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Pop in the City: Urban race brings all-female, adventure travel concept to Brussels

19:56 03/06/2015

Seven-hundred women, 25 challenges, eight hours and one city – those in a nutshell are the quintessential ingredients of Pop in the City, the urban race that sends female duos into cities for a day of unconventional exploring.

“We like to call it experimental tourism,” says Clementine Charles, one of three French co-founders of Pop in the City. “We’ve all travelled a lot and found it difficult to interact with locals or do stuff that’s off the beaten tourist track. Pop in the City allows all participants to discover a city in a different way.”

This September, Pop in the City and the attendant participants will land in Brussels. The upcoming race will mark both the ninth edition of the event and the first time ever it will take place in a capital. “Brussels is a very interesting city; it’s the capital of Europe, yet relatively unknown,” Charles says. “It’s easily accessible, too, which is important as the contestants are responsible for their own travel arrangements to the event.”

While you might prefer to stroll casually through a city’s historic centre, time is money in Pop in the City. It is a race – technically at least.


Participants typically gather at 9.00, don the event’s bright orange T-shirts and receive a roadmap with 25 riddles that lead to locations where they can discover or experience something new. “There’s no particular order in following the map, and they can ask locals for help,” explains Charles. “The duo that finishes the most challenges wins.”

It can sound a bit daunting in print. “We do want to surprise people – in a good way,” Charles laughs. “That’s why we ask women to register in pairs, because together they feel less timid. The teams help and even befriend each other, so there’s not really a competitive vibe.”

Some 270 women signed up for the first-ever edition of Pop in the City in Porto back in 2012. The winners were treated to a helicopter tour over the city. “We always link the challenges and the prize to the city,” Charles explains and reveals that one challenge in the Brussels’ edition will involve chocolate and another a death ride from the Atomium.

Sold out

Though it is still months away, tickets to the Brussels race on 26 September have already sold out. The organisers reserved one-third of them for Belgian duos; the other tickets were bought by women from France, Switzerland, Italy, England and even the US.

Marlène Coornaert, from Brussels, is one of those lucky ticketholders. “It will be my third time in Pop in the City,” she says. “I was intrigued by the event after watching the video from a previous edition on Facebook and convinced my friend to join me in the race in Aix-en-Provence in 2013. Last year, I participated in Nice as well.”

At €195 per person, the tickets don’t come cheap (the price covers the cost of the race and a dinner). “The event is meticulously organised, and some of the challenges are just priceless,” Coornaert says. “In Aix-en-Provence, we got to extinguish a fire with the local fire brigade. The evening dinner was at their station as well; it was such a great experience.” 

Organisers are still looking for volunteers who can lend a helping hand on D-DAY, and that’s open to both women and men.

Photo: Participants at the at Bologna edition of Pop in the City
© Courtesy Pop in the City

Written by Katrien Lindemans