The Best Cycling Trip Itinerary through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France!
Updated: Oct 23
Looking for the perfect, two-week cycle trip that goes through three European countries for beginner and intermediate cyclists, and covers over 622 km (386 mi)?
In this blog, we map out the exact route we took from Amsterdam throughout the Netherlands, into Belgium, and across northern France. It’s a sustainable bike touring trip perfect for couples, too! We also include some lesser-known gems from each country that you should definitely check off your bucket list (and no, it doesn’t include the Red Light District) as well as all that you need to know before hitting the road on this bike-packing adventure!
Amsterdam - Keukenhof - Utrecht - Rotterdam - Delft
Zeeland - Antwerp - Brussels - Ghent - Bruges - Dunkirk
TABLE OF CONTENTS
DAYS 1-3: The Best of Amsterdam
We kicked off this trip by spending two days exploring the country's vibrant capital: Amsterdam! Known for areas like the Red Light District and the canals of De Wallen, we found that the true charm of Amsterdam lay in the quaint, narrow streets of its lesser-visited neighbourhoods like Jordaan, Westerpark, and De Pijp. Are you ready for fourteen days of adventure?
Like in every major city, tourist traps are super common in Amsterdam—so have self-awareness wherever you go—but some fun “touristy” things to see include:
Anne Frank House - book your tickets one month+ in advance to enter the house, we didn’t get to go in as they were all sold out two weeks before. The exterior of the house is still beautiful to see, and you can check out the modern, attached museum they created next door to the house.
The Van Gogh Museum - to check out some of Van Gogh's most famous works, but also learn about his family--and especially his sister-in-law and nephew who saved his work long after his death and created the Van Gogh Museum we know today!
The Rijksmuseum - located right next to the Van Gogh Museum, so maybe double-book your day if you’re keen on seeing both, as they are toward the south of the city in Museum Square. Features art from famous Dutch artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer.
We’re going to be honest, we hate being tourists. Being a traveller is SO much better, and (we’ve found) is much better appreciated by the locals. By this, we mean that we try to blend in in the best way we know how: by respecting local culture, language, and customs. So in Amsterdam: don’t walk in the bike lane, don’t assume everyone speaks English (and maybe even learn a few phrases in Dutch like “Alsjeblieft” and “Dank u wel!"), and enjoy the beauty of the city with your eyes and ears first, then with your phone camera, if allowed.
Jordaan - for cool cafés, beautiful homes, independent boutiques, and charming streets.
De Pijp - to the south of the city, and known as the "Latin quarter", this area is near all the big museums, but feels like a cool place where young, international residents live.
Westerpark - where our hotel was located, with a gorgeous park at its doorstep and old-fashioned farmer's markets and craft stalls. Ideal for a lovely nature walk.
Grachtengordel - with its canals added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2010, there's no way you won't want to meander along the streets and over the bridges of this central district of Amsterdam.
Frederik Henrikbuurt - known for having more space than some of the more crowded neighbourhoods, the parks of this neighbourhood (known by locals as "Fred") give this Western part of Amsterdam a more open feel and are ideal for cycling.
EXCELLENT PLANT-BASED FOOD:
And last but not least, some must-stops if you’re looking for excellent vegan food, no matter what your budget may look like:
Vleesch Noch Visch - great little hut in a beautiful square for imaginative vegan gyros, Ciara had the original and Ben loved the tikka masala flavour.
Saint Jean Bakery - get the pistachio cruffin (croissant + muffin, but also kind of like a donut?) with an oat chai latte and thank us later!
Margo’s - lovely cakes/loaves and cheese toasties for a bite on the go!
Trevi’s - the perfect vegan pizza, pasta, and focaccia spot. We LOVED the Pesto Ricotta and Mona Lisa pizzas.
Vegan Thaiger (UberEats) - for those cold, rainy nights in after a long day of exploring.
We also received a ton more recommendations for places to visit, restaurants to try, and shops to see in Amsterdam than we had time to, so know that this list is not nearly exhaustive, and we will be back many more times in the future to this beautiful city to add to this list of favourites!
Our point of origin as well as final destination was London, UK--our home city! From London St. Pancras International, we took the Eurostar to Amsterdam Centraal. The journey took approximately 3.5-4 hours, but went by quickly as we read books, watched an episode of our favourite show, and admired the countrysides of eastern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The train makes four stops in total upon leaving St. Pancras: Lille, Brussels, Rotterdam, and finally Amsterdam.
Although it is much quicker to fly, flying to Amsterdam generates about the same amount of carbon emissions as taking the Eurostar there seven times! At the time of writing this, Eurostar en route to Amsterdam doesn’t allow you to bring bikes on the train with you, but you can choose to either rent bikes in Amsterdam for several days and then do a cycle trip that starts and ends in Amsterdam, or purchase your bikes in the city, like we did! Another option is to take local trains (which typically allow bikes) to Amsterdam from wherever your starting point may be. Long train journeys allow you to see parts of the countryside you might never see otherwise, and also come with a significantly lower carbon footprint than plane or (non-EV) car travel.
If you do fly to Amsterdam, one way you can minimise the flight's impact on the planet is by investing in sustainable projects and tree-planting with Ecologi! Click here to plant 30 trees for free when you sign up, and to help us plant more trees around the world. To learn more about Going Green's impact click here.
Within Amsterdam, using public transport is super easy too! If you have a contactless card, you can tap your card to the reader when you step on and off any of the trams, and for a low price. Our average tram journey in the city was between 4-5 stops and cost us only about €1.65 each per journey.
Thanks to our friends at Tenways E-bike, we were able to each pick up in Amsterdam our new CGO800S model bikes, designed for commutes, cycle trails, and—in our case—cross-country bike-packing trips feeling comfortable, safe, and smooth. As Londoners, we were used to picking up pay-as-you-go bikes that can be left across the city, but have often questionable mileage and sometimes shockingly poor suspension. After our first ride on our Tenways bikes through the busy cycle lanes of Amsterdam, the wide wheels, comfortable seat, back rack, waterproof panniers, excellent suspension, removable and rechargeable battery, and five-level electric bike boost, we were in love!
In collaboration with (actually) sustainable, Amsterdam-based hotel chain, Conscious Hotels, we had the incredible opportunity to stay in their Westerpark location, within walking or short tram-ride distance to the city centre. Of their four locations, Westerpark was the haven we enjoyed spending time in and coming back to each night, offering extremely comfortable beds decked out in organic cotton sheets, rooms powered by 100% clean energy, a fully vegetarian breakfast (with lovely vegan options), a conscious boutique, brimming with snacks, toiletries, drinks, and more from sustainable brands, as well as bike rental options and storage!
These few days of eating plenty of good vegan food and exploring Amsterdam like a local made us realise how incredible of a city Amsterdam is, as well as helped us rest up before setting off on the cycle trip.
OUR CYCLE TRIP ROUTE
DAY 4: The Journey to Keukenhof - from Amsterdam to Bloesempark to De Zilk - 43 km
*To clarify, although this was our first day of cycling, we had spent days 1-3 in Amsterdam, so we labelled this Day 4.
We set off from Conscious Hotels Westerpark at 10am, after a good-night’s sleep and a filling breakfast. Having fit all of our stuff into just one backpack and two large panniers (or saddlebags) each, we were surprised by how well the bike supported the weight, how secure our bags felt on the back, and just how easy it was for us to pedal with the cycle assist only on level one! We used two bungee cords each to secure our backpacks to the back rack, and we’ve included a full packing list below for a full listing of everything we brought on the trip!
Before officially leaving Amsterdam city limits this time of year however, the one place (or rather, park) we absolutely needed to see was Amsterdam’s Bloesempark, or blossom park. Full of over 400 flowering sakura trees (aka cherry blossoms), this feast for the eyes was well worth the cycle. Located just outside the city in the Amsterdamse-Bos, or “Woods of Amsterdam”, this park, three times the size of Central Park in New York City, is an enchanting place to walk, cycle, and—for only about one month per year—walk among flowering cherry blossoms! The cherry blossom trees form a perfect circle, and are only intersected by a walking path, that fortunately you don’t need to stay on. Walking amongst the trees and looking up at those beautiful pink flowers is a heavenly experience.
Despite being a rainy day, this cycle, along a lake and right past Schipol Airport from our Westerpark hotel, was SO worth it! Because of the short time period of the flowering, we could imagine on a sunny Saturday this place to be packed! Instead, because this was a grey, rainy Saturday, we mostly had the park to ourselves, with only what seemed to be a small wedding party in kimonos taking photos, some passersby, and the occasional couple. So if you’re headed to Amsterdam in late March/early April, pack your rain jacket, and go check those cherry blossoms out on a grey day!
After this quick detour, we began working our way southwest toward the town of De Zilk, where we were going to rest up for the night in an Airbnb before exploring the nearby Keukenhof Park in the morning.
Where light rain had followed us from Amsterdam, however, the cycle to De Zilk from the Bloesempark was an absolute washout! Thankfully we had brought rain jackets, but after 30 kilometres following main roads, crossing through parks and small, remote villages in the pouring rain, we were soaked to the bone. About halfway, we even took a rest under an overpass to let the rain subside a bit while we drip-dried ourselves as best as we could.
Our saving grace came in the form of the little Airbnb we stayed in, hosted by owners Jan and Mickey. Not only is the tiny home they built in their backyard situated overlooking neighbouring tulip fields, but the comfortable bed, spotless amenities, and delicious (included) breakfast they prepared for us the following morning was like the hug we needed after a long, wet, first day on the bike. Trust us when we say the pictures don’t do it justice, and it is perfect for two people!
Jan even messaged us a few weeks after we left to show us the incredible blooms of the tulip fields surrounding their house. If you’re ever interested in visiting the Keukenhof gardens, or are even just road tripping or cycling the coastal towns of the Netherlands, we couldn’t recommend Jan and Mickey’s place more! Check it out here!
DAY 5: To Utrecht from Keukenhof- 67 km
Today was a big day! We were finally getting to see the Keukenhof Park, aka the Mecca of spring flowers, namely tulips! As we waved goodbye to Mickey and Jan after the most beautiful breakfast spread ever, Keukenhof—also known as The Garden of Europe and is one of the largest flower gardens in the world—was only a short, 20-minute cycle away. We recommend booking your tickets in advance, especially considering the park is only open for eight weeks per year, but the great amenities mean that you can visit quite flexibly.
For example, we arrived by bike with two panniers and a big backpack each, and there were free, big lockers on-site where we could easily fit everything in three lockers. If you’re coming straight from the airport, or plan on heading back to the airport after, there is also a designated “luggage check” with an attendant who watches your stuff while you enjoy the park. People also checked their strollers/prams there too without issue. There is of course also a large area next to the parking lot where people lock up their bikes, as cycling through the park is not allowed.
Once you step inside, you’re immediately greeted by the vibrant sight of millions of tulip bulbs, hyacinths, and daffodils exploding into the spring sunshine. Spread across a number of enclosed pavilions and over 32 hectares (79 acres of land), the park’s paths meander along carefully manicured gardens, water features (one of which you can even walk on water!), flower exhibits, daffodil-crown-making huts, a Dutch windmill you can actually climb and so much more!
Don’t miss the Willem-Alexander building for some of the most gorgeous blooms you’ve ever seen, including rare varieties you can’t even imagine! We also found a number of plant-based snacks to enjoy for walking around, including a kroket (pea and potato croquette in a bun) and fries, or friet. Both were freshly made and were perfect for a quick snack.
Note from Us: Of course, having any one kind of crop in one area creates a monoculture, and discourages diverse ecosystems from thriving. Keukenhof, however, is a historic plot of land, formerly belonging to 15th-century Teylingen Castle, and falls under a charitable foundation of Count Carel De Graaf van Lynden, of one of the oldest noble families in the Netherlands. It additionally does not receive government subsidies, and its entire revenue is based off of ticket, food and beverage, and memorabilia sales within the park, supporting over 40 gardeners who plant the 7 million flower bulbs in the park every year. Similarly, the park is in fact home to a number of bird, insect, and pollinator species that support the ecosystem of the park year-round.
After two hours of walking around the park, we got back on our bikes, and set off across the country toward Utrecht, a student town located southeast of Amsterdam, and is known to be cool like Amsterdam, but without the tourists. As we got on our way though, we encountered significantly stronger headwinds than we had yet faced, and battled across the subsequent 65km facing what the locals call “the Dutch Mountains” aka the wind.
Of course, on electric bikes, our journey was much easier than had we been on regular bikes; however, with strong headwinds, 20kgs of weight on each bike in baggage, plus the weight of us, we noticed that our bikes’ battery life began to fade faster than we expected.
In the meantime, we passed beautiful rivers, plenty of greenhouses, and through quaint villages scattered across the countryside.
As we pushed on toward Kasteel De Haar, the Netherlands’ largest, most-fairytale-like castle right outside Utrecht, we dropped our speed to zero, meaning no electric bike push is given, and made it to see the castle’s exterior right before it closed, and with about 20% battery left each. The surrounding wetlands too were absolutely stunning along the way, full of paths for people, and plenty of space for plant and animal life to call home!
From Keukenhof to Kasteel de Haar on a windy day took about 3 hours, including one or two roadside snack breaks. With only 12 kilometres to go until reaching our Utrecht accommodation, we just decided to get as far as we could, as fast as we could before the bikes died (we know how this sounds, ugh, effort.) We quickly fell like dominos. Ben called out “It’s gone!” as he crossed a road near the Utrecht city limits, and Ciara’s bike died as she climbed probably the highest point in the area, the Gele brug (or “yellow bridge”) of Utrecht.
From there, we were ready for a shower and a rest, so we pushed through until we made it to the beautiful Airbnb of Arjan. Situated in one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Utrecht, Arjan’s place was another incredible stay we feel so fortunate to have found, located five minutes from the city centre, and ten minutes from Utrecht’s beautiful canals. If you ever visit Utrecht, we highly recommend staying with Arjan. Check out his Airbnb here!
DAY 6: Rotterdam - 71 km
Here’s where we realised we made a mistake—we only gave ourselves one day to explore Utrecht! This city is amazing for young people, with tonnes of plant-based eateries and vintage shops, and an entirely sustainable department store we fell in love with, called Green UP. Who needs more high-street brands? With a plant-based café inside, every sustainable brand you could imagine for home products, clothing, beauty, stationary, baby and pet departments, an antiques hub downstairs, and more, Green UPs everywhere would make living green easy, accessible, and fun for everyone!
After cycling around the canals, checking out a few vintage shops, and checking out the town’s St. Martin’s Cathedral, we headed for lunch at one of the best vegan Italian places we’ve ever been to. VegItalian is a fully vegetarian and mostly plant-based Italian restaurant in the heart of Utrecht. The connected restaurant and deli served both traditional antipasti, pizza, and pasta dishes, takeaway sandwiches and wraps, as well as some of the most delicious desserts we’ve ever had. Limoncello tarts and raspberry cheesecake after a course of truffle linguine and vegan pepperoni pizza? Check! Before making our way back across the country, we (like the giant eco-nerds we are) checked out the world’s largest bike parking garage, which happens to be attached to Utrecht’s central train station.
Much to the confusion and dismay of the garage attendant, we just did a lap around the garage to check it out, and see how over 22,000 bikes can be stored long- or short-term. Imagine if more cities prioritised bikes and people over cars? Talk about cleaner air, healthier people, and more outdoor space to do more of what we love!
Three sunny, beautiful hours and 59 kilometres of farmland later, we arrived in the bustling metropolis of Rotterdam, where we’d spend the next two days. Having gotten used to historic cities with old-world charm, Rotterdam’s soaring skyscrapers and busy port were a bit of a shock at first, but we knew we had the most unique accommodation yet awaiting us in the harbour: a floating, eco-tiny home!
Known as Wikkelboats, these five floating tiny homes offer a unique stay for couples and families alike on a calm, relatively private section of Rotterdam’s harbour. Their roofs are covered in solar panels, with heating and hot water coming from underwater heat pumps, and are complete with full kitchens, a bathroom with a great shower, and a back deck to relax on. Compared to a standard single-family home, Wikkelboats are also 3x more sustainable! Learn more about Wikkelboats’ sustainability specs here.
The interior, too, may look like wood planks, but it’s actually made from 24 layers of compressed cardboard! This not only adds insulation and recycles cardboard, but it also helps with keeping the tiny house quiet day and night. The gentle rocking of the pontoon was a little off-putting at first, but after 20 minutes we got used to it, and we’ve never slept better or fallen asleep faster! Check out our full YouTube video about our stay here.
DAY 7: A Green Project in Rotterdam + The Kinderdijk Windmills - 16.3 km
Waking up in the Wikkelboats, we felt refreshed and excited for the beautiful, sunny day that lay ahead—especially since we were visiting an incredible project, located in the heart of Rotterdam’s port!
In a hub full of incredible start-ups known as the Innovation Dock, located right at the Nieuwe Mass River’s edge, we checked out Urban Reef, a start-up that designs and creates habitats that encourage growth and diversity of species in urban settings. In other words, by 3D-printing with living materials like clay, their reef-like structures allow microorganisms, insects, birds, and more to choose where they want to settle in urban settings like cities, rather than humans determining what species are “allowed” to thrive there.
These urban reefs can absorb water, are porous enough to hold nutrients, and can form microclimates for wildlife to thrive. We had the opportunity to speak with one of the co-founders, Max, who explained the origins, evolution, and future of Urban Reef. To learn more about the impactful work Max and his colleagues at Urban Reef are doing, a full video of our time with the Urban Reef team is coming soon to our YouTube channel, so stay tuned!
Cycling back along the blustery port roads toward central Rotterdam, we crossed the river by cycling directly under it through the Maastunnel, an underwater tunnel opened in 1942 for pedestrians and cyclists, popping up in Rotterdam’s historic district full of beautiful homes, cute shops, and a small port where locals now keep their boats. We then set off for one of the most breathtaking day trips we had been looking forward to seeing the entire trip: the Kinderdijk Windmills!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk are some of the longest-standing, still-inhabited windmills in Holland, dating back to the 1740s! One family, whose relatives live in several of the windmills, can even trace their ancestry back to 1746 as inhabitants and millers on the site. The land the windmills are on is beautiful wetlands, surrounded by walking and cycling paths that go on for miles!
We highly recommend cycling through Kinderdijk on a sunny day, and you can rent bikes to do so at the area’s main entrance. If you’re not cycling or driving to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam, there is also a waterbus that leaves from the centre of the city, costs less than €5 per person (return), and takes about 40 minutes. Bringing bikes with you on board is free of charge, and there’s a great area to lock them up. We did this there and back so that we could see Rotterdam and the surrounding villages by water.
For our time in Wikkelboats, we mostly grabbed some groceries from the neighbouring supermarket, as the kitchen was the perfect size for some easy cooking, but one night we were craving something a little different, and ordered excellent Ethiopian food from Dahlak, which we found on UberEats. We got the Veggie Combo for two (fully vegan), and the amount of food we got could have easily fed 4 people, so we had leftovers for lunch the next day. Check out their menu here!
DAY 8: Delft + Zeeland + Rest Day from Rotterdam - 83.8 km
Leaving Wikkelboats was tough, as the little home was extremely cosy and allowed you to wake up well-rested and looking out at the beautiful, calm waters of the harbour. Today, however, we couldn’t wait to get to the next city on our list: Delft! A quick, 20-minute train ride from Rotterdam Centraal or 40-minute cycle, the town of Delft is a MUST-see and we only wish we had spent a few days here!
Known for its centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship in the iconic blue and white porcelain-making, Delft feels like a beautiful, mini Amsterdam from a century ago. The narrow cobblestone streets lined with cafés, canals, boutiques, and porcelain shops give this city the charming, yet urban feeling it has. As well as being the original seat of the independent Dutch government and royal family, as founded by William of Orange, Delft is also the birthplace of Baroque artist Johannes Vermeer (think: The Girl with the Pearl Earring), and has museums, churches, and buildings full of rich history.
For a quick lunch, we stopped at Kek café, near The Markt, or Delft’s main square, looking right at the Nieuwe Kerk, to enjoy the BIGGEST vegan BLTs we had ever had! Using marinated rice paper in place of the usual bacon, we were both pleasantly surprised by how delicious and filling this was, although very awkward to eat.
After lunch, we set off on one of the longer, but most scenic routes yet toward the Dutch province of Zeeland. Cycling southeast from Delft, we first had to take a quick five-minute ferry across a short waterway from the town of Maassluis to get to the islands. Made up of a section of mainland and six islands, Zeeland is a big summer destination for Dutch families due to its plentiful beaches, and uses over three-quarters of its land for farming! Paths following endless fields, beautiful churches in the middle of charming farm towns, and mile-long bridges bordering the North Sea made this long cycle so worth it, always offering us new things to see.
Tucked back in a nature reserve behind a bustling marina on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee, lies Tij Observatory (pronounced almost like tay). Tij Observatory was designed by RAU Architects and Ro&Ad Architects as a hide for birdwatchers and that truly mirrors nature. Designed out of local, renewable materials, the complex design enables different bird species space to build nests and thriving habitats, without allowing humans to disturb them. Visitors can only walk through the tunnel into Tij Observatory at low-tide, because at high-tide, the ground floor of the structure floods to allow various fish species to migrate.
After taking some incredible videos of the Tij Observatory and checking out some local bird populations, we hit the road again for the final 25 kilometres of our day, toward our tiny home Airbnb that awaited us in the cute countryside town of Stad aan ’t-Haringvliet (we know, we can’t pronounce it either).
This tiny home had a full kitchen, rainfall shower, beautiful garden, and comfortable living room with separate bedroom. The following day, we were initially going to head off to one of the other islands of Zeeland, but a heavy wind and rainstorm was expected, and fortunately our host Jill allowed us to stay another night in the tiny home. We used this rest day to catch up on some work and stretch our tired bodies. We’re not going to lie…the day off the bike saddle was well-appreciated! Check out the dreamy countryside Airbnb we stayed in here!
DAY 9: Zeeland to Antwerp, Belgium - 82km
Rested up, today was officially the day we were leaving the Netherlands :( After over a week of incredible Dutch hospitality and kindness, beautiful cycle paths, and lush greenery, we started to make our way toward the second country on our list for this cycle trip: Belgium, namely, the global port city of Antwerp or Antwerpen!
As this was to be our longest cycle day yet with 80 kilometres to go, some slight inclines, and a bike battery range of only about 100km, we aimed first for the charming town of Bergen op Zoom, a halfway point of sorts for us on this leg of our journey. On the way, we marvelled at Zeeland’s endless wind farms, beautiful lakes, and flowering pastures.
Only encountering a minor detour along the way due to a main road being repaved, we made it to Bergen op Zoom in about two hours, and were charmed by entire village road networks for cyclists only, traditional buildings, and quaint streets housing bakeries, coffee shops and more. We found a great spot to take a rest in Inspire Coffee, located in Bergen op Zoom’s central Thaliaplein square, and enjoyed delicious vegan food for about an hour while our bike batteries charged. We hit the road again just as 2pm rolled around, and began our remaining 40 kilometre journey to Belgium.
Now, we’re not going to lie. This stretch going into Belgium was not pleasant.
About five minutes after we crossed into Belgium, the conditions for cyclists became drastically more dangerous and intense. Maybe we were spoiled having been used to the impeccable cycle lanes of the Netherlands, whether we were in a city or in the middle of nowhere, but as soon as we crossed the border, there was no cycle lane, leaving us to cycle along extremely busy roads, covered with potholes and impatient drivers. Where there was a segment of pavement/sidewalk, we cycled along there, but struggled manoeuvring around pedestrians at crosswalks, and passing other cyclists on the extremely narrow lanes. There was even a bit where we had to join a small segment of a motorway-entrance ramp before a path revealed itself away from the cars. We were definitely on high alert!
As we got nearer to Antwerp city centre, the paved cycle paths resumed (which we were really grateful for), and were amazed by what an architecturally mixed city Antwerp is!
In addition to a diverse population of young and old residents, the port itself houses the famous, Zaha-Hadid-designed Havenhuis, combining an old fire station with a modern structure that serves as the Port Authority HQ. In the city, beautiful buildings from seemingly every decade of the last few centuries line the streets. From the Bourla Theatre from the 19th century, to the old town’s Viking-era castle-turned-prison-turned-museum, Het Steen, dating back to 1200s. From our Airbnb to the south of the city, we were only five minutes by bike to the Old Town, filled with flower sellers, vegan café’s, cool sustainable shops, and more; as well as a waterfront castle and boardwalk. For some excellent vegan cinnamon rolls and desserts, be sure to check out Vegateau on Kleine Pieter Potstraat.
DAY 10: Antwerp to Brussels - 51.6 km
On our way out of Antwerp the following morning, we stopped by Park Nieuwe Zuid, the green common space for a sustainable new neighbourhood in Antwerp. With a funky looking green energy hub in the middle of the park called the Warmtecentrale, Italian architect Stefano Boeri also designed one of the new apartment blocks that overlooks the park. Architect of the famous Bosco Verticale in Milan, his Antwerp project called Palazzo Verde, or 'Green Palace', continues the architect’s signature blending of nature with modern design, keeping 780 sq. metres (over 8,300 sq. ft.) of the building’s surface for greenery.
Where we enjoyed our first taste of what Belgium looked like in Antwerp, we were really excited to get to Brussels! The further away from Antwerp we went, and the greener our surroundings became, the more we looked forward to being in one of the world capitals for a number of international organisations, and such a multicultural city. The route our map took us ended up being ideal, as our first ‘welcome sign’ per se into the city was of the super cool Atomium, a Brussels icon and symbol of the city’s constant progress. The cycle trail then looped us around the Parc de Laeken, in front of the Château de Laeken, and down the steep hill for us to arrive right in front of the famous Église Notre Dame de Laeken cathedral of Brussels. We already were in awe of this beautiful city.
We dropped off our stuff at our next Airbnb, a beautiful sun-drenched apartment on the edge of Brussels’ central district, and went out exploring. Stopping at all the sites including the Grand Place, Palais de Bruxelles, and Mont des Arts, our absolute favourite was the vegan Belgian waffle we ate, topped with fresh strawberries and Chantilly cream, from VeganWaf, a stall located right off of the Grand Place square! Compared to the flat neighbourhoods of the Netherlands, the hills of Brussels were a nice change, and added some beautiful viewpoints from which we could admire different parts of the city. You can check out some of the bet viewpoints in Brussels here!
We wished we had had a few more days in Brussels, but overall were really impressed by the natural and architectural beauty of the city, the kindness of the people, and the richness of the culture. Not to mention some excellent plaint-based food, like at plant-based Taiwanese street food bar Liu Lin and at their sister restaurant, Lil Bao.
DAY 11: Easter in Brussels and the Long Road to Ghent - 53.8 km
It was definitely a happy Easter for us, waking up in sunny, cool Brussels with only the pigeons and fellow churchgoers around early in the morning. The peace and general sense of happiness coming off of everyone around made this morning feel truly special, even though we were away from our families for the holiday.
We attended church at the stunning Église Sainte-Catherine , which is typically open just to walk through as well if visiting ornate cathedrals is your thing, followed by a leisurely cycle around the city. While at church, our Airbnb hosts were gracious enough to let us keep our bikes and bags at their place, which we picked up afterwards before setting off toward Ghent.
If there’s one thing I will forever associate with Belgium from now on, it’s the never-ending straight roads that connect big cities to smaller towns. Instead of weaving along scenic paths, we made the silly decision to take the quicker route along the N9, which entailed riding along endless roads lined with strip malls and big-box-furniture stores aplenty.
We get it, land is cheaper outside the cities and there’s more space for warehouses, but if there’s one thing that’s boring to cycle along, it’s chain store after chain store. To entertain ourselves on this long, 54 kilometre, 2 ½-hour stretch of road, we raced road cyclists (with their shaved legs and spandex, we never won), sang songs, and waved to all of the fluffy cows just wandering the roadside fields.
All our complaints, however, completely dissolved as soon as we arrived in Ghent. The quaintness, beauty, and soul of this town immediately took our breath away, and as soon as we saw the Lys river, with its docked boats and residents taking in the sun along the riverbank, we knew we would like it here. We intentionally left Brussels around noon so that we could explore Ghent in the afternoon, and we’re so glad we did!
If we had loved Amsterdam and Delft so far, Ghent joined our top three favourite city list so far on this trip! As the capital of the province of East Flanders in Belgium, it’s estimated that Ghent’s position at the meeting point (or confluence) of the Scheldt and Lys rivers has had a strong human presence since the Stone Age, with two of the town’s famous abbeys being founded around 650 AD! By the 13th century, Ghent was the largest city in Europe, north of the Alps, after Paris. With so much history in this town, we checked into our beautiful Airbnb, and immediately headed out to see the city, and with days growing longer this time of year, we’re so happy we did!
From the 10th century Gravensteen castle in the centre of the city, to the Saint Michael’s Bridge from which you can see the three famous towers and other landmarks of Ghent, this was easily one of the most charming and romantic cities we’ve ever been to! After seeing all of the sites, and maybe catching a boat down the river, the best way to see Ghent is simply by getting lost in it. Cobblestone alleyways lined with art galleries, homes, and boutique hotels abound, and smaller bridges in the sun allow for buskers to play gentle songs to those passing by as the day comes to an end. For food-lovers, Le Botaniste delivers on hearty plant-based meals and Valeir’s gelato choices blew us away, just like a delicious brunch from Knol & Kool. We will absolutely be back to Ghent.
DAY 12: Ghent to Bruges - 46.4 km
To avoid yesterday’s endless-straight-road-style route, today we followed a gorgeous, riverside path all the way from Ghent to Bruges. Despite some rain rolling in about twenty minutes in, the vivid green of the countryside, casual horseback riders along the paths, and small villages we passed through excited us, as we experienced the Flemish side of Belgium for the first time.
As we cycled over the river encircling the ancient city of Bruges, we truly felt like we stepped back in time. With beautiful gothic cathedrals, and market squares designed in the traditional Belgian style of architecture (like the Grote Markt in Antwerp and Ghent), we were keen to see what Bruges had to offer. For this second-to-last night of our trip, we stayed in a great little studio within very close walking distance to all of Bruges’ sites. Here are a few of the top must-sees for Bruges!
Considering Belgium is among the world’s largest producers of chocolate products, we figured there would be a few shops here and there selling it, but we were not prepared for just how much is sold in such a small area! For such a small city, there are over 70 chocolate shops lining the streets, creating everything from giant easter eggs to tiny truffles. Although somewhat impressive, we also were quite disappointed with how much waste we guessed comes from these shops when certain chocolates don't sell at the end of every day/week/month.
Despite Bruges’ investments in cutting down on food waste, manufacturing anything en masse in the way Bruges does chocolate is bound to create excess and waste.
Similarly, we found that the lack of non-chain boutiques detracted from such a stunning city. High street, fast-fashion brands plagued the main roads, and we only ever found reasonably priced, local restaurants in back alleys or away from the city centre. Off of Sint-Jakobsstraat, Lee:Loo was one shop that showed us more of the soul of Bruges, advertising “animal-friendly clothing” from sustainable, Belgian and international brands. Although of course tourist hot-spots will likely always attract big brands, we believe that a balance and coexistence of high street brands and local brands should be mandatory, especially in stunning little cities like Bruges, where rich history, art, and culture all converge.
DAY 13: The VERY Windy, Difficult Cycle from Bruges to Dunkirk - 75.4 km
With today being our final long-distance cycle, we woke up early to catch the sunshine before the temperature was expected to drop. Setting off from an already-bustling Bruges at 10am, we headed northwest toward the Belgian town of Nieuwpoort, our halfway stop to get lunch and charge our bike batteries, before heading to Dunkirk in northern France.
As soon as we left the protected streets of Bruges city-centre though, we found ourselves desperately pedalling against ruthless 40mph headwinds! Fortunately, we were adequately dressed and didn’t feel the cold, but the strength and force of each gust of wind nearly knocked us off our bikes more than once! Like on our second day of cycling too, we found that this intense headwind was draining our bike batteries fast, so we pedalled as hard as we could through the beautiful countryside and along winding canals toward Nieuwpoort, hoping we would make it.
With some unknown luck on our side, we made it with 10% battery to go, and were ready for a nice lunch and spot to relax for an hour while our bikes charged up. After an interesting hour of hopping between cafés due to various rude owners yelling at us for asking permission to charge our bike batteries (with a charger no bigger than a laptop charger and the batteries the size of baguettes), we found a spot to have a quick lunch. We were keen to get out of the town, and set off with only about 30% battery for the remaining 23km of headwind. Oh boy.
Only turning on the electric assist when we approached a hill or along a particularly long stretch of road, we headed for the French border and could not wait to reach our final destination of Dunkirk.
As we stopped to take a rest with the last 13km ahead of us, we noticed we were on a particularly straight section of what looked like someone’s driveway facing north to south (compared to the east-west roads we’d been on). Upon looking at our map, we found that we were literally straddling the French-Belgian border, with Belgium to our right, and France to our left! Although an imaginary line, this was pretty cool!
The cycle lanes from the border to Dunkirk were lovely. Surrounded by dense greenery, hiding the neighbouring sand dunes, and smelling of the sea. Despite both bikes having long died by this point, we decided to take our time, enjoy the nature trails and reflect on the hundreds of kilometres behind us. We reached Dunkirk with legs on fire, fresh sea air in our lungs, and pride in all that we accomplished on this trip. Now, for a minute to reflect and a good night’s sleep.
DAY 14: Dunkirk to London - 31.8 km
Unless you missed Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk, then you know that the seaside town is full of World War II history, naval history, and plenty of seaside resorts. With unique buildings, a small-town charm, and the neighbouring port, Dunkirk is a great place for summer days at the beach or if you’re a history buff.
Having booked our ferry from Dunkirk port to Dover for 2pm, we headed off at about 11am to complete the 30km cycle to the ferry port from the town. As one of Europe’s largest ports, it’s set a ways away from the town, we’re assuming, to preserve its charm. The cycle was fairly easy, with much of it following cycle paths and along a few roads, until our map routed us through a nature reserve and around the back of the port, which, although scenic, definitely made us think we were going the wrong way.
Clearing customs and security, we arrived at the waiting area with all of the cars waiting to board the giant ferry—so big, even lorries fit underneath the ship! With only one other cyclist on board, we had no problem securing our bikes and bags to the bike rail we were guided to by DFDS staff. The ferry was warm, comfortable, and served a good vegan Moroccan tagine with rice while we crossed the English Channel back to the UK.
Taking the train from Dover Priory to London St. Pancras and cycling the rest of the way home (some may call it cheating, we call it being tired), truly allowed the effect of all we had just accomplished over the last two weeks to set in. This trip, full of challenges and delights, struggles and fun, gave both of us a new appreciation for this area of Europe neither of us had ever discovered, and we hope to go back one day for more adventures.
Let us know what you think of the trip down in the comments! Would you try this? Is there anything we missed and really have to see next time? Thanks for reading.
Total Distance Cycled: 622km (386 mi)
*In a previous Instagram story, we said we cycled 563km (350 mi) because we forgot to include one of the days!
This list is entirely dependent on the length of your trip, time of year, expected weather, and more, but here’s what we packed just to give you a general idea. All clothes purchased for this trip were bought secondhand on Depop, Vinted, eBay, and in secondhand shops.
Clothing (per person):
First on the list because I CANNOT emphasise enough how important this is! Unless you’re visiting somewhere that literally never rains like the desert, investing in a good, lightweight rain jacket is essential for all cycle trips. Ben found his by the brand Berghaus on Depop for £40, and I found mine by Pull&Bear, also on Depop for £20. For the days we cycled through torrential downpours, drizzles, and cold winds alike, having these to layer under saved us many times, and were much lighter than any bulky puffer or winter coat.
We recommend quarter-zip fleeces for warm, lightweight breathability that don’t weigh down your bags or take up too much space. The high neck also keeps you warm well.
2-3x both short- and long-sleeve shirts
You really don’t know what weather you’ll encounter. The two weeks we were in the Netherlands were expected to be dry and sunny, but the weather changed quickly a few of the days, and without warning, so be prepared. Had I known about the cold on a few of the days, I would’ve thrown a turtleneck in my bag too.
3-4x (per person) Exercise leggings or bike shorts for women; “skins” aka technical men’s leggings and shorts (weather dependent)
For long days on the bike, we didn’t want to be in jeans or nice trousers, so pack things you’re comfortable exercising in and potentially getting dirty. Fortunately, these things tend to roll really well too, and don’t take up a lot of space.
1-2x (per person) city exploring clothes
For walking around the cities we visited or for going to dinner, each of us made sure to have at least one nicer outfit with us, whether that was nice trousers and a shirt or, for Ciara, a dress.
2x pairs of shoes
One pair were our trainers/sneakers that we cycled everywhere in and weren’t worried about getting muddy, wet, and dirty (which happened a lot), and the other was a casual pair of shoes we used to walk around the cities or go for dinner (paired with the clothes listed above.)
As long as you roll your underwear, socks, and sports bras, you can never pack enough. I know some people don’t mind wearing a pair for more than a day or inside out, but this just is not us haha, so pack enough.
Due to the unpredictable time of year, we each packed one beanie to wear under our helmets on really cold, wet days, and one cap for hot, sunny days
1x Pair of Warm Gloves
This was a last-minute thing we threw in our bags and we’re SO happy we did! Nothing fancy, just some cotton gloves we have for winter saved our fingers more than once.
Kind of obvious, but very important for sunny or windy days.
Helmets of course!
No, you may not feel as cool as the locals when cycling through big cities, but I promise it’s so worth it for when you’re in the middle of nowhere and your tire catches on a curb or you fall off the bike. Safety first!
Fortunately, each Tenways e-bike comes with every size Allen key and wrench you could need for the bike. They also supplied us with a pump for our tires in case the pressure decreased. Even after 622km (386 miles), we never had an issue, but it’s always good to have one just in case. If you’re just doing this trip on your own bike, be sure to stop by your local hardware store or bike shop to pick up these essential things to keep in one of your panniers.
Kryptonite New York Locks
These are the bike locks we swear by! They’re so good, that the company who makes them promises that if your bike gets stolen while you have this lock secured, it will pay for you to replace the bike (up to £2000!)
2x Bungee Cords (each! 4 total for two people)
These kept our backpacks securely tied to the back rack, and prevented them from moving around as we cycled.
Backpack & Waterproof Panniers
Maybe if your trip is shorter or you travel lighter than us, then just a backpack on the back of your bike will do, but we found that these Tenways panniers were the perfect waterproof solution to hold all the stuff we needed for two weeks.
Waterproof Backpack Covers
These small covers can roll up to be no bigger than a pair of socks, but are excellent for the days when the rain is really coming down. Unless you have a fully waterproof backpack, we highly recommend these for when you need to slip them on when the rains roll in. Even if you do have a waterproof backpack, it helps with preventing your bag from being covered by mud spray.
Spare Tire Inner-tube
We fortunately never needed this, but it comes in a small box, and is ideal for if you need to change a flat tire. Can be purchased from any bike shop.
Reusable Water Bottles + Holder
Make sure the water bottle you bring on this trip has a lid you can easily pop open with one hand or with your mouth, for hydration while cycling, instead of one of the screw-lid ones.
Our bikes didn’t come with a built-in bottle holder, so we ordered these ones online that were easy to attach without tools in less than five minutes.
We also found these online really inexpensively, and could be attached to our handlebars in less than five minutes without tools. The stretchy silicone is great for making your phone feel extra secure, no matter how bumpy the road you’re cycling down may be.
At every accommodation we stayed in, we made sure to clear it with the hosts in advance that we could bring the bikes either inside or put them in a safe space on the property. On some really stormy nights, or while we popped out our bike batteries to charge them, we wanted to keep the bike + battery slot protected, so we used this great waterproof, double-bike cover.
Bike battery charger + international adaptor (if applicable)
An obvious one, but easy to forget and critical if you’re doing this trip on an e-bike. In the EU, the plug sockets are all the same, but if you’re coming from outside of the EU (like the UK or US), be sure to have a plug adaptor with you.
Lights or reflectors
If your bike didn’t come with some already attached, it’s good to purchase some extra ones for when you’re riding in low visibility areas/times.
Sunscreen + SPF lip balm
Essential! Even with windy or grey days, the sun and its UV rays still penetrate, and you get tanner than you realise, but you don’t want to burn!
Bum bag/fanny pack (preferably water-tight)
Ciara wore this under her rain jacket to keep our essentials like passports, cash, and bike lock keys safe everywhere we went.
If you want to listen to music on those endless roads.
Portable Phone Charger
Using maps, and tracking apps like Strava for hours at a time drains phone battery fast! Having a compact portable charger that I could keep in my pocket, plugged into my phone while riding was life-saving on some longer cycle days!
If you need to wash your clothes at a laundromat or in the sink, we highly recommend you take a few Smol laundry pods in a small container with you from home or purchase this No. 6 Eco Wash for Travel, a zero-waste laundry powder by Clothes Doctor.
No huge amount for safety reasons, but just €20 in cash is always good to have, just in case.
Snacks + Protein Bars
Essential for roadside snack breaks in between long distances! We bought apples, oranges, and bananas at local markets, and brought with us some off our favourite vegan protein bars from the UK. We particularly love these CLIF Chocolate Almond Fudge Bars, CLIF Nut Butter bars, and Deliciously Ella Apple & Raisin Oat bars.
Spare Reusable Water Bottle
Not essential, but since we were doing long stretches, often without seeing towns for a while in between, we always had a small, spare water bottle full of water in one of our bags in case one of us ran out and we couldn’t fill up.
Reusable Cutlery/Food Storage Containers
When we travel, we always take two silicone Stasher bags with us (to avoid single-use plastic sandwich bags), our Stojo collapsible food storage container, and some bamboo cutlery for lunches on-the-go. All are seriously worth the investment and are dishwasher/microwave safe for endless reuse.
Accommodation + Airbnbs We Stayed In
*Note: we don’t profit off of you visiting these places in any way, we genuinely were just wowed by each one of them and would recommend them for anyone to stay.
Amsterdam - Book your Conscious Hotel stay here
Keukenhof-Area - Book the Airbnb here
Utrecht - Book the Airbnb here
Rotterdam - Book your Wikkelboats stay here
Zeeland - Book the tiny house Airbnb here
Antwerp - Book the Airbnb here
Brussels - Book the Airbnb here
Ghent - Book the Airbnb here
Bruges - Book the Airbnb here
Dunkirk - Book the Airbnb here
The Nitty-Gritty, Good-To-Know Stuff:
We did our laundry at this laundromat in Rotterdam for €5 (washing + drying) on our first day there, so we could have clean clothes for the rest of the trip. Up until then, none of the accommodations had individual washing machines.
We used Google Maps and Waze for directions, and both served us surprisingly well for following cycle paths, whether in busy or more remote areas.
We tracked our mileage through both the free Strava app and Tenways’ own app that syncs with the bike to know exactly how far you’ve gone, how fast you’ve gotten to where you need to go, and even has a mapping system of its own!
As a couple on a cycle trip, of course we argued about directions, different routes we should’ve taken, and how tired we were of battling the elements, but at the end of each day, we found that this trip brought us closer in so many ways, and allowed us to see these countries from a different perspective. If there’s one thing we’ve come to understand in our travels, it’s that experiencing things alone is eye-opening and fun, but taking trips with friends or the one you love makes every experience, hardship, inconvenience, and success that much more memorable.