Travel Gravel - Bikepacking from London to Bruges (and back)

Just because the terrain isn’t mountainous and the riding isn’t super gnarly, it doesn’t mean you can’t still have a great time on a gravel bike. Alessandro Giordo and a group of his friends decided that they wanted to put this theory to the test and headed off for some gentle bikepacking, travelling between London and Bruges (and back again afterwards).

Every bikepacking trip starts with packing

We organised our gear using bikepacking bags rather than touring panniers for less aero drag and more agility on the bike. We weren’t going to be camping, as one of our friends was a beginner and we wanted her to enjoy the trip to its fullest, so we fine-tuned the equipment needed for this trip based on this. We opted for a saddle bag and a handlebar bag on each bike, offering flexibility and balance between front and rear. Weight was not super important, as the route was very flat, but being aero was a consideration due to the openness of the route to the wind and in order to minimise drag.

Our front bag included all the clothing we needed for the B&Bs, food, toiletries and of course battery chargers and cables. The rear bag had one spare set of bib shorts and jersey, a spare base layer, a puffer jacket and waterproofs (we got to use all of these on the trip!) One of our companions for this trip did not have bikepacking bags and did suffer slightly more than us when headwinds came into play, but the route was gentle enough that it wasn’t a major issue.

Day 1 - A tale of heavy rain and a late-night ferry

Ready to go, we headed across London to Victoria Station where we met with Iason and Kalliopi, our companions for this trip. We boarded the train to Dover with excitement, eager for our bikepacking adventure to Bruges. But as soon as we arrived in Dover, heavy rain began to fall. 

We huddled under a ramp near the ferry, waiting for the rain to let up. Finally, at 11pm, the right window of opportunity arrived and we boarded the ferry to Calais, fairly dry. We were all exhausted, but we couldn’t wait to start cycling the next day. We arrived in Calais at 2am and checked into our B&B. It’s useful to book places that allow for self check-in for late arrivals – this was quick and straightforward. We were all so tired that we fell asleep almost immediately.

Day 2: A tale of croissants, windmills, and Belgian fries

We woke up after four hours of sleep, feeling tired but excited for the second day of our bikepacking trip. We started our day with a delicious croissant in Calais, then set off on the EV12 cycling route. The route offered fantastic cycling infrastructure and we enjoyed the open fields and flat straights after Calais. We passed by windmills and wheat fields, marvelling at the beautiful and quaint countryside. The weather was much warmer than expected, so we took off some layers.

At one point, we reached the sea near Fort Philippe and stopped to admire the view and take a few photos. We also saw some Clustered Brittlestem mushrooms in a lovely park. As we continued cycling, we crossed a bridge near Grand Synthe and saw parts of the humanitarian camps for Kurdish migrants. It was a sobering sight and we felt sad for the people living in these camps and angry about the government decision to deal with them that way.

We stopped for lunch in Grand Synthe and had some more great croissants, the last ones of our trip before crossing to Belgium, along with our sandwiches. After lunch, we crossed a wonderful bridge out of Dunkirk and saw lots of flowers on the way to the dunes. The scenery was truly breathtaking. As we approached the French/Belgian border, we took a commemorative selfie, excited to be halfway to our destination.

However, the day wasn’t without its challenges. Kalliopi, who was a beginner bikepacker, started to experience saddle pain and fatigue. We were all worried about her, but she was determined to keep going. We stopped a few times to rest and we supported her as much as possible.

Finally, we reached Nieuwpoort, Belgium. We were all tired but happy. We had cycled over 80 kilometres and seen some amazing sights. We checked into our B&B and then went to a local grocery store to buy some food. We were all craving Belgian fries, so we bought a large bag of them! We took our fries back to the B&B and ate them with a few beers that our host, the self-proclaimed “Street Mayor,” had offered us. We sat on the party benches and enjoyed the evening beers. It was the perfect way to end a challenging but rewarding day.

Day 3 and 4: A tale of canals, windmills, Belgian waffles and headwinds

 We woke up to the sound of rain. We quickly packed our bags and headed out, hoping to avoid the worst of it. Fortunately, we soon found ourselves on a lovely canal path without any traffic. We cycled past wide fields and saw lots of cyclists speeding back and forth. We stopped every now and then to take photos of the wildlife and have a snack. Kalliopi was feeling better today, but she was still in some pain. We decided to take a break at a local rustic pub. The pub had a horse stable attached to it and we were able to watch people training and riding horses in the barn.

When we tried to pay for our drinks, we realised that we didn’t have enough cash. The bartender kindly told us that we could use a bank transfer, which was a huge relief! We headed back out into the sunshine and continued cycling along the canal. We passed several cyclists going the opposite direction and we started to see signs for Bruges.

We entered Bruges and were immediately struck by the colourful and historical houses. We took several photos at the main square and then headed to our B&B to check-in. After a break, we left Kalliopi to rest at home and headed out to explore some more north-east of Bruges. We followed a canal path to a lovely windmill on the outskirts.

We looked at the map and realised that the Netherlands border was only 10km away! We decided to cycle there and we were treated to some beautiful scenery along the way. When we reached the border, we took a selfie and some photos of a huge stack of swedes that were just sitting there!

We cycled back to Bruges, but the 40+km/h headwinds made it much harder! We arrived just as it was getting dark and Kalliopi was waiting for us on the sofa wrapped up in a blanket. The heating was turned off and she didn’t realise! We had homemade pasta carbonara for dinner and then decided to stay in for the evening. It was raining outside, so we were happy to relax with a few beers from the honesty fridge.

Day 4

We prepared sandwiches for breakfast and checked out of our B&B. We decided to ride around Bruges and show Kalliopi the windmills that she didn’t manage to see last evening. We also stopped to eat some delicious chocolate and strawberry waffles! After breakfast, we headed out of Bruges and north to take a coastal tram to the French border near De Panne.

The route to the tram was a continuous segregated cycling route for over 10km! It was incredible! We reached the tram and grabbed some tickets. They can be bought at the station and it only cost us €18 in total including bike tickets. The tram was quite busy at first, so we had to stand and hold our bikes. But after a while, we managed to find some seats, securing the bikes safely. There are two spaces (front and back) for about 4–6 bikes in total and the tram runs every 20 to 60 minutes. We enjoyed the views of the coast and the seaside towns from the tram window. After a long tram ride, we reached De Panne station and started cycling back to Dunkirk. 

We soon crossed the border to France and took some more selfies of the welcome sign. We stopped at a chocolate shop near the border in Leonidas to buy some gifts and chocolate for ourselves. The ride to Dunkirk was fast-paced, more than we wanted, but we had to make sure that we had plenty of time to board the ferry back to the UK. We took a different route, north of the humanitarian camp and headed through an industrial area. It was very quiet with only a few cars, but the scenery wasn’t the best. 

We could see the port from a distance. We finally reached the ferry terminal. Kalliopi was exhausted and had some knee pain. We waited inside a duty-free shop near the queue line of the ferry to stay warm and have a rest. We boarded the ferry and after a few hours, we arrived at Dover, 15 minutes later than scheduled. We needed to find some food quickly!

The way out from Dover port to the town wasn’t cycling-friendly at all. But we managed to find a KFC and got our food bags at 7.50 pm. Our train was due just 10 minutes later, so we needed to hurry!

We crossed a closed road and sprinted for 1km to the train station. We made it just in time, a few minutes before departure. We entered the train, placed our bikes in the bike section and collapsed on the train seats, exhausted. A few station stops later, a drunk lady was causing a scene in the coach and the police were eventually called to escort her off the train. The train staff were worried for her safety - she was very intoxicated and they had to call the police to make sure she’d get home safely.

Two long hours later, at around 10 pm we arrived back in London and after riding home, we went to sleep dreaming of the perfect cycling lanes, open fields and lovely canal paths we had ridden in the last few days. It had been an amazing trip and we cannot wait to do it again soon!


We all agreed that our bikepacking trip from London to Bruges was an unforgettable experience. We pushed ourselves to our limits, but the rewards were well worth it. We saw some beautiful scenery, met lots of interesting people and created memories that will last a lifetime. We would highly recommend this trip to anyone who is looking for a beginner-friendly, stress-free adventure abroad.


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