When you think of Belgium, the capital city of Brussels is often what comes to mind. It’s time you put Antwerp on your travel itinerary, because it’s a beautiful and rich city well worth the journey to visit, and, best of all, it’s not as crowded as Brussels.
What’s great about it:
If you love a good walking city you can get lost in, Antwerp is for you. The endless cobbled streets are lined with charming shops full of things you’ll never find in Hong Kong. Make your way to Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal Antwerpen (Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp) and explore the surrounding area there. The sprawling streets south of the Cathedral are full of antique shops, art galleries and quaint little shops boasting artwork, fashion, and accessories by local designers.
One thing Antwerp does really well is appreciating street art, and you’ll find amazing graffiti everywhere. Another thing that will thrill travellers is the architecture. Throughout the city, there is a distinct late 16th century vibe, and you’ll be wow’ed by the intricate Gothic design of even the most humble of residential buildings.
Antwerp is full of secret treasures and the best way to find them is just to wander. From the Hendrik Conscience Squareto Het Steen, a medieval fortress that stands on the banks of the river Scheldt, stumbling across these urban surprises will leave you enchanted. Okay, so the fortress isn’t exactly hidden, but it’s incredible to walk through and it’s the oldest building in the city! Also, along the river are gorgeous modern buildings. Take an evening walk by the water to fully appreciate the contemporary interior design of these buildings. (No-one’s ever heard of curtains, apparently.)
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Make sure you swing by Grote Markt (“Great Market Square”) at night even if you’ve seen it and been impressed by it during the day. Antwerp lights up at night in a way that best shows off the city’s architecture, and the square looks completely different lit up at night with all the restaurants buzzing with diners.
Eat your heart out:
Speaking of Grote Markt after sundown, De Bomma, which translates to “Grandma’s”, is a traditional Flemish restaurant across from the western corner of Antwerp Town Hall you won’t want to miss. The service is friendly and the food is simple but delicious. Inside, the walls are an inviting pastel blue and the decor is cosy and warm, with wooden furniture, intricate tiles, and delicate lampshades to soften the light. The walls are also plastered with photographs of grandmothers from all around the world, so if you pay De Bomma a visit, bring along a photo of your grandma and see if they’ll put it up!
Order their pot of mussels and just eat that all night with some bread. You won’t regret it.
Antwerp is also full of fun restaurants showcasing cuisine from all around the world, and close by De Bomma is Bia Mara, which does a tasty fish and chips perfect for a lazy afternoon.
Antwerp has many museums, but two you must visit are the Plantin-Moretus Museum and the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS).
Founded by Christophe Plantin in 1555, Plantin Press is one of the oldest printing presses in the world, and the Plantin-Moretus Museum is in the original family home and printing establishment of Plantin’s business. The archive it boasts is so impressive the Plantin Press has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. Get lost in the history and memories of a truly revolutionary family who changed how information was distributed in their time. Bonus: Christophe Plantin was an early feminist and encouraged the women of his family to be as educated and business-savvy as he, and his printing press thrived for 300 years thanks to the work of the Plantin-Moretus women.
Now, make sure you spare an entire day for the MAS, which houses 470,000 items spread over five floors. The museum tells the story of Antwerp as well as stories of the world and human nature. Each floor is dedicated to themes that are universally relatable: power, food, trade, life and death, gods, and the worlds above and below. And when you need a breather, head up to the rooftop for a 360° panoramic view of Antwerp.