Hello! Two of us are planning a 2 week trip to Belgium and The Netherlands in mid-October. We're from Oregon, USA, and are regular bike commuters, so we are not afraid of rain. We would like to do some traveling by bike during our trip. We have never done overnight biking here in the US. Couple questions:
1. Any recommended 2-3 day itineraries? We love beer, farms, great views, and are curious about WWI centennial events in Flanders and elsewhere that may be happening around this time. Any recommendations for short trips?
2. Do we need to be concerned about renting a bike? We are flying in/out of Brussels and could rent a bike for the entire trip there, though I think we will travel both by bike and by train. Is this cost effective? I have seen rates around 120 euros for 2 week bike rental. Is this reasonable, and will it be easy to find? Is it easy to bring bike on trains in the Low Countries or should we plan to rent bike in each city?
3. How to pack for such a trip? Since we will not be 100% on bikes, we are reluctant to bring "bike luggage" i.e. panniers. Has anyone else done a hybrid biking trip like this in Europe and what are your recommendations? I am inclined to pack my normal rolling suitcase and adapt to bike travel as needed. We have panniers we could also bring from the USA, but maybe something else would be easier? Will Ortlieb rear panniers work with any bike we rent? We will certainly come equipped with raincoats and rain pants. We're used to that in Oregon. Other suggestions for luggage and packing for a trip with multiple modes of transit?
Thanks in advance for ideas/feedback!
I have two bikes available freely for your trip in Belgium. A road-bike (700c) and a mountain bike with road tires. They are equipped with rear racks and mudguards. I should have handlebar bag too. I have a two wheel trailer too.
It's very easy to travel by train with a bike in Belgium, but you have to pay a fare for that. It's 5€ per travel (of 8 for a full day). In the newer trains, there is a freely accessible part for the bikes, in the older, you have to ask to the controller but there is always a place for it.
I'm an active member of Friends of the Earth Belgium (Ter-amikaro = friend of the earth in esperanto).
I'll go for a 6 week trip in France on my recumbent bike in a few days (july 9th -> august 18th), so I won't be very reactive on the net.
Wow, Michael, thanks! So generous if you. I will be in touch closer to our trip if it seems like this would work out.
I will be cycling Amsterdam to Paris in September, so I will be following this post : )
Mee too :)
On september, I'll be riding from Amsterdam to Paris through Belgium. So, better to follow this topic posts... :)
In midle august, I want to bike from amsterdamto Copenhagen and maybe stop in one of the dutch island. If anybody have some ideas. I can also give some after.
Daniel from Québec city
In summertime you can go from island to island. See http://www.wadden.nl/wadden/waddenhoppen
Unfortunataly not in English available; maybe google translater will help you.
I saw taking a bike, means good planning, because of reservation is necessary.
Astrid, thank you for this suggestion! May I ask: Is the weather on the islands really dreadful in October? It looks like it is typically the wettest month of the year. Coming from Oregon, USA, we are used to gray skies and rain, but I am curious about the islands. When it rains, is it a constant, pounding rain, or more of a mist? Do people still spend time outside when it is rainy or do things really shut down?
it's difficult to say. The weather can me unstable in the Netherlands. It this moment it's warm, august has been bad.
There won't be a lot of tourists then, so that can be nice cycling around. I think going from island to island isn't possible anymore, only in summertime.
You also can cycle to Harlingen and depends the weather at that moment, decide if you would like to visit one of the islands. From Harlingen you can reach Vlieland/Terschelling and Ameland I thought.
There are great paths in Belgium, called 'Ravel'.
Just click on the ravel tour to see the map.
Have fun !
Catherine, thanks! This is a great tip.
At ProVelo on Rue de Londres, near the city centre, you can get maps of the cycling paths that cover the entire country. For a few days, Flanders is a great place to go. The maps for this area should be free.
We did a stunning bike ride from Brugge to Ypres last summer. Lots of war history at Ypres. Brugge to the northern coast is another great day ride. Around Maastrict in the Netherlands, there is also beautiful riding, a bit hillier though. You can take Belgian trains to this town.
There are lots of good bike rental places in Brugge, much cheaper than in Brussels. Not sure about Maastrict.
Thank you Elizabeth! We are thinking we will head to Brugge right away from Brussels, so we will be getting bikes there for sure. Are there any companies that you recommend? When you biked from Brugge to Ypres, did you do it in one day or multiple days? What route did you take and where did you stop? I know it is not very far, but we are not speed racers, we would rather spend more time and take in the countryside. It's vacation!
Thanks again for your suggestions.
We did it in one day, both ways. You can get bike maps of the countryside at most bike shops, free or paid depending on the map. We just chose random paths from the map to get there - there are tons of routes and they're all nice. Not sure about the distance - you cpulds check it on google then add 20 to 30 km to account for the meandering paths - road is definitely faster! In fact, I thinkmwe mit have switched to the main road to get there faster when it was getting dark.
There are lots of beautiful vilages everywhere, lots of places to stop and have a beer on a terrace or eat lunch, no planning ahead reallt required. Campground in Ypres, or lots of b and bs or hotels.
Not sure of the bike shop, there are a few! When you get off the train, go to touriat info at thw station and get them to mark shops on a map. You can walk all over he city, ita small.
I haven't been in this corner of Europe on bicycle. But a short trip with car. It is very easy to come around. Everybody speaks English and is helpful and friendly. Both countries consider them self bicycle friendly and lots of people are daily under way on bicycle. Commuting or vacation.
What you might consider is you are travelling in autumn and it might be a bit cold.
With an experienced brewer at your side it might be known, otherwise be warned; some of the best beer in Europe is found in Belgium and Holland/Netherland :) ! (..no one uses the term "low countries")
Often it is possible to eat very good visiting the brewers. Order eventual way ahead.. Some of these have cult status and occupied by other visitors. Or closed while tourist season is over..?
I am not sure if farm visits will be that easy or interesting. Maybe ecological farmers will be open minded.. Otherwise farming in Europe is heavy industrialised and closed to public. -The main harvest season will be over. Except some vegetables & potatoes which isn't that interesting...
Have you considered classical music or opera ? De Munt in Brussels is considered one of the finest opera houses in Europe.
I wouldn't recommend travelling with a suitcase. The generous bike offer couldn't fit better for your needs.
Have fun and a safe travel
Thank you Lars! Indeed, my partner works in the beer industry in Oregon, USA, so he is extremely excited about visiting breweries and learning about Belgian beer culture.
We have decided to go with small backpacks rather than luggage. Also, I appreciate the opera recommendation! Thank you for your suggestions!
your plans sounds wonderful, netherlands (not holland, that is just part of netherlands :P) is great for cycling. Look up LF routes (http://www.nederlandfietsland.nl/en), these routes will take you everywhere in netherlands with lovely views and interesting sights to visit. Other way of finding your way is knooppuntenroute, but the info isn't in english i am afraid. there is a wonderful app (bike node) that will show all the 'knooppunten' (i am not sure i am making it very clear what this actually is, but i use this system very often when i am touring by bike)
Anyway, taking bicycle with you in the train in netherlands will cost you 6 euros a day, and travelling by train itself is quite expensive. I am not familiar with prices for renting a bicycle, but i could look into that for you if you want.
In the south of netherlands there is a wonderful brewery close to the city Tilburg (http://www.latrappetrappist.com/), it is one of my favorite places to go for beer, and the beer and food there is excellent!
In netherlands there is a possibility to camp at small campsites at farms (http://www.kamperen-bij-de-boer.com/) but the information is only in dutch i am afraid..
once friend of mine gave mi link, but i cannot find it now.
You mean 'paalkamperen'? i haven't been able to find info in english...
yes, i try to find something as this. http://www.staatsbosbeheer.nl/Overnachten/Kampeerterreinen/Zoekresultaten.aspx?AccommodationType=Kampeerterreinen&campingtype=Vrij+kamperen
Thanks Regine, these are good tips! Biking culture is so much different in the Netherlands compared to the USA, and the scale of things is different, too... From where we live, you must travel nearly 100 km to get to the nearest large town to the west. Much more spread out. I love the LF routes and can't wait to experience them.
We will not be bringing camping gear. Do you have any advice for finding B&Bs or other small places to stay that offer more than camping? I found a few different websites with guides, but am curious as to your favorite.
Of course you can go all the way through warmshowers in Belgium and the Netherlands. Another option would be http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl/en/
This is a non profit organization that has a list of people who offer accommodation to cyclists. You become a member first and then you get access to the list. The standard rate is about 19 Euro per person per night, this includes breakfast. I think the list covers both Netherlands and Belgium.
I have cycled in every corner of my country. There are so many possibilities that it is hard to recommend something. It really depends on what you want to see. Some areas have are a bit more forested, with beautiful colors on October. If you like that, go south and east in the Netherlands, but also to Utrechtse Heuvelrug and Hoge Veluwe in the center. If you like the typical big river landscapes you can cycle on the dikes of rivers like IJssel, Rijn, Waal and Maas. LF1 is a bikepath that follows the north sea coast from somewhere in northern France till Den Helder. Then it connects to LF10 that crosses De Afsluitdijk and the north coast till Germany. A ride around the big lake IJsselmeer offers some great cycling, bird watching and very old villages and small cities that still remind of the Golden Age when the Dutch ruled the worlds oceans.
Some of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands are Utrecht, Leiden, Delft, Deventer, Zutphen, Groningen and Maastricht.
Belgium is a great place to ride as well, although there are much less bike paths. The Ardennes are in the French speaking part and mostly covered in pine forests and very hilly, with grades till 25% on the small roads. Maybe you know them from the road cycling classics. Flanders, the Dutch speaking half has many beautiful cities, my favorite is Gent. In between you find flat or slightly hilly countryside, mostly used for agriculture.
It is hard to say anything about the weather. It might rain for weeks or it might be sunny for weeks. On average it will be around 15C during the day and probably half of the days you will have some rain. Wind might be your biggest enemy, especially in the west and the north.
If you're interested in WWI, include Ieper (Ypres) in your itinerary. Fierce battles took place here between German and Allied forces. The Tourist Office has brochures on cycling routes along the former front lines, where you can still see traces of bomb craters, trenches, etc., and war cemeteries. The Menin Gate in downtown Ieper bears the names of over 50,000 men who died but whose graves are not known. There is a ceremony every evening at 8 PM, during which the Last Post is played. The Cloth Hall was in ruins by the end of the war in 1918, but was rebuilt in the 1920s. It now houses the impressive In Flanders Fields Museum (www.inflandersfields.be).
If you like beer, we can recommend the Trappist breweries in Westmalle (Belgium, near Antwerp) and Koningshoeven (Netherlands, near Tilburg).
It is relatively easy to bring your bike on the train, but do avoid rush hours (roughly between 6 and 9 AM and between 4 and 7 PM). Also, do not leave your bike and luggage unattended. You will have to pay an extra fee to bring a bike on the train. I am not sure about Belgium, but it is € 6 per bike per day in the Netherlands.
Feel free to contact us if you need more info, or if you need a place to stay in Breda (almost on the Belgian/Dutch border).
Dim & Marieke
Dim and Marieke, thanks so much for the great tips! We will spend two days in the Ieper area, I think. I am quite interested in the history and my partner wants to visit Poperinge (hop city) and a brewery or two in the area.
I really appreciate your advice about the front line cycling route, Menin Gate, and the Flanders Fields Museum. May I ask: I have seen brochures online for many special exhibits and events happening around the WWI centennial. Is there anything getting a lot of attention in the local press that is happening special for this period and not to be missed?
Just wanted to thank everyone again, and share a little of what we ended up doing.
We purchased a couple of maps showing the knoppunten (bike points similar to those in The Netherlands - very well signed). There is actually not a map that shows the entire Ghent to Brugge route, but we made do. The maps were about 6 euros apiece from the Flanders tourism office near the Grote Markt in Brussels. They have a great selection of maps and were very helpful there with advising us about the knoppunten.
We rented bikes in Ghent from the Fietspunt at the train station. These bicycle stops (again very well-signed) are in every major city and conveniently located so that travelers can access a bike within a few minutes walk from the train station. They rent bikes and also do repairs and give advice. Very helpful.
We cycled from Ghent to Brugge on the LF 5 route - a sweet trip along canals and through farmland. We had city bikes, which worked fine for the trip, but were slow. It probably took us about 3 hours to cycle to Brugge. Beautiful ride. We traveled with small backpacks which weighed 15-20 lbs. Kind of uncomfortable on the long ride, but the very helpful bike rental guy gave us tie down straps and we found ways to rearrange luggage so tha some was on the bike, and some was on our backs. That was better.
After a couple days in Brugge, we took the bikes on the train to Poperinge. 6 euros additional for each bike, which is not bad for a long train trip. It was not difficult to get the bikes on and off the trains, the conductors were very helpful with connections.
From Poperinge we cycled about 10km to our B&B, and using self-designed knoppunten routes and our maps, cycled to several breweries around Watou. We also took the bikes on the train to Ieper, and cycled around there for a day visiting WWI sites. It was just one stop (5-10 minutes) from Poperinge to Ieper on the train, but we paid 8 euros for each bike for a return ticket. That was a bit steep! If you have a better bike, you could certainly cycle from Poperinge to Ieper and then do an additional 40km loop around Ieper in a day, seeing a lot of the sights. There are great routes suggested on the cycle maps, and with the knoppunten, it's very easy to make your own.
We actually didn't end up cycling at all in the Netherlands, but spent a lot of time walking through parks and sitting in cafes watching cyclists go by. Rush hour is incredible!
Oh, and the weather: overall we had great weather, between 14-20 degrees Celsius (so mostly in the 60s in Fahrenheit) with one day going up to 22C (72F). Perfect cycling temps. We did travel with rain coats and pants. We got caught in one large downpour on the bikes in Flanders and others while walking, otherwise just some misty rain. I was definitely glad we had the serious rain gear available to us if we needed it.
All in all a great trip. I appreciate everyone's advice and suggestions! We have to go back for more cycling around The Netherlands and on the coast.