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Antwerp: an insider guide full of inspiration by Inge Pincket

Updated: Apr 23

Most foreigners come to Belgium to visit Bruges and Ghent and maybe Brussels. I would like to add why they must visit Antwerp as well. As I am born in Antwerp, went to school there and lived in the city for about 20 years, I can say that I am an insider.

Why should you add Antwerp to your list when visiting Belgium?

- Antwerp is on top of the world when it comes to: Diamonds, Fashion and Art & Architecture. Any chocolate lovers? Yep, this is the place to be!

- A rainy day? Go to one of our fabulous museums like Rubenshuis, MAS, Red Star Line or Chocolate Nation

- A paradise for Foodies: very high standard restaurants and famous for its sweets like pralines, cookies, waffles, …

Welcome to this fascinating city in the heart of Europe.

Antwerp: Home of Diamonds

Antwerp has been known as the diamond capital of the world since the sixteenth century, the Golden Age. Most diamond and jewelry shops can be found around the Central Station, here you will find ‘Diamond Square Mile’, the Antwerp diamond district. That is where I got both my promise and wedding rings. My personal favorite jewelry shop in Antwerp is @wim_meeussen_atelier, located in the old town.

To learn all about the fascinating world of jewelry and diamonds, visiting the Museum for Diamonds (DIVA ) is a must.

C: Stad Antwerpen:Jonas Roosens
Copyright: Frederik Beyens
Copyright: Frederik Beyens

Antwerp: leading fashion city and a Walhalla for shopping-addicts

The Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine arts has one of the world’s leading programs of fashion design with students coming from all over the world. In 2019 I visited the yearly organized fashion show.

c:Johannes Vande voorde

The iconic ‘Antwerp six’ (all students of this famous academy, one of them is the current principal), made it to the top of the international fashion

Verso: Co: Sepp Van Dun

world from the 80s onwards. Antwerp is now one of the world’s leading fashion cities with graduated designers as Raf Simons (the current director of Prada), Veronique Branquinho & Dirk Bikkembergs.

If you’re more into shopping than fashion, get some inspiration here.

Unfortunately, the museum of Fashion MoMu is currently being renovated but is to reopen in 2021.

Antwerp: Architecture & Monuments

If you arrive by train at the Central station, do not forget to look around. The Antwerp Central Station is fourth on the list of the most beautiful train stations in the world. (Newsweek, 2009) The eclectic style of the stone building and the steel platform are a real eyecatcher. The station was used since 1905 and is situated right next to the Antwerp Zoo. We loved to take our children at the Zoo as this is a beautiful oasis of green and peace in the center of the city.

When you stroll from the station over the famous shopping street ‘Meir’ towards the old city center you will find the ‘Handelsbeurs’ (New Exchange) at the end. This beautiful building, originally built in 1531 was recently completely renovated. There is free access to the ground floor from Tuesday until Sunday between 10am and 6pm. If you want to visit the upper floors too it is only possible during an exhibition. In 2020, this building was also the location for the digital Fashion show of the Antwerp Fashion Academy. More about this monument in the section: my favorite restaurants.

My favorite part of the city is the old city center and the boulevard alongside the Scheldt River. Here you can find the oldest building of the city: Het Steen (first stones date from the 11th century). This old fortress was used as a prison until 1823. Afterwards it became a museum of antiquities but when I visited it as a child it was the National Maritime Museum. This collection is now to be found at the MAS. Soon you will be able to arrive in Antwerp in style as the new cruise terminal they are building here will be opened in 2021.

From Het Steen you can walk alongside the river towards MAS (Museum At the Stream)

I would highly recommend visiting at least the top floor for a wonderful panoramic view over the city. Normally the access is free but during the Covid-pandemic you need to have a ticket. More information is to be found here. If you have enough time, take a walk from the MAS to the Port House (it will take you about 20 minutes), public transport: tram 24 (13 minutes). This monumental design of the famous architect Zaha Hadid, with a striking and contemporary superstructure in the shape of a diamond is a metaphor for the port of the 21st century.

Antwerp: city for museum lovers

You can find a lot of museums in Antwerp. These are two of my favorite ones:

- Red Star Line Museum: The Red Star Line served as a shipping company that brought people from Antwerp to New York between 1873 & 1935. Antwerp was a gateway to America for people that were seeking a better life in that period. More than two million people left Europe through Antwerp. The museum has a very unusual collection. It is all about testimonies of people who have boarded the Red Star Line for different purposes: pleasure, business or hope to find a better life. If you have been in New York at Ellis Island, this was the place where all these people ended their journey after a trip of about 10 days at sea. Some famous travelers, like Albert Einstein & Irving Berlin started their journey to America from Antwerp.

- The Rubens House: In the heart of the city you can visit the home of the famous Belgian Baroque painter: Pieter Paul Rubens. The painter and diplomat created his masterpieces in this house in the 17th century. The museum does not only show the painters’ work as it gives you also an insight in his private life. His lovely garden can be visited as well.

Other monuments and places to visit: the medieval Cathedral and the renaissance City Hall, where you can stroll through the old cobblestoned streets and admire the charm of the old city center.

Antwerp: a paradise for foodies!

Being a food lover myself, I cannot write a blog about Antwerp without mentioning its amazing restaurants and delicacies.

Of course, there are many, many restaurants, so I will mention here a few of my favorite ones:

- Fiera : this restaurant is located in the ‘Handelsbeurs’ (see above). The dishes served tell the stories of a place where influencers from across the globe have always converged. The ideal place for ‘a tasting journey around the world’.

For an even more unique experience you can choose the formula ‘Handelsbeurs unplugged’. While you enjoy high-level culinary experiences around the square of the ‘Handelbeurs’, you can listen to a concert by a Belgian artist. We enjoyed this amazing experience when celebrating our wedding anniversary in September 2020.

- Restaurants with a Michelin star:

  • Zilte : this three-star restaurant at the top floor of the MAS museum will not disappoint. A few years ago, I experienced this unique culinary experience and I highly recommend it.

  • Het Gebaar , located in the heart of Antwerp is definitely one of my favourite restaurants for lunch. Roger Van Damme, coming from the Netherlands, is a master in making your plate look like a painting. It is only possible for lunch, but please make sure to reserve a table in time. Recently he also became the owner of another of my favorite places for lunch or afternoon tea and delicacies: Désiré de Lille here you must try freshly baked pancakes, waffles or another specialty: Lacquemants.

  • More into street food? Check out our Belgian fries at: Frituur n°1, Hoogstraat 1 or Frites atelier.

Last but not least, Antwerp also has quite an amazing reputation when it comes to chocolate.

Some famous chocolate shops: The Chocolate Line and Del Rey.

Recently the world’s largest Belgian Chocolate Museum opened in Antwerp: Chocolate Nation. Here you learn all about the journey of chocolate from bean to bar. And yes, it is a very interactive museum and you can taste many different types of chocolate too.

At the end of the tour, you arrive in the chocolate shop, perfect place to find a tasty souvenir like chocolates, pralines or the typical cookies from Antwerp: ‘Antwerpse handjes’.

Looking for an excellent place to stay in Antwerp? Check out my review of Botanic Sanctuary, unique place to stay in a former monastery.

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 *Disclaimer: This post contains affiliated links which means that purchases made through these links reward Destination Explorer a small commission without any additional charge for the purchaser. 

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