Antwerp is a favorite destination of luxury travelers who know Europe well. It is a tolerant and progressive city, and one where English is widely spoken. Antwerp was one of Europe's richest and most inventive cities in the 1600s and 1700s, the Golden Age of the Low Countries (Holland and Belgium).
Antwerp is in its second Golden Age. It absolutely sparkles, and not just because it's the world's biggest diamond hub. This slideshow will give you 16 reasons (and photos) that show you why Antwerp in Belgium is an incredible place to visit.
Antwerp Is in the Middle of Everything
Antwerp Is Very Easy to Get To
Antwerp, in Belgium, is less than a one-hour ride by car or train from the capital, Brussels, the seat of the European Union. Antwerp feels very international, which is no surprise: it has been ruled by monarchs from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.
Antwerp has a unique personality: artistic and progressive yet heritage-proud and dignified. Its population is diverse. You will see Orthodox Jewish residents who work in Antwerp's tremendous diamond trade. And you will see locals whose forebears came from the Belgian Congo (today's Democratic Republic of the Congo). The official language is Flemish, a variation of the Dutch language. Most Antwerpers also speak French and English.
Antwerp grew by leaps and bounds in the Middle Ages partly due to its location on the Scheldt River a few hours south of the English Channel. Rivers were the superhighways of the time, carrying people, goods, and ideas from place to place. Nowadays you can take a leisurely river cruise that features Antwerp as a port. (Curious? See how river cruises are different from ocean cruises.)
Getting to Antwerp on Brussels Airlines
ic pAcross the Atlantic to Belgium Aboard Brussels Airlines
Numerous airlines fly nonstop from U.S. gateways to Brussels, Belgium's capital, a one-hour ride from Antwerp. But if you're the kind of traveler who likes to get into the spirit of the destination by flying on its national airline -- on a comfy and well-priced flight to boot -- your choice is Brussels Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance mileage group.
Brussels Airlines flies nonstop between New York, Washington D.C., and Toronto. Elsewhere Americans can connect to a Brussels-bound flight through Brussels Airlines' partner, United,
Coach seating on Brussels Airlines is relatively quite comfortable. And business class is a lovely experience. Your pod-style seat feels like a cozy cocoon. And the personal attention never ends. You're welcomed with a glass of Champagne and royally fed and pampered for the rest of your flight. Think Belgian chocolates and Belgian beer. This is a flight you won't want to sleep through.
What Are You Passionate About? You Might Find It on Brussels Airlines
Brussels Airlines is a lot like Antwerp—a historic pedigree and a flair for contemporary tastes and trends. Its jet exteriors honor Belgium's cultural icons such as the comic-book hero Tintin (in the photo above) and Surrealist painter René Magritte (you know his depictions of black umbrellas in the sky). Check out Brussels Airlines' b inspired magazine.
Take Your Pick of Refined Hotels in Antwerp
Your Choice of Tempting Hotels in Antwerp
Antwerp takes its tourism trade seriously, and treats its visitors well. You'd expect a range of hotels in a city this stylish and this enterprising. And you'll get just that.
Accommodations include from elegant B&Bs, inexpensive Airbnb apartments, super-stylish boutique hotels, and well-known major hotel names. Stylish visitors like Hotel Rubens-Grote Markt: a boutique hotel just off the Grand Place, and Hotel Les Nuits, a seductive design hotel whose 22 rooms have a black-dominant palette.
An Easy Decision: Hilton Old Town Antwerp
The U.S.-based Hilton brand offers Antwerp visitors a refined full-service hotel with one of the city's best locations, right on the central square. Hilton Old Town Antwerp's draws include
spacious, quiet rooms with comforts like super-quality beds and pillows, coffeemakers, American-style showers with Peter Thomas Roth toiletries; a 24-hour gym; VIP Club Floor with a snack-filled lounge and a scenic deck (shown above); Brasserie Flo, overlooking the square and serving sparkling-fresh seafood and Belgian specialties.
Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady Is a Must-Visit
Antwerp Has One of Europe's Great Cathedrals
Even if you're used to checking out the big church in every European city you visit, Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady will impress you. The biggest Gothic church in Europe's Low Countries, it was begun in the early 1100s and is still being refined with new artworks. The cathedral is a source of pride and joy to the Flemish people, and welcomes over 300,000 visitors annually.
The Cathedral's Paintings Are By Rubens, Antwerp's Hometown Genius
Gothic cathedrals flaunting the work of legendary painter Peter Paul Rubens are rare. The Cathedral of Our Lady flaunts four masterpieces by this master of the Flemish Baroque style, painted over a period of 15 years. And Our Lady contains many other masterworks in paint, marble, and sculpted wood.
Antwerp Sparkles with Diamonds
Antwerp is the global diamond trade's busiest center -- busier than Johannesburg or New York. Antwerp's diamond trade is on both the wholesale and retail levels. It is estimated that two-thirds of the world's gem-quality diamonds pass through Antwerp. This is where diamonds are brought to be traded, cut, polished, graded, set, and sold.
Diamonds, Diamonds Everywhere
With the dollar rising against the Euro, Antwerp is a brilliant place to buy diamond jewelry...or just window-shop and dream. Many of the city's diamond stores are in the Diamond District near Central Station, and other diamond shops are scattered about. in Antwerp, you are never far from a dazzling diamond window display.
DIVA Antwerp, for Diamond Intrigue and Adventure
DIVA, opened in Spring 2018 in Antwerp's historic center, is an interactive adventure that immerses you in the diamond mystique. Your guide is the virtual DIVA, an Antwerp glamourpuss who leads you through her house and shows you its sparkling treasures. The way DIVA tells it, the story of the world's diamond trade is in many ways the story of Antwerp.
Can You Escape with a Diamond?
Visitors can also try on (virtually, that is) stunning creations involving the world's most precious substance, and learn about the world's most notorious diamond heists and forgeries. Your newfound diamond knowledge will come to the test in DIVA’s Escape Room. In this 60-minute challenge, your only way out is to solve riddles and find objects. Diamonds are forever, but let's hope your stay in the Escape Room is temporary.
Antwerp Shopping and the Stadsfeestzaal Designer Mall
Antwerp is a world center of edgy modern fashion, and shopping is an avid pursuit here. The upshot: you'll find lots of high-end fashion but also many bargains. The city's main shopping street, Meir, is a pedestrian promenade that runs over a mile. You'll see many of Europe's popular retail brands. Some, like Zara, H&M, and Mexx, you can find in the States. But others, like C&A, will be fresh pickings. Prices range from super-cheap to high-ticket.
Stadsfeestzaal on Meir Street shelters around 40 stores, but it's a shame to call it a mall. This elegant late-1800s arcade is so upscale, its refreshment stand is a Champagne bar.
You're Never Far from a Designer Boutique
European and Flemish designer shops are scattered around the neighborhoods surrounding Old Town. Have fun. Know that some retailers accept only cash for sale items. Here's where to find the shops by name.
Belgian Food in Antwerp: Some of the Best Snacks on Earth
Antwerp Cuisine Thinks Global But Cooks Local
Antwerp's delicious cuisine evolved on its own path. As a port city, Antwerp absorbed influences and seasonings from far and wide. The basis of the cuisine is Flanders' hearty meat and fresh produce, with unique flavors thanks to Antwerpers' way with spices.
Antwerp is a sophisticated multicultural town where you can find a myriad of global cuisines. French restaurants abound (including around a dozen with Michelin stars). And if you seek an Indian, Lebanese, Turkish, African, Asian, or Kosher restaurant, you can find it. Find out more about restaurants in Antwerp.
Eat These in Antwerp
But if you want to eat like an Antwerper, consider these local specialties: mussels and fries (mosselen-friet); waterzooi (a saucy chicken or fish casserole); carbonnade Flamande (beef stew made with beer instead of red wine). Belgian waffles are a sweet treat you cannot deny yourself. Choose a topping, or several. Loco for cocoa? Antwerp's divine Belgian chocolate awaits.
Calling All Chocoholics to Antwerp
In a World of Standout Chocolate Countries, Belgium Could Be the Best
Belgium is not the only great producer of chocolate. What chocoholic would turn down Swiss, French, or Dutch chocolate? But if you're a certified chocoholic, you may fall hard for Belgian chocolate. It's creamier and silkier, with an intriguing variety of flavors (fruit, nut, spice, liqueur) worked into a velvety-smooth ganache texture.
In Antwerp, chocolate is a passion. The local chocolate is made by hand and gorgeously packaged with ribbons. Dainty shops here resemble lingerie boutiques. After all, fine chocolate is a sensuous pleasure.
Hand Me Some of that Antwerp Chocolate
Antwerp's signature chocolate treat is small chocolates shaped like hands. This tradition is part of Antwerp's mythology about a mean giant who lived on the river. The hands symbolize what happened to him. And the statue in the Grand Place, showing a Roman soldier hoisting a severed hand, tells you the end of the story. Forget the story but remember the chocolate!
Antwerp Is a City of Parks
Antwerp Has a Park You'll Fall in Love With
Antwerpers work hard and play hard. They planned their city with green space everywhere, and you'll encounter huge parks where yo can lose yourself for a half-day. And as you explore Antwerp's medieval street plan, you'll stumble upon its public gardens and secret glades.
One favorite is Stadspark, a large triangular patch a few minutes' walk from Old Town and the Meir Street shopping district. Everyone comes here, and you should, too. Stadspark is the place for a walk, run, or spin on a citybike. Or you can take it easy. Read on a bench, sunbathe on the thick grass, or feed ducks by the pond.
All the while, you'll do some inspired people-watching. And you'll come away refreshed by nature and armed with an inside take on Antwerp. Here's more about Antwerp's lovely parks.
Antwerp's Tomorrowland Festival
Tomorrowland, a Revel of a Festival
Tomorrowland is up there with the world's best annual festivals, attracting and entertaining some 200,000 fun-seekers. This summer sensation is a celebration of electronic music and its liberating effect. Founded in 2004, Tomorrowland is held in Boom, 10 miles from Antwerp. It has grown to encompass an entire lifestyle and has two spinoffs, Tomorrowland Brasil and Tomorrowland Dubai.
Antwerp's Glorious Central Station
Antwerp's Railroad Station Is One of Its Greatest & Most Famous Buildings
Central Station is an Antwerp landmark, and one of the great railroad stations of the world. This glorious, church-like building, completed in 1905, brings the romance back to train travel. It resembles a palace, with a soaring glass dome and a monumental marble staircase. One of the station's local nicknames is "railroad cathedral" (Spoorwegkathedraal).
At Central Station, you will see as many admirers with cameras as travelers with luggage. This magnificent structure is one of Antwerp's treasures and definitely worth a visit.
Fall in Love with Belgian Beer in Antwerp
You know how passionate beer-lovers are. And no beer fan is more ardent than the partisan of Belgian beer. These brews are a breed apart. They are thick, creamy, and golden, more like a kiss than a pucker.
Belgian beer was developed by monks in the Middle Ages, and medieval monks clearly had fantastic taste. At a time when hardly anyone could read, let alone create a recipe, monks were their eras' intellectuals, chemists, inventors, and taste-makers.
Why Is Belgian Beer Such a Cult Thing? Find Out in Antwerp
Today, Belgian beer is exported everywhere, but it's thrilling to drink it on home soil. The place to indulge is the De Koninck brewery right in Antwerp.
Duvel Beer is an icon of Belgium. Its Antwerp brewery offers an absorbing tour that spotlights the history of the brand and the uncompromising Antwerp family behind it. The tour ends with an ample tasting of several De Koninck beers. You can decide which one is your favorite. For many, it is Duvel. Don't be surprised if it becomes the beer you always look for. (Order it right: the name Duvel is Flemish, not French, and pronounced DO-v'l.) Find out about visiting De Koninck Brewery and tasting its beers.
Cutting-Edge Fashion in Antwerp
Multiple Generations of Disruptive Design in Antwerp
Antwerpers have always cherished their creative side. In the 1980s, the city burst upon the international fashion scene with the attention-getting Antwerp Six, a half-dozen designers who changed everything.
The Antwerp Six's approach—architectural, dark, hand-made—continues to influence fashion design. Whenever you see the word "minimalist" in fashion copy, that's a tribute to Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and the other fashion radicals of the Antwerp Six.
A School for Ambitious Antwerp Designers
The Rubens House: Now, This Was Livin'
Time to dream: imagine an extravagantly talented creative type whose ground-breaking work creates a sensation. People talk about him and are eager to see his latest. He becomes the top guy in his field and extremely wealthy. He buys a fabulous home and fills it with precious objects, and showers his first and second wives with diamonds. His renown is such that he's a kind of diplomat, hobnobbing with world leaders.
We are not talking about an entertainment superstar or a Silicon Valley visionary. We are talking about Antwerp's artistic genius, Peter Paul Rubens. He was the painter of his day (late 1500s and early 1600s). Kings, cardinals, and moguls wanted him to paint their portraits or their palaces and cathedrals. Here's Rubens' incredible bio and complete painting gallery.
Visit Rubens' House in Antwerp
Rubens owned one of the grandest private houses in Antwerp, with galleries galore and a sculpture garden. Today's visitors can tour the home. It adds up to more than a museum studded with timeless paintings by Rubens. It's a place that makes you think about just how much one person can achieve. Rubens was an artist, and a personality, for the ages. Check out Rubens' House (Rubenshuis).
The Cycling Life in Antwerp
Antwerp Is a Two-Wheeled Town
Belgium is a progressive country that long ago recognized the bicycle as a form of transportation as well as relaxation. And Antwerpers are passionate about the two-wheeled lifestyle. You'll see locals of all ages getting around on their bikes: going to work, doing their shopping, taking in the splendid sights of their city. Find out how to rent a bike in Antwerp and meet people on small-group Antwerp bike tours.
A Bike Ride You Can't Take Anywhere Else: Through St. Anna Tunnel
One of the many mesmerizing rides you can take in Antwerp traverses the Scheldt River. Unlike in other cities, this bike path doesn't go over the river on a bridge. It goes under the river in a tunnel. St. Anna Tunnel is a feat of engineering that has made Antwerpers proud since it opened in 1933. (They call it simply "the underpass.") The tunnel is for walkers and cyclists only.
St. Anna tunnel's rare wooden escalator still take you (and your bike) up and down. What's new and delightful: mood lighting in the tunnel. If you find yourself on a bike during your Antwerp visit, a colorful spin through St. Anna Tunnel will be a thrill you don't soon forget.
Zip Around Free with the Antwerp City Card
The Best Bargain in a City of Bargain-Hunters
Antwerpers are practical folks who love a bargain -- and they know that visitors do, too. One of Antwerp's best travel deals is the Antwerp City Card, a discount program for visitors. It gives you a lot for a little (or for free). And the card allows you to do it all without constantly dipping into your wallet or backpack.
The benefits of the Antwerp City Card are exceptional. For starters, you get free entry to most tourism attractions, such as museums and the cathedral. Plus free passage on city transportation and the HopNStop downtown shuttle. Not to mention discounts on things like bike rentals and waffle shops.
24, 48, or 72 Hours?
The Antwerp City Card is sold for one, two, or three days. The best deal is the 72-hour card, only 40 Euros as of 2018, around $48USD. (The discount coupon book that comes with the card is good for the whole year.)
Antwerp's Thriving Jewish Community
Yiddish Culture Lives On in Antwerp
A vibrant Jewish community exists in Antwerp. Many of its residents are involved with Antwerp's diamond trade, the world's most significant.
Back when, Antwerp welcomed Jews who had fled or been expelled from Spain following the anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim Spanish Inquisition of 1492, and for successive generations. Today's Jewish citizens of Antwerp are Orthodox Jews whose forebears came from Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood is the only Yiddish-speaking district that remains in Europe, a fact that thrills Jewish visitors. Find out more about the dramatic history of Antwerp's Jewish residents.