Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium but also of Europe, as the center of government for the European Union. The city lies in the center of the country on the flat, fertile Brabant plain. Today, its excellent communications make it an ideal place from which to explore the historic towns of Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. Toll-free motorways compare favorably with any in France, train travel is swift and competitively priced, and there are good bus services in the areas not covered by trains. Transport in Luxembourg is equally good, with the hub of communications in Luxembourg City itself.
EXPLORE BELGIUM & LUXEMBOURG
Belgium’s principal airport is Brussels National Airport, known locally as Zaventem. Flights into Luxembourg arrive at Findel Airport, which is 4 miles east of Luxembourg City. Airlines flying to Belgium and Luxembourg include Brussels Airlines (Belgium) and Luxair (Luxembourg), British Airways, bmi regional, KLM, and Lufthansa. Brussels is also served by Air Canada and Delta Air Lines. Most flights from Canada and the US go via another European city. Ryanair has low-cost flights between Brussels and various European cities.
Belgium can be easily reached by ferry from Britain several times daily. DFDS Seaways has a number of crossings every day between Dover and Dunkirk. P&O Ferries also operates regular ferry crossings from Dover to Calais (France) and from Hull to Zeebrugge.
In Belgium, the two main long-distance bus operators are De Lijn, which covers routes in Flanders, and TEC, which provides services in Wallonia. Bus terminuses are usually close to train stations. Luxembourg benefits from an extensive bus network, which compensates for the more limited railroad system. One-day passes are available and can be used on both long-distance and inner-city buses and trains from the time of purchase until 8 am the next day. Benelux Tourrail passes are valid on buses operated by Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois.
Drivers from the UK can reach mainland Europe by the car train service offered by Eurotunnel. Within Belgium and Luxembourg, the freeways and main roads are well maintained and fast. Variations between the French and Flemish spellings of town names can be confusing; it is advisable to find out both names of your destination before beginning your journey. All the major car-rental firms are represented in Belgium and Luxembourg, but renting a vehicle is fairly expensive.
Belgium is at the heart of Europe’s high-speed train networks. Eurostar services between Brussels’ Gare du Midi and London’s St. Pancras station take around 2 hours. The Thalys network links Brussels with Amsterdam, Paris, and Cologne. Within Belgium, train services are operated by Belgian National Railways (Société Nationale de Chemins de Fer Belges/Belgische Spoorwegen). The network is modern and efficient, and usually the best way to travel between major cities and towns. Luxembourg’s rail system is run by Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL). In both countries, a variety of train passes is available. The Benelux Tourrail pass allows unlimited travel on any three or five days within a month’s period in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
Belgian post offices are open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. In Luxembourg, the hours are 9 am to noon and 1:30 pm to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Some larger branches open on Saturday mornings. Many public payphones in Belgium and Luxembourg accept only phonecards, available at newsagents and post offices. In Brussels, you can use cash in the phone booths at metro stations. There are no local area codes in Luxembourg.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Belgium and Luxembourg are safe countries, with street-crime against visitors a relatively rare occurrence. However, in Brussels, it is inadvisable to wander alone at night in the poorer areas to the west and north of the city center, or in the city’s parks, especially Botanique. In case of emergencies, the numbers to call are listed in the Directory opposite.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Most stores and businesses in Belgium and Luxembourg are open from 10 am until 5 or 6 pm Monday to Saturday, with some local shops closing for an hour at lunch. Some stores open at noon on Mondays. In the major cities and towns, many stores are open on Sundays and until later in the evening. In both countries, most museums are closed on Mondays. Outside the high season (April to September), be prepared to find many sights of interest closed.
The currency in Belgium and Luxembourg is the euro. All euro bills and coins are exchangeable in each of the participating Eurozone countries. Banking hours are generally from 9 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday in Belgium and 9 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays in Luxembourg. In both countries, many of the banks close for an hour at lunchtime, and some of the city branches open on Saturday mornings.
Citizens of the EU, US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada do not require a visa to enter either Belgium or Luxembourg, but must present a valid passport and hold proof of onward passage (EU citizens need a valid ID document). Bear in mind that in Belgium it is a legal requirement to carry ID on one’s person at all times.
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