Belgium takes the leading place in the competition of the best organized urban and interurban public transport among all European Union countries. And if you wonder why that is, the answer is hidden in the long-standing national traditions in the field of production and trade in public transport cars designed to provide the ultimate in passenger comfort. There are two notable museums in Brussels, where you could explore in detail the diversity, creativity and history of Belgian public transport cars as they evolved over the years, from the oldest to the newest models. Get ready to travel in time, solving detective mysteries, and face many other surprises in the Train World Museum and the Museum of Urban Transport, because if the question is tram or train, Brussels reply is: both!
After Great Britain, Belgium is the second country in Europe to launch its own railway and produce locomotives. Actually, Belgium was the first state in Europe with a national railway system that survived wars, economic reforms and successfully resisted the fast rise of air travel. Belgian trains are popular for their speed, comfort and reasonable prices. It is a well-known fact that rail transport is the cheapest and the least harmful for nature. The Belgian government is aware of this and therefore constantly invests and develops the sector.
Train World is a must-see site in Brussels. It is located in Schaerbeek, on the first railway route in Belgium, the one between Brussels and Mechelen. The area around the museum is attractive, with a cute little park called Park du Hamoir, and, if you are on a budget, nearby is the Train hostel, a cheap, clean and unpretentious place where you can spend a night or two.
The museum itself is impressive and big. Make sure that you go there early - there is really a lot to see. Oh, and do not forget to take a picture next to Engine 10, provided you can get it into the frame - it is huge!
Train World Museum makes full use of its space with a tremendous train engine collection of mechanical, hydraulic, diesel and electronic transmissions. The variety of exhibitions is so great and impressive that there is no way to get bored, even if you are not a sworn train enthusiast. The museum is attractive for every taste and every age, and the train stimulator is an unforgettable pastime for young and old. All of this, combined with the amazing and always intriguing temporary exhibitions, will turn your walk into a lasting memory.
The very first trams in Belgium were horse-drawn, running from Bois de la Cambre to Porte de Namur in the distant 1869. The city is famous for one of the largest streetcar systems in the world (by route length). For a long time, Belgian machine builders experimented with creating accumulator trams, trolleys and other machines suitable for transporting people in an urban environment, until 1894, when they finally succeeded, and the first Tramway Bruxellois was constructed and put into service. Today’s Belgian trams are warm, fast and comfortable, and allow you to enjoy the beauty of the city from the window until you reach the desired destination.
The Museum of Urban Transport is a great place to visit with kids or friends. In either case, you will have a lot of fun. You could step in a perfectly preserved vintage vehicle, some of them very luxurious, even featuring little tea tables and leather green sofas. Once, the tram tickets used to be a privilege only the rich could afford. Luckily, the situation is different now - the fancy street cars are part of the exposition, and everybody could enjoy the well-preserved comfortable green sofas.
Inside the museum, do not miss the glass square on the floor. Like a small window, it allows you to observe an underground river. You could also spot the same little river from one of the numerous windows and enjoy the view to the gorgeous Woluwe Park, just across the street from the museum. The Woluwe municipality does not allow the construction of large buildings so that they do not endanger the beautiful view, but there are a few preserved authentic old houses, similar to hobbit huts, where people live.
Alongside the huge exposition of street cars, the museum also offers a special large hall with all the wonderful old and new machinery against the background of the aroma of engine oil. On the walls, there are hanging many schematics, drawings and detailed instructions, which may even help you build your own steam engine. If you are gifted for mechanical engineering, you could give it a try.
My recommended itinerary for today finishes with a soothing journey around Brussels, and more specifically, in the woods of Tervuren, aboard a 100-year-old wooden Tramway Bruxellois. A 5-star ride and a perfect end of the afternoon at a very reasonable price. What more could one wish for?
If you are into the train and tram history of big European cities, Brussels has a great time travel machine (well, rather two of them) – the Train World Museum and the Museum of Urban Transport.
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