Review: TGV Train Brussels To Paris First Class

Filed Under: Travel

As I explained at the time, this was all a spur of the moment decision. My original plan was to fly to Northern Europe, but when I woke up in the morning and saw that La Compagnie was actually selling tickets for a flight to Newark that day, I couldn’t help but book.

So I literally booked my flight, booked my train ticket to Paris, showered, and hopped on a train to Brussels Midi station, where I was picking up a direct TGV train to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

For what it’s worth, the direct train between Brussels and Paris Airport cost 48EUR in second class or 69EUR in first class. I decided to book first class, thinking there would be more to review that way. After all, I figured there would be hot towels for me to critique, food for me to call “delicious,” and toilets for me to snap pictures of.


I have fond memories of train travel growing up. I’d spend my summers in Germany with family, and in addition to visiting family my parents would always make a point of going somewhere new in Europe each year. So I remember taking the Thalys train one summer, and how much I enjoyed it. Of course this goes back eons, like in the days when Enya’s “Only Time” was a hot new hit on the radio in Germany (admittedly German radio is about five years behind the “hits” compared to the US — I’m pretty sure Nickelback is most popular there right now — but I digress).

Brussels Midi train station exterior

Anyway, Brussels’ Midi station isn’t the most architecturally impressive, though is very practical, since it has direct service not just to Paris, but to Charles de Gaulle. Can’t beat that! The service took just 1hr36min, departing at 12:17PM and arriving at 1:53PM.

While I had booked my reservation online, it seemed like I actually needed to pick up my ticket, which seemed a bit odd. If airlines can do online check-in, why can’t trains? You’d think just showing an email confirmation of the ticket would do the trick, no?

Brussels Midi train station

I had a bit of an issue figuring out where to pick up my ticket. I’m not really familiar with European train branding, and was thinking I should be looking for a TGV counter, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Instead I queued at what seemed to be the main ticket office line, though as it turned out that was only for domestic train journeys.

I did eventually find the correct office, where I had to wait for about 10 minutes.

Brussels Midi train station ticket counter

Once it was my “turn” I picked a ticket, like you would at the deli counter of a supermarket, and was called up shortly thereafter.

Brussels Midi train station ticket counter

With my ticket in hand I headed to track four, where my train was departing from, with about five minutes to spare.

Brussels Midi train station

While I knew the train was fast, it sure didn’t look especially sexy. It had nothing on Thalys or the Japanese bullet trains.

TGV train Brussels Midi

TGV train Brussels Midi

“First class” consists of seats in a 1-2 configuration, as opposed to a 2-2 configuration. Stupidly I didn’t actually select a seat in advance, so I was in a window seat on the two seat side.

TGV train first class carriage

The seat was well padded and comfortable. I’d say legroom was a bit better than what you’d get in domestic first class — maybe 40″ of pitch total.

TGV train first class seats

There was a tray table and power outlet, though that was the extent of the amenities.

TGV train first class legroom

For the next 90 minutes I got some work done and enjoyed the views.

Views enroute

For what it’s worth there was no service, though. There was a place to buy food and drinks about two carts away, and I queued there for about five minutes. And when I say I queued there for five minutes, I mean there was one indecisive lady traveling with her dog in front of me. The dog had socks, and she wanted the dog to decide what he wanted. Oy.

As the attendant was finally procuring Fifi’s order, we were slowing down to arrive at a station, so I ran back to my seat. I’m not sure what the protocol is for watching your personal belongings on trains, but I figured at the very least I shouldn’t leave them unattended while at a station, where someone can easily snatch them. Because ya know, if someone tried to snatch my stuff while onboard I could totally go Taylor-Lautner-in-Abudction on their a$$ (or something like that).

TGV train first class carriage

After only a couple of stops we arrived at Charles de Gaulle right on schedule.

Paris Charles de Gaulle train station

Paris Charles de Gaulle train station

And that’s where the real fun began.

Bottom line on TGV train

You can’t beat the efficiency of European train travel. I did learn that first class only gets you a bigger seat, though the price premium wasn’t huge, so I don’t think it was all that bad of a deal.

In the future I’ll definitely be taking more trains within Europe. They’re easy, comfortable, and a nice way to see the countryside.

  1. Perhaps the lack of food was because you went to CDG? I’ve taken the TGV from Brussels-Midi to Paris Gare du Nord three times in the past year when I couldn’t find award flights to Paris (usually about mid-day, like your train), and had a meal each time in first class. I think the train into the city is only a few minutes longer than the one to CDG.

    FWIW, the food on the train is hit or miss. Twice it was good, once it was bad. I had a beer each time, but I think they had wine also.

  2. Hi Lucky! Interesting to read a train review instead of a plane review. Good option to know for travel in Europe.

    Any idea why some of the seats have yellowish cover? Just curious looking at your pictures above.

    Thanks for your enjoyable blog.

  3. Normally in Thalys first class between Paris and Brussels you get a meal of sorts–the food is pretty weird, but recognizably French-ish and mostly edible. Beer or wine and coffee or tea included. No hot towels or PDB, but the wifi is free (also free with higher second class fares). The non-stop Brussels-CDG route takes 15 minutes longer than Brussels-Paris Nord, but I suppose there’s little or no SNCF catering at CDG.

    You have to sign up for Thalys The Card to get mobile tickets–I’m trying to remember, you may only need to show the conductor your credit card. The frequent traveler program is spend based.

    During peak travel periods first class really is preferable. A packed second class car is a little too cozy, and more than once I’ve sat next to large unbathed passengers. At least it’s a short trip.

    You got a great fare–pricing on the Brussels-Paris Nord route is highly dynamic. Last month a friend paid 119€ one way in second class the day before departure. I just now booked a one-way for September (thanks for reminding me!) and it was 59€ in first.

    If you plan more European train travel check out Capitaine Train for buying your tickets. It makes booking incredibly simple, it finds the best fares, and unlike, say SNCF, it doesn’t balk at US credit cards. It doesn’t yet cover all of Europe but they’re working on it.

  4. p.s. Capitaine Train keeps track of loyalty cards and booking preferences, and depending on the route you can put reservations on hold, which I don’t think is possible on the national railway companies sites.

    If it’s not too obnoxious this is my referral link if you or anyone else wants to try it.
    I haven’t thought to share this but why not — if you sign up you can post YOUR referral link.

  5. Next time try the Thayls… there’s actually a complementary moral service in First. I took it from Brussels Midi to Koln/return… and my dad used to take it plenty of times between Brussels and Amsterdam

  6. Lots of variation between ticketing systems and service standards between European railways or even between train on the same route as people have pointed out wrt the differences between the Thalys (Brusssels-Paris) and TGV (Brussels-CDG-French Regions).

    Retrieving tickets for online bookings of SNCF trains has never been that easy. IIRC if you want to use a kiosk to do it you need a chip and pin card. Contrast that with DB in Germany (also SBB in Switzerland) which has print at home and mobile ticketing options. The latter is really, I’ve been able to buy tickets and get seat reservations as a train is pulling into the station.

    As for service there’s a real mixture of complementary at seat service, at seat paid service and restaurant/buffet car. Germany does a good line in beer and pretzels, coffee on Italian and Spanish trains is very good and I had a great multi-course lunch between Zurich and Venice.

    DB has a loyalty scheme for frequent travellers with an elite level that entitles you to sit in a special carriage with some degree of complementary refreshments. (I can probably say this about no other loyalty scheme but I bet I have more DB BahnBonusPunkte than Lucky)

  7. Great timing of your review! I have been looking for an option for travel next January with my daughter. I got an award ticket to CDG and are looking to meet in either AMS or BRU? Thanks!

  8. I just tried to make a mock Thalys booking and they don’t serve CDG at all, so the trademark red upholstery and the “meal” weren’t options for Lucky. Yes, SNCF has become challenging to book because of credit card issues–I made many late-night calls to my CC company learning that the charge hadn’t even gotten as far as the bank–so I was extremely happy to find a reliable alternative that always accepts my CC for print-at-home tickets. Thalys journeys are ticketless with the Thalys Card.

  9. Just to add, if you anticipate more than one or two train trips in Germany, it’s probably worth buying a Bahn Card. There are different discounts and first and second class schemes, so it’s worth estimating what trips you might make over 6-12 months before purchasing the appropriate card. They used to have a 3-month trial Bahn Card but it’s not listed as of today.

    DB has recently initiated 30 minutes free wifi in many stations, but the page is in German only and indicates that a log-in code is sent to your “handy”. I wonder whether they’ll send a code to a non-German phone.

  10. @Ed, SNCF also has print-at-home; you just have to show the conductor the ID you specified when you purchased your ticket when he scans your ticket en route.

  11. I never fly across the pond in coach and never fly in Europe in FC……but I mistakenly booked a London Paris TGV ticket in FC for over twice the Coach fare……after walking thru the coach cabin and seeing very minor differences I took the never again pledge on FC train travel……the distance is too short and the juice is not worth the squeeze…………

  12. If you plan to travel by train more in Europe, check out The Man in Seat 61 – he’s a total train nerd and has tons of useful info on European train travel, including which website to use for which ticket, when tickets become available, whether FC is worth it, etc. He also has videos of some beautiful rail journeys.

  13. I booked the exact seats that Man in Seat 61 suggested in the exact way he suggested……….couldn’t have been more wrong about “value” or best way to do the trip……….some more austere routes he might be right but not London to Paris on TGV…………

  14. I’ll second the other comment which recommended Thalys instead. While they don’t go to CDG, whenever possible I’d recommend Thalys above the ICE or TGV, since Thalys first class actually has (somewhat of ) a first class feel to it. There’s a meal cart that comes around, free wine, free wifi, etc.

    Otherwise, first class on European trains isn’t typically worth it. The extra charge is for “peace and quiet”, and has very little to do additional creature-comforts.

  15. Wait a minute – you say you arrived at platform with five minutes to spare, but the clock on platform is only 12.02pm or so, a good 15 minutes before departure time! 🙂

  16. So glad you’re finally taking trains in Europe instead of terrible Euro Business flights!

    Next time do yourself a favour and get off the French trains – ICE in Germany are so much nicer and at least give you at seat (paid) F&B service, unless travelling over the border to France, when it’s free.

    It’d be amazing if you took a CityNightLine sleeper train and reviewed their First Class product featuring welcome drink, your own shower and toilet, bed and breakfast. It’s comparable to a Business Class flight of about 8 hours.

    The European rail world is your oyster!

  17. @Karl – Lucky had to find the ticket office and then wait in line to collect his ticket before he got to the platform. He did indeed just make it.

  18. Hopefully you booked through Rail Europe on the Aeroplan e-store to get Aeroplan points for your purchase. I often find good deals there for Eurostar.

  19. @Deb Rail Europe is worth checking for deals but normally the same tickets are more expensive than buying direct from the national rail companies or an online agency. As an example, the Thalys ticket I just put on hold (via Capitaine Train) is $78; the same seat on Rail Europe is $84 (and it’s the “last seat at this price). I’ve seen Rail Europe prices that are 30% higher than offered by the national rail companies. It may be that Rail Europe has a special deal with Eurostar, given their American market–I’ve only done Eurostar twice so can’t speak from experience.

  20. That’s interesting, as I’ve found Rail Europe to be cheaper when I’ve travelled. That said, I often plan my vacations far in advance and get the tickets when they are running a deal. Last minute travel may be quite different. Thanks for the comments!

  21. The price in 2nd class is only 22 Euros each way if booked 84-90 days before travel )and 15 Euros for kids). It is non refundable but the economical way to travel from BRU midi to Paris Gare du Nord. Use your arrival card…

  22. If you book a long haul into Fra on LH you can add on any German rail station and this will be included in the LH fare and your boarding pass works on the train. When doing business in FFA I catch the train to Colonge and commute from their to FFA. It’s a 55 minute commute but you stay in a much nicer city.

  23. I traveled from Vienna to Prague on EC172 (about 5 hours). Booked 9-10 days in advance and paid 79€ for first class (assigned seat, I believe). OBB site was pretty good and is available in English. You can also print tickets at home but they are only in German. Had to spend some time with Google Translate to figure out what’s what and then double-checked with front-desk before leaving for the train station.

    For Prague-Zurich I thought about taking one of those fancy overnight trains (CNL, I believe) but ended up spending about the same money for a very short flight on LX. One-way ended up being more expensive than booking it as roundtrip: PRG-ZRH in J + ZRH-PRG in Y. Will be an even better deal if schedule changes and I can convince LX to refund the return ticket 😉

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