By Warwick Hattingh
Known for its diamonds and magnificent central station, Antwerp is certainly a city to see. However when we arrived it was drizzling and miserable. We took shelter in a cosy cafe to plan our day, have a hot chocolate and wait for the last of our travel party coming from Tilburg. Here are a few of things we think you should see when visiting Antwerp!
It would be worth it to visit Antwerp just to see this magnificent station. The station was first used in 1905 and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful stations in the world — while I have not seen every station in the world, I am inclined to agree. The station was modernised between 2000 and 2009 to accommodate new models and modes of transport. The interior is as spectacular — if not more so than the exterior and it has been decorated with 20 different kinds of marble and stone. We spent about an hour wandering in awe around the 400 metre long structure.
Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world and a large majority of the worlds diamonds pass through here! We were eager to visit the famous streets, however, being that it was Easter Sunday, the diamond stores were closed but we did wonder down the not so sparkly streets known as the Diamond Quarter and dubbed the Square Mile. Trip Advisor has mixed reviews about actually buying a diamond and reviews warn visitors of scams and diamond dealers who are only interested in making a sale. We would have loved to window shop as the selection is said to be endless but if you’re looking to buy it seems you need to do your research!
The city itself is a beautiful mixed blend of buildings — old and new, integrated to form a modern but original feel. Being that it was easter and we were in one of waffle capitals of the world, we stopped for one that was drenched in Belgium chocolate and oh so delicious!
Cathedral of Our Lady
The Gothic architecture and the sheer height of the tower allows you to spot the building from almost anywhere in the city. After the Easter service was complete we paid a small fee of €4 each to go inside. It was only fitting that the interior meets the amazing designs of the exterior. With high ceilings and multiple seating arrangements, the over 400 year old Cathedral is definitely worth a visit. Along with the ornaments comes a wide selection of artwork made by famous artists and underneath the centre is a small room filled with tombs of the Cathedrals past priests. This little damp room room, which is fairly untouched, shows both the Churches age and the rich history that comes with it.
While admiring the city as we strolled towards the Het Steen, we came out on the River Scheldt which we followed to get there. The Het Steen is a moderately sized castle with a draw bridge on the banks of the river. It was built between the years 1200 and 1225 and it has been referred to as the oldest building in Antwerp! The castle has served as prison and as a guide to regulate ships. After a short look around the beautiful castle, we continued down the river until we came to the prominent and oddly shaped Museum aan de Stroom.
Museum aan de Stroom
To enter the Museum was €6 each and another €2 to leave a bag in the lockers downstairs. The museum itself was opened in May 2011 and it is about ten stories high! However, there are escalators so you shouldn’t get too tired. Each floor comes with a new view of the areas surrounding Antwerp and a different time in Belgiums history. Many of the exhibits are interactive and include writing messages in a bottle, leaving a comment on a note about the day you were there, filling seeds into bowls or tapping a screen to see how Antwerp grew over the years! One of the most interesting museums in the city and well worth the money.
Grote Markt was originally a square outside the residential area of the medieval quarter. It was only in 1310 that it was first used as a market. Merchants travelled from Spain, Italy and Germany to trade goods. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and chocolate shops located in Grote Markt and being that it was Easter and we were in chocolate country, we went off in search of the perfect easter egg. Elisa chocolates in Grote Markt offers a wide variety of delightful chocolates! Impossible to choose just one, we decided to try a little bit of everything: seashell praline chocolates, caramel centred chocolates, white chocolates and lastly a traditional hollow easter egg chocolate. Unfortunately, because it was easter Sunday, we did not make to the De Koninck Brewery in Antwerp or any of the other breweries around the town but we did mage to find plenty of restaurants in Grote Markt that were willing to serve us some of Antwerp’s finest brews. The atmosphere in the afternoon was buzzing and restaurant terraces were full with people enjoying the easter festivities. We ended the day with pizza and (more) beers.
Within a couple of hours, we were back home. The trip to Antwerp was short but definitely worth it! So easy to get to and from, as well, as around and about. An easy hassle free, cheap easter getaway in Antwerp.
Where to eat: With so many amazing options around the centre we decided on a little restaurant named Elfde Gebod for lunch. It is located almost directly adjacent to the Cathedral of Our Lady and the whole restaurant is designed like the inside of a small church. It has paintings and small christian statues everywhere — very suited to its surroundings! The food was delicious and the service was excellent. Definitely worth visiting and eating at this different novel like restaurant.
Where else to go: We missed out on Rubens house which has been turned into a museum. Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter and has been said to be the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens designed the house himself and I am sure it would be an interesting site to see.