Some know them for the Tour of Flanders and the cobblestones, some for art cities like Bruges and Ghent. Someone else thinks of beers and chips, while some dream of seeing the artworks of Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens. The beauty of Flanders is precisely that it can offer all this at the same time.

No excuses are needed to plan a trip to one of Europe’s most developed regions for cycling tourism-between services, routes and bike paths it undoubtedly ranks as one of the best destinations for a cycling vacation.

Flanders art cities bike route

If the beauty of nature and cities and the ease with which they can be traversed were not enough, be inspired by the Iconic Routes to Bike – the one Coastal and that of the Cities of Art – and this year’s selection of this year’.

Triennial Beaufort24 and Ensor’s art: biking the coast and immersed in art

With the Beaufort24 triennial and celebrations dedicated to the painter James Ensor (1860-1949) taking place simultaneously, 2024 offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in beauty and diversity along a route that embodies the essence of Flemish creativity and local lifestyle. To be discovered, of course, with a bicycle trip.

Beaufort24

Cycling along the magnificent coastal bike paths, carefully selected from the Iconic Flanders Bike Routes, visitors have the opportunity to admire not only the nature of the coastline, but also the many outdoor contemporary art installations that blend harmoniously into the natural landscape.

Flanders Coast Beaufort © Piet De Kersgieter
Sculpture Park Beaufort © Piet De Kersgieter

Beaufort24 is the art event now in its eighth year, which will be held from March 27 to November 2, 2024. This year, 18 artists creatively explore the Flemish coast, varying the theme the“Fabric of Life”(Fabric of Life).

The installations, set in the landscape of the nine coastal towns, are not all temporary; in fact, eight of the works in this edition add to the collection of the Beaufort Sculpture Park, an open-air museum that sees Belgium’s 60 kilometers of North Sea coastline dotted with art installations.

The iconic coastal route to ride a bicycle

A focal point of coastal cultural life, Ostend is a creative, dynamic and contemporary city renowned for its rich cultural and gastronomic offerings. Ostend represents the ideal starting point to travel alongthe Kustroute, the 85-kilometer route that allows you to explore the Flemish coastline.

Proceeding eastward one comes across picturesque locations such as De Haan, famous for its elegant residential area dating back to the Belle Époque, known as the Concessie. This area is characterized by charming villas overlooking the sea, including the Villa Savoyarde, where Albert Einstein stayed in 1933. From the Concessie it is easy to reach the beach, where one of the permanent works of the Beaufort Sculpture Park is located: Eternity, a contemporary Poseidon dominating the sea horizon.

Flanders Coast Blankenberge 12 © Toerisme Blankenberge
Flanders Coast Blankenberge © Toerisme Blankenberge

Continuing along the coast to its eastern end, we reach Knokke-Heist, located on the border with the Netherlands where the Beach Castle installation is located. Knokke also boasts the precious Zwin Nature Reserve, with its wild dunes and brackish lagoons, offering an immersive experience in the unspoiled beauty of nature, amid unique colors, smells and sounds. In the opposite direction, passing Ostend to the west, one arrives in Westende, where one can admire other iconic coastal Sculpture Park works such as Olnetop.

Beaufort OLNETOP © Westtoer APB
Beaufort OLNETOP © Westtoer APB

To add intriguing activities to the trip, consider that in Oostduinkerke you can participate in the ancient tradition of horse fishing, a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage site. During the months of April to October, fishermen venture into the water with their draft horses to catch the prized North Sea gray shrimp.

Flanders Coast -Oostduinkerke Shrimp fishermen © Westtoer APB
Flanders Coast -Oostduinkerke Shrimp fishermen © Westtoer APB

Ostend and James Ensor

Ostend is not only the centerpiece of the iconic coastal itinerary, but also the heart of James Ensor’s celebrations.

Iconic coastal route Flanders Ostend

Ensor, a modern Flemish master known for his whimsical and sometimes somewhat disturbing figures, spent much of his life in Ostend, which in fact celebrates him 75 years after his death with a citywide festival full of events and exhibitions. This is where much of the artistic program dedicated to the painter is developed, and it is here that unrepeatable exhibitions and initiatives can be found. Summer and fall await visitors with three exhibitions: Self-Portraits (through June), Ensor’s Imaginary Paradise (through October) and Satire, Parody, Pastiche (through January 2025).

The city’s cultural institutions, from the Mu.ZEE museum to Ensor’s house-museum, also collaborate withThe Crystal Ship street art project to help visitors discover the city’s less conventional corners. An opportunity really not to be missed.

Het James Ensorhuis 4 © Toerisme Oostende vzw - James Ensorhuis - Nick Decombel Fotografie
Ensor House © Toerisme Oostende vzw – James Ensorhuis – Nick Decombel Photographs

Not only exhibitions, but also installations in public spaces, music, performances and projects for children. The“Elle adore le noir” project, for example, represents a circuit to be traveled by bicycle or on foot among Ensor-related artworks placed in or near commercial establishments.

James Ensor in Brussels and Antwerp

Flanders Antwerp Port House by Zaha Hadid
Antwerp – Port House by Zaha Hadid

In the spring, the capital city of Brussels also joins in this celebration to rediscover the work and talent of this Modern Master. While after the summer, celebrations move to Antwerp, with leading exhibitions in many of the city’s cultural institutions, from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts KMSKA (where the world’s largest Ensor collection since the 1920s is located) to the Fashion Museum, passing through the Plantin-Moretus house-museum.. A truly curious exhibition is opening Sept. 28 at MoMu-the Antwerp Fashion Museum-which plays on Ensor’s ideas about disguise, (false) coquetry, the grotesque and the ephemeral.

Cycling along the route of the cities of art

Flanders Iconic Cities of Art Itinerary

Ensor’s featured cities of the year are all located along the art cities route, which is particularly fascinating for those who enjoy exploring urban centers. It is probably the most iconic of all Flemish routes, because not only is it one of the longest (332 km), but especially because it passes through all the cities of Flanders. This route allows you to discover, at a slow and sustainable pace, Brussels, Leuven, Antwerp, Mechelen, Ghent, Bruges and Ostend, uniting centuries of the region’s history and art in a single route.

There is no shortage of immersion in greenery and nature on this itinerary either, as in between cities we pass through spaces of countryside, follow waterways, and admire the relaxing landscapes of the Flemish territory.

Contemporary art en plein air in Bruges

In this 2024’s ideal journey through Flemish nature and art, one cannot miss Bruges, perhaps the most recognizable city in travelers’ imaginations.

Located on the Cities of Art Route and only a few kilometers from the coast, it is not only a beautiful town to visit, but also an ideal place for lovers ofcontemporary art en plein air because it hosts the Bruges Triennial.

Flanders Bruges by bike

The Bruges Triennial(April 13 to September 1, 2024) focuses on the link between art and place and highlights the lesser-known and lesser-used corners of perhaps the most famous city in Flanders. The historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thus becomes a magnificent backdrop to contemporary installations.

The theme“Spaces of Possibility” is a reflection by twelve artists and architects from around the world on how to deal with change in a city where the concept of “not building” represents a vision of the future. The goal is to challenge people to think collaboratively about the future of Bruges and, in broader terms, cities in general.

Flanders Bruges

One of the art installations will even bring temporary change to the Bruges skyline. The Thai architecture firm Bangkok Project Studio is in fact creating. a contemporary clock tower, a wooden viewing platform that will highlight a less-visited area of King Albert I Park. Visitors will be invited to discover this little-known green corner and admire the view from a new perspective, as well as the classic three medieval towers that characterize the city.

Flanders by bike: all the iconic routes

These are nine iconic cycling routes for a cycling adventure in Flanders. Each iconic route connects the wonders of Flemish landscapes through fascinating thematic bike paths. All of these routes have signage in both directions, allowing cyclo-travelers to freely choose which direction to ride and where to start or end the journey.