Why go cycling in Brussels?
Cycling in (and around) Brussels is significantly more fun than cycling in most capital cities of the world.
After all, in Belgium cycling is a national passion - and Brussels embraces that.
The city has a huge amount to see and cycling is the way to see it - from architecture and heritage, to green parks and proximity to famous cycling events such as the Tour of Flanders and Ghent Six Day.
Brussels is also a culinary paradise and its cycling friendly credentials are the icing on the cake. Back in 2004, the government implemented a radical new bike action plan. This has taken the city from a standing start into being one of Europe’s more dynamic big cities in terms of bicycle policy. 2021 saw a 20% increase in the number of people on a bike in Brussels!
Want to plan your cycling trip to Brussels?
In this guide we speak to Brussels resident, Frederik Depoortere, who manages Brussels’ mobility cycling policy and is a passionate cyclist. Read on to find out his tips for where to ride, stay and when to visit!
Banner photo: © visit.brussels - Eric Danhier
1. Tell us about Brussels' cycling routes
1.1 Geography of Brussels
Brussels is located roughly in the centre of Belgium, with Antwerp to the north, Ghent to the west and Liege to the east. It sits within the region of Flanders, but the border with Wallonia is not far away to the south.
Brussels is a surprisingly green city and one of the most popular cycle paths in Brussels is the Green Belt. It’s clearly signposted and provides a sign posted route in a circle around Brussels. There’s more on this below.
The Brussels Canal runs northeast to southwest through the city and has a big cycle lane alongside it. This really helps access through the city and is an easy geographical point.
The city centre is also criss-crossed by many cycle lanes. Most big roads have a cycle lane and the city is so compact, you can bike across Brussels in a day.
Brussels is currently working on several cycle highways. The highways comprise wide and fast cycle paths in and around Brussels, and they're nearly finished.
One of the best known is the highway connecting Antwerp to Brussels within a 2.5-hour route – so you can cycle there and back in one day, or make it an extended venture over the weekend.
With it being incredibly easy to get in and out of Brussels on the cycle highways and bike paths, Brussels makes a very good base for exploring.
1.2 What are the roads like?
Cycling in Brussels is relatively safe and cyclists are treated well. Cyclists can pick between the bike lanes and riding on the road. I generally suggest newcomers use the cycle routes and lanes provided, although if you’re confident you can cycle on roads.
There are few rules to impede getting outside on a bike and lots of active encouragement to do so. For example you can ride two abreast and don’t have to wear helmets or a hi-viz (thought you do have to have lights on your bike).
The government even offers residents courses on ‘riding in traffic’ – an incredibly valuable skill to have when travelling around on a bike. Bike logos have been painted on the roads to show cyclists where to cycle and help encourage them to take an active position on the road and avoid car doors opening on them. Almost all streets are also open to contraflow traffic including one-way streets. This means cyclists can ride in both directions on almost every street, to allow them to avoid busier and unpleasant streets.
Initiatives like this are signs of how accepted cycling is within Brussels and how much the authorities want to continue growing participation.
1.3 What are the must-do cycling routes in Brussels?
Below I share a few of my favourite cycling routes in Brussels. These are all doable by more experienced cyclists on any kind of bike.
If you want to look at additional routes, check out this website to create fantastic routes with ease. With the Green Belt and a city that's full of character and public gardens, you won’t be short of routes to explore and things to see!
1.3.1 Inner Brussels – Tour of Brussels’ architecture –
What to expect:
This route takes you back in time and lets you enjoy the most beautiful art deco buildings in Brussels. The tour starts at the Basilica, the biggest Art Deco building in Western Europe, and continues alongside some famous buildings of Brussels including Flagey and Bozar.
Why it’s special:
Beautiful architecture and Art Deco architecture throughout the ride.
1.3.2 Ride the Greenbelt – a 360 circle around Brussels -
What to expect:
This is a well signposted route that takes you through Sonian Forest, Woluwe Valley, the Pajottenland and various other forests, parks and lakes.
Why it’s special:
Beautiful scenery and a mini tour of Brussels.
1.3.3 Southwest to Pajottenland (towards Geraardsbergen)
What to expect:
You can admire the landscapes portrayed by Bruegel, with their untouched beauty. The ride starts from the Vorst Abbey and takes you past the Anderlecht lakes, Gaasbeek Castle and Groenberg Castle.
Why it’s special:
An overwhelming sense of serenity and a number of places to take a break and really take in the scenery.
1.3.4 East to Leuven
What to expect:
Leuven is known as the ‘Jewel of the Dyle’ – a highly recommended destination where you can visit the ‘longest bar in the world’, cycle along the canal and enjoy the fresh air.
Why it’s special:
Astounding scenery and wonderfully fresh air, while taking in the culture and character. A place known for its beer and students.
1.3.5 South of Brussels
What to expect:
Departing from Ter Kamerenbos and following a lively route to the south of Brussels, to the Lion’s Mound in Waterloo.
Why it’s special:
You’ll ride through the landscape in which Napoleon and his troops were defeated in 1815.
1.3.6 Folon Foundation and Solvay Castle
What to expect:
A route that will transport you to the nature surrounding the southeast capital, passing through various parks and cultural sites.
Why it special:
Various places to stop off for cultural visits, including the Folon Foundation where you’ll discover more than 500 water colours, sketches, paintings and sculptures.
1.4 What are the key cycling events in Brussels?
1.4.1 Pro races to watch
If you’re in Brussels when the Tour of Flanders is on, it’s definitely worth finding somewhere to watch on the course. The event is a national spectacle! You should be able to get to the course pretty easily due to the ease of access due to the cycling infrastructure. It would be a shame to miss such a classic professional race. You can find details here.
In Brussels itself, there's the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne cobbled classic race in late February each year. You can also catch the Brussels Cycling Classic race in summer-time. It’s another great race to watch live. It was first held in 1937 and goes from Paris to Brussels. There’s more information on previous races and routes here.
Finally, you may remember the Tour de France Grand Départ from Brussels in 2019. What a spectacle!
1.4.2 Amateur rides and events
Dimanche a velo select a surprising and green space on the outskirts of Brussels every month, where experienced guides take cyclists around a slightly sporty, yet relaxing tour of approximately 25-30km.
Alternatively, consider joining a weekend tour for an introduction to Brussels. They’re great for getting to know the diversity of neighbourhoods and the culture. Or join a tour to experience the history of Brussels.
Finally, on the last Friday of the month 2-3,000 cyclists join together for a mass participation ride when the weather is favourable.
There’s more information on cycling events in Brussels here.
1.5 What are the key cycling events in Belgium?
This article would not be complete with mentioning the myriad of other famous cycling events in Belgium (all easily accessible from Brussels):
Many of these events also have sportives attached to them, so you can ride one day and watch the pros the other. More inspiration on these here.
2. What are the best cycling hotels in Brussels?
Visit.Brussels has set up a bike-friendly accommodation scheme to enable cyclists to find somewhere to stay with ease.
The scheme is run by Pro Velo and Visit.Brussels who have created a questionnaire that allows accommodation to certify that they are suitable for cyclists. The accommodation is then inspected.
The criteria includes parking, location near cycle routes, provision of bike repair tools and allowing guests to fill water bottles.
The bike friendly certified hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation are listed here.
3. Are there places for bike hire/bike shops in Brussels?
Brussels is home to an array of bicycle shops that support the city’s mission to get more people on a bike, whether it be for commuting or fun. You can find a list of Brussels bike shops here. Many also offer bike hire.
For more serious road bikes, Pro Velo and Bike Avenue Brussels are popular options.
3.1 Bike hubs in Brussels
It’s also worth knowing about the two new Bike Hubs in the Grand Hospice in the centre of the city and ‘See U’ site in Ixelles.
At these hubs, you can get your bike serviced and repaired, find information on ‘Brussels by bike’ and partake in various cycling activities. The hubs also provide bike hire for Brussels and are a starting point for cycling tours in Brussels.
There's more information on the bike hubs here.
Also don't hesitate to pop into any of the city's tourist information centres where they will be able to provide information on the bike hubs, bike hire and more. You can find then at BIP Koningsplein, at the Townhall at the Grand Place, in the European Quarter (Station Europe) and at the airport.
3.2 Bicycle tours in Brussels
In Brussels we have volunteers that are really passionate about their city and going green. They’re called Greeters and they offer themselves out as tour guides for tourists riding bikes in Brussels, so they can share their favourite places, stories and good deals with you. And this service is free! Find out more about the scheme here (to book a greeter, click "what is a greeter?" then "book a greeter" and you can then mention bike/cycling in the "centers of interest" and "comments" sections).
Other places offering tours are:
Pro Velo - a very well-established enterprise in Brussels and many other cities of Belgium too, offering cycling tours and a host of other information.
The Brussels Bike Tour – takes you to the sights of Brussels, including a food stop at the famous Chez Antoine chip stand.
Cactus - offer group weekend cycling tours of Brussels as well as small group tours for families, friends and organisations.
4. When to visit Brussels?
I always recommend visiting Brussels in the summer (June to August) as there is so much going on, there are less cars around, less people working in town and you can see the city with its true residents.
The vibe is much more relaxed, summer bars are open and there is always an outdoor activity to take part in. It is also warmer and much more pleasant to be outdoors exploring and taking in the city.
Some Brussels residents (like me!) take their holidays outside of summer, just because Brussels is so fantastic in summer.
During the winter the ambiance is different due to the chilly weather, but the bike paths and routes are still fun to ride. You can combine your visit with cultural events like the light/brite festival, Christmas markets, Banad Festival (art nouveau/deco) and expositions. For more information please check the website: www.visit.brussels/en/.
5. Any tips for riding in Brussels?
5.1 Brussels as A bike friendly city
The 1958 World Exhibition was the catalyst that led to Brussels becoming a car-infested nightmare. Something had to be done.
The situation slowly started improving once Brussels became its own regional authority in 1989. Brussel's bicycle policy plan was published in 2004 and this gave a big boost to the long term trend towards cycling.
The 2004 plan has been responsible for a massive increase in cycling in Brussels.
In 2004 only 1% of Brussels’ residents were cycling and since then this has increased yearly by 13%, with a 20% increase in 2021.
Having the ability to use a bicycle in Brussels safely is something the city is very passionate about; they are very keen to build an amazing infrastructure and want cyclists to feel safe when biking in Brussels.
To encourage more cyclists, they have a strong focus on green transport. Brussels has one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe and can now firmly say they are a bicycle-friendly city with their green transport policy.
5.2 Bike cafes in and around Brussels
Cycling, beer and coffee are all very popular in Belgium so you’ll be welcome wherever you stop. However here are a few of my favourite cycling-specific cafes for you to check out!
5.3 Bicycle maps of Brussels
The ‘Brussels by Bicycle’ map, provides eight routes along the Brussels Node Network, allowing inhabitants of Brussels as well as tourists to explore the whole region with ease and fully experience the best of the city. More information on this Brussels cycle map here.
There’s also another ‘Brussels bicycle map’ which covers the cycling trails, suggested bike lanes, bike parking locations, ‘Villo!’ stations and woodlands. Most cycling associations and the tourist information office will have these available. More information on this cycle map of Brussels here.
5.4 Bikes and public transport
You don’t need a car in Brussels because everything is accessible via bike or public transport. The new cycling highway even bridges the ring road, allowing cyclists full access to the city.
Bikes are allowed on trains (though not the international high-speed trains). You need a ticket for your bike, but you can’t pre-book or reserve a space.
Many trains in the summer have a carriage just for bikes, which holds 35-40 at a time. Trains come regularly – usually every 20-30minutes - so even if you can’t get your bike into one, another won’t be far behind.
Unfortunately trams and buses don’t allow bikes onboard, except for the long-distance Flix buses.
Thankfully Brussels is compact, so cyclists can get from one side to another easily. Brussels is continuing to grow their cycling infrastructure to make it an even better place to cycle. You might notice some of the cycle highways are still being prepared, but this work will soon be done and you won’t fail to notice how incredible it is to cycle around a city so accepting of cyclists.
5.5 Getting to Brussels
Getting to Brussels is fairly straightforward; it has superb air, road and rail connections.
The trip from the airport to the city centre is only 20 minutes. However, it’s through a Low Emission Zone, so if you plan to drive to the city centre from the airport, you should check your car meets the criteria.
Brussels has five main train stations serving the region which are all interlinked, and on top of that there are several international bus companies that provide quick bus transit between major European cities.
A big thank you to Frederik for sharing his insights on cycling in Brussels and to Visit.Brussels for their support with this article.
We hope it helps you have a fantastic time exploring Brussels by bike.
More About Frederik
Frederik Depoortere works for Brussels Mobility Policy and is keen to encourage more tourism and cyclists to visit Brussels, so they can experience what an amazing city it is.
Frederik has experienced the changes within cycling and the growth and is very proud to be a part of that and share his beloved city with visitors.