Every year in April, tourists and locals alike flock to the Hallerbos near Brussels in Belgium as if the forest can only be visited two weeks a year. Of course, that's not the case, but it is so that for only about two weeks a year, the Hallerbos turns into a blue forest with grounds covered in bluebells, also known as wild hyacinths.
Hallerbos: when to go
The best time to visit Hallerbos to catch the blue carpet is different every year and depends on the weather. The sooner the temperature rises, the sooner the flowers bloom. But it's a race against time as warmer weather also means that the trees get their leaves back, depriving the flowers of sunlight, which makes them turn grayish.
When the Hallerbos flowering season approaches, around the start of April, the website of the Hallerbos starts posting daily updates (during the week) about the condition of the bluebells. That way photographers and other visitors know whether it's still too early to go, or whether they should hurry up.
In general, the 10 days following when the bluebells start to bloom are the best to go. During this bluebells’ flowering time, the sun rays can still reach through the canopy and touch the blue carpet, creating a beautiful play of light and purple.
Walking routes at the Hallerbos
There are different walking paths spread throughout the Hallerbos and visitors are urged not to stray from them, so that the flowers are protected. People who want to film or organize a photoshoot during the blooming season need to ask permission to do so, but it's no problem if you just want to take your camera (and tripod) to get some shots of the flowers.
There are several free parking areas around the forest, and at every Hallerbos parking ground, there's an information sign indicating the walking routes through the Hallerbos, but if you want to follow the bluebells route, you need to download it from the website.
That route combines parts of the other walking routes to talk you along the places where most of the bluebells can be seen, but you can spot the flowers in other parts of the Hallerbos as well.
Another option is to follow one of the all-year-round walking routes through the Hallerbos. I've heard the “Reebokwandeling” is the best one to follow during bluebell season. It's 7 km (4.4. miles) long and it's a round walk, making it easy to find your way back.
When I went, I parked at P1 and walked toward P8 where the bluebells walk started. I took a different route on the way there than on the way back and both times spotted quite a bit of bluebells. These photos were taken on in a part of the blue forest that didn't even include the bluebells route:
As you can see, there were plenty of bluebells to spot even off the route and so I took my time. I think I spent over an hour just walking from P1 to P8 photographing the bluebells along the way and diving into different paths.
I'll link to that map at the bottom of the post because it is really handy to have with you. I saved it on my phone and found it much easier to navigate using the map than depending on the info signs. I also saw a bunch of people who'd printed this map, or who'd gotten a walking map of the Hallerbos at the Tourism Office of Halle.
Best time of the week for visiting the Hallerbos
If you can, I suggest you visit the Hallerbos during the week and preferably not on a Wednesday afternoon (kids don't have school then). As the blooming period of the bluebells is so short, lots of people visit the blue forest during the same two weekends. That's not a huge deal if you just want to go to watch the flowers and walk, but it can be problematic if you want to get some bluebell photos without people in them.
I went on a Wednesday morning/noon and while there were already lots of cars when I arrived, it wasn't too busy in the Hallerbos. The blue forest is 552 ha big, so it's not as if everyone is walking in the same little area.
The best time of day to go is in the early morning so you can catch the sunrise through the trees, or in the evening when the sun goes down again. I actually visited at the worst time possible, as I arrived mid-morning and took most of my photos around noon when the light was the harshest.
The thing in Belgium is that you have to take into account traffic and when I drive to the Hallerbos, I need to go along the busiest piece of highway we have where there are traffic jams practically all day, so I knew that if I'd go early in the morning or in the evening, I'd be stuck in traffic for over two hours whereas the drive now “only” took me little over an hour.
Photography permits for photoshoots at the Hallerbos
If you are simply taking photos for personal use and to post on social media, you don't need a photography permit. But if you're looking to do a professional photo- or videoshoot, you need to request a permit. This applies to shoots both with and without models. You can find more information about getting a permit here.
The bluebells route
But back to the bluebells! I obviously also took some photos that I'd like to share with you.
Practical information on visiting the Hallerbos
Timing and routes
If you don't want to wander around aimlessly, down the maps on the Hallerbos website. Make sure to get the special map for the bluebells walk. And to find out if the bluebell season has started yet, check out this page.
The Hallerbos is the easiest to reach by car. If you want to get a paper map from the Tourism Office, enter “Vlasmarktdreef Halle” into your GPS system. If you use Google Maps, go to “Bosmuseum Halle”.
If you want to park at the same spot I did, take exit 20 “Huizingen/Dworp” on the E19 Brussel-Bergen, and go left if you're coming from Brussels, right if you're coming from the other direction. This is in the direction of Dworp.
Go straight until you see a Ford car garage on your right and turn right just after the garage. Follow the road until you see a bridge ahead (it's a few minutes). A few meters before the bridge, there will be a small arrow saying “P Hallerbos”. Turn left to get to the parking, which basically means parking your car alongside the road.
By public transportation
During the week
Take the train to Halle train station. From there, get on bus line 114, operated by TEC to halte “Vlasmarkt” on the Nijvelsesteenweg. From there you can walk to the entrance of the Hallerbos.
During the weekend
Take line 156 operated by De Lijn to stop “Lembeek Congo”. From there it's still a 17-minute walk to the entrance of the Hallerbos. You can find the walking route here.
Another option is to take the train to Halle and then rent a bike at the Halle train station, from where it's a 5-km or 3-mile ride to the Hallerbos.
Facilities at the blue forest
There are some picnic tables at the Hallerbos, but that's about it. There's one bistro to the north of the forest, but there are no food and drink stands inside the Hallerbos, so bring water and maybe some snacks as well. And you'll have to keep your trash with you as there are no garbage bins.
Also, keep in mind there are no toilets at the Hallerbos, so make sure you go to the toilet somewhere before starting your walk (I so needed to pee at the end of mine).
What to wear at the Hallerbos
Dress according to the weather. Even on a dry and sunny day, the paths can be muddy if there's been a lot of rain before. Sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots are recommended.
Where to stay at the Hallerbos
Just because the forest seems to be a bit secluded, with no restaurants or toilets, it doesn’t mean you won’t find accommodation options nearby to give you the chance to explore the blue forest in your own time.
The Hallerbos website contains a list of hotels and hostels to help you start your search and find the best fit.
Visiting the Hallerbos is a bucket list item!
Tourism Flemish Brabant has put together a bucket list of fun and quirky things to do in the province as a local and visiting the Hallerbos is on it. Each item has information on where you can go to check it off and once you've done it, you can also literally check it off on the website and keep track of your score. And if you share your progress on Twitter or Facebook, you can win a weekend break.
Pretty cool, right?
Click here to check out the Flemish Brabant Bucket List.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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Wow nice photos!:)
Awesome! I was there last weekend and it was just breathtaking!!
People are still a little bit disrespectful of the forest though. Despite warnings to the contrary, in the quest for a good photo, we found some people just trampling on the poor bluebells. Sad!
Happy to hear you still got to see them last weekend!
Ugh, I can’t understand those people:/ I also saw a few wander off the paths, but usually not where there were any flowers. Either way, it’s unnecessary. You can get great shots from the paths as well and I think the most important thing when you’re there is to respect the nature surrounding you. It is, after all, what you’re visiting the forest for.
Looks like a fun thing to do in the Spring … too bad I don’t get to your part of the world until this Fall :(
Oh that’s a shame! But there’s plenty to do in fall as well :) Will you be traveling around or just doing a quick city trip?
Hi Sofie, Love your blog. Can I ask how much time I should set aside in the park if I want to do the 7km trail?
Thanks so much Lynette!
I find that hard to answer as everyone walks at a different pace and you might want to stop often for photos while others would just walk through.
Lynette Chang says
I suppose an average, not too fast walk with photo stops for sure. I just need to know how much time to apportion for this excursion!
It’s really impossible to tell :) But I’d advise at least two hours to properly enjoy the place.