Trainworld in Schaarbeek, Belgium, is a unique site with plenty of history. You can find it right in front of Schaarbeek station in the Brussels region, making it highly accessible by public transport. In addition to its usual trains and train memorabilia, they currently have the Royals & Trains exhibition, which features five of the six Belgian royal carriages in existence. Unfortunately, the so-called sleeper carriage could not be presented in the exhibition due to a lack of space.
The first room you enter is filled with several miniature trains, an old departure board and mannequins. These are part of the permanent collection. Then, after going a short walk outside to another brand-new building, the real fun begins.
The other items in the exhibition can be found all over and have special Crown markers pointing to them. You’ll find Queen Victoria speaking of her uncle Leopold (King Leopold I of the Belgians) through what can only be described as a horrifying projection with just a moving face. The information in the exhibition is available in several languages, including English.
The Belgian royals often used trains. Archduchess Marie Henriette travelled from Vienna to Belgium by train to marry Crown Prince Leopold (the future King Leopold II). In 1857, Archduke Maximilian travelled to Brussels by train to marry Princess Charlotte of Belgium. After his execution and Charlotte’s breakdown, her mother takes her home to Belgium by train from Triest. Princess Stéphanie married Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in 1881, and a special train was placed for those wanting to attend the wedding. The future King Albert I married Princess Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria, in 1900 in Munich, and they were received by enthusiastic crowds when they returned by train to Brussels-North. Princess Astrid of Sweden received the same welcome 30 years later in Antwerp. Princess Marie-José was picked up by the Italian royal train to take her to Rome for her wedding to the future King Umberto II of Italy.
Trains were also used for sadder occasions. Three of Belgium’s Queens were brought to their final resting place by train. Queen Marie Louise died in Ostend in 1850, and she was taken back to Brussels by train. Queen Marie Henriette died in Spa in 1902 and was also returned to Brussels by train. Queen Astrid was brought home from Switzerland after her tragic death in a car accident in 1935.
Trains are also often used for official and state visits. You may recognise the couch from the photo below.
🖤 Goodbye Queen Elizabeth II.
📸 Foto genomen in 1966 door Koning Boudewijn zelf aan boord van de koninklijke trein die hem en Koningin Fabiola naar Brugge bracht tijdens het staatsbezoek van Koningin Elizabeth en de Hertog van Edinburgh.
© Archief van het Koninklijk Paleis. pic.twitter.com/GEIglN1olb
— NMBS (@NMBS) September 19, 2022
Trainworld also offers an audio tour, which starts in the permanent exhibition. As you may know of my dislike of audio tours, I cannot offer my opinion on this. You can also book a tour, which is available in Dutch, French and English. The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful hardcover, which is available in Dutch and French.
Overall, Trainworld offers a lovely exhibition with plenty of royal things to see. Some parts were a little difficult to see as the light was quite dimmed there, and the human projections were a little bit scary. Unfortunately, you can only see the royal carriages from the outside, although I can understand why this is. There are a few “normal” carriages which can walk through. I didn’t think I would enjoy the permanent exhibition, but I was surprised to find that I did. The composition of the locomotives was very interesting, and the effects were all great.