Belgium’s second city, Antwerp, is cool, cultural and quaint. With a compact city centre boasting an impressive cathedral, cobbled streets, quality restaurants (with 3 Michelin Star restaurants no less), upmarket boutiques and art galleries. Antwerp is most famous for its Belgian beer, local chocolate and diamond shops (as the city trades around 70% of the world’s diamonds). Come and see for yourself why Antwerp was chosen to host the European Capital of Culture.
Admire the Central Station
In the very center of Antwerp is the handsome Central Station which is one of the city’s key landmarks. Instructed by Leopold II in 1905 and designed by Louis Delacenserie, this train station is built in neo-Baroque style. The glass-covered platforms are spread over three levels and the main hall features a huge dome. Both Central Station and Queen Astrid Square (Koningin Astridplein) have been upgraded and as such connections into the rest of Europe are superb. The Eurostar and fast trains make Antwerp a gateway into Western Europe and beyond. The station is also home to many diamond shops and is beside the Diamond District. And if you are travelling to Antwerp as part of the European Capital of Sport 2013 celebrations, you’ll enjoy a bird’s eye view of this impressive structure.
Browse the Museum Plantin-Moretus
Set up to tell the story of the two famous printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, the museum is one of Antwerp’s prime cultural attractions. The museum has been UNESCO World Heritage listed since 2005 in recognition of the oldest industrial printing works in the world and collection of important books. Renaissance Christophe Plantin originally set up the hugely influential print business in 1556 and it passed to Jan Moretus on his death. As well as printing press exhibits there are also Flemish tapestries, portraits and manuscripts on display. Most notable books within the collection include a Bible written in five languages and paintings from Peter Paul Rubens.
Explore the Cathedral of Our Lady
The Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, aka the Cathedral of our Lady, is one of the biggest and most impressive Gothic Cathedrals within Europe. Spanning 2.5 acres, the cathedral took 169 years to build and features a 403 feet (123 metre) tall spire which can be seen for miles around. Finally completed in 1351, today the cathedral is praised for its impressive collection of masterpieces from Peter Paul Rubens. On display are Rubens’ four most famous works; Assumption, The Raising of the Cross, Resurrection and The Descent from the Cross.
Absorb the atmosphere of Grote Markt
Antwerp’s market place, Grote Markt is surrounded by exquisite architecture, much of its dating back to the 16th century. The magnificent City Hall (Stadhuis) is one such example. This market square was a powerhouse during the Golden Age and many buildings serve as a reminder of past glories, with classical Renaissance architecture showcased. At number 7 is theSint-Joris House of Archers and central to the Grote Markt is the famous fountain of Brabo which honours the roman leader Salvus Brabo.
Discover the fashions, past and present
Shopaholics will be pleased to learn that in additional to an abundance of diamond shops, there are also exclusive designer boutiques from Cartier, Hermes and Armani. If trendy is more your thing, head to the Kammenstraat district (fashion quarter) where local designers have their shops, including internationally renowned Antwerp designers Dries van Noten and Walter van Beirendonck.
And if fashion is your thing, don’t miss the fascinating Momu-Mode Museum which has both contemporary and historical fashion collections on display. With permanently changing exhibits, this museum brings the various textiles, costumes and fashions of the ages to life.