Published on 17th April 2012
ANTWERP, BELGIUM - There are many stories about how good European railway systems and facilities are, but we rarely hear of Belgium’s cathedral-like station, Antwerp Central, surely now their jewel in the railway crown.
The city is easily reached by Eurostar from London with a simple change at Brussels. The journey from St. Pancras takes roughly two hours to Brussels and a frequent train service onwards from Brussels takes another 45 minutes to reach Antwerp Central Station.
This is centrally located amongst the many dazzling jewellery shops and restaurants and can be compared to a Gothic Cathedral with parts that would not look out of place in a Harry Potter film. It was built in 1895 taking a decade to be finished, and is one of the most amazing railway stations still in use today with Newsweek magazine readers voting it the fourth most beautiful station in the world.
Given that the same poll also voted St. Pancras in the same group, the journey takes in some great architecture. The station at Brussels, is not inspiring but rather depressing so rather than lingering there, take the first train onwards to Antwerp!
The station underwent a decade long huge rebuilding project starting in 1998, in similar fashion to St. Pancras. This created a three level station with the THALYS trains using the lowest two tracks which use the newly created tunnels under the station.
This changed the station from a terminus to a through station using the tunnel created between Berchem station in the south of the city and Antwerpen-Dam station in the north via Central station. The new underground lines are where the international Thalys and other high-speed services call.5 March 2007 and the scheme cost around £1.2 billion.
The revamped station opened five years ago in March 2007 and at a stroke created a direct route serving Amsterdam and Paris. The original station was built in stone, and topped off with a huge trainshed designed by Louis Delacenserie measuring 85 meters long and 44 meters high.
Although the station is an attraction in itself, the city has many attractions nearby such as the adjacent Zoo, the Great Market and the Diamond
There are places to eat, seated or to take away. One place that must be visited is the Café Royal. If you have the time and financial backing, eat there! Otherwise nip in and look around at the décor, it is simply stunning.
The station is fully accessible, airy and uncrowded with trains on three levels. Many people seemed to take a 10 minute break and ‘people watched’. A lot of people were taking photographs of the architecture and trains with the security staff and police not bothering them.
The whole place is a peaceful area to relax and enjoy and like a mini-town. There is also a tourist information point and if you are travelling on a Thalys service, your own waiting room.
Travel between London to Antwerp before Eurostar was best described as a more leisurely journey. It involved taking a boat train from Liverpool Street at 0940 and by changing at Harwich for the sailing to the Hoek for another train, the journey took 12 hours! If the night sailing was chosen, you could add another two hours to the journey.
The 0857hrs Eurostar from St. Pancras gets you to Brussels at 1205hrs local time and just allow 30 minutes to change trains there. The connection will take between 40 and 50 minutes to Antwerp for the 35 miles journey. On rail.co.uk’s visit, we took the 1856hrs train from Brussels allowing a clear six hours to have lunch and to explore Antwerp after arriving at Brussels.
The Eurostar and trains to and from Antwerp were comfortable and you should be at St. Pancras 45 minutes before train departure, unless you travel Business Class when 20 minutes will suffice.
Passing through security etc at St. Pancras and Brussels was as always, a painless experience unlike most airports. Everyone is far less stressed than at airports altogether making the travel a major part of the day out!
Fares start from £69 return from Eurostar plus another £15 or so for a ticket purchased at Brussels. Try rail.co.uk’s European travel partner Rail Europe for though fares to mainland Europe destinations.