Discover the Antwerp districts by Velo (full course)

BE | | 53.8 km

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Author: Visit Antwerp

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Route description

Full course: 54KM- Loop South: 36 KM - Loop North: 28.5KM - Connection road: 4.25KM

Everyone knows Antwerp as a historic city centre with an amazing number of fabulous must-sees. But there’s more to the city than this. The nine districts that make up the city of Antwerp also have a lot to offer as you will discover on this Velo District Route.

Get ready for a tour full of contrasts. You will travel on and under the Scheldt. Making your way through working-class neighbourhoods and trendy areas. Alternating between huge nature reserves and surprising museums. You will get to experience the sacred tranquillity of cemeteries and the din of the city’s vibrant pubs and cafés. And so much more.

Do you intend to ride the entire Velo District Route? You’ll need a full day for this to cover approximately 55 km. You can also choose to do just one part of it. Or go for a shorter loop, cutting short the route. In that case, you can either choose the southern variant (Antwerp-Berchem / Schoonselhof / Sint-Annastrand / Steen Castle / Antwerp-Berchem). Or you can go for the northern loop (Antwerp-Berchem / Steen Castle / Park Spoor Noord / Rivierenhof / Antwerp-Berchem).

(Re-)discover Antwerp’s districts in a COVID-proof way with the Velo District Route.

Don't have a Velo Annual Card? Buy your Day Pass now at www.velo-antwerpen.be.

  1. Antwerp-Berchem station

You start at Antwerp-Berchem station. With an average of 15,000 travellers on any given weekday, this station is the ninth largest station in Belgium. The route starts here because you can easily get there. But Antwerp-Berchem also attracts street art lovers from around the word because of the gigantic murals on the walls of some of the platforms and elsewhere around the station.

Street artist Smok painted five animals in one of the tunnels under the station. The fox, kingfisher, bat, cormorant and salamander all have one thing in common: they all feel equally at home in the nearby Wolvenberg nature reserve. Speaking of surprising city dwellers...

  1. PAKT

Did you think that farming is a purely rural thing? Well think again! Head to the roofs of PAKT if you want to visit a proper urban farm. Growing vegetables and fruit, raising chickens and fish: easy to do on the roofs of an old warehouse. But there’s more to PAKT than urban agriculture because it’s also home to several sustainable and creative companies. But the main attraction of this vibrant ecosystem are the bars and restaurants on-site. Caffènation Roastery & Bar, Racine PAKT, Standard Pizzeria, Spéciale Belge Taproom and Kasserol Foodbar: go with whatever floats your boat.

To get to PAKT you cycled through the new Groen Kwartier. Originally a military hospital, the site has since been transformed into to a car-free residential and working area. Michelin-starred chef Sergio Herman opened his restaurant The Jane in the former chapel on-site. It is probably the most beautiful restaurant in the world, and no, it’s not just Sergio himself who said this.

  1. De Koninck brewery

The De Koninck city brewery may be almost two centuries old, but it is still very much alive and in operation. The site in Boomgaardstraat has become the place to shop for any self-confessed Epicurean. It’s all about the good life here.

Firstly there is the brewery itself. Discover the story behind the beer during an interactive tour. Don’t leave without sampling the goods at the end of the tour. But the site is also home to - get ready for this - The Bakery, Butcher's Store (the butcher), Jitsk, Only Cheese, and Velodome. And in addition to the brewery's bar, you can also eat or drink at Black Smoke, The Butcher's Son (the restaurant), De Pelgrim, Atelier Paul Morel and The Noodle Agency. So many choices!

  1. Victor Jacobslei

The most famous street in Berchem is Cogels Osylei. But Victor Jacobslei is another, lesser-known pearl in Berchem’s crown. The houses that line this street date from the early 20th century. Together with the trees, they add to the street’s stately appearance.

The street intersects with the Driekoningenstraat-Statiestraat axis, the beating heart of the Oud-Berchem neighbourhood. Food from all four corners of the world, shops for budget-savvy shoppers and value seekers, snack bars and near-Michelin star restaurants: can you think of a more diverse shopping street?

Victor Jacobslei gives out onto one of Berchem's best-kept secrets: the square in front of the Sint-Maria care home. When the sun comes out, the square is a dreamy place to play and chill.

  1. Brilschans Park

At first glance, you would never guess that you’re standing on the site of former military domain but (tranquil) appearances can be deceiving. One of the redoubts of the Great Wall around Antwerp was built here in 1860-1864. The fortification provided a good defence. Along with Schans Mastvest - which is also on today’s route - Brilschans is the only other defence one to have withstood the test of time.

Runners love the partly unpaved running route and the playground draws many local children. Before the coronavirus pandemic you could join free sports sessions here on summer evenings. Boot camp, Tai chi, zumba and yoga: something for everyone.

In a not too distant future, Brilschans Park will merge with the Wolvenberg nature reserve and De Villegaspark into Brialmont Park. The inviting new entrance to Brilschans Park in Grotesteenweg is the first step in this process. One day all three zones of the park may even be connected, across the arterial roads.

  1. Berchem cemetery

A wealth of discoveries awaits you behind the green hedges of Berchem’s cemetery. Some of the tombs of local dignitaries and artists are quite impressive. Their families constructed large structures as a final resting place for their loved ones. Football fans can go in search of the tombs of Red Devils Ludo Coeck and Albert De Hert. The latter also invented the infamous martino sandwich.

In addition to the typical white grave monuments of three British soldiers, many fallen Belgian soldiers were also buried here. The 179 birches that were planted in honour of the many civilian victims of the Second World War give visitors pause for thought.

  1. Middelheim Museum

There are plenty of good reasons to drop off your Velo at station 271 and visit the Middelheim Museum. Let’s start with these three: the beautiful works of art, the impressive open-air setting, and the free admission. Very few world cities boast such a large open-air museum.

The long list of artists includes such trailblazers as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Rik Wouters, Ai Weiwei, Alberto Giacometti, Berlinde De Bruyckere, and Richard Deacon. But there are many more of course. You can also drink or eat something here. The MIKA museum café combines a great terrace with a very attractive interior space.

  1. Den Brandt Park

Once you walk through the gates of Den Brandt Park you could be forgiven for imagining that you have stepped onto the set of the acclaimed TV series Downtown Abbey . The stately entrance gives out into a classic French garden. The path leads to the castle which dates from 1790. Behind the castle you can explore the English-stye landscape park. Music lovers flock to Den Brandt every year for Jazz Middelheim.

But the park has much more to offer. Stroll along the avenues and paths under the impressive tree canopies. Look for the adorable English cottage with a thatched roof or the reproduction of Michelangelo's David statue, which the locals call naked David (den bloten David). Also worth seeing: the bunker museum, in the former regional headquarters of the Atlantic Wall.

  1. deSingel

How many motorists have wondered what the impressive building along the Antwerp Ring road is as they drove past? Depending on their direction of travel, they see the words theater, dans or architecture on deSingel’s façades. The really curious head for the next motorway exit to take a closer look at the building. There they will see a fourth word (muziek), which clarifies matters considerably.

The architecture of deSingel is the work of two of Flanders' greatest architects. Léon Stynen designed the first building, which was only fully completed thirty years later, while Stéphane Beel developed the impressive extension. The building is home to the deSingel international art centre and the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp.

Finished checking out the building (after a quick lunch in Grand café deSingel)? Then find a Velo and follow the rest of the route, which will take you through Schans Mastvest, among other things. Take some time to admire the two bridges by architect Emiel Van Averbeke, which are remnants of the 1930 Antwerp World Exhibition.

  1. Tentoonstellingswijk

While this route takes you past plenty of hidden gems and sights, the Tentoonstellingswijk or Exhibition District is one of the more striking ones. If you’re into modernist architecture, then this neighbourhood is the architectural equivalent of a candy shop. Several leading architects built houses and flats here during the interwar period.

A typical example is the block of flats and studio that Huib Hoste designed for the painter Emile Panzer. The house, which dates from 1934, meets all the criteria of the New Objectivity style, an art and architecture movement from the interwar period.

The next point of interest is about 5 kilometres away. This should be perfectly feasible within your allotted free 30 minutes. But you might want to put off a longer stop until later on the route.

  1. Schoonselhof

Schoonselhof cemetery is Antwerp's equivalent of Père Lachaise. Just like its even more famous Parisian counterpart, Schoonselhof boasts monumental graves and lots of greenery in addition to being the final resting place of many celebrities. The sprawling cemetery is set on 84 hectares.

Schoonselhof is an old castle estate, of which the castle has been preserved. It has been a public cemetery since 1921 and includes military and Jewish burial grounds. Julien Schoenaerts, La Esterella, Herman De Coninck, Hendrik Conscience, Peter Benoit, and other great Flemings are all buried here.

  1. Sorghvliedt Park

The district of Hoboken boasts several delightful green areas and parks. Sorghvliedt Park is one of them. The eponymous castle in the park was built between 1745 and 1750. The park itself draws children who like to romp around, sports enthusiasts and people who are looking for some peace and quiet.

A most charming building in the park is the belvedere. It stands on a hill on the southern edge of the park and is about two hundred years old. In the 19th century, people headed to this decorative building for a nice view of the park. And today they still continue to do so.

Maud Vanhauwaert had her residence here as a city poet until early 2020. She also created a tiny museum in the left wing. She gave the key to The Smallest Museum In The World Which Admittedly Has The Longest Name to an artist.

  1. Hobokense Polder

Ready to discover more green areas of Hoboken? Time to go wild! Welcome to Hobokense Polder, a nature reserve set on 170 hectares of land, making it the largest nature conservation area in the city of Antwerp. Home to foxes, deer, and polecats. But birds, amphibians, insects, and butterflies also love Hobokense Polder. Have we already mentioned the 500 different plant species and the 160 types of mushrooms (don't pick them, even if you think they are edible!) that thrive here?

This is a great place for a good hike. Several routes cut through the area, including a wheelchair-accessible one. Birdwatching huts and walls allow you to observe birds without them seeing you.

  1. Kiel residential project

En route you pass a remarkable architectural project in Antwerp’s Kiel district. The nine detached residential blocks of flats are the work of Renaat Braem, one of the most important post-war architects. Antwerp locals call them the Braemblokken. They were built after the Second World War when the city was in urgent need of more housing.

Braem contrasted this form of high-rise building with the terraced houses of the city centre. The project made him famous, both in Belgium and at the international level. Experts still consider this project to be a milestone in modern architecture and urban design.

  1. Galgenweel

You will cover a slightly longer distance en route to your next destination. You even get to ride under the Scheldt this time! But the distance can be easily bridged within the free 30 minutes you get with your Velo.

Galgenweel is synonymous with water sports and fun. Here you can go sailing or surfing with a view of the Cathedral. A few years ago, a wakeboarding facility was added. You zoom across the water, pulled by a cable wire, on a surfboard. Tired after all the excitement? Grab a drink or a snack at the Regatta Club. Yes, that also includes you, who are following the Velo District Route ;-)

  1. Buoy meadow

There are three things to see when you pass the Boeienweide or Buoy Meadow First of all, the old buoys, and anchors. Then you should check out the Sint-Anna tunnel, the pedestrian tunnel under the Scheldt. Do you have some spare time? Take the lift or the escalator and descend 31 metres underground to soak up the atmosphere of the pedestrian tunnel. 

Finally, the highlight of this meadow has to be the panoramic view of Antwerp. Test your knowledge of the city - or that of your fellow cyclists - and try to name as many buildings as you can. But above all, take the time to enjoy the view.

  1. Sint-Annastrand

This Velo District Route has already taken you to a wide range of very different locations. The only thing that you hadn’t seen yet was a beach. Well, that’s about to change. Park your Velo in the station and take a walk along Sint-Anna beach, also known as het Strand van Sint-Anneke or Sint-Anneke plage.

Swimming is strictly off-limits here because of the dangerous tides, the strong currents and shipping. In the summer months you can take a dip in the De Molen outdoor swimming pool instead. Are you visiting during a different season? No worries. Since time immemorial this has been the place to go for people who love mussels. Stroll along the Wandeldijk, enjoy the views of the city and the port, ... there is so much more to see and do in this special place.

  1. Sint-Anna ferry

Don’t worry, you don’t have to cycle all the way to get to your next location because you’re about to take to the water! The free ferry service between Linkeroever and Het Steen has departures every 30 minutes. Beware: on weekdays the last boat to the right bank leaves at 6 pm. On weekends you have more time to spare, until 9 pm.

The ferry ride is your last chance (during this tour) to enjoy the view of Antwerp’s skyline one last time. And you won’t get any closer to the Scheldt than this.

  1. MAS

The MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) rises 60 metres above the city, making it an iconic building on Antwerp’s skyline. The building is equally iconic because of its unique architecture. Neutelings Riedijk Architects won the architectural competition in 2000 with their interpretation of the nearby 19th century warehouses.

The MAS collection tells the story of Antwerp, the port, and the world. The collection is so huge - more than half a million items! - that the museum is unable to showcase all of its treasures. But the permanent and temporary exhibitions give you a good idea of the museum’s collection. And you can view all 500,000 collection items online. Does it get any more COVID-proof than this?

  1. Parkbrug

In 2016, a special bridge was installed across the Noorderleien, the Parkbrug or Park Bridge. Anyone entering Antwerp from the north must pass under this gateway to the city. But it’s also a pretty special experience for those who drive over it. The bridge is covered but the openings in its walls create special light and shadow effects.

Also nice to know: coming from Het Eilandje, you can get to Spoor Noord without having to stop at traffic lights thanks to the bridge. And you don’t even need to climb any stairs, just take the slope.

  1. Park Spoor Noord

The locals have been taking full advantage of Park Spoor Noord since it opened almost 10 years ago. The 24 hectares of greenery have become a permanent fixture of the city. The park attracts people of all ages, who all go there to enjoy themselves in their own way. And because the park is so large, there’s always plenty of space for everyone.

Three old railway bridges and two water towers attest to the site’s past use. Park Spoor Noord was built on the site of a huge railway marshalling yard. By removing this physical barrier, the neighbourhood and the city gained a lot of open space and the Dam and Schijnpoort neighbourhoods also became better connected.

  1. IJzerlaan bicycle bridge

The construction of the bicycle bridge in IJzerlaan is a textbook example of how to make a virtue out of necessity. To enable barges to transport more containers along the Albert Canal, the former IJzerlaan bridge had to be demolished because it was too low.

A state-of-the-art bicycle and walking bridge was installed in roughly the same location in 2017. Ride up the folded bicycle ramp to get to the nearly 100-metre long bridge. Does the mere idea of riding up that slope make you thirsty? Then stop at café Welkom at the Noordschippersdok first for a quick drink.

  1. Runcvoort Park

Today Runcvoort Park is a public green area that is slightly tucked away. But this was not always the case. Runcvoort Park is about two hundred years old (nobody knows exactly when it was built). For a long time it was a private estate and later also a convent garden. But in 1970, the then municipality of Merksem acquired the park and the castle.

The Cave of the Virgin Mary in the park attests to the park’s monastic past. The 2,000-sqm pond, the historic buildings and the green park environment make Runcvoort Park a nice place to relax and unwind.

  1. Sint-Bartholomeusstraat and Merksem Dok

Merksem resident Tim Marschang is mad about street art, which is why he gathered several street artists, asking them to revamp the somewhat grey walls of Merksem. St. Bartholomeusstraat was one of the lucky ones. Eight large murals have brightened up the streetscape here since 2017.

Cycle past the street art wall and you will come upon one of two docks in Merksem. This is the Groot Dok or Large Dock, the Klein Dok or Small Dock is just up the road. The docks date from 1874-1876. At the time, Merksem evolved from a rural village to an industrialised municipality in the shadow of the port. Today the industry in the district still defines the look and feel of 't Dokske, as this area is called.

  1. Brug van den Azijn

Ask any Antwerpian where Burgemeester Eduard Waghemansbrug is situated, and they will probably have no clue what you’re talking about. However, if you say that you are looking for the Brug van den Azijn (the Vinegar Bridge), and you’ll literally see the light bulb go off in their head. The bridge over the Albert Canal owes its unofficial name to a former vinegar factory.

When cycling up the bridge, stop halfway and turn around. On the Bosto tower you can see two lines of the poem Liedje voor de Kanaalzone by former city poet Joke van Leeuwen. Bob Takes created the design. The poem adds a more human dimension to the industrial setting.

  1. Conforta neighbourhood

The narrowest house in Antwerp is barely 2.23 metres wide and is located in Huikstraat. But Deurne-Noord also has plenty of houses with a limited façade width. In some cases, these Conforta homes, as they are called, are only 3.7 metres wide. They were built between 1925 and 1930 by the NV Comptoir Général du Bâtiment or the Conforta construction company.

In addition to the narrow Confortas, the neighbourhood also has plenty of houses with two front doors. They are usually home to two households, each with their own front door. Thanks to Conforta, blue-collar workers were able to afford a house of their own. But the company blithely ignored applicable building regulations, purely for speculative reasons.

  1. Bosuil Stadium

Bosuil Stadium has long been home to Antwerp FC, a local football club. At one time, up to 60,000 fans would flock to the stadium to see their team in action. In addition to the home games of Antwerp, the stadium also hosted the legendary international matches between Belgium and the Netherlands, the so-called Derby's der Lage Landen, for many years.

Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s no way that you can ignore the stadium when you’re in Deurne-Noord. The building defines the streetscape in this neighbourhood. In recent years, the Bosuil Stadium has been significantly modernised. A brand-new main grandstand opened in 2017. The new stand no. 4 will also be ready in the autumn of 2020. The historic stand no. 2 - with a very old school football vibe - will also be revamped.

  1. Rivierenhof

A city park that is so large that you could get lost in it? Yes, it does exist. Sprawling Rivierenhof is set on 130 hectares. Or 200 football pitches, to use an equivalent that is in keeping with our previous theme.

There is plenty to see and do in this large park. Runners, cyclists, walkers, as well as anglers and petanque players all practice their sport in Rivierenhof. The magical open-air theatre draws thousands of culture lovers every summer. Other attractions include the café-restaurant in Rivierenhof Castle, the petting zoo, the storytelling house, and the playground. And last but not least, the park’s lush verdant natural beauty.

  1. Sterckshof Castle

If you’re looking for a place that’s steeped in history, look no further. There was a water farm (with a moat around it) here as early as the 13th century. The castle you see today was rebuilt in the 1930s by the Province of Antwerp. Some parts of this neo-Renaissance style building date from the 16th century.

The castle was home to the Silver Museum until 2014. The collection has since been incorporated in the new DIVA museum, Antwerp Home of Diamonds (well worth a visit!). The Province is currently looking to give Sterckshof a new permanent designation. But the place is humming with activity. If you love good coffee, tasty cake and a cosy ambience, Bar Stark is the place to go.

Sterckshof owes its name to one of the former owners, the 16th century Antwerp merchant Geeraard Sterck.

  1. Arena neighbourhood

Have you decided to do the complete Velo District route today? Then you will have already passed the Kiel residential project. But architect Renaat Braem created plenty of other urban design benchmarks in Antwerp. The Arena neighbourhood is one of them.

In 1960, Braem was asked to design a social housing estate on the grounds of the former Fort of Deurne. While his plans were never fully realised, a series of low-rise blocks of flats and the Arena Hall were built. Today these buildings are relatively run-down. Some of them will be renovated, while others will be demolished and replaced with new social housing and public amenities.

  1. Te Boelaer Park

A park doesn't need spectacular attractions to be attractive. Just ask the people who live near Te Boelaer Park. Many of them find their way to this nice little neighbourhood park. Did you know that people have been relaxing here since the Middle Ages? At the time, the area was reserved for the nobility and merchants who had their country residences here.

Today people mainly come here for sports, games and to relax. The old forest floor is an excellent substrate for all kinds of plant species such as forest anemones, Solomon’s seals, forest tulips and small-leaved ivy.

  1. Boekenberg Park

Boekenberg Park has a very special asset, which is quite rare in Belgium: a 73-metre long ecological swimming pond. Plants purify the water the natural way. In summer, it’s a popular place for a refreshing dip in the water. In winter, only the bravest venture into the water: the winter swimmers of the Deurnese IJsberen are not even deterred by snow.

Boekenberg Park was developed around 1800 by a man with plenty of imagination. The ruined tower and the cave complex are just a few remnants of his unconventional plan for the park. Today, the caves are home to the Boekenberg Natural History Museum, where you can see the remains of Antwerp fossils. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum is closed for the foreseeable future.

  1. Unitas Garden District

The Unitas Tuinwijk, a design of the architect Eduard Van Steenbergen, is situated just outside Boekenberg Park. The neighbourhood was built from 1924 onwards and consists of 202 houses in the English cottage style. Van Steenbergen capitalised on the popularity of the garden districts. These urban neighbourhoods were designed to look like village.

While the Unitas houses look remarkably similar at first glance, Van Steenbergen added subtle differences, in the joinery or with colours. Over the years, minor renovations have changed the houses’ appearance somewhat. Since 2018, a conservation plan aims to restore their original appearance.

  1. Stampe & Vertongen Museum

The Deurne airport building was built between 1929 and 1932. The architect Stanislas Jasinsky created a design in keeping with the New Objectivity. The Stampe & Vertongen Museum, a tiny aviation museum, is located to the left of the airport building. The museum takes its name from Jean Stampe and Maurice Vertongen, the founders of a flying school and an aircraft factory.

In addition to plenty of objects with a link to aviation, the museum also has a V1 bomb and a simulation of the former aircraft factories on display. But the real reason for coming here are the historic planes in the museum, of course.    

  1. Meeting of Styles

Antwerp likes to showcase the phenomenal street art in its districts. This is not just a city marketing ploy. The city does have a large number of murals and other street art.

The Krugerstraat-Minckelerstraat axis should be the first place to go if street art’s your thing. The international Meeting of Styles street art festival has been held here for several years already. After previous editions in Muntplein and the Kavka youth centre, the Aerosol Kings collective relocated to the Zomerfabriek. With some 2,250 sqm of street art, this essentially is a large open-air museum. And, what’s more, you can ride through it with your Velo.

  1. Dageraadplaats

Are you longing for a refreshing pint of beer, a strong coffee, or a steaming dish of good food after all those Velo miles? Don’t worry, salvation is near, because the last highlight on this Velo District Route is Dageraadplaats. Your only problem? Where to go? Because this legendary square has so many superb catering establishments to choose from. The square is like a gigantic garden for the neighbourhood in addition to being one of the most popular places in Antwerp to go for a drink or a bite to eat with friends.

Are you dreading the long trek back to Antwerp-Berchem station after a day on a Velo? Can’t feel your legs? No worries, tram 11 will take you right back to the starting point of this Velo District Route in just 2 minutes. Make sure to look out of the windows during your short ride as it takes you through Berchem's most iconic street, the Cogels Osylei.

Source: Visit Antwerpen

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