Written by Bradt Travel Guides
In Belgium, cycling is part of the national psyche © Visit Brussels, Eric Danhier, VisitFlanders
As the saying goes: ‘Cycling is Flanders and Flanders is cycling’. Exploring the region by bike is an excellent way of discovering off-the-beaten-track villages – and it’s easy thanks to the national network of waymarked cycling paths, known as fietsknooppuntennetwerk. Read on to discover our recommendations for the most picturesque routes in Northern Belgium.
Bruges to Damme
Follow the beautiful poplar-lined canal out of Bruges towards Damme for a pleasant 5km ride © Pyty, Shutterstock
If you’re staying in Bruges, we’d highly recommend cycling to Damme. It’s a simple 5km route along Noorweegse Kaai, and you cycle next to the canal through lovely sections of poplar-lined paths, then put your bike on the boat for the return leg.
Riding high after being voted one of the world’s 100 greatest places to visit by Time magazine in 2018 – quite a coup for Limburg – the 212m-long Fietsen door het Water (Cycling through Water) track cuts through a large pond in the De Wijers nature reserve. It’s exciting to cycle along as it dips so low that you’re at eye level with the water – not to mention the grand curious swans, swimming inches away. Completed in 2016, it has been such a success that the tourist board is further expanding the scheme. ‘Cycling through the Trees’ was launched in summer 2019; this will be joined by ‘Cycling through the Heath’ (early 2020) and ‘Cycling Underground’ (currently in the design phase). To get there, rent a bike and make for junction 91 of the Limburg cycle route network; you can download a free 22km route past it starting and ending in Hasselt from www.visitlimburg.be.
Lier’s Orchard Route
Picturesque Lier is the starting point for a lovely route that takes you through several of the region’s fruit-growing villages © Sofie Coreynen, VisitFlanders
Lier’s surrounding countryside is particularly beautiful in springtime when the fruit orchards come into bloom. Hop on to the saddle and follow the Fietsen tussen bloesems en fruit or Orchard Route (41.7km), a bike trail starting from Lier railway station that takes you through the fruit-growing villages of Ranst, Broechem, Emblem, Vremde and Wommelgem. You can buy fruit along the route. The longer Pallieteren Langs de Nete (49.5km) route follows the Nete and leads you to the quaint village of Gestel. You can download the maps (in Dutch) for free on Visit Lier’s website. The tourist office can also prepare picnic hampers; order at least 48 hours in advance.
The countryside to the east of Sint-Truiden is particularly beautiful between April and May when the apple, pear and cherry orchards are in full bloom. The tourist office sells maps tailored to visiting the prettiest parishes, which you can easily do by hopping on your bike.
Oudenaarde is the terminus of the Tour of Flanders, the region’s most famous cycle race © PatrickVerhoest, VisitFlanders
Bang in the middle of the Flemish Ardennes and currently the terminus of the Tour of Flanders, Oudenaarde is one of the best towns in which to base yourself while tackling Flanders’ most epic cycle rides. Have a go at the Ronde van Vlaanderen cycling route (€4) – available in three versions on one map – do a beer route or, for something easier, ie: flatter, try the two Scheldt River Valley routes (€2). You can download them all for free on the East Flanders tourist board’s website, or pick up paper versions at the tourist office.
Want to find out more about getting active in Northern Belgium? Check out our compehensive guide: