The other weekend I travelled to Cologne, Germany – for just 24 hours. I caught the train from London’s St Pancras on Saturday morning and travelled back on Sunday afternoon, all to see one of my best mates before she flew off to New Zealand for a few months.
I opted to take the train as I’m not a massive fan of flying. Plus the train doesn’t really take that much longer when you factor in the time it would take for you to get to and from the airport on both ends.
From London, it’s ridiculously easy to get to Cologne, with just one change in Brussels.
- London St Pancras —> Brussels
- Brussels —> Cologne
Once you board the Eurostar train in London, you’ll be in Brussels within 2 hours and 10 minutes. When you alight, just follow the crowds down the escalator marked ‘correspondence’ to catch the connecting train on to Cologne. From Brussels, it’s just 1 hour 45 minutes until you reach Cologne.
Unfortunately, on both the way there and on the way back, I had an 80-minute wait for my train in Brussels, which meant a lot of hanging around.
At first I set off to find the toilets, and then I sat on a cold station seat while eating my packed lunch. It wasn’t until 15 minutes before I jumped on the train that I realised there’s an indoor seating section to keep warm in. Massive error. If you end up with a lot of spare time, it’s worth making your way here – it’s located between platforms 3/4 and 5/6. The toilets are near here too and cost €0.50 per trip.
On the way to Cologne, you won’t have to check-in, so you’ll have quite a bit of time to explore the station’s shops and even nip outside for a bit of fresh air. On the way back to London you will have to check-in with Eurostar, so you’ll need all that spare time. Once you’ve checked in, there are a few cafes, shops and toilets, but nothing too dazzling.
ICE or Thalys?
When you book your onward ticket from Brussels to Cologne, you’ll be given the choice of travelling with ICE or Thalys trains. Having travelled with both before, I can quite honestly say there is no real difference between them, apart from ICE trains are white and the Thalys trains are red. Given a choice, I’d probably opt for the ICE trains as they felt a little bit more modern, but really it’s best to just pick whichever works best for you time-wise.
One thing about German trains is that they run like clockwork, so everything is well organised to help customers on their way. On your ticket you’ll receive a carriage number and seat. Don’t fret when you see you’re carriage 26 – there aren’t really 26 carriages (mine was made up of carriages 21 to 28). The platforms have a nifty little screen showing you where you have to stand in order to jump onto your assigned carriage. And when you board the train your ticket will be checked by a member of staff so you know for sure you’re on the right train.
So you know what the screens looks like, here you go. ‘Sie sind hier’ in the speech bubble means ‘You are here’, meaning you know exactly where you have to go in order to position yourself in order to promptly board the train.
The best thing about travelling to Cologne by train, is that the station is ridiculously central – right by the cathedral in fact (as my expertly crafted picture *cough* below shows), so you’ll be well placed for starting off your city adventure.
Where Else Can You Travel To From Brussels?
If Cologne’s not on the top of your travel wish-list, don’t think that a quick weekend trip to the Continent is out of your grasps. There are still loads of other European destinations you can reach from Brussels via a short train ride, from places in Germany to The Netherlands and Belgium. The journey really is so easy, even if you’re a novice solo traveller.