Not everyone knows, but Belgium is divided into two parts: Flanders, where Dutch is the official language, and Wallonia, the French-speaking one. I’ve always wanted to visit the Flemish region, but could only include it on my trip itinerary last April, when I travelled to Amsterdam. Obviously, my priority was to go to Antwerp, the largest and most important city in Flanders. It’s famous for being the capital of the world diamond trade for more than five centuries.
I took a train from Amsterdam Central Station to Antwerp and it took me about 1 hour to arrive. Thalys high-speed trains are excellent and offer free wifi, which makes the journey a lot better, don’t you think? I purchased tickets on their official website, in advance, as I didn’t want to risk buying it last minute.
Btw, Antwerpen-Centraal railway station is already an important attraction in the city. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful stations in the world!
I stayed in the Park Inn by Radisson, a hotel located right next to the Central Station and the zoo. I thought it was quite good and comfortable. Besides, the rate included a delicious buffet breakfast! The hotel isn’t exactly in the city centre, but I guess that’s fine. It’s located in the Diamond Quarter, which is full of jewellery shops.
You can totally visit Antwerp in 1 day, because the city is relatively small. Besides, almost all tourist attractions are in the historic centre. I started my day with a walk along Meir, the main commercial street, which is full of shops like Zara, Urban Outfitters and H&M.
One of Antwerp’s main attractions is the Rubenshuis, a museum dedicated to Peter Paul Rubens, one of the most influential Flemish Baroque artists in history. The place is his former home and studio, where he painted most of his works.
Speaking of Peter Paul Rubens, he is buried in the eastern chapel of St. James’ Church (Sint-Jacobskerk), built in Gothic style. It’s just a few metres away from the artist’s former house.
In the area you will also find the most important theatre in Antwerp: Bourla Schouwburg.
The most beautiful part of the city is, without a doubt, the Grote Markt. The square is situated in the heart of the old city quarter and it’s filled with numerous 16th century guildhalls, restaurants and cafés. There you will also find the City Hall and the Brabo Fountain, a monument dedicated to an important mythic figure of Antwerp.
The Groenplaats is another square in the city centre worth visiting. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax, whilst having a drink. The square is surrounded by cafés, restaurants and shops. At its centre stands a statue of Peter Paul Rubens, which unfortunately was being restored when I travelled to Antwerp.
From the Groenplaats you can see the Cathedral of Our Lady, or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (in Dutch), which actually dominates Antwerp’s skyline. The Roman Catholic church is the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries.
Not far from there is the MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp, founded in 2002. Unfortunately, it’s closed for renovation and will only reopen in 2020.
However, if you really want to visit a good museum, you should definitely go to the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS). Opened in 2011, it offers an insight in the history of Antwerp. Its large collection comprises about 500,000 items, including artworks and utensils. Believe it or not, the modern red building has 10 floors! If you are not fussed about the museum, you can just go to the observation deck on the rooftop and enjoy the amazing views of the city.
The museum is located in an old dockside neighbourhood, packed with cool bars and restaurants. I absolutely loved the area!
On the banks of the Scheldt river, you will find the Steen Castle, a medieval fortress built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages. It’s the oldest building in Antwerp – its first stones date from the 11th Century. The place used to be an important urban centre and it also served as the National Maritime Museum. It’s currently being renovated.
Speaking of old building, do not miss the oldest house in Antwerp, built in 1480. In medieval style, the wooden house survived 6 wars and 500 years of urban planning. You can rent it on Airbnb, isn’t that amazing?
To wrap up today’s post, let’s talk about food? Whilst in Antwerp, you should try the Frites Atelier, owned by the Dutch chef Sergio Herman. It serves delicious hot chips topped with a matching sauce. Yummy!
And if you have a sweet tooth, do not miss the oldest waffle house in the city: the Wafelhuis Van Hecke. They claim to have the best waffles in the world and it’s hard to say otherwise!