Walking through Antwerp is like walking through a gothic storybook. The colors are bright, but rained-upon, the cobbled streets are haphazard with marble-tiled crosswalks and lined with buildings which seem to lean left and right. The river has a graffiti-emblazoned concrete walkway leading to a castle-esque fortress, and of course, De Kathedraal (below/next page) is an astonishing sight to behold. From museums (with secret gardens) to high fashion and art to super-concept shops and diamonds, there’s a lot to see and do in Antwerp, Belgium.
Yes, I was surprised.
%Gallery-90174%I must admit that, as a traveler, Antwerp was not really on my radar. Because of this, I was pleasantly taken off guard as I rode in on the train and saw the stunning architecture to my left and right — both the decorative columns on the railway itself and the city beyond, dotted with cupolas and giant clocks.
There’s fine dining at restaurants like Dome — Dome is actually a trio of one fine dining restaurant, a more relaxed but similarly elegant cafe with fish in the wall (below), and a bakery — and Le John, where if you’re nice to your host, he might give you a taste of some fine aged Guatemalan rum. Zuiderterras offers a solid menu with killed views of the river, and cheaper options include the market down by the student pavilion and any kind of Belgian frites or Belgian chocolates you can imagine.
Antwerp’s legendary diamond district features more than just great deals on ice: a Diamond Museum as well as Diamondland (my preference), where you can learn all about the diamond trade and how diamonds are made and cut. There’s also a zoo, a World Heritage Site printing museum, The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which features 20 Rubens and Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat, the De Koninck brewery and countless art galleries and monuments. East of the city center, right in the heart of the Diamond District is Central Station (below), a stunning building built between 1895 and 1905 with bling money. Walk south from the city center near the river and you’ll come upon a number of swingin’, happy clubs — keep walking and you’ll hit something that looks like the Sydney Opera House; it’s the courthouse.
All in all, I would say that Antwerp is a wonderful place for those who fall in love with old European cities. There is a strange, common juxtaposition of perfectly manicured buildings and those which look condemned or out of a Tim Burton movie, as well as all the gothic architecture and rainy romanticism a Europhile craves. I didn’t know what to expect from the city of Antwerp, but I now regard it as one of the most charming cities to which I’ve ever been.