Step off the train or out of the airport into Antwerp and you’ll be dazzled by jewels. This historic Belgian port is the diamond capital of the world, but these are not the only gems to be found in the city. A magnet for fashion designers and artists, Antwerp is fast becoming one of the hippest cities in Europe and is a great place to shop for yourself and others, the Antwerp tourist board can help provide extra information.
Where to shop
In the city centre, Amelie Van Bogaert (7-11 Komedieplaats) is stacked full of beautiful Belgian linen and tablecloths and vibrantly patterned towels. Just up the road is Plantaardige Verbeellding (12 Schuttershofetraat), a stunning florist which sells an incredible range of flowers and plants, as well as elegant pots and containers. You won’t find any bargains here, however around the comer is Philips Biscuits. After just one glance at the amazing edible window display and one sniff of the home baking, you’ll have stepped inside and be choosing your biscuit selection before you know it. As the name suggests, the shop sells nothing but biscuits which is an Antwerp speciality and something you simply can’t go home without.
You can’t go to Antwerp without visiting the famous diamond quarter by Central Station. If you do want to do more than just window shop, it’s best to avoid the shops immediately next to the station on Pelkaanstraat and the stores whose windows are plastered with sale and discount signs because they have a reputation for ripping people off. Vestingstraat and Hoveniersstraat are the streets to stick too while you’re in the area, stop for a coffee and sweet treat at Del Rey.
Sights worth seeing
Fans of Art Nouveau should head for the Zurenborg district on the outskirts of the city, where there are more than 170 houses designated as listed buildings because of their architectural heritage. Also, the Museum of Fine Arts (Leopold deWaelplaats) houses a collection of 1500 old masters.
Learn about the history of the diamond trade and how the gems are graded and cut at the Diamond Museum (31-33 Lange Herentalsestraat).
If you’re a budding David Bailey, a visit to the Museum of Photography (Waalsekaai) is a must It has a spectacular collection of photos and you can learn about the art, history and technology of photography.
A boat trip along the River Scheldt is an ideal way to see both the city and the river.
For more information, go to the boat shaped Flandria building on the Steenplein.
Where to eat
A cosy coffee shop in a quiet street in the city centre, Suut Bekske (54 Hoogstraat) is the perfect place to stop for a cheap and cheerful lunch. The menu is crammed with delicious pastas, toasted sandwiches and pancakes. Needless to say, the Belgian waffles were our favourite.
Chez FI’Eau is a brasserie overlooking the river in the northern part of town. It serves a range of delicious Mediterranean and traditional Belgian dishes, and the presentation is so precise that the food looks almost too good to eat!
If you fancy a long, leisurely meal and some fine wine in one of Antwerp’s trendiest spots, head for Hippodroom (10 Leopold de Waelplaats), a restaurant and bar opposite the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. The menu comprises an eclectic mix of international dishes, so expect to find everything from sushi to risotto.
How to get around
Antwerp is not a large city and most of the attractions can be reached on foot, but there are very efficient and inexpensive tram and bus services to most parts of the city.