Sonian Forest - Groenendaal Trail (Flanders - Belgium)

I've been wanting to visit Sonian Forest since long. Reason one, portions of it being listed under UNESCO. Reason two, its the largest urban forest in Brussels. Though that sounds fascinating, there can be a major issue! The problem with such large areas is that, when you plan to visit a small portion, that portion's interesting features can be very very lacking! I've been in a similar scenario and had a facepalm situation - it was at Epping Forest, London's largest urban forest! The trail that I went on was too boring!!! I am someone who finds things interesting that many others find boring.... and I was bored there! So....... back to Brussels! 

No kidding! It took me a year and several questions to several locals, bloggers and tourism offices and finally I chose to walk the Groenendaal trail of Sonian Forest! All the wait, the questions paid off. To say it was surreal, is an understatement!!! I am out of words to say how beautiful it was!!!
The Sonian forest, being the largest, spreads all over the 3 regions of Belgium - Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia. Portions of the forests are protected under UNESCO as 'Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe'. This is shared by 12 European countries including Belgium, and Sonian is the only region in Belgium listed under this. There aren't any predators in this forest which is both a blessing and curse! This was once the home of 46 different mammals, of which 7 have already disappeared from here. Of the 39 currently present, 14 are bats! The red squirrel is considered the ambassador of the forest with graffiti representing them in Groenendaal station. Ofcourse there are several varieties of birds, insects, amphibians, mushrooms etc.

Originally, Sonian Forest is a remnant of the centuries-old Silva Carbonaria which has been in existence since Roman era. It was an important religious site in the 12-15th C CE when many monasteries and chapels were established here! The beech trees of Sonian Forest belong to the era of Austrian Habsburgs (1714-1795), when landscape architect Joachim Zinner organized Beech plantation in a massive scale! Other trees here include the monumental Sequoia, Oats, Chestnut and even Maple!

The trail we took was 7km, mapped by the app Route You and it began at Groenendaal Railway Station. To begin with the murals in the railway station depict the Groenendaal Ecoduct! Its like an aquaduct but for ecology - a bridge across the highway to let the animals & birds move from one side of Sonian to another without being hit by traffic! As I mentioned earlier, it majorly depicted Red Squirrel.

The first site we crossed was ofcourse the Bosmuseum Jan van Ruusbroec. However it was closed and would open only by noon, so we proceeded. The pathway into the forest was just surreal to say the least! Its one of the most beautiful, most natural, most stunning, most picturesque places that I've seen. The autumn leaves had completely covered the paths making it look as if its untrodden, though these are actually way marked trails!!!

The next important site was Ruusbroec church. This has been in existence since 1304 CE. By 1350 CE this became a priory which were destroyed by fire in 1435 CE. By 1606 this was abandoned and by early 17th C it was all renovated, only again to be abandoned!!

The next stop was Groenendaal castle, which is now a place that can be hired for events and has a restaurant as well. Behind this is a very very scenic waterbody. Further ahead is another little water body with a gorgeous wooden bridge! Further ahead is the tiny little Saint Cornelius Chapel which is completely a site from a few centuries ago! This was built in end of 19th C in the memory of the martyr St.Cornelius who died in 253 C, who was also honoured in the priory here.

Yeah, Atyudarini was asleep all this while and woke up a bit after this point... After a long walk ahead, the path went along a little stream which had very less water as of now. While whole of Sonian Forest is protected under UNESCO, there are 5 particular enclaves that are in high level importance. One of the 5 is in this area, called 'Forest Reserve Joseph Zwaenepoel' - the largest of the 5 covering 187.34 ha.  Later in winter, after rains, I can imagine this brimming with water! We were the only ones in the entire space apart from some occassional joggers and cyclists and mushroom pickers as well!!!

To Stay:
Hotels and B&Bs at all price points are available in Brussels City Centre.

To Get There:
From Brussels Schuman: 16km via N3 Highway.
Groenendaal railway station can be easily reached from Brussels (Midi, Central, Nord, Schuman) by train. From Bru-Schuman its only a 15 minute ride!
The 7km trail that we took - Route You app
There are no food kiosks anywhere here. There are benches scattered all over the track to rest. You could pack your food and picnic on these benches. But make sure to bring back your trash!

Forest: 24 x 7 all days
Museum: Wed - Sat: 1:00PM - 5:00PM; Sun: 10:00AM to 5:00PM


An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands


  1. Wow I have never heard of this forest before but it's really pretty. I can see the beautiful church there. I wish I could also see how the castle looks. You had a great time walking the pathway of the forest.

  2. Sounds absolutely beautiful. I'm thinking that it was also an easy trail to follow seeing you carried your baby with you. And so much to see along the way. I completely agree about boring walks. How many trees and shrubs can you see for 4 hours with nothing else in between to keep you interested?? But then again its not normal to see a castle in the middle of a walking trail! Sounds gorgeous. Glad all your research paid off!

  3. Flanders is an amazing place! I visited there when I was 14 on a school trip from England! I love the pictures you took of Sonian Forest, personally never been there but I can see why you went! Also love how you did so much research before your trip, good idea, and glad it paid off!

  4. I did not know that there is such a large urban forest in Belgium! I have never heard of Sonian forest and its nice to know that its a UNESCO world heritage site! The trek looks really cool - 7 km sounds doable to me, not too easy, not too tough. Glad to know that you really enjoyed it :)

  5. Wow the Sonian Forest does look and sound so beautiful. I can see why it is protected by UNESCO! And good to know that it is the largest urban forest in Brussels. And what history the Ruusbroec church has! So interesting to be able to see such an old building during your hike through the forest. Were you able to go inside? Groenendaal castle sounds lovely too and I think hiring this place for events would totally be cool. Good to know that there aren't any food kiosks around, so totally will pack a picnic!

  6. This is such a beautiful and luscious forest and it is awesome that UNESCO is protecting this place. I admire your dedication to travel with your little one and seems he is loving it too. Where is your next destination?

  7. Total agree! I have the same problem with large areas too. Anyway, thank you for sharing your trip to the Sonian Forest and now, I am interested to visit as well. I would love to meet the red squirrel too.

  8. It is important to get to the nature, I try to get to a national park once a week. The Sonian forest reminds me a lot of a national park nearby and brings good memories.

  9. Groenendaal trail of Sonian Forests looks amazing. The images tells us that you did a marvelous selection in choosing the trail area.

  10. Never heard of it but looks like somewhere I would like to go. Putting it in my bucketlist.

  11. I did spend a few days in Belgium but I have never heard of this forest before. It looks like a beautiful place and no wonder it is protected by UNESCO. I'll definitely check it out when I visit Belgium again next year.

  12. So sweet that the baby was comfy and relaxed during the hike. Looks so pretty on this hike, especially when you come out to the calmer waters!

  13. Wow ! Seems like you chose the perfect time to visit this forest, the leaves are showing in reds, yellows and greens! The colors are beautiful.

  14. There doesn't seem to be a soul in sight! What a lovely secluded forest that it. I can imagine the sounds and sights after looking at all your pictures.

  15. I've never been to Belgium probably because the first image I get thinking about it is Brussels and EU institutions - not very exciting in my book but I'm amazed such urban forests exist. Thanks for breaking some of my stereotypes and ignorance! =) Will definitely consider visiting Belgium in the future

  16. I enjoyed reading your adventure and watch the photos. The Ruusbroec church looks like a great stop for visiting, it's so old. I would also stop at the castle, I love castles. Wish you more trips like that! Happy travels!

  17. I have never heard of this forest before but it's really beautiful. Looks like you got the entire place to yourself. Was there anybody else beside you guys?

  18. I love your pictures! Especially the one of you kneeling down by the stream. What an interesting place, thanks for sharing!

  19. I am interested to visit the Sonian Forest as its does look and sound so beautiful.


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