Belgian Rail sells a ten journey rail pass which is ideal for an extended stay in Belgium over the Christmas holidays. Belgium is the perfect destination to explore by train (especially at Christmas-time) because the country is compact with every corner accessible from Brussels within an approximately two hour train ride. We used our Belgium rail pass to get to and from the airport to Bruges and then to travel to Ghent, Liege, Mechelen, Lier, and Leuven. Read on to find about more about how to purchase a 10 journey rail pass in Belgium and for inspiration about Belgian cities to explore.
How To Buy a 10 Journey Rail Pass in Belgium
A Belgium Rail Pass includes 10 trips for 76 EUR total (at the time of writing with a special Christmas discount). The pass may be slightly more expensive than purchasing individual tickets but you get added flexibility and you don't have to buy and pick-up tickets every time you take the train which is a big time saver. Just hop on any NMBS/SNCB train and go. Simply write your starting point and destination on one line on the ticket with a pen as you get onboard. The 10 journey rail pass is good for one year in case you don't use the entire allotment of travel on a single trip to Belgium. Buy the 10 journey train pass upon arrival in Brussels airport. The ticket kiosks should give you the option to purchase a 10 journey ticket but if not, the rail ticket office can complete the transaction.
Belgian Rail domestic trains do not have seat assignments (only international trains do) so any ticket purchased in advance would be for any train that day. Overall, we thought there was a lot of upside to the 10 journey rail pass and very little risk versus purchasing individual train tickets.
Brussels is an Ideal Home Base for Rail Travel in Belgium
Brussels is a most excellent home base from which to explore Belgium by train with three major rail stations (Brussels-North, Brussels-Central, and Brussels-South (or in French: Midi)) serving different parts of the country. We stayed in Ixelles which was just a 15 minute tram ride from Bruxelles-Midi. We took the opportunity to admire the amazing display of holiday lights and other Christmas and New Year's Eve festivities on the Grote Markt.
Take the Train from Brussels to Ghent
Get above it all in Ghent by climbing the belfry and do some people-watching with the gargoyles on the square below. During the holiday season, you'll find a huge Christmas market and ice skating rink spread out before you.
Liege by Rail
Liege is known for having the largest Christmas Market in Belgium and it's definitely worth investing one of the ten trips on your Belgium rail pass to get there. We fueled up with a fruit-filled Belgian waffle and then got in quite a work-out climbing a long staircase to the top to drink in views of the city below.
Take a Train Excursion to Maastricht
While not strictly part of the Belgian Rail Pass experience and not even in Belgium for that matter, it's worth calling out that Maastricht in the Netherlands is just a short detour from Liege. Pop over the border for a Dutch Christmas market experience and nosh on bitterballen, beer, and a cone of frites before returning back to Belgium.
Explore Mechelen With a Belgian Rail Pass
We loved using our rail pass as an excuse to visit towns we wouldn't normally have considered, like Mechelen. Every place is worth visiting once and Mechelen boasted a lovely canal path and classic step-gabled architecture. We were most intrigued by the self-service vending machine for bread that we found on the main street leading into town from the train station. We couldn't resist giving it a go. We popped our coins in and out popped a fresh loaf for us to take with us on the next leg of our train journey.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Christmas in Europe is a great time to plan a trip. Let's explore some of my other favorite Christmas travel destinations beyond Belgium.
Hop Off the Train for A Visit to Quaint Lier
Lier was by far the quaintest town that we visited using our Belgium 10 journey rail pass. We did a partial lap around the town following the canal path. Cutting in, we passed through the historic Béguinage (Begijnhof in Dutch), formerly a protected community of white-washed houses for women living alone. The main square in Lier is anchored by a former 14th century keep now emblazoned with a bold clock. So charming.
Leuven by Train
Leuven is a university town less than an hour outside of Brussels. It's even closer if you go there directly from the airport. The Gothic town hall is simply stunning. There are many places near the Grote Markt (Fiere Margriet and the Capital are two of them) where you can sup on a beer and admire the architecture around you.
Ride the Rails to Bruges
No trip to Belgium is complete without a visit to Bruges. The whole town centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's fun to simply stop into a chocolate shop, pick up some treats and then stroll around town steeping in the atmosphere. Bruges is also a convenient home base for exploring Flanders and the battlefields of World War I.
What places would you go using a 10 journey rail pass in Belgium?
If you are having trouble deciding which places to visit in Belgium, check out: Ghent or Bruges? Which Belgium Cities to Visit (and Why!) by Probe Around the Globe for some great advice.