UK travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding how to get to Belgium. There are flights to Brussels from London and a string of regional airports; Eurostar trains direct from London to Brussels; ferries from Rosyth and Hull to Zeebrugge, near Bruges, and from Ramsgate to Ostend; Eurotunnel services from Folkestone to Calais, a short drive from the Belgian coast; and frequent international buses from London to Brussels and Antwerp. Buses are usually the least expensive means of transportation, but the train is faster and often not that much more expensive, and there are all sorts of great deals on flights too.
For travellers arriving from North America, the main decision is whether to fly direct to Brussels – though the options are limited – or via another European city, probably London. Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans have to fly via another city – there are no nonstop flights.
From the UK, Belgium’s major airport – Brussels – is readily reached from London and a large number of regional airports. There’s also Brussels-Charleroi airport, whose name is somewhat deceptive – it’s actually on the edge of Charleroi, about 50km south of the capital. Luxembourg City airport, the third choice, is just a short bus ride from Luxembourg City. Airlines flying from the UK to Belgium include British Airways, bmi, Brussels Airlines, easyJet, Flybe, Lufthansa, KLM and Ryanair. Flying times are insignificant: no more than 1.5hr from London or regional airports to Brussels.
Flying from Ireland, there’s much less choice, but Ryanair charges very reasonable rates for flights from Dublin to Brussels-Charleroi, while Aer Lingus links Dublin with Brussels airport, and Scandinavian Airlines flies from Dublin to Brussels.
Whichever route and carrier you choose, it’s hard to say precisely what you’ll pay at any given time – there are just too many variables. That said, flying to Brussels from the UK with one of the low-cost airlines, a reasonable average fare would be about £100 return (including taxes), though you can pay as little as £50 and as much as £400.
From the US and Canada
From the US, you can fly direct to Brussels from New York City (American, Delta or Continental from Newark), Philadelphia (US Airways), Atlanta (Delta), Washington (United) and Chicago (American), but you’ll often find cheaper deals if you’re prepared to stop once, either in the US or mainland Europe. Return fares to Brussels from New York can be found for as little as $800, but $1200–1500 is a more normal fare. From Chicago, fares can cost as little as $1000, but $1500 is more the average. There are no direct flights from the West Coast, but plenty of carriers will get you to Brussels with one stop, for as little as $1200 return.
From Canada, Air Canada flies nonstop to London Heathrow, with onward connections to Brussels. From Toronto to Brussels, return fares range from Can$700 to Can$2000, and about twenty percent more (Can$850–2400) from Vancouver.
From Australia and New Zealand
There are no direct flights from Australia or New Zealand to Brussels. Most itineraries will involve two changes, one in the Far East – Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur – and then another in the gateway city of the airline you’re flying with (most commonly Paris, Amsterdam or London). You can get tickets to Brussels from Sydney or Melbourne for Aus$1500–2000 if you shop around, and from Auckland for slightly more.
From South Africa
There are no direct flights from South Africa to Belgium, but KLM does offer direct flights to Amsterdam, a short train ride away from Belgium, from both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Alternatively, South African Airways flies direct to London, Munich and Frankfurt, from where it’s a short hop onto Belgium and Luxembourg. Return fares with KLM from both cities direct to Amsterdam cost ZAR9000–10000.
Eurostar trains running through the Channel Tunnel put Belgium within easy striking distance of London’s St Pancras plus two stations in Kent – Ashford and Ebbsfleet. Indeed, considering the time it takes to check into any of London’s airports, Eurostar is often faster than a flight – if, that is, you live in or near London. Eurostar operates around ten services a day from London St Pancras to Bruxelles-Midi, and the journey time is a very competitive two hours. Fares are largely defined by ticket flexibility, with the least flexible returns costing around £150, the most flexible, whose times and dates can be changed at will, working out at about £400. However, advance booking – at least three weeks ahead – halves the cost of the cheapest return ticket, and Eurostar also offers myriad special deals and discounts. Eurostar tickets from London to Brussels are also common rated for Belgium as a whole, which means, for example, that you can travel on to and return from Bruges via Brussels at no extra cost; this common rating system may come to an end if and when other train companies start using the Channel Tunnel.
If you’re visiting Belgium as part of a longer European trip, it may be worth considering a pan-European rail pass. There are lots to choose from and Rail Europe (wwww.raileurope.com), the umbrella company for all national and international passes, operates a comprehensive website detailing all the options with prices. Note in particular that some passes have to be bought before leaving home, others can only be bought in specific countries. For train travel within Belgium and Luxembourg.
To reach Belgium by car or motorbike, you can either take one of the car ferries mentioned below or use Eurotunnel’s shuttle train through the Channel Tunnel. Note that Eurotunnel only carries cars (including occupants) and motorbikes, not foot passengers. From the Eurotunnel exit in Calais, it’s just 50km or so to De Panne, on the Belgian coast, 120km to Bruges and 200km to Brussels.
There are up to four Eurotunnel shuttle trains per hour (only one per hour midnight–6am), taking 35 minutes (45min for some night departure times); you must check in at Folkestone at least thirty minutes before departure. It’s possible to turn up and buy your ticket at the toll booths (exit the M20 at junction 11a), though advance booking is advisable and usually much less expensive. Fares, which are levied on the vehicle (not the number of passengers), depend on the time of year, time of day and length of stay; it’s usually cheaper to travel between 10pm and 6am, and advance booking attracts substantial discounts. Book well ahead, and a week-long return ticket in June will cost £100–140 without any flexibility, £200 with flexibility.
Three operators currently run car ferries from the UK direct to two ports in Belgium. They are Transeuropa, whose vessels link Ramsgate with Ostend (4hr); P&O from Hull to Zeebrugge (13hr); and Norfolkline from Rosyth to Zeebrugge (20hr). Zeebrugge is a few kilometres from Bruges. Tariffs vary enormously, depending on when you leave, how long you stay, what size your vehicle is and how many passengers are in it; on the two longer routes, there is also the cost of a cabin to consider. As a sample fare, Transeuropa Ferries charges about £50 to transport a car and four passengers from Ramsgate to Ostend – and the return costs about the same, though special deals can lower the price even further. On the two longer routes, booking ahead is strongly recommended – indeed it’s essential in summer.
Belgium has borders with France, Germany and the Netherlands. A veritable raft of rail lines runs into Belgium from its neighbours. Ordinary trains link many cities and towns and there are also the express trains of Thalys, a combined project of the Belgian, Dutch, French and German railways. The hub of the Thalys network is Brussels, from where there are trains to – among many destinations – Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Paris and Cologne.
Given the low cost of budget-airline airfares, travelling by long-distance bus from the UK to Belgium may not seem too attractive a proposition, but it is still likely to be the cheapest way of getting there. Eurolines, part of National Express, has four daily departures from London’s Victoria coach station to Antwerp and Brussels, with a journey time of around eight hours to both destinations. Return tickets cost £40–60, and there are small discounts for travellers under 25 and over 60. There are also less frequent Eurolines buses to several other Belgian cities, including Ghent.