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Vilvoorde and its diverse sights

The façade of an old school building in Vilvoorde – you’ll meet it later on in this post – is decorated with wise sayings. Most seem to be variations on the theme of “cleanliness is next to godliness” and are clearly aimed at improving the morals of 19th century youth. But here’s a saying that would look very much at home there:

“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure”

Petrarch

Feeling the need to exchange sameness with a bit of variety in my blog posts, I decided to do a different kind of walk to what you normally see on Discovering Belgium. So, gone are the open vistas with scarcely a mechanical object in sight. You won’t be enjoying views of landscapes unsullied by man-made structures such as noisy motorways or electricity pylons. Instead of birds, flowers and fresh air, this walk is full to the brim with vehicles, bridges, factories, cranes, roads, flyovers. With demolition and reconstruction. Industrialization and urbanization. In other words, for this walk I turned away from the countryside and headed to Vilvoorde, an industrial town on the north-eastern edge of Brussels.

Introducing Vilvoorde

Located in Flemish Brabant, Vilvoorde is officially Dutch-speaking, although you are not always aware of that on its streets. Early on the walk I was accosted by a friendly drunk Francophone. We didn’t get very far with our conversation. My understanding of spoken French is limited; even more so when it’s being slurred under the influence of multiple Jupilers (the cans littered the ground below the wall he was sprawling on). Later I discover that around a third of the population of Vilvoorde is Francophone. There’s also a large Spanish population, descendants from Spaniards who came here after the end of the Second World War. Vilvoorde also has quite large Moroccan and Turkish communities too. A microcosm of Belgium.

Historically, the town grew up around the important River Zenne. In the 14th century, thanks to its position on the river, Vilvoorde became a key commercial and military center. It could hold its head up high against Leuven and Brussels for the title of most important city in Brabant.

Alas, with the decline of the textile industry, Vilvoorde’s importance waned too. Until, that is, the early 19th century and the Industrial Revolution. Here the key to the revitalization of Vilvoorde was not the river but the Brussels–Scheldt Maritime Canal. It was already in existence, but in the 1830s it was deepened to allow access for bigger vessels. Around the same time the canal, and thus Vilvoorde, was connected to the burgeoning Belgian railway network as well as to the Brussels-Charleroi Canal. Suddenly Vilvoorde was in the center of commerce, between the coal mines of Wallonia and the port of Antwerp. All these changes were the catalyst that led to Vilvoorde becoming one of the largest industrial areas around Brussels.

The walk

This 11 km circular walk starts from the (free!) Zenne Car Park of the Jan Portaels Hospital  in Sint-Jozefstraat. By public transport you need to get off the bus (225 or 287, De Lijn) at Vilvoorde Kliniek. The car park/start point is only meters away. You can download the GPX track for your device from my RouteYou page.

A walk around Vilvoorde

I thoroughly enjoyed the walk – and was inspired by the different kind of photography it stimulated. There is a lot to see on the route. I’ve broken down the points of interest into topics. Ready to go? Oh, don’t be disturbed by the first 500 meters or so. Yes, the route takes you alongside a deserted warehouse and then over derelict wasteground. You’ll probably be wondering where on earth I am taking you. But remember:

“Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor”

William Cowper

The waterways of Vilvoorde

Throughout the route, you won’t be far from either the River Zenne or the Brussels-Scheldt Canal. Sometimes you’ll be walking between them.

The River Zenne in Vilvoorde
First sighting of the River Zenne
The River Zenne emerges from its covering
The River Zenne as it emerges from one of its many coverings.
The Brussels-Scheldt Sea Canal in Vilvoorde
Dwarfing the river is the Brussels-Schelde Sea Canal: 28 km long and in places 30 meters wide.
Picnic alongside the canal
In places the canalbanks have been beautified and are pleasant areas for picnics.
cycling along the canal
But don’t forget to bring everything back home with you!
The River Zenne in Vilvoorde
The River Zenne actually flows through Brussels, but when you’re in the city it’s generally invisible, as in the 1860s it was covered over and built upon.

The bridges of Vilvoorde

Not surprisingly, with all these waterways, there are plenty of bridges to cross along the way.

Bailey Bridge over the Zenne
The old metal Bailey Bridge across the Zenne.
An old stone bridge over the Zenne
An old stone bridge over the Zenne
A derelict factory on stilts bridging the Zenne
A derelict factory on stilts bridging the Zenne
The Buda Bridge over the Canal still rises to allow barges along the canal
The Buda Bridge over the Canal still rises to allow barges along the canal
A footbridge in the park in Vilvoorde
A footbridge in the park
Old bridge in Drie Fonteinen park
Probably the oldest bridge of the lot, in the park
The 376-meter-long Europe Bridge was built over the canal in 1972.
The 376-meter-long Europe Bridge was built over the canal in 1972.
The Europe Bridge in Vilvoorde
It has a metal movable section with a length of 55 meters and a width of 21 meters.
Three bridges in one photo
3 bridges in 1. Foreground: metal bridge over the Zenne. Middle: the Ring Road flyover. Distance: Buda Bridge over the canal
The Brussels Ring in Vilvoorde
The Ring Road flyover, with De Lijn buses sheltering underneath.
Entrance to Drie Fonteinen Park
The entrance to the Park goes underneath the Ring Road

Buildings

Vilvoorde has a lot of interesting architecture to admire, particularly in the center of town. This route doesn’t hit those areas but there are still some handsome buildings on the way.

De Vest School
De Vest school for special education dates back to 1908 when it included a swimming pool
Wise sayings in stone
Some of the wise sayings on the front facade that I mentioned earlier
The Urban Academy of Fine Arts
The Urban Academy of Fine Arts
Vilvoorde Town Hall
Vilvoorde Town Hall

Street art in Vilvoorde

Wherever you have streets, you have street art.

Parking Achterham behind De Vest school
Parking Achterham behind De Vest school
Street art in Vilvoorde
Recognize the Europe Bridge in her lens?
Street art in Vilvoorde
Under the Vuurkruisenlaan
Winning photos of Vilvoorde displayed along Vaartstraat
Winning photos of Vilvoorde displayed along Vaartstraat

Reconstruction in Vilvoorde

Particularly along the canal on the southernmost leg of the route, there’s a lot of reconstruction taking place. Old buildings are being demolished, new apartments and office blocks rising.

The reconstruction along the canal
And the walls came tumbling down
A derelict warehouse on the Houtkaai
Sunlight streaming through the broken roof of the deserted warehouse along the Houtkaai
Renovating the Digue du Canal
Renovating the Digue du Canal

Not to everyone’s taste

The inhabitants of Vilvoorde are known as “pjeirefretters”, which means horse-eaters. The town has a long history for breeding horses, and horse steak remains a town speciality.

De Kuiper restaurant in Vilvoorde, Belgium
De Kuiper restaurant on Vissersstraat
Horsemeat is the speciality of the house
Speciality of the House is horsemeat, mainly imported from Canada

The 3 Fonteinen Park

Vilvoorde isn’t all industry and urbanization. There’s a lovely park, the Drie Fonteinen. Here you can relax, enjoy a coffee or lunch in the Brasserie De Drie Fonteinen, or sit in the grounds with your picnic. There’s even a couple of picnic tables under cover. In short, take your time … there’s plenty to see and do here …

Walking in the Drie Fonteinen in Vilvoorde
Time to wander in the footsteps of Lendrik?
Walking in the Drie Fonteinen in Vilvoorde
Time to see what’s happening in the cultural center?
Walking in the Drie Fonteinen in Vilvoorde
Time to wander around the English and French ornamental gardens?
Walking in the Drie Fonteinen in Vilvoorde
Time to lie down and relax?
Walking in the Drie Fonteinen in Vilvoorde
Time to admire the magnificent trees?
Children's playground, Drie Fonteinen Park
Time to let the children burn off any remaining energy?
Time to meditate at Lendrik's Chapel
Time to meditate at Lendrik’s Chapel?
De 3 Fonteinen Brasserie in Vilvoorde
Time for a sit-down and lunch?

So that’s a brief introduction to Vilvoorde. And yes, I couldn’t resist a spot of greenery at the end could I? There is more to see in the town center; I will visit that area one day too. I hope you enjoyed this walk and will consider walking the route yourself. Let me know if you have any questions. I enjoyed myself so will be doing more of these urban walks in the future. If you want to get future posts directly in your inbox, add your email below:

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18 thoughts on “Vilvoorde and its diverse sights”

  1. Nice ! (but nicer in the summer of course). When you come from the park 3 Fonteinen, there’s also a protected piece of road from the Romans. It’s the start of the Chausee Romaine that leads to Brussels.

      1. Hi Denzil, yes it’s near the ring and rather difficult to find. It was the road that went from a Roman base camp to Brussels. They kept a piece intact and all the rest of the road was changed with tarmac.
        I can also testify that the horsemeat in that restaurant (De Kuiper) is very good ! A bit closer to the city hall is another horsemeat restaurant that attracts a bit less tourists and is even better.

        1. Great, thanks Kristof. Also for the restaurant recommendations. I’ll check out the Roman road when I’m next in the area. And thanks for buying me a couple of virtual coffees! Much appreciated.

  2. Hello Denzil, I lived for some years in Vilvoorde and have still relatives living there. I enjoyed reading your post and watching your pictures. They are really beautiful, Do you know Vilvoorde has several social housing estates ? Some old parts are still standing (see Marie-Duchéhof or the quarter Faubourg), You could make some nice pictures there too,

  3. My kind of urban walk, and the birding is often surprisingly good on these walks. I will though give the horse steaks a miss – horses are like rabbits in my head – I know will probably be delicious but I just cannot eat them.

  4. Thank you, Denzil. I did this walk last Saturday in sunshine, and a sharp wind with a friend. We really enjoyed it, and had lunch in the restaurant Trois Fontaines. I will be proposing this walk to the BWC Coordinators for a group walk to support the 2022 charities. I even saw a barge which had been named Patricia after me! How good is that!

    1. That’s good to hear Patricia. I was concerned it was too urban for some folk. I hope you took a picture of your namesake! I’ve never seen a boat with my name on it (yet!).

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