This imposing train station was built from 1895 to 1905 as a terminus station, meaning that all the tracks ended here. The station features a huge dome, which aside from being impressive had the function of collecting the steam from the steam engines that were used at the time, thus keeping the steam away from the passengers and their clothes.
From 1998 to 2007 a new tunnel was built and the station was expanded and reconstructed in such a way that there are now fourteen tracks on three levels.
The upper level, one floor above ground level, now has six terminating tracks. These are arranged in two groups of three and there is an opening in the middle so you can see down into the other levels and they can get some daylight. This upper level is where all the tracks originally were.
The two lower levels are new.
On the first floor below ground level there are four terminating tracks. They are arranged in two pairs with an opening in the middle.
On the second floor below ground level there are four through tracks leading into the new tunnel that goes north from the station. These four tracks are used by high speed trains such as the Thalys trains going from Paris-Nord via Brussels, Antwerp and Rotterdam to Amsterdam.
An article in Newsweek magazine from the year 2009 listed Antwerp Centraal Station as the fourth most beautiful railroad station in the world, after St. Pancras in London, the Grand Central Terminal in New York and Chhatrapati Shivaji in Mumbai. They didn’t explain how they decided on this particular order, but if you come into Antwerp by train I think you’ll agree that this station deserves to be somewhere near the top of the list.
The Antwerp Centraal Station is not only an imposing and well-functioning railroad station, it also has a large bicycle garage at level -1, below ground level and above the new tunnel for the Thalys and other long-distance trains.
The bicycle garage was inaugurated in 2007 when the new tunnel and the new lower level tracks were completed and went into service.
In addition to providing dry and secure bicycle parking, the Bike Point (fietspunt) at the center of the garage also includes a repair shop, a free air pump and I believe even a bicycle washing machine such as the one I saw in Münster, Germany.
The stated purpose of the Bike Points, which are also being established at other major railroad stations in Belgium, is to promote the combination of bicycle usage and public transport.
As they say on their website: “Cycling is an important link in the chain of sustainable mobility. It has great potential as a means of transport to complete journeys that are undertaken by public transport. An important weapon in the fight against cars! People who use bicycles are therefore fully entitled to be well taken care of.”
As in several other European countries, the Bike Points in Belgium also provide vocational training and jobs for young people who would otherwise be unemployed.
Two of Antwerp’s three bike sharing systems are also located here: the Blue Bikes (for people who do a lot of travelling by train within Belgium and buy a yearly pass so they can use a bike when they arrive in each Belgian city) and the Yellow Bikes (for people arriving by train who want to rent a bike for at least three hours, or up to several days).
The yellow bikes would certainly be an option if you wanted to take a long ride out into the countryside, which a lot of people do, but if you just want to take lots of short rides within the city then the red and white Velo-Antwerpen bikes are a better choice, especially if you are already familiar with bike-sharing systems in cities like Paris and Lyon. The Velo-Antwerpen bicycle sharing system has two stations very close by: 001 Centraal Station Astrid and 004 De Keyserlei.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.
See more posts on Antwerp, Belgium.