Adventure Travel in Antwerp

by Agnes
(Antwerp, Belgium)

Old Town Antwerp

Old Town Antwerp

For years Belgium has been treated as a transit country, tiny and squeezed in between magnificent neighbors - it was often overlooked.

Antwerp, the Cultural Capital of Europe for 1993, may be Belgiums second city - but it's favorite among european adventure travelers. For a long time barely a stopover on the backpackers itinerary its fortune has slowly been changing. Now travelers are discovering this Mecca of gourmet food, chocolate and beer. Culture hunters are impressed with traditional and avant-garde art from Van Dyck and Rubens to Panameranko. City trippers love the wide range of attractions on offer.

Fashion and Diamonds

Antwerp is now an important presence on the fashion scene thanks to homegrown designers. It's dazzling with 80 % of the world diamonds that pass through Antwerp (often more than once). It has the second biggest port in Europe and a vibrant nightlife and music scene.

Antwerp is located at the heart of Europe. The airports are hubs for international flights and the prices are quite affordable with all the budget airlines flying in and out of Belgium. Antwerp has something for everyone and for any budget. There is affordable accommodation and many of the main attractions are free.

Architecture off the beaten path

The architecture is absolutely remarkable and absolutely unique in Belgium and possibly in Europe. My favorite of the off the beaten path spots for the adventure traveler is the Cogels-Osylei street. It has an incredible mixture of architectural styles. Here you can find a French Chateau, a Venetian Palazzo and a Greek temple compliment eccentric Art Nouveau buildings. You might think you're walking on a film set that someone forgot to take down.

Pedestrian Tunnel under the Scheldt river

Also, easily overlooked and not on the typical sightseeing itinerary is the St. Anna Tunnel. This 572 meter unique pedestrian passageway was built underneath the Scheldt in 1931-1933 to link the old centre with the left bank (Linkeroever).

It has been preserved in its original form with wooden escalators and old-fashioned warning signs.It is located south from the Grote Markt on a small square called Sint-Jansvliet at the end of the Hoogstraat. The entrance is a yellow brick building that looks like an Art-Deco power station.

Take the original 30's clanking wooden escalators to go down 31 meters under the riverbed. It's a surreal adventure to go through this tube-shaped tunnel, lined with simple white ceramic tiles.

With it's internal diameter of 4.30 meters (external 4.74 meters) it is big enough for both pedestrians and bikes.

The Left Bank

On foot it takes about 10 minutes to arrive at the left bank. There you will find the best view of the cathedral spire, the medieval Steen and city skyline. On your left you will see the cranes of the modern port. This vista point is highly recommended at sunset when the warm sunrays illuminate the city.

The best option is to spend the day (or half) on the left bank and return right before sunset. Once you exit the tunnel, keep the Scheldt on your right and take the pathway along the river. Soon you will reach the Yacht harbor and Sint-Anneke beach. It's a very pleasant walk or bike ride. Despite the tower blocks the view on the city is great and along the pathway you will find many patios and an outdoor swimming pool. It's great for families with kids. Although the water is too polluted for swimming the sand is perfect for sandcastles and there is an elaborate nautical playground. If you continue for past the caf├ęs and restaurants you will eventually reach the stables where you can do some horseback riding.

The Ruien Canals

Another not so well know Antwerp attraction, are: "The Ruien" - Antwerp canals open to the public since May 2005. it's where you can enter the underground water city. You can opt for a 1.6-km RUIen walk along the streets of 1109 Antwerp.

The list of things to do goes on and on, impossible for boredom to set in.

Antwerp is cozy and compact - a true pedestrian and bike capital. The city implemented an infrastructure that makes bicycling safe and fun. It is the most popular means of transportation among locals and you will see people of all ages riding bikes alone or in groups. Parks and gardens, scattered medieval streets, and friendly squares surrounded by patios make this a perfect destination for city adventure and leisure travel.

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