Cycling Belgium's Waterways
2,000 km of mostly car-free bikeway
If you like to ride on good pavement but away from car traffic, the towpaths of Belgium offer some of the best cycling in the world. You can ride across the country from north to south or east to west with only occasional concerns about cars or trucks. Much of the way is through pleasant farmland or nature preserve, with the loudest noise bird songs or the engine of a barge. The network totals a little over 2,000 km (1,200 miles), of which more than 1,600 km provide fine riding for any kind of bicycle.
The purpose of this guide is to describe the entire network from a cyclist's perspective. Included are all waterways in Belgium, and logical extensions into France and the Netherlands, which are or were within the last few centuries navigable and where it is physically possible to ride along or reasonably close to the water. Also included are a few connecting rail trails. Each section or sometimes subsection is dated. The oldest information is from 1998, but most of the material was reviewed in 2003 or 2004.
The Flemish and Walloon regional governments are actively improving the towpaths (and many abandoned railways) for cycling. Where the towpath has been turned into a modern highway, separate lanes or paths are being built for cyclists. (In the Walloon area this is known as Réseau Autonome de Voies Lentes [RAVeL] - Autonomous Network of Slow Ways.) The next few years will hopefully see a marked decrease in the problem segments.
On the Flemish side, the entire region is now covered by a network of routes navigated by junction number. So instead of say following route 5 west to Brugge, you go from junction 99 to 88 to 87 to 77, etc. It is a much more flexible system than route numbers. The mapped routes cover most of the waterway routes I describe. Routeplanner is a mash-up with Google Maps that shows you the routes and junctions, and allows you to plan a route. Click on your origin and destination junctions and the program describes your recommended route in a series of junction numbers with distances. Or you can click in sequence on the junctions you wish to follow and it gives you a list of the numbers and distances. Neat program. Current Dutch only, but you can use Google Translate for pretty good conversion to other languages.
This is a hypertext document designed for use on a computer. Individual segments are described in one direction only, but they are normally short enough to allow quick reading and inversion. I have attempted to provide hyperlinks at all points where segments connect. There are also many links to external sites, such as tourist information for towns.
The guide includes many pictures and maps. If your Internet connection is slow, you may wish to set your browser to download the text only.
If you would like a copy of the entire site (the web guide, not a printed copy), please let me know. It can be downloaded from this site - but beware that the zip file is nearly 12 MB. And, a few years ago it was about 165 pages if converted to a Word document.
Before you set out, you might go to maps.google.com to preview the route in satellite view. Most of the time the towpath or canalside road is visible. You can also use Google maps to see whether there seem to be continuations into other countries.
Disclaimer: All routes are subject to change, often by construction activities. Sewer collector construction is particularly likely to be encountered in the provinces of East and West Flanders.
All illustrations and photos are mine unless otherwise indicated.
I occasionally receive requests for translation of the guide into Flemish/Dutch or French. That is beyond my language capabilities, but Google is now providing a surprisingly good computer translation service. Go to Google Translate, enter the url for the page, English as the "from" language and your choice of "to" language. The result is much better than Babelfish.
My days of riding in Belgium have unfortunately come to an end. My wife and I moved from Brussels to Washington, DC, USA, in July 2001. However, I will continue to maintain this web site until someone volunteers to take it over. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Updates on route conditions and descriptions of routes I have not covered are particularly welcome. Any material added will be attributed unless that is specifically not wanted. And do tell me about the errors you find.
Copyright Dan Gamber, 1998 - 2014