Just as Loco2 rail tickets will enable you to travel throughout Belgium, not just its most celebrated cities, 2019 will also see the world’s top cyclists cover a section of the country with the capital city of Brussels being the starting point of the Tour de France.
Our new routes with rail operator, SNCB, have helped open a world of Belgian wonders which are best seen by rail. With the longest distance point to point being 280km, the country is small enough to easily make day trips from one city to another such as from Brussels to Antwerp in just 30 minutes.
From the flatlands of Flanders, an area steeped in historical importance, to the forests and mountain ranges of the Ardennes, Belgium offers some diverse landscapes as well as a truly exciting mix of cities. Don’t just think about taking the train to Brussels and Bruges, as their underrated urban neighbours of Antwerp and Ghent are less crowded and equally culturally rich.
Belgian city breaks by train
Antwerp’s charm hits you the minute you arrive at Antwerpen-Centraal station, famous for its magnificent stone and glass work. Indeed, this is just one of many impressive buildings dotted around the city such as the regal city hall, or Stadhuis, located on Grote Markt square. Food markets, such as the Saturday international Exotic Food Market, music and comedy bars and a vibrant street art scene, including a museum dedicated to graffiti, all contribute to the city's contemporary culture.
A great tip for art lovers is to visit Rubenshuis, where collections include work of the esteemed Flemish artist Peter Paul Reubens, to whom the gallery is dedicated, as well as a Renaissance garden. Getting to Antwerp by train is easy, just under 3 hours from London and 2 hours from Paris.
Ghent is a port city in north-west Belgium, just a 20-minute hop from Brussels. Once a key place for trade, nowadays Ghent attracts a range of travellers, from foodies to culture vultures. The city has an impressive number of museums such the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art, known locally a SMAK. It is also worth noting that Ghent restaurants often favour slow cooking and the use of vegetarian and vegan twists on traditional recipes. Proportionally, Ghent has more vegetarian restaurants than London or Paris. Indeed, Ghent is sometimes referred to as the vegetarian capital of Europe.
The urban landscape of Ghent is dominated by a dense network of canals. Tour it by boat or take in the city’s ancient streets meandering along its myriad canals. Ghent’s Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen nature reserve is within easy access on public transport or by bike, which can be hired throughout the city, including Gent-Dampoort station. Travel by train to Ghent from London in just over 2 hours 35 minutes.
Liège, in the French-speaking Wallonia region, is a city that is being reborn, and where medieval buildings have morphed into hubs of modern life, housing, restaurants, shops and galleries. The Musée de la Vie Wallonne, for example, provides good regional context illustrating Wallonia’s social history and industry. The city is also home to a famous neoclassical opera house, the Opéra Royal de Wallonie . It takes just over 3 hours to get to Liège from London.
Coastal and countryside breaks in Belgian
The Ardennes, in the south-east of Belgium, is an area of windswept wilderness and forested uplands. The Ardennes’ hiking trails are some of Europe’s least known and yet so accessible. The Hautes Fagnes (High Fens) is a nature park near Spa where you’ll find Belgium’s highest point, Signal de Botrange, at 694m. Hoge Kempen National Park has cycling routes galore and is accessible by rail and bus going via Genk. Indeed with cycling firmly on the map in Belgium for 2019, the Ardennes is a 'must add' to your European cycle route planner. There is a dense network of circular routes, around 70km in length, such as the cycling trails around Spa.
Reaching the Ardennes is easy by rail with the gateway city of Liège only one hour from Brussels. From here you’ll find various regional bus routes as well as a 50-minute rail connection to Spa, in the heart of the Ardennes.
Belgium’s coastline is well known historically, but discovering it on the world’s longest tramway, De Kusttram, is less known. This tram, dating back to 1885, takes you to De Panne on the border with France, all the way through to Knokke on the border with the Netherlands. Take the 2-hour train journey from Brussels to De Panne to start this coastal journey by tram as you explore over 50km of Belgian coastline. Of course, there are plenty of stops at which to get off and explore beaches along the way. Indeed, at Knokke-Heist, at the end of the tramway, you'll find a coastal area split into five beaches, one of which is a dedicated nature reserve.
Photo credits top to bottom: Museum aan de ©Stroomquerbeet, River Leie, colored houses and Belfry tower in Ghent, Belgium ©KavalenkavaVolha, Dinant Belgium iStock ©VanderWolf-Images, Spa, Belgium ©Flavio Vallenari, Kusttram ©Marc Ryckaert, CC0 Creative Commons.
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