The Tall Ships Race returns to Antwerp this year for the 7th time, mooring at the Scheldt Quays from 22 to 25 July 2022. This completely free event is a chance to experience the romance of the largest sailing ships in the world, meet crews in uniform and enjoy food, drink and entertainment, before the ships set sail again four days later.
The first time the Tall Ships came to Antwerp was in 1993, under the name Eurosail. Europe’s second largest port went on to host the event again in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2016. It’s a big deal for the city, bringing in half a million visitors in 2016. With over 50% of visitors having already attended a tall ships event, the strength of the brand and fan loyalty is clear.
But, if you’re not an afficionado, what the heck is a ‘tall ship’? It sounds like a bizarre term, doesn’t it? Nobody calls Formula 1 the ‘fast cars’ race, after all! But the name ‘tall ship’ goes back at least to Joseph Conrad’s time, and Henry David Thoreau used it as well. It designates large traditionally-rigged sailing vessels, including topsail schooners, brigantines, brigs and barques. They can be anything between nearly 10 to 40 metres tall. For races and festivals, the criteria usually comes from an official organisation.
As well as a return to Antwerp, this year marks the return of the race to all four ports who’ve hosted the race during its 16 years. It starts on 7 July in Esbjerg (Denmark), moving on over the course of the month to Harlingen (Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium) and Aalborg (Denmark). The North Sea course is technically challenging, from the windfarm capital of Europe, through the intimate waterways of Harlingen, and then an unfettered run past the English coast back up to Skaggerak.
Bringing Antwerp residents and visitors together and closer to the Scheldt, lovers of maritime heritage, architecture, food and drink are all catered for and can join together to celebrate Antwerp as one of the world’s greatest port cities and the Scheldt as its lifeline.
There’s a big emphasis on sustainability too. The organisation is spending 12,500 euros to offset the event’s CO₂ emissions by planting trees in Flanders. What’s more, all electricity used during the race’s time in Antwerp will be green. When there is wind, the windmills behind the Port House will generate the electricity. Packaging is going to be reusable and deposit-based.
Zaha Hadidplein will double as an event zone. The plaza lies in front of her award-winning Port House – a building that looks like a ship’s hull and bowsprit and has a glittering glazed surface in a nod to Antwerp’s diamond industry. Here visitors can set off on a walking trail, past quays, docks and bridges and on to the oldest docks in the city.
2. Bollekes Beer Festival
With perfect timing, coinciding with the Tall Ships weekend is the Bollekes Beer Festival, hosted by the De Koninck brewery. Held in Antwerp since 2007, Bollekesfeest is a favourite annual food and drink fixture and its name comes from the word for the special spherical glass used to serve De Koninck beer, roughly translating to ‘chubby’. As well as many places serving De Koninck around the city, there is also a special tasting stand where you can order a ‘bolleke’ and sample its mild malt and hops with hints of caramel and cinnamon alongside a local delicacy such as cured sausage. There’ll be music on the city’s Grote Markt, and on the Groenplaats you can find regional products.
3. Where to stay
If you decide to make a weekend of it, you’ll need accommodation. And you may be curious to know where the Tall Ships’ crews stay. Find out more about the Tall Ships partner hotel, ‘T Sandt.