Touring around Belgium shouldn’t pose too many problems, whether you choose to travel by public transport or under your own steam. One can rent anything on wheels from cars to quads and go-carts. Bikes can be taken on trains, but you should check ahead and you need to buy your machine a ticket. The railways are run nationally, but other public transport is run by different companies in each region each issuing their own tickets.
The Belgian road network is the only manmade structure visible from the moon at night; it is the densest and best lit such system on the planet. The main highways are connected directly to all the major cities on the continent and there are always several routes by which to reach your destination. All Belgian roads are toll-free. Driving in Belgium isn’t any more complex or dangerous than driving in the United Kingdom or the USA; just remember that in Europe people drive on the right hand side of the road.
Car rental companies are easily found in the larger cities. US driving licences are accepted as long as you’re not staying longer than 90 days. Front and rear seatbelts must be worn at all times and young children under the age of twelve are not allowed to ride in the front of the car.
Belgian law requires you to have a fluorescent vest in your car, and when driving through France you’ll also need to add two disposable breathalyzers to your selection of travel essentials. In Belgium the alcohol limit when driving is 0.5 g/l which, depending on your height and weight, is roughly equivalent to one glass of wine or a regular beer. However, it’s better to be safe and decide on a designated driver before you start your beer tasting.
Belgium has tonnes of motor biking routes so it’s easy to tour the whole country.
Despite the shortage of suitable terrain, dirt biking or motocross is unbelievably popular. In some towns and villages you’ll even find specialised accommodation catering specifically to bikers.
Belgium was the first country on the European continent and the second in the world after Great Britain to open a railway line. Although the smallest stations and connections to some smaller villages and towns are starting to disappear, the Belgian railway network is still the densest in the world with 4,078 km or 2,534 miles of track. There is a great intercity line which connects all the major centres from Ostend to Brussels and Liège.
As you’ll see at the central station at Antwerp some stops are architectural works of art in their own right. Trains run frequently but can get very crowded with students and commuters during the rush hours. In summer and on busy weekends people flock in masses to the Belgian beaches so extra trains are laid on.
If you travel in first class you’ll never have to worry about overcrowding. Despite the efficiency of the Belgian railways, this is still train travel, so remember that delays are possible. If you decide to discover Belgium by train be sure to ask at the stations about discounts and special offers, as there are plenty on offer.
In Bruges you will even see specially customized buses, shorter and more compact to allow them to manoeuvre the narrow medieval streets.
As well as the organised public bus service you’ll also find plenty of excursions and sightseeing trips on offer from private coach companies.
Trams are found in some of the more historically inclined cities but not everywhere. Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp have great networks allowing you to get anywhere in or around the city by tram. The world’s longest single tramline is found on the Belgian coast; a 68km/42mile stretch between Knokke and De Panne.
This line was opened in 1885 and runs from the Dutch to the French border connecting all of the coastal cities, towns and villages. In summer the service frequency is very high with four trams an hour running in both directions. It goes without saying that this line gets extremely busy during the high season.
The only 24/7 motorized transport service at your disposal in Belgium and the next best thing to having a private-chauffeur. Taxis are also the most expensive way to get around, but with a bit of planning and by sharing your journeys a taxi trip can be cost effective as well as comfortable. In general the fares are a bit higher than in many other European countries.
A couple of tips to keep the price down: ask for the total fare before you get in and see if you can arrange to use the same driver throughout your trip; a generous tip on the first journey will help secure this. Getting a friendly driver on board will also give you a valuable guide to your host city, able to point out the most fashionable clubs, restaurants, cafés and more.
In Belgium it’s not the practice to hail taxis on the street with a wave or a shout, some will stop for you but most will not. There are plenty of taxi stands, usually found at stations, markets and other busy and strategically chosen locations. You can also just ask at your hotel or contact the ones we list on our City-pages.
Known in Belgium as the metro and only really operational in Brussels. It’s a small network compared to those of Paris, New York or London but it’s still a practical, fast and economic way to get round the capital. The network is connected to the tram network or the pre-metro as locals call it.
The Brussels metro dates back to the mid-1960s and really started to expand in the 1970s. Plans to follow the examples of London and Paris date back as far as the late 1890s but never got the much needed public support. With four operational lines spanning about 40 km and 59 stations, the metro is also Belgium’s largest public art gallery as many stations have been decorated with work by Delvaux, Hergé (TinTin), Forlon and other Belgian artists. As Brussels is officially bilingual you will see most station names in Dutch as well as French.
There were plans to develop a network in Antwerp, Flanders’ biggest city but these were postponed and finally cancelled because of costs and public opposition. You can still see the remnants of this failed project as a few stations and tunnels were built and carry the M-sign for the metro, most are now used by trams.
It’s not quiet at the level you will see in Amsterdam, but using a bike as an everyday means of transport is almost as popular as the sport of cycling in Belgium. Medieval cities like Bruges, Ghent and their surrounding areas are great to explore by bike, as are the coastal towns and the more agricultural regions.
Bike rental shops are easy to find and in cities like Ostend you can rent even a cycle as soon as you get off your train. We wouldn’t recommend tackling the centres of Brussels, Liège or Antwerp during the rush hour. For more information and facts on the subject check our Cycling-page.
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