Forever the bridesmaid but never the bride. A city that is regularly overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbours and not considered to be the first name that springs to people’s minds when considering a trip to Belgium. A mere afterthought for so long now, as its more illustrious siblings Brussels and Bruges have taken the plaudits and basked in the limelight. Much like the child in the school playground who is often overlooked and always the last pick for sports, Belgium’s second largest city has struggled to gain the acknowledgement and attention that it craves and so rightly deserves. But as of late and like all late bloomers, Belgium’s port city is now starting to make some noise of its own, whilst beginning to flourish in its own right. So with a new spring in its step to accompany a new found swagger the noisy neighbour has been awoken and Belgium has a new sheriff in town-ANTWERP!
How to get there- If you happen to be travelling from the UK then you can travel to Brussels via the Eurostar and then get a train or bus from Brussels. likewise if you are flying into Brussels from another country. Alternatively you can reach Antwerp from other European cities again via bus or train and can take a bus from London Kings Cross to Brussels or Bruges and get a connecting train or bus from either city.
Yust Antwerp is the perfect accommodation for your stopover in the city. This hotel/hostel has both private and dormitory options to satisfy your needs. Rooms range from doubles, twins, family rooms, apartments and dorms, leaving no stone unturned in satisfying all traveller needs. With its modern, chic decor and a cool, relaxed vibe this swanky hotel is a delightful place to rest your head in an evening.
Flemish, German, French and most people speak English.
Often regarded as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, don’t pass up the opportunity to arrive in style and start your exploration of Antwerp the moment that you set foot off the train and onto the platform. Past and present styles fuse perfectly to create an innovative architectural masterpiece that allures many a visitor to pass through this eye-catching station and marvel at its beauty.
The heart beat and focal point of this cool metropolis is the Grote Markt; this melting pot of activity is where your eyes will be immediately drawn to the town hall and the beautiful guild houses that flank this extravagant structure. You will also find many open air bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, scattered amongst this vibrant part of the city that is the perfect setting for kicking back at the end of the day with a glass of wine in hand as you sample some local cuisine in the late evening sunshine.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp is located within close quarters of the Grote Markt. An imposing structure that demands attention as such is the eye opening architectural brilliance that is on display. As impressive on the inside as it is outside with an artistic elegance that is highlighted by the major art works that are on display by Rubens making this a must see for those with a passion for art.
Ssshhh can you keep a secret? Make a getaway from the hustle and bustle of modern day Antwerp as you slip through the secret Vlaeykensgang alley and find yourself strolling through a land that time forgot. Immerse yourself within this tranquil haven as you grab your camera and capture a photograph of this quaint medieval passage.
The Scheldt river waterfront is a great place to spend an evening as you watch the sun set over Belgium’s second city. Take a stroll or park yourself in a spot along the way and watch as day turns into night and Antwerp illuminates under the lights. Watch as the ships pass you by as they go in and out of one of Europe’s biggest ports.
St. Anna’s Pedestrian Tunnel runs under the River Scheldt connecting the left and right banks of the city. Now whilst it might not sound like most people’s idea of fun to walk through an underground tunnel, this one is a little different due to its design. Rather than looking like your usual drab tunnel this one has a rather sci-fi matrix feel to it. Old fashioned wooden escalators that are still present from the tunnel’s inception in 1933 make way for a white hypnotic underpass. Take care when you are passing through as every cyclist who makes their way through the tunnel moves at a rate of knots that would have no doubt left even a performance enhanced Lance Armstrong in their wake.
This will lead us nicely to our next port of call which is at the other end of the tunnel and that is the left bank. Here you can pull up a seat and relax as you enjoy the view of the city and enjoy a quieter pace of life.
Museum MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom) is a chance to uncover a slice of cultural history. Opened in 2010 this museum has 7 floors of exhibits which range from maritime objects documenting international trade and shipping, to the history, art and culture of the port city of Antwerp and to art and culture from Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. It also has the added bonus of having the best view in the house from its rooftop observatory. The viewing deck upon the rooftop is free so even if you do not want to visit the museum itself you can still go to the rooftop to drink in the panoramic views from the best vantage point in the city.
Het Eilandje and its surrounding area is the hippest place to be seen. With a sprinkling of coffee houses, bars, colourfully decorated re-purposed warehouses and restaurants why not join all of the cool cats in town as you swing by and sample this hipster part of Antwerp? Be sure to make the time to stop off at the impressive Port House for a chance to witness some architectural brilliance.
It’s that time of the day where you need to stop what you’re doing, take some time to relax and satisfy those hunger pangs. For a vegan restaurant that is sure to light up your taste buds, make a beeline over to Wild Project; this rustic, homely eatery, serves up a fantastic array of locally sourced plant based food with a Mediterranean twist. Complemented with a fine selection of homemade cocktails and natural wines making this Antwerp dining experience a must go to place for everyone’s itinerary.
Tucked away and out of sight is Pakt; an oasis of peace and quiet this former industrial site is now home to cool coffee houses, restaurants and even a gym (in case you are feeling the need to work up a sweat) making this a cool place to unwind and hang out with friends.
When you are amongst a melting pot of activity it can be nice to retreat into a quiet sanctuary from time to time. Antwerp botanical gardens is a haven allowing you to disconnect from the city and relax amongst the tranquillity of this fine garden whilst admiring the colourful beauty that surrounds you.
Offering all vinyl lovers the opportunity to indulge their passion is Tune-Up Records; this cool record shop is the perfect way for all you crate-digging enthusiasts to spend an afternoon filled with excitement as you endlessly search in the hope of finding that rare edition to add to your collection.
Meandering through Antwerp’s cobblestone streets and alleyways can be quite the enchanting experience. You will find chairs and tables scattered outside quaint eateries and coffee houses as people pull up a pew to engage in conversation or to simply watch the world pass by as they enjoy a cup of coffee or a good book. Boutique shops mingle amongst bars and eateries down alleyways that if you blinked then you might miss. So take your time in exploration as there is no rush as you will want to be fully present and not just tick off a to do list in your Antwerp visit.
My time in Antwerp was now coming to a close and I was sad to be saying my farewells as, just as I had hoped, it had been a city that had captured my imagination and one that I had loved spending some time with and getting to know. Antwerp has a unique flavour. A mixture of ingredients are all present as an edgy undercurrent takes hold of you and thrives in Belgium’s second city. Be prepared to be gripped by a city that is a world apart from fairy tale Bruges but packs a working class punch that manages to elevate Antwerp onto a whole new level of coolness making it in my view a must if you just so happen to be visiting Belgium.