I’ve just spent a week in Antwerp, using trams & the docking bike system to get around
The cycling & tram infrastructure is great (though there’s still too many cars!)
But, unlike the UK, even at roadworks there’s cycle provision. And cycling with goods, moving shopping etc is just normal. Cargo bikes are a normal part of life. This is not another way of life It’s a normal way of life.
Velo Antwerp bikes are pretty sturdy docking bikes. They have 3 speed hub gears, although slightly low geared for me they have to work for everyone. The integral bag holder works fine, even with a large camera bag. Numerous docking stations are situated around Antwerp, far more than for the similar system in Brussels.
It’s a very easy system to use, sign up online (website and app are in English, French, Dutch and German) and download the app. When registered you can find the locations on the app, which shows the number of bikes at each one and the number of total spaces. Enter your user number and pin number, this unlocks a bike for you. Then simply reverse the process when returning. There’s no integral lock on these bikes though, but they’re designed for nipping around for short distances. The fees are simple, sign up for a day for 5 Euros, or a week at 11 Euros, or a whole year for 55 Euros. After that, the first 30 mins of use are free, small charges apply after that depending on how long you use it for.
The only downsides I can see with these bikes are the fairly hard saddle (next time I’ll bring a slip on gel cover!) and for some people, lifting the bike back into docking station could be an issue. Otherwise they were great, the system worked well for the week I used it. I only had one bike with a fault out of the two dozen or so I used, (gears jumping occasionally) and that was easily reported. I saw several teams of staff checking bikes and reallocating them with a flatbed truck as needed. As you can see in the photos, cycling is for everyone, no special clothing required!
Over the course of a week I went to various locations in and around Antwerp and didn’t need any other transport apart from the bikes and the tram network, with a couple of train journeys to other towns.
The trams in Antwerp are quick and efficient, operating on a network of 14 lines, covering a distance of around 70 miles. The network is operated by the Flemish government’s transport company De Lijn, who operate all the buses and trams in Flanders. Ther’s a high res pdf file of the tram map on their website, here’s a link to their various maps, they are not the easiest travel maps to locate!
There’s also an extensive bus network in Antwerp, with 79 routes, though I didn’t use any on this visit.
The whole network can be accessed using a variety of ticket and fare types. There’s an explanation on the De Lijn website, which has an extensive English language section. Probably the most useful for visitors are the 10 journey ticket and day or multiple day passes. There’s also the Antwerp City Card, that lasts for 24, 48 or 72 hours, which all cover both buses and trams.
There’s also options to pay using the app via a smartphone. Tickets can be bought at machines around the network – though not all the smaller trams stops have ticket machines, or at the Lijnwinkel stores, which are De Lijn ticket and travel information shops. There’s one in Antwerp Central Station, on the ground level concourse.
The tickets are validated on tram, with card readers just inside the doors, just tap your ticket on the reader to validate it.
Part of the system, in the city centre, is underground, and is known as the “Pre Metro”. Confusingly, some of the tram stops at Central Station are under it rather than outside, and are signposted as “Metro” rather than tram. The system was intended to be upgraded to a metro system similar to that in Brussels, so several of the lines were diverted through new tunnels under the city centre that were constructed in the 1980’s. However the system was never completed, due to funding issues, and to this day they are still used by trams, on routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 15.
Other routes that run past Central Station are 11 and 24, but they run overground. There are plans to open some of the stations that were left unfinished. More details on the history of the Metro can be found on the De Lijn site. and this urban explorer site.
The whole complex under Central Station is known as two stations, Opera and Diamant, in reality it’s all interconnected, a bit like Bank and Monument on the London Underground.
Getting around is quite easy – trams are frequent, with route number and destination shown on platform and front of tram displays. All the lines are numbered and colour coded, so its easy enough to find the station you want to get out at, pick that route and look for the tram heading to the end of that line. Most of the tram lines terminate at large park and ride stations on the outskirts of the city.
You can also see the route on the in tram displays, which show you the route, destination, and current station.
Getting to Antwerp from the UK is easy by rail, with frequent Eurostar trains to Brussels, then its a quick change at Brussels Midi (also known as Suid) station onto an intercity train to Antwerp that run every half hour during the day. The entire journey time from London to Antwerp can be under 4 hours. For details on catching the Eurostar see the excellent Seat 61 rail travel website.
Although you can buy a Eurostar ticket that includes travel to any station in Belgium for an extra £10 above the fare to Brussels, it’s cheaper to get a single fare to Antwerp from Belgian Railways – 7.70 Euros at the time of writing, and it’s even cheaper if you’re travelling at the weekend, Belgian Railways do a weekend return (that starts from 7pm Friday) for 8.80 Euros. There’s also a ‘Duo’ ticket, where two people can travel for the price of one, that appears to be valid all week, including peak hours. There’s a whole range of discounts and offers on Belgian Railways, and their English language website is easy to use.
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