In Belgium, Thalys is one of the strongest rail brands. With their bold red styling and chic contours, Thalys trains make a very visible addition to the national railscape. But Thalys also serves three other countries: the Netherlands, France and Germany.
Thalys is one of those quintessential European brands — very grounded and yet very cosmopolitan at the same time. We raised a smile when Thalys burbled in a press release that the cafés on Thalys trains are more than merely spots to grab a cuppa. In Thalys-talk those bistro cars are “symboles de convivialité et d’échanges interculturels.” Now you know! With Thalys you get culture and conviviality with your cappuccino.
Thalys trains run non-stop from Paris to Brussels (and vice versa) up to two dozen times each day. They dash between the two capitals in just 82 minutes — not bad for a run of some 200 miles that takes in a great sweep of Picardy and Flanders along the way.
Thalys has a monopoly in direct train services between Paris and Brussels, as indeed they do on a number of other routes (such as from Amsterdam to both Brussels and Paris). About half of the Paris to Brussels services continue north beyond Brussels to Amsterdam — along the way stopping at Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport.
Daily direct services from Paris to 18 destinations
Other Paris-originating Thalys services fan out from Brussels to serve other destinations across Belgium and neighboring Germany. Here is a summary of direct Thalys links from Paris (all are direct trains via Brussels):
Bruges: 1 per day
Brussels Zaventem Airport: 1 per day
Cologne: 5 per day
Duisburg: 2 per day
Düsseldorf: 3 per day
Düsseldorf Airport: 1 per day
Essen: 3 per day
Ghent: 1 per day
Liège: 5 per day
Oostende: 1 per day
In addition, Thalys has a once-daily service from Paris to Liège via Mons, Charleroi and Namur (so not serving Brussels).
Thalys also runs a limited number of additional seasonal services geared to the holiday market. These include summer Saturday services from Amsterdam (via Brussels) to the south of France and winter direct trains to French ski resorts.
Thalys trains offer two classes of service, referred to as Comfort 1 and Comfort 2. All seats in both classes are fully reservable. This is not, on the whole, a turn-up-and-ride rail service. You need to book in advance.
Travelers in Comfort 1 accommodation making any journey of 50 minutes or more receive a complimentary meal service appropriate to the time of day. Expect a decent three-course spread on midday and evening journeys and lighter snacks at other times. Good French wines and classic Belgian beers are also served without charge in Comfort 1.
Comfort 2 passengers can make their way to the bar for a snack, sandwiches and beverages — but you do have to pay.
Thalys services open for booking three months prior to the date of travel and — as so often across Europe — it pays to book early for the best deals. Fares are keenly priced, with a one-way ticket from Paris to Cologne starting at €35. There are some especially good deals in Comfort 1 at off-peak times.
Thalys also offers great value through fares from London, using Eurostar to Brussels and connecting there with onward Thalys connections to the Netherlands and Germany. One-way fares start at €59 in Comfort 2 (with Standard Class on Eurostar) and €109 in Comfort 1 (with Standard Premier on Eurostar).
We are great fans of the Thalys product. This is a rail operator with a great network served by premium high-speed trains. If we have just one negative comment, it is that holders of Eurail and InterRail passes should think twice before opting for Thalys.
Rail passes are not accepted at all on the seasonal Thalys services to the Alps and Provence. They are accepted on other Thalys trains, but only for international journeys, and the rail pass supplements are hefty — sometimes even more than an advance-booking ticket for the same journey. Here are some examples of the supplements payable by holders of global InterRail and Eurail passes:
Paris to Amsterdam €39 (2nd), €62 (1st)
Cologne to Paris €36 (2nd), €51 (1st)
If you have a pass with more restricted geographical validity, one that covers only part of your intended Thalys route, then even higher supplements kick in.
Alternatives to Thalys
Thalys offers comfort and speed. But if you have a rail pass, you have the flexibility to take detours. Even in markets where Thalys has a monopoly in direct train services, there are always other options. You will need to change trains along the way, but you can then avoid those hefty Thalys supplements.
From Brussels to Amsterdam, for example, just take the regular cross-border service to Den Haag. The latter route runs every two hours. At Den Haag, you can hop onto the next Dutch local train for the short onward journey to Amsterdam.