When you visit Antwerp, you get to see the second-largest city of Belgium and the second-largest port of Europe, after Rotterdam. The city is a leading commercial center renowned for cutting, trading, and polishing diamonds. And in the last two decades years, Antwerp has been one of the leading fashion design cities in Europe.
A little history before you visit Antwerp
The name Antwerp has been related to the word aanwerp (alluvial mound) which was a geographical feature in the early settlement period. The early records related to this historic site take us back to the7th century BC. In the 10th century, Antwerp became the provincial frontier of the Roman Empire. And, by the 14th century, the city of Antwerp had been already listed as the leading trade and finance hub of Western Europe, thanks to its flourishing wool trade and the port of Antwerp.
The city suffered an economic decline during the Reformation era and the ensuing dispute between the Catholics and the Protestants. The town grew again in the 17th century, and this is when painters like Reubens and Van Dyck become popular. It was Napoleon who understood the strategic importance of Antwerp and undertook to modernize its port. Today, Antwerp is the thirteenth-largest port in the world.
Visit Antwerp’s top tourist attractions
The Antwerp Grote Markt (the town square) is a marvel of 16th-century architecture. The Stadhuis (town hall) is a prominent Flemish Gothic structure designed in the Renaissance style. In the center of the square, there is a fountain with a statue of Silvius Brabo, Antwerp’s first hero. Legend has it that this Roman soldier killed a giant who used to regulate the river traffic and steal money from innocent locals. Brabo cut off the giants’ hand and plunged it into the Scheldt River.
Our Lady’s Cathedral is another significant landmark to see when you visit Antwerp. Its 123-meter high tower, with its Gothic architecture, is an amazing sight to behold. This Antwerp Cathedral is also home to two paintings by Rubens: The Descent from the Cross and The Elevation of the Cross.
The castle of Antwerp, known as Het Steen (stone castle) is named that way because the castles were normally made of wood in the 13th century. Het Steen was the first castle to be built in stone at that time.
The Meir is another place one should see when they visit Antwerp. This shopping street is one of the busiest ones in the city and one of the best places to discover old and new Antwerp. Two of its most important buildings are the Osterrieth House and the former royal residence of the Belgian Kings in Antwerp. The world’s first stock exchange building was also built on Meir street.
Best things to do in Antwerp
One thing every tourist can look forward to is the fascinating museums and galleries of Antwerp. The city was well planned and well run over the ages. That is why it’s actually very easy for travelers to visit Antwerp because the main attractions and most of its nice sights are within walking distance.
Take a walk along the paved maze-like streets of Antwerp. As you advance, you’ll be surprised to see streets lined with royal mansions, ancient churches, and museums. The city is a fun blend of both old and new, with several stores, restaurants, and bars springing up all the time.
One thing you should do when you visit Antwerp is to go to the Dutch Museum of Fine Art (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen). The museum is divided into two sections, one containing the works of the Old Masters and the other reserved for the artists of the 19th century and later. The museum’s collection of European paintings features works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Hals, Van Gogh, and many others.
As the city is well known for its diamonds, you can go to Diamondland, its largest showroom, when you visit Antwerp. There, you can see craftsmen cutting and polishing the most precious item known to man: the exquisite diamonds. You should also visit the Diamant Museum of Antwerp to learn about the history and development of diamonds.
Eating and drinking in Antwerp
The people of Antwerp swear by the Belgium cuisine. Their cuisine consists of traditional Flemish dishes heavily influenced by French and Mediterranean cuisine. Mussels paired with chips and mayonnaise are the hot favorites. Certain fish, such as herring, are also preferred and consumed raw. Other favorites are waterzooi, a special type of soup with cream and paling in ‘t groen, eels served with vegetables and herbs.
Good quality French wine is preferred. However, beer reigns as the country’s favorite drink. In fact, Belgium has over 100 brewers manufacturing more than 400 different beers. Locals actually consume three kinds of beer: lager, white beer, and lambic beer. Lager beer is a deep double or triple brew. White beer is self-explanatory, while lambic beer is a naturally fermented strong drink with a fruity taste.
T Fornuis is one of the most popular restaurants in Antwerp, with its rich French cuisine served in a traditional Flemish setting.
There is a whole range of zany bars and restaurants that can give any other European city a run for its money. If you’re in Belgium and want to experience the best nightlife entertainment, go visit Antwerp!
The Belgians love their alcohol, and it comes as no surprise that this passion has resulted in many bars and pubs throughout the region. Such bars operate at any time of the day or night selling a variety of Belgian beer, cocktails, long drinks, and wines.
Dan Engel is regarded as the most popular bar in Antwerp. Conveniently located in Grote Markt, it welcomes guests at any time of the day or night for a glass of refreshing beer. However, the best time to enjoy Antwerp’s nightlife is on Friday or Saturday nights.
Antwerp for families with kids
Antwerp makes everybody happy, whether they are adults or children. When you visit Antwerp with the family head to the Antwerp Zoo, Belgium’s oldest and largest zoo. Kids are in love with the dolphinarium and they also get the occasion to see tigers, giraffes, monkeys, and reptiles. While the zoo is old-school, it’s still a favorite for children.
Your Antwerp travel guide
Olivia Peeters is a sustainable travel enthusiast from Belgium. She is happiest while sailing, hiking, cycling, or doing anything else outdoor.
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