Belgiums second largest city is the first in line for glittering rings, haute couture catwalks, and contemporary art. From its cobbled medieval centre to its ultra-modern harbour, Antwerp is a handsome mix of architecture, culture, and fabulous Flemish food.
The first thing we saw in Antwerp was the Grote Markt Square. It’s beautiful buildings and cute cafè terraces draw a big crowd. People come to kick back with a drink and admire the Flemish Renaissance-style City Hall and the iconic Brabo Fountain. The latter depicts the legend that gave Antwerp its name – spot the severed hand of giant Antigoon being thrown away (“handwerpen” in Flemish) by Brabo, his Roman-soldier slayer.
Bow your head in reverence near this Square. The Cathedral of Our Lady is not only Antwerp’s main cathedral, it also boasts the heaviest working bell in the entire world. Built in the Gothic style by architects Jan and Pieter Appelmans, its inside is adorned with art by Peter Paul Rubens. Admire the masterworks in hushed admiration as you walk through air heavy with holy incense.
Only a few foot-walks away, we took a little Tourist-Train which was more like a little taxi to view the most important things without having to walk all the way. It was quite romantic and from there we saw also the MAS museum, which is a love letter to Antwerp. It chronicles the city’s triumphs and struggles throughout history. Made of red Indian sandstone and glass, the exterior looks like a set of boxes stacked on top of each other. The walls of wavy glass are stacked so that each level offers a distinctive view of the river below. This unique shape is now an icon of Antwerp’s skyline.
What pleased me most was Antwerps main train station, which is definitively more than a transport hub. Inside this domed station, you’ll see why locals have nicknamed it’s Railroad Cathedral. It’s honey-coloured walls, elegant arches, and ornate architectural details resemble a sacred space. The sugary scent of waffles greets you as you disembark from your train, making it all the more heavenly.
A quick skip from Central Station is The Antwerp Zoo. It’s an icon of the city. There’s always something to see: African penguins, baby tapirs, vast Flemish gardens. Wander its windswept paths and discover wildlife from every continent. Nearly 2-million people visit the zoo every year, but there’s hardly ever a queue.
And if you haven’t seen enough yet, then take your time in one of the nice streets, watch the imprerssive buildings, go to the funny book-shops, drink a cold beer or take your girlfriend to one of the exclusive shops in Antwerp, because like Marylin Monroe used to say:
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend!