advertisement

By Train

One of the best rail systems in the world operates in and between these small countries. There is virtually no spot so remote that it cannot easily be reached by trains that are fast, clean, and almost always on time. Furthermore, rail travel is a marvelous way to meet the locals, because the people of the Benelux countries spend as much time riding public transportation as they do behind the wheel of an automobile. Schedules are exact -- if a departure is set for 12:01pm, that means 12:01pm precisely, not 12:03pm -- and station stops are sometimes as short as 3 or 4 minutes, which means you must be fleet of foot in getting on and off.

Rail Passes -- An important consideration for anyone planning to travel a lot by train is an appropriate pass allowing reduced-rate travel. In addition to those referred to below, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have discount rail passes for travel within their own country's borders. In each country there are many lower-cost options, including cheaper weekend and day returns, reductions for multiple journeys, and reductions for more than one passenger (not all options are available in each country). You should always ask about lower-cost options before buying. You'll find more details in the planning chapters of each country.

    Eurail Passes -- The Eurailpass (www.eurail.com) allows Americans unlimited first-class travel throughout the rail systems of many European countries, including the Benelux countries, at a cost of $588 for 10 days and $762 for 15 days. The Eurail Youth Pass gives you the same deal at discount rates and in second class; and there are other variations. These passes should be purchased before you leave the United States (they're more expensive if you buy them in Europe) and are available from Rail Europe (tel. 800/438-7245; www.raileurope.com) and from travel agents.

    Benelux Pass -- If all or most of your travel within Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg will be by train -- and provided you plan to travel by train a lot -- a good investment may be the Benelux Tourrail Pass, available through Rail Europe (tel. 800/438-7245; www.raileurope.com), and through travel agents. It gives you unlimited travel in all three countries on any 5 days in a 1-month period. The pass costs $228 for first class, $163 for second class. But if you're not traveling far, or often, don't bother with this pass. It's hard to make it pay off because most trips in these three countries are so short and relatively cheap. Even if you cram in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, the Hague, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels, you'll still spend on point-to-point tickets significantly less than what you'd pay for a Benelux Tourrail Pass.

By Car

Drivers need only produce a valid driver's license from your home country. While getting around by train is relaxing and fast, and touring by bicycle is healthier and more human in pace, traveling by car still gives you the most freedom to ramble at your own speed, either on or off the beaten path. You'll find information on specific requirements, rules of the road, gasoline prices, maps, automobile clubs, and other driving assistance resources in the appropriate chapters for each country.

There is a major proviso to this, however. The Benelux countries have a high density of population in relation to their size, so roads are busy. In addition, many drivers in the region have high-density road aggression, so driving can degenerate into a struggle for survival. The major roads are often busiest precisely at the most popular vacation times, and accidents are not uncommon.

Virtually all major car-rental companies have offices in the three capital cities and some other large cities, though arranging a rental outside a metropolitan area can present problems. Names and locations of rental companies are listed in the appropriate chapters for each country.

By Bus

Intercity bus service ranges from poor to nonexistent throughout the Benelux countries. This is not as bad as it sounds, because the rail network is among the best in the world, and fast, comfortable intercity trains do most of the work. If you really want to, you can travel intercity by bus, but the buses stop a lot en route, so trip times are long, and you often have to change at an intermediate town -- for example, a trip from Brussels to Liège is two journeys: Brussels to Leuven and Leuven to Liège. Tourist offices and bus stations can furnish schedule and fare information.

The exception to the avoid-the-bus rule is in sparsely populated places where there is little or no rail service, such as Zeeland in Holland and the Ardennes in Belgium. In such areas there are more regional bus services, though the buses still may be few and far between. In general, unless you have a specific reason for wanting to go by bus, you'll always find it better to go by train.

All cities have excellent bus and/or tram (and in two cases, electric trolley bus) service. Some have metro (subway) service, which means you can easily leave your car at the hotel and avoid city driving woes.

By Plane

The Benelux cities are so close together that air travel is really not worth the added expense unless time is a vital factor (and even then you might still get to your destination quicker by train). Air service among the three countries is provided by KLM Cityhopper, KLM Exel, and Brussels Airlines. The KLM associates fly frequent scheduled services between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Groningen, and Enschede in Holland; to Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium; and to Luxembourg City. Brussels Airlines flies from Brussels to Amsterdam. For current schedules, fares, and reservations, contact KLM (tel. 020/474-7747; www.klm.com) in Holland; and Brussels Airlines (tel. 070/35-13-13; www.flysn.com) in Belgium.

By Bicycle

Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg are all ideal biking countries. In Holland, especially, and in parts of Flanders, there are often special bicycle tracks in towns and cities, and well-signed long-distance routes. You can also take your bike on a train. Rental bikes are usually available at major rail stations and often at smaller ones, and some even allow you to pick up and return bikes at stations at either end of a particular route. All three national tourist boards can help you plan an itinerary best suited to your physical condition and time restraints. Holland's excellent Cycling in Holland publication is especially useful. Organized bicycle tours can be arranged through International Bike Tours, P.O. Box 754, Essex, CT 06426 (tel. 860/767-7005; fax 860/767-3090); and Cycletours, Keizersgracht 181, 1016 DR Amsterdam (tel. 20/627-4098; fax 20/627-9032).

By Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is permitted (not encouraged) in Belgium and Luxembourg, though prohibited on highways (you can, however, stand on the approach road). It's officially forbidden in Holland, but many a blind eye is turned by officialdom to those standing in a safe spot to hitchhike.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.