It’s no surprise that biking for recreation and cycling for sport are popular across Belgium. The country often hosts a stage of the Tour de France – the Grand Départ of the 2019 Tour was held in Brussels in honor of legendary Belgian cyclist and five-time Tour winner, Eddy Merckx. Aside from the hilly Ardennes region in the southeast, the country is relatively flat making it easy to get around on two wheels. That’s not to say that biking in Belgium is boring. Unique paths like those through the trees and water in the Limburg province and alongside canals in Brussels are suited for all cyclists.
Whether you’re residing in or visiting Brussels, what follows is helpful information about biking in Brussels and some proposed destinations and routes for you to explore the surrounding area. You’ll find these organized by direction from Brussels (north, south, east, west) and labeled according to what they are “best for” (i.e. families, sport, long-distance, etc.).
Note: I’ll be continually updating this list!
Cyclists should be aware that Brussels is a city reliant upon cars. Until the implementation of 15 new cycling superhighways planned for completion by 2025, there are some important things to keep in mind about traveling safely by bike in Brussels when sharing the road with motorized vehicles.
Bikers in Brussels must obey red lights and all traffic signs in addition to following the same “priority-to-the-right” rule as cars wherein priority is given to cyclists and vehicles entering from the right. It should be noted though that bikes are allowed in both directions on almost any street in Brussels. Even on one-way streets, if the sign says “Excepte / Uitgezonderd” with a picture of a bike, you can ride in the opposite direction of vehicular traffic flow. Where there is a designated bike path, cyclists have the obligation to use it and should avoid using the sidewalks unless designated for both bikes and pedestrians.
Pay attention to the below sign that dictates who has priority at uncontrolled intersections. If you see this sign as you approach an intersection, know that anyone coming from the street to your right has the right-of-way to enter the intersection, even if you are on the main road.
Fortunately, it’s not difficult to escape the congested city center and seek out endless paths to keep you pedaling. Google Maps has a “Bicycling” setting that identifies roads as bicycle-friendly and those with dedicated lanes, in addition to labeling trails as paved or dirt/unpaved – a handy feature especially if you are new to the city.
If you’re looking to rent a bike in Brussels, you have quite a few options. Businesses like Bike Your City and CyCLO offer a couple types of bikes for rental starting at less than 10 EUR/ day. You can also take advantage of a single-day or seven-day ticket for public, shared bike rentals from Billy (e-bikes) and Villo! (both standard and e-bikes). Villo! requires an account and a security deposit, but you can use it for an unlimited number of trips over the single day or seven-day rental. The first 30 minutes of every trip are free. The second half hour at 0,5€, the third one at 1,00€ and the following ones at 2,00€. If you don’t return the bike within 24 hours, the security deposit is debited.
If you’re wondering what to bring on a ride, helmets and reflective vests/ lighting are encouraged. A heavy-duty lock is also a good idea as bike theft does exist but can be avoided.
Southwest of Brussels is the region of Pajottenland. The area’s farmland interspersed with gently rolling hills makes for a peaceful bike ride from Brussels.
- Hallerbos, ‘The Blue Forest’, is found just outside the Flemish Brabant city of Halle. It’s a captivating public forest to take in year-round, but if you are visiting Brussels in mid to late April, you’ll have an opportunity to witness the Hallerbos forest floor carpeted in bluebell flowers. Trails lead visitors on a walk or bike ride through the heart of the Blue Forest for gorgeous views of the bright flowers in bloom amongst stoic Sequoia trees. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes in the city of Halle.
From Brussels, the ride is about 13 miles, which you can expect to take about 75 minutes (one-way). Per the below map, there are a couple ways to get there, but I’d recommend following the fairly direct path along the Brussels Charleroi Canal. This route utilizes mostly paved bike paths and you’ll only encounter hills when you reach the city of Halle. A hybrid bike is your best bet for comfort on the paved surfaces as well as navigating the trails open to bikes in the forest.
Best for: A long-distance cruising ride with a road-bike if you plan to stay along the canal, or a hybrid bike if you plan to take your bike on the combination rock and soft ground trails of the Hallerbos.
- Gaasbeek Castle was first constructed in 1240, but today this castle located in the town of Lennik is a museum. Admission is charged to visit the castle, inner garden, and museum, but you can lock your bike in the adjacent parking lot and walk the extensive grounds covering 49 hectares for free. Bring a lunch to enjoy on the sprawling green space or sit down to eat at one of the nearby cafes, including the ice cream store, Krijmerie van Gaasbeek, across the street from the entrance.
From Brussels, plan for this ~10-mile ride to take under an hour (one-way). You’ll start along the Brussels Charleroi Canal but diverge from the trail onto city streets. There is a short stretch of Brusselbaan that does not have a bike lane, but it is not a heavily trafficked area. Upon reaching Lennick, I would recommend a lap on the roads around the castle grounds (outlined in the map) to take in the beautiful scenery before stopping for a tour of the castle itself.
Best for: A fast group ride where you can extend your route past the castle or a family ride with a picnic lunch packed for the castle grounds.
South of Brussels you will encounter plentiful but quiet forest trails that are accessible from the urban Bois de la Cambre park.
- The idyllic Sonian Forest is adjacent to the spacious Bois de la Cambre of Brussels. After you’ve done a few loops on the road or paths of the English Garden style park, cross Chaussée de la Hulpe at the south edge of the Bois and follow the trails into the 4,421-hectare Forest. As of 2017, the Sonian Forest has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several trees that are more than 200 years old.
You’ll have access to paved, gravel and dirt paths that wind their way up and down hills – suitable accommodations for road bikes, hybrids and mountain bikes. With the forest stretching across nine communes, there are many ways to enter, but from Brussels city center, the most logical are from the Bois de la Cambre or Parc Tournay in Watermael-Boitsfort. From here you can head south towards La Hulpe or east in the direction of Tervuren.
Best for: Taking mountain bikes on the unpaved trails and leisurely recreational rides with family, especially on weekends when most of the Bois de la Cambre is closed to motorized vehicles.
- La Hulpe is a Wallonian municipality at the south end of the Bois that is home to the spectacular Parc du Domaine Solvay and its castle – Château de la Hulpe. The castle resides on the grounds of a more than 220 hectare park that has forest trails, clear steams, a peaceful lake and a seemingly endless lawn. Private events are held at the castle, but the grounds are open to the public for walking, biking and picnicking.
From Brussels, plan for this fun but hilly ~9-mile ride to take between 45 minutes to an hour (one-way). If you’re already in the Sonian Forest, head to Groenendael (first photo above) and then keep south along the paved and gravel trails in the direction of Château de la Hulpe. Biking is allowed on much of the grounds of the Parc du Domaine Solvay but note those paths that are pedestrian only.
Best for: Recreational rides with friends and family, especially on weekends when you can enjoy a picnic on the expansive grounds. You’ll want a mountain or hybrid bike to navigate the unpaved paths in the forest.
Southeast of Brussels you’ll find the forest give way to farmland with many small towns in between that are suitable as stops or your final destination.
- A fairly direct eastward route from the Sonian Forest will lead you through the towns of Hoeilaart, Overijse and Huldenberg. Your ride need not stop upon reaching Huldenberg, but you may be interested in pausing to check out the castle. There has been a castle on this site since the Middle Ages but the Huldenberg Castle you can see today was rebuilt in the 19th While it is not open to the public, you do get a decent view from the gate on De Peuthystraat. Don’t miss an opportunity for a photo op with “fellow cyclists” just across the street.
The 12-mile route through the Sonian Forest to Huldenberg will take you about an hour (one-way). Dedicated cycle lanes and shared pedestrian/ bike sidewalks are found on almost the entire ride making it a comfortable and safe route. Because you’re passing through several towns, you’ll have the option to stop for a bite or drink along the way.
Best for: Both recreational and sport cyclists on road and hybrid bikes will appreciate the paved bike lanes and well-marked routes between cities and alongside quiet natural landscapes.
- Tervuren Park is a gorgeous 205-hectare park with paved and gravel paths friendly for walkers and bikers. The former hunting grounds of the Duke of Brabant, grand, leafy trees provide shade while you cruise the paved and soft gravel trails straddling the waterways. The terrace overlooking the ponds at Het Bootjeshuis also has a restaurant but packing for a picnic on the expansive green space is highly recommended. Alternatively, the quainter Spaans Huis, “Spanish house”, has a restaurant and terrace.
This 9-mile route will take about an hour (one-way) and require you to weave your way southeast on some busy Brussels streets, but both Bld Géneral Jacques and Chaussée de Wavre do have marked bike lanes. As you are heading out of Auderghem, you can stop to see the Red Cloister Arts Center or the mansion and estate at Château of Val-Duchesse. Outside of Brussels, you’ll find marked trails leading from the bike path into the Sonian Forest should you decide you want to return to the city a different way.
Best for: Cyclists should be comfortable with bike lanes on some busy streets of Brussels, but just outside the Auderghem municipality there are wide bike paths separated from the roadway which are ideal for both sport and family cycling.
Other Route Resources:
Map of Flemish Brabant Cycling Nodes
Map of Points-noeuds in Picardy Wallonia
Finally, for those times you want to explore within Brussels city limits by bike in a safe manner, don’t hesitate to join in on Brussels’ annual Car-Free Sunday and on one of the summer-time Roller Bike Parades.
Pro Velo also organizes themed guided bike tours (for a fee) every weekend from April to October.
Aw I’m sad I wasn’t in Brussels during biking season! Guess I’ll have to visit another time!
PS- this post is AWESOME!
Thanks! Yes, you would love some of these paths/trails 🙂 Not so many mountains but plenty of beautiful places to see!
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