Antwerp Ruien

Antwerp Ruien is just the thing for those times when you want to look at things from a new angle. This tour lets you visit the underground city of Antwerp.

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Maybe you just arrived … or maybe you have been here already a few days and you are starting find your way around and appreciate the city’s atmosphere.

Either way, anytime is good to visit the underground city of Antwerp.

Yes, you can visit the Antwerp Ruien, the 1000 year old ditches, canals and hidden bridges under the houses and streets of Antwerp.

You will loose your orientation and be amazed by the hidden web of dark streets under the city.

Your Tour Guide will explain everything starting from the early beginnings in the 11th century until the 19th century. There are also three tunnel exhibitions about the history of the ruien.

What exactly are Antwerp Ruien?

The ‘Ruien’ were natural ditches connected with the river that would fill up during high tide and become empty during low tide (the difference in water level could be a much as 5 1/2 meters).

They offered an excellent natural protection from the flooding and the city grew fast around it.

Brief History of Antwerp Ruien

  • In the 11th century, the old town around the castle was becoming too crowded. Citizen started installing themselves outside the first fortification walls.
  • In the 13th century the Ruien would reach the cathedral and in the 16th century they reach the ‘leien’ (the small ring around Antwerp).

The whole area between the Scheldt and the leien is now the Old Town. This part of town is the second layer of the city; the first, which cannot be seen anymore, is underground.
But this was not always so.

  • In the 16th century all the ditches and canals were open. But because pollution from the industry they became dirty and smelly. They also served as an open sewer system.

The stink became unbearable for a crowded and expanding city of Antwerp and the local government decided it would be best to cover them. Since this was a costly endeavor the government passed the responsibility to the citizens.

Each was responsible for covering their part of the canal. The progress was rather slow and it took 300 years before everything was covered.

During the walk you see the craftsmanship of some of those citizens. Some used sandstone, others bricks.

The Jesuits covered the part under their church with expensive stones – and there is still an access to the Saint Carolus- Borromeus Church.

The Protestants were not as wealthy so they only marked their part buy cake like layers of white and red brick.

Others did not bother with decorating ceilings you can only see from inside the sever system. One citizen had done a particularly bad job and in 1923 the roof collapsed under a tram. There were no casualties but a lot of people were seriously injured. The city installed several fortifying cement beams to prevent it from happening again.

The Antwerp Ruien would be used as sewer systems until the 1990's

. By then, European laws forced the cities to reorganize their sewer systems. New pipes were installed and the ditches were emptied. What left was a labyrinth of underground streets.

In 2004 the government decided to open them to the public.

It’s not a very easy walk and you are way off the beaten track. If you are not very fond of insects and spiders you might want to skip this attraction.

The adventure will start with a short underground boat ride. The next 2 hours will be a bit smelly, dark and damp. You walk in some questionable slimy mud - only up to your ankles (in good weather). The guide is in constant contact with their operating center. In case of heavy rain the water might raise 20 – 30 centimeters and you will be making a quick exit.

There is no danger to your health - but prepare yourself for an arduous, muddy walk. You will get long rubber boots, pants, jacket and a flashlight. You get to keep the cool pants and jacket ☺

The whole experience is like from and adventure or war movie and you can’t help but imagine exciting scenarios. A very Sci-fi experience for me.

The Ruien walk with guide takes approximately 3 hours. 2 hours underground and then a walk back above the ground.


  • Make reservations a few weeks in advance. Access is limited and excursions can be cancelled by bad weather conditions.Do not wear a skirt!
  • Take socks.The average temperature in the canal system is between 13°C and 16°C - you will be wearing a rubber suit on top of your clothes.
  • There are no lockers. You will receive a bag where you can put all your personal belongings and take theme with you on your walk.
  • Although you do not need to be a top athlete, you need to be in some shape to take this walk.
  • The RUIen walk is not suited for children under 12.
  • *** MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Do NOT fall down!***

Return from Antwerp Ruien to Antwerpens Districts

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