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An underwater walk in Antwerp

Cyclists and walkers in St. Anna Tunnel, Antwerp

Have you ever walked under a river?  For a completely new experience, check out the St. Anna tunnel in Antwerp, where you can take a ride on a vintage Art Deco escalator 31 meters underwater to cross the Scheldt river.  It’s a surreal, sometimes disorienting experience, that will reward you with expansive views of the city when you emerge at the other side.

Antwerp has been a major port in Europe for centuries, due to its strategic location on the banks of the Scheldt river, a vital route for transporting goods from Europe to the North Sea and beyond.  The historic center hugs one side of the river, and newer residential suburbs are across the water, on the river’s left bank.   As the city grew at the turn of the 20th century, there was a need for a more permanent way to connect the two sides of the river, beyond the ferries that had long been the primary means of crossing.  In order to prevent disruption of the shipping lanes, the city planners decided against building a bridge, and chose instead to create two underwater tunnels – one for autos, known as “The Rabbit Hole”, and the St. Anna pedestrian tunnel.  Both were completed in three years between 1931-1933.

As you enter the tunnel, the sounds of the slowly clanking wooden escalator, and the faint watery scent of the river usher you into another world.  The 572 meter long tunnel, lined with thousands of shiny ceramic tiles, even has its own micro-climate.  If you’re visiting Antwerp on a hot summer day, it’s a great place to cool off.  On chilly days, the temperature inside is a few degrees warmer than the outdoors.

The walk takes about 20 minutes, and upon reaching the left bank, you can take in panoramic views of the city skyline, as it stretches along the riverfront.  If your feet are tired from a day of walking, there are buses nearby to take you back across the river through the auto tunnel to Roosevelt Platz and the city center.

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