Cycling in Belgium Hiking in Belgium

Cycling and hiking in Belgium

Walking network signpost in Averbode

An ingenious network of cycle paths and footpaths covers many parts of Belgium

You have a spare few hours; the weather forecast looks reasonable; and you fancy going on a bike ride or a hike. But you’re tired of your usual route, and last time you tried a new one you got hopelessly lost.

Don’t despair, the solution is at hand; the Cycling Route Network (fietsknooppuntnetwork) or the Walking Route Network (wandelknooppuntnetwerk). Their equivalents are now increasingly appearing in Wallonia.

A super invention

In my opinion they are one of Belgium’s most useful inventions!

The system originated in the Limburg mining industry. Underground junctions were numbered, and arrows indicated the tunnels leading to the next numbered junctions. Mining engineer and cycling enthusiast Hugo Bollen brought the idea above ground. It was first transferred to cycle routes and then expanded to walking routes. The concept has gradually spread throughout many areas of Flanders and has also been extended to many areas of the Netherlands. Importantly, the networks integrate perfectly between regions and countries.

The crux of the system is that it allows you to cycle/walk from one numbered junction to the next one. At each junction a signpost points you in the direction of the two or three next junctions.

Knooppunt
Green signposts are for the cycling network. This one indicates that you are at cycle network junction 97. Go right towards junction 74. Or left to junction 98
walking-network-signpost
Walking network signposts are dark red

This leads to a much more flexible way of cycling/walking around the countryside than by following stipulated routes. Now you can mix and match to create your own cycling/hiking route.

Obviously before you set out, a little preparation is necessary. Both cycling and walking network maps are available from tourist offices, town halls and bookshops. Or you can go online at Fietsnet or Wandelknooppunt.be .

You decide on your starting point and simply write down or enter the numbers of the junctions that you want to pass through on your route. On the map or online, the distances between each junction are helpfully indicated. And as you add more junctions to your route, the cumulative total is summed up. So you can easily see if the total is manageable and adjust your route accordingly.

cycle-network-example
This is for a 48.9 km cycle route beginning and ending in the centre of Ghent
walking-network-example
This is for a 10.2 km walk along the banks of the River Schelde

You can then print off the route numbers or the map, download a GPX file to your GPS, or download the map to your smartphone. And off you go!

It sounds easy enough in theory, but what about in practice? Well, it really does work a treat. I’ve been using both of them for years and I love them.

All the interchanges are excellently signed in both directions.

walking-network-signpost2

For the cycle routes, there are even signposts that give you warning that you are about to approach a numbered junction.

Fietsknooppunt_1
You are approaching junction 20

And obviously a great deal of care has been taken to ensure that the cycling and walking paths are good ones. Generally they are excellent, consisting of country lanes, farm tracks, car-free cycle paths, footpaths through woods, fields and villages.

walking-network-signpost-langdorp

In addition, “cycle-cafés” are also shown on the maps. These are cafés which include:

  • Bike racks for at least 20 bikes
  • Toilet area with facilities and space to freshen up
  • First aid kit
  • Cycle maps
  • Tourist information
  • Cycle repair kit
  • Address of nearest cycle repair shop
Oude Hansbrug Restaurant 1
The cycle cafe: The Oude Hansbrug on the River Dijle near Werchter

Finally, if you come across a signpost that is missing, vandalised or damaged, you can enter the details on a form on one of the websites above, and the problem will hopefully be fixed as soon as possible.

So what are you waiting for?

walking-network-signpost-horst

About Denzil

Discovering Belgium is my personal blog describing places to visit in Belgium. It mainly focuses on walking and cycling in nature, but also covers cities and events.

16 comments on “Cycling and hiking in Belgium

  1. Reblogged this on guidowke's wandelblog and commented:

    Interesting blog entry for all ex pats who are not familiar with our cycling and walking system.

  2. Wow, I wish we had that here!

  3. Again, I am impressed. This is a wonderful way for people to get out and walk or cycle and feel comfortable. I’d still get lost, but one of your friendly residents would point me to the right sign. 🙂

    • I have to admit (rather sheepishly) that I have got lost using this system. It wasn’t the fault of the system, it was due to me daydreaming as I walked/cycled along without paying attention to the signposts.

  4. Wonderful idea! I’m sure even I could avoid getting lost with this.

    • Well I still get lost from time to time Anabel, by staring at the scenery and not noticing a signpost!

  5. What a great idea. I like that you can plan before you go. That would be very useful if you were unfamiliar with the area.

    • Yes Carol, it also takes the stress out of wondering what the paths will be like in unknown territory.

  6. How very handy for locals and visitors alike. I’m impressed with the cycle café idea always nice to have a break when out for a ride.

    • Yes the cycle cafes are a great idea Glen, but cyclists have to make sure they don’t get breathalyzed while cycling away from them!

  7. It really must be beautiful there riding a bike from town to town. When i was in Europe last November, I was astounded at the number of bikes. It is not that common here in the States to see lots of bike traffic. Good to know how to read those signs.

    • Yes these networks certainly make it easier to cycle here and there in Belgium, although work still needs to be done to improve the overall cycling infrastructure up to the level of the Netherlands. And these networks are only available in Flanders; the southern part of Belgium (Wallonia) has not implemented them yet, probably due to the cost involved.

      • kevinmayne

        ….or maybe due a stubborn resistance to all things Flemish, even when they work!

        Although the system has at least been implemented in the Marche en Famenne cycling area on the edge of the Ardennes.

  8. Very handy system! No need to look at any map, and you can plan ahead (the distance, how difficult). We have gotten so used to using the cycle ‘knots’ both in Flanders and in the Netherlands.
    Big difference when we were cycling in England last Summer, and having to use a map again (and no bicycle lanes or routes whatsoever!). arghh!

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