Belgium: Book football trips and tickets
Belgium may not immediately leap out as an excellent destination for a football break. However, delve into things a little more and its excellent transport connections, mix of old and new grounds plus cheap match tickets soon propels it towards the top of the list.
From the UK it’s easily reached by Eurostar, by ferry through France or by plane so start planning a trip to Belgium!
How do I get to Belgium?
By plane, by train, by car, by ferry – it’s your choice! Eurostar is surely the best way to reach Belgium, just a little over two hours from London St Pancras and you’re gliding into the vast Brussels Midi station. What’s more, if you buy a ticket with your end destination ‘Any Belgian station’ you can then catch any local train at no extra charge. This can extend right to the very east of the country.
Tickets start at £39 each way although these are usually higher in the busy Friday-Sunday period. Do check out the ‘Premium’ tickets too. These are in more comfortable coaches, only three seats wide, with drinks and snacks served. If the price of Premium is no more than £20 higher than the basic seat, you may think it’s money well spent.
Your second option is by ferry from Dover, or the Eurotunnel. From the port of Calais it’s only 90 minutes by car to Bruges, and just over a two-hour drive to Brussels. Taking the ferry to Dunkirk instead will save around 15-20 minutes on this journey. If going by plane is your best option, Brussels International is the best placed airport to fly into. It’s on a main railway line and you can be in Brussels in just a few minutes – with direct connections to many other cities too including Antwerp, Mechelen, Ghent and Bruges. Brussels Charleroi is further from the capital near the southern city of Charleroi and is linked to the capital by a coach, taking one hour.
Where do I stay in Belgium?
If you are planning on a busy weekend of games you could choose to stay near Brussels Midi station, where there are a plethora of hotels. From here you can catch a metro or tram to the centre of Brussels – or walk, it’s only 20 minutes on foot – and a train to any part of the country, with ease. However if you want to sample more of Brussels, and its nightlife, you would be best choosing a hotel nearer to the Grand Place. Venues near Sainte Catherine and De Brouckere metros should be worth considering.
Where else? Bruges is undeniably beautiful and somewhere you should try to visit sometime, but if you want to avoid the tourist crowds and perhaps save a few euros too Ghent is a very worthy alternative. What’s more it’s only 30 minutes out of Brussels and therefore brings other clubs and cities within decent reach. If you opt for Ghent you are better off booking a central hotel as the main station is some distance from the middle.
One hour from Brussels, Antwerp is a port city with a real buzz and, complete with a pleasant old town, it’s worth considering. It’s also very close to the Dutch border with Breda, Tilburg, and Rotterdam a short train journey away. It also has arguably the most beautiful railway station in the country. An option in the east of Belgium is Liege, bringing western Germany clubs into the equation.
How do I travel around Belgium?
As you may expect from the country at the heart of Europe, public transport is exceptionally good. Brussels has a metro system, plus trams and buses, while Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges have trams. Getting between the cities is easy with clean, efficient train services that are rarely packed. Belgian Rail has an English language website so you can book in advance if you wish.
Belgian Jupiler Pro League
The top flight is widely known as the Jupiler Pro League, the official title is the Belgian First Division A. It has 16 teams and most are in the Flemish top half of the country – Charleroi and Standard Liege are in the French speaking area, with Eupen in the German-speaking enclave in the east.
Matches are scheduled across the weekend with one match on Friday, three on Saturday afternoon and early evening, and four spread through Sunday. Fixtures are often confirmed quite early for the first half of the season, with fixtures in the following year confirmed in December.
The next level down is the Challenger Pro League. This again has 16 teams with most located in the northern half of Belgium. Presently there are matches on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon and evening. Below this is the 18-team First Amateur Division. Games tend to be split between Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
How do I get match tickets?
Some Belgian club websites will allow you to buy tickets online but it our experience it isn’t always as easy as it looks, with non-Belgian addresses or credit/debit cards not always accepted.
In many cases – apart from fixtures deemed ‘high risk games’ – you can buy a ticket on the day, with attendances averaging 11,000. You can expect to pay €15-€25 for a ticket in the top Jupiler Pro League. For stadiums below the top league the average crowd in the second tier is 3-4,000.
Nickes.Com has many connections across the Belgian leagues and can assist with arranging tickets for your trip, our best packages are ticket and hotel packages.
What’s a Belgian football matchday like?
Often the matchday experience is largely confined to the immediate vicinity of stadiums. You could be sitting on a bar terrace in central Brussels, Bruges, or Ghent on a matchday and have absolutely no idea a game is due to kick off in a few hours’ time.
However in Brussels, both Anderlecht and Union St Gilloise have busy bars outside the grounds doing a busy trade for several hours before, and indeed after, the game so it’s worth heading there quite early. FC Bruges also has a small fan zone right next to the stadium.
Most other clubs have a local bars close by that attract a decent crowd on matchdays. Inside stadiums, and clubhouse bars, some Belgian outfits like to adopt a token system – there’s a teller where you exchange money for a certain amount of tokens that you use to buy drinks at the bar. The food on sale has a familiar feel, with Belgian frites (chips) a favourite.
One peculiarity to a few Belgian grounds is the desire to have a DJ on the concourse. Genk and St Truiden are just two of the clubs where a DJ has been mixing the tunes before and after the game.
There’s a real mix of stadiums in Belgium, and that’s its true magic. There are a handful of new ones but they are few and far between, Genk and Ghent among them. Anderlecht has a smart stadium, if slightly smaller than you may expect for a great old name of European football, while Bruges and Liege both have decent sized arenas.
If you’re looking for old skool style look no further than Union St Gilloise in Brussels, a perfect example of the genre, as does Eupen in the far east of the country. Royal Antwerp’s ground has always been an evocative venue and has been extensively refurbished in recent seasons.
There’s a decent atmosphere, and trouble appears to be rare making it a good destination for the football loving neutral.