Cogels Osylei is one of the most beautiful streets in Antwerp. In fact, the neighbourhood of Zurenborg itself is remarkably unique in how it combines so many castle-like town houses and splendid palatial mansions built in eclectic architectural styles in a small area. This off the beaten track, marvel of Antwerp should be on your must-see list when in the city!
It was our last day in Antwerp and we already had our share of museums and indoorsy stuff for this trip. So we decided to go for something outdoors instead. I chanced upon an interesting to do from Tripadvisor: Cogels Osylei. This street with interesting architecture seemed to tick all our boxes. Besides it was also free, tipping the balance in its favour.
Getting to Cogels Osylei
Cogels Osylei is located in an area called Zurenborg in south-east Antwerp. You might also find it spelled as Cogels Osy Lei in some places. It is a bit far from the city center and the best way to reach there would be to take tram 6/11 or bus 9/20. You could also take the train to Antwerp Berchem station instead. Since we were in the mood for some exercise, we decided to walk from our hotel in the theater district. We passed through the Jewish neighbourhood and came across many guys and kids dressed in their traditional garb complete with a black robe, kippah or a fur hat and curly sidelocks. The men seemed to go about their business seriously while the kids were just being kids. But it seemed as if they were returning home after some prayers. Later i learnt that it was the Jewish festival of Passover that weekend as well. Disconcertingly, there seemed to some military presence in the area, with one Jewish school even being guarded by some military personnel. The after effect of the Charlie Hebdo & associated shootings in Paris i suppose. We kept walking along this gorgeous railway overpass that looked like it had been plucked right out of a fairytale. Don’t believe me take a look at the picture yourself. It is the famous via duct designed by noted architect Jan van Asperen.
Exploring the most beautiful street in Antwerp
We started exploring Cogels Osylei from Tramplein and walked all along to the other end of the street. The street was full of town houses and palatial mansions with very different architectural styles. It is not an exaggeration to say that majority of the buildings on this street had a tower in them. I kept walking along the street wide eyed, admiring the frescoes and the details of the buildings. Needless to say i was quite envious of the lucky residents. Imagine having a tower in your house, isn’t that fancy. I also noticed some offices of doctors, lawyers, etc in these buildings. So i guess its not just residential houses any more.
Some of the buildings in this street had a common theme between them. For instance at the cross roads of Cogels Osylei are the four palatial white buildings. These palatial buildings look alike at first glance but if you have an eye for detail then you can spot some differences. Other buildings like the Zonnenbloemen (Sunflower) were named and modelled after organic elements. There is a tram line that runs through Cogels Osylei. Many might say that it spoils the scenery a bit but i thought it kept it real. Moreover the tram that runs through the street also looks like a vintage tram, so kind of goes with the surrounding. But do watch out for the tram when you are crossing the road to take pictures. I bet you will be doing that a lot!
Neighbourhood of Zurenborg
We took some time to explore the side streets of Cogels Osylei as well. The whole of Zurenborg is dotted with many remarkable buildings. On the intersection between General van Merlenstraat and Waterloostraat you will find the four coordinated buildings inspired by the different seasons. Herfst(Autumn) and Winter are decorated in brown while Lente(Spring) and Zomer(Summer) are in green. They also have other details like fruits or flowers depicting the respective seasons. Talk about an eye for detail! We wandered around Transvaalstraat, Pretoriastraat and a few other side streets gawking at some splendid buildings to our heart’s content.
Many of the buildings in Zurenborg be categorized under Art Nouveau style. But you can find the influences of different architechtural styles as well. Statues of Greek gods, tudor houses or gothic style town houses, you will find it all here in Zurenborg. Post WWII Zurenborg’s reputation as a well to do neighborhood took a hit as people started moving away to the suburbs. In the 1960’s there were even plans to completely transform the neighborhood to a business and commercial district. But thankfully the area was listed as an urban landscape and gradually with subsidies and renewed interest, Cogels Osylei and its side streets breathed life again. Today many of the buildings here are listed monuments.
Here is a nice guide highlighting some remarkable gems of Zurenborg for the architecturally inclined. For other lesser mortals it is still a great place to explore. It is off the beaten path and devoid of tourists. It looks as pretty as Disneyland but oh wait…its real and packs a punch of history too. Just make your way there and let your senses guide you.