Not every Amsterdam visitor lands at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, or even in the Netherlands; at only a few hours' distance, Brussels' two airports (actually located in Zaventem and Charleroi, respectively) are two more attractive options. While Brussels Airport (also known as Brussels National or Brussels Zaventem Airport), situated to the near northeast of the city, serves more conventional airlines, it's the smaller South Charleroi Airport (CRL) -- 25 miles (40 km) from Brussels in the city of Charleroi, and about 160 miles (260 km) from Amsterdam -- that's a favorite with low-cost flyers as a hub for low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz Air.
But while Charleroi Airport isn't exactly around the corner from Amsterdam, it takes just three to four hours (by car or train, respectively) to commute back and forth to the Dutch capital, and visitors can take in any number of extraordinary cities on the route -- from Charleroi itself to Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam and more.
Note that Brussels South Charleroi Airport is not identical with Brussels Airport, an international airport nine miles (15 km) to the northeast of Brussels.
Amsterdam to Charleroi Airport by Train
Two different train routes serve the route between Amsterdam and (the vicinity of) Charleroi Airport -- but the train will only see you to Station Brussel Zuid (Brussels South railway station). The Intercity Brussels, the more economical of the two routes, is a three hour, 15-minute ride; tickets start at € 35.40 per journey. The Thalys train, meanwhile, slashes the travel time almost in half -- to one hour and 50 minutes -- but be prepared to shell out almost twice as much in fare.
See the NS International web site for the latest schedule and fare information.
To reach the airport from Station Brussel Zuid, transfer to the Brussels City Shuttle; tickets and pricing are available at the Brussels City Shuttle website. Travel time from station to the airport is about 50 minutes.
Amsterdam to Charleroi Airport by Bus
For the cheapest option, travelers can also complete the entire journey from Amsterdam to Charleroi Airport by bus.
International bus is an economical solution for travel between Amsterdam and Brussels -- if one that also stops short at Station Brussels Zuid, rather than the airport itself. For the lowest fares, plan to book several months in advance, as prices increase as the departure date nears. Riders have a choice between three bus companies for the Amsterdam-Brussels route: Eurolines, Flixbus, and OUIBUS. Tickets are available online at each company's website or at brick-and-mortar offices in various cities (see the respective websites for addresses and business hours). Be aware that each bus company has different departure and arrival points of the cities.
For travelers to Charleroi Airport, OUIBUS is the best bet, since it stops directly at Station Brussel Zuid; for the other arrival points, it's necessary to first take the local train to Brussel Zuid to continue the onward journey to the airport, but in either case the travel time is minimal -- ten minutes from Brussel Noord, three minutes from Brussel Centraal. See the SNCB (national railway) site for the latest timetables and fare information.
Amsterdam to Brussels Airport by Car
The 160-mile (260 km) drive from Amsterdam to Brussels South Charleroi Airport can be completed in two hours and 45 minutes.
Expect to spend around €30 to €35 in fuel costs, and substantially more to park at the airport (prices vary based on multiple factors; find out about rates and how to book at the Q-Park Brussels South Charleroi site). Choose from a variety of routes, find detailed directions and calculate trip costs at ViaMichelin.com (search for Aéroport Charleroi Bruxelles Sud).