourth photo: Thalys information desk at Midi Station.
50°50'8.60" North; 4°20'10.91" East
After the strike of 3/10 a new one has been announced on 14/11/12. Difficult to say if it will be a general strike.
The strike on the Belgian railway on 3/10/2012 has been confirmed by the trade unions.
"La grève de la SNCB du 3 octobre est confirmée!"
The strike starts Tuesday 2/10 at 22h to end Wednesday 3/10 at 22 h.
Thalys and Eurostar will also be affected according the Belgian press of 28/09
“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.”
— Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993, Bruxelles native)
Brussels has three main train stations; you can board trains at any one of them that will take you to all parts of Belgium. Most high-speed international trains leave from Brussels Midi; all intercity trains pass through Brussels Centrale and Brussels Midi.
Brussels Nord (known as Gare du Nord and in Flemish as Noordstation) is in the north of the city. Metro connection to other parts of the city cannot be found at Brussels Nord; but there are trams (Line 3 and Line 4), which connect to Metro lines and can take you to the center of the city.
Brussels Centrale (known as Gare Centrale and in Flemish as Brussel Centraal ) is from where travelers depart for all the other Belgian cities using intercity trains. Being at the center of the city, it is close to many hostels, tourist attractions and Grand-Place.
The busiest of station in Brussels is Brussels-Midi (known as Gare du Midi and in Flemish as Zuidstation); it is the station serving the southern part of the city. Intercity trains, the Metro and trams, as well as international high-speed trains for the Eurostar and Thalys all serve Brussels-Midi. This modern complex offers a food court, cafes and chocolatiers.
The frequency of trains between the airport and train stations in Brussels is excellent, there are trains every 15 minutes and stop at the north station, Central Station and South Station or midi. The single fare is 7.50 euros.
La frecuencia de trenes entre el aeropuerto y las estaciones de tren de Bruselas es excelente, hay trenes cada 15 minutos y paran en la estación norte, estación central y la estación sur o midi. El precio del billete sencillo es de 7.50 euros.
Traveling by train was a novelty for this Californian, drives a car everywhere, woman!
I bought a Eurail Pass because I had planned to visit several countries and in those days the Eurail pass was the most economical way to do the trips I had planned. An adult Eurail pass allows first class seating on all trains. Most people usually choose second class seating as it is less expensive, so even when the trains were crowded, I had plenty of room to spread out.
Since I traveled during the off season I ended up having whole compartments to myself and on one trip I had the whole car to myself!
Another useful perk of this type of travel I learned that by taking night trains, I saved the price of a hotel for the night. I had to pay a supplement once but still it was nothing near the price of a room. I did not use any of those private little rooms, but once I did travel in a car that had two, three level bunkbeds and that was a pretty interesting experience for me. Also, I spent the night in compartments where the seat opened up like a bed--sort of.
Our class took the high speed TGV train from Brussels to Paris. From our hotel, we took the metro to Gare Midi and the switched to the train. It was very simply to get from the metro to the train, find our seats and travel to Paris. The seats were comfortable and there was a bar car for drinks and snacks. The travel time was about 1 ½ hours, plenty of time to catch a nap, read, or, in our case, review our class notes and prepare for the day.
The return trip was similar, yet we encountered an awkward situation. Our tickets were for assigned seats, the seat very clear on our ticket. Several of our classmates found other people in their seats and these people refused to move, citing that it was open seating. When these classmates found other seating, naturally the people assigned in those seats wanted their seats. It would’ve been so much easier if the initial people would just sit in their own seats! But in the end, everyone had a seat and we returned to Brussels with no other problems.
Be sure to keep your ticket handy as they do come and check tickets. There is an overhead space for small luggage and bags, although larger luggage would need to be placed elsewhere in the traincar.
Our tickets had been purchased ahead of time, which is recommended for a better price. These can be purchased online before your trip at the TGV website.
We flew into Brussels and used the train from the airport to Gare Nord, the station closest to our hotel. For our day trips, we used the train or the metro to get to our destinations. In all instances, it was easy to use and understand.
Arriving at the Brussels airport, we simply followed the signs to the train. At the ticket counter, we purchased two one-way tickets into the city center (approx. €5 each) and headed to the platforms. It was just a couple stops away and we were in town. The return back to the airport was very similar.
On two of our day trips, we took the train from Gare Nord to the other cities we went to, but on the day we traveled to Paris, we took the metro to the central station (Gare Midi) where we then transferred to the high speed train. Since we were a group of 20 and on the metro during rush hour, it was a bit hectic since the stations and trains were crowded with commuters. Tickets for the local trains were purchased at the stations and all went smoothly.
As you are in the stations, you need to look at the boards for your train and note the platform number so you can get in place for the trains arrival. As a group, we were traveling second class but had a reserved section so that we could all sit together. There were signs placed on the windows by the seats stating that the seats were reserved for a group (and had our name on them) and which train we would be on. I was surprised at how many people refused to move when we got there, even though we pointed to the signs. Our instructor explained the situation to the people, but they just refused to get up. So it seemed a bit pointless to reserve seats for a group. It all worked out, but was frustrating.
One thing we liked about the Brussels metro was that the stations had the main tourist attraction listed on the sign – so as the train you are currently on pulled up to a station, you could quickly tell if this was the stop you wanted.
Be sure to have your ticket with you as they do come by and stamp your ticket.
The website for the public transport system is complete with maps and schedules. http://www.mivb.be/index.htm?l=en
I took the train from Brussel Nord to the Airport. It is an effortless, barely 22 minute journey for only about 5.20 Euros one-way. Make sure that you are sitting in the correct class since the Conductor will nicely point it out to you if you are not!
There are several different areas to purchase tickets: same day international, same day local and advance. Make sure you are in the right place. Leave plenty of time since there can be long lines to purchase. For some reason the same day local tickets is the most chaotic (they do not require you get a call slip unlike at the same day International counters).
The Thalys train is a convenient way to go between Brussels and several other major cities, especially Amsterdam. The high speed journey is just under 2 hours. You may purchase tickets in advance OR at the station. Please note that there is NOT a dedicated Thalys ticket counter at Brussels Midi/Zuid station. Instead, go to the SAME DAY international ticket area. You must get a number from the machine based on destination and the monitor will announce the next agent and at what window. If you purchase a ticket and miss your train you MUST go this counter and probably pay a change fee so don't book unless your absolutely sure. My fare was 76.00 (69 plud fees) Euros one way.
I have used a direct train service from the Airport to city centre. It only takes 15-20 minutes. There are three station: North Station (Gare de Nord), Central Station (Gare Central) and South Station (Gare de Midi) and station just below terminal building. Central Station is the nearest station and only minutes walking to Grand Place.