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Belgium’s port city of Antwerp is rich in treasures far beyond the diamonds it’s renowned for. This medieval city boasts marvels in architecture, food and fashion. In the heart of the city, Antwerp’s Central Station is one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, celebrated both for its grandeur and its unique mix of architectural styles. Nearby in the old town, Flemish Renaissance architecture defines Grote Markt, a historic square filled with restaurants and cafes. Rubenshuis, the home and studio of Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens is so worth a visit, not just for its stunning collection of his work buts its gardens and architecture.
Eat and drink like a local
Antwerp has been a major port for coffee imports for centuries, and it stocks the largest supply of coffee beans in the world. So it won’t surprise you to hear that the city has a lot of coffee shops. Caffènation and Normo are favourite local cafe haunts, both roasting on site. In addition to a perfectly brewed coffee, newcomer Cafématic offers a selection of sweet and savoury delicacies. Another centrally based favourite for lunch and a top roast is Coffeelabs, whose menu changes daily.
When it comes to eating out, locals love Bourla at Graanmarkt 7 for its French and Flemish fare, including traditional chicken fricassée and a vast selection of Belgian beer brews. Next door, Graanmarket 13 boasts a modern restaurant featuring seasonal produce, a boutique exhibiting a carefully curated selection of designers and a gallery serving as a creative hub. Once a horse stable next to Antwerp’s famous cathedral, De Peerdestal serves stellar meat and fish dishes.
Bring a piece of Antwerp home
Antwerp has been a style capital since the early 1980s, when the Antwerp Six graduated from the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts—including designers Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten—and put it on the fashion map. For the best selection of Belgian designers from seasons past, head to consignment shop Rosier 41. For the latest in avant-garde fashion from both Belgian and international brands, along with an impressive collection of Barbies, pop in to Step by Step. The cosy boutique Superet displays a variety of local and European designers in a gallery-like setting. Pick up a souvenir in the form of handmade jewellery or artisanal housewares at gift shop Mme Bovary.
Antwerp is also home to one of the oldest animal parks in the world. Dating back to 1843, Antwerp Zoo cares for over 5,000 animals of 950 different species, including polar bears, Siberian tigers, Indian elephants, orangutans and koalas among them. This impressive zoo also features a planetarium, winter garden, birdhouse, aquarium, and recently added vriesland (‘freeze land’): a biotope with sea otters and penguins.
With plenty to see, do and taste, this creatively inspired city proves a perfect weekend or week-long escape.