Antwerp (or Antwerpen) is, among other things, the home of Rubens, the “Diamond Centre of the World”, and the world’s fifth largest port. Situated next to the Dutch border, it is easily accessible from the Thalys high-speed train network that connects Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.
It is a city for sightseeing, nightlife and shopping.
Every girl should head straight for the Diamond Quarter. Whether you are in the market for a sparkler or not, it is worth visiting Diamondland (33a, Appelmansstraat), where you can watch the entire process of transforming rough stones into spectacular glittering jewels. If you are likely to be tempted to buy, this is the best place to go as they tend to be cheaper here than elsewhere. TheProvincial Diamond Museum (31-33 Lange Herentalsestraat) shows the history, geology, mining, and cutting of diamonds.
At Antwerp’s heart is the Grote Markt, a great triangular market square fronted on one side by the flamboyant renaissance Town Hall and flanked on the others by merchant houses, their facades crowned with burnished gold-leaf statues.
Looking down on it all is theOnze-Lieve-Vrouwe Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece decorated inside with vast religious paintings by Rubens. Fans of the artist should take the time to explore smaller churches in the back streets – many are decorated with his works. Rubenshuis, his reconstructed mansion, can be found just off the Meir, Antwerp’s main street, at 9-11, Wapper. Stroll through the reconstructed garden, and visit the workshop and private quarters.
Antwerp offers the hungry tourist a large array of restaurants. From the inexpensive Fritkot Max (Grote Markt, near the Cathedral) which offers authentic Belgian chips, to the outrageous Tops (17-19 Namenstraat) which has a drag queen cabaret, to the classy Neuze Neuze (19-21 Wijngaardstraat).
This is one of the best cities in Europe for nightlife. Head to the Grote Markt area which has a large concentration of bars, cafés and theatres, and the Centraal Station area for clubs and gay bars. Being a port, Antwerp naturally has a red-light district in the Riverside Quarter – but be warned, it is seedier and less tourist-friendly than that of Amsterdam. There are excellent bars and clubs in the area, such as theCafé d’Anvers (15, Verversrui). Don’t expect to get much in the way of coffee here – it is one of the best house and techno clubs in Belgium. On the other side of town try the Zillion (4, J. Van Gentstraat), a 2,500 capacity club boasting a giant aquarium with underwater dancers. The best gay club in the area,Red & Blue, can be found at 11-15 Lange Schipperskapelstraat – it is strictly men-only. For live music head to Kid’s Rythm & Blues Danskaffee (50, Grote Markt).
Before you hit the clubs, warm up in some of the many bars. De Faam (12, Grote Pieter Potstraat) has been around for over 150 years, and De Groote Witte Arend in the old city specialises in Trappist and other strong beers. Nearby is De Muze, a popular jazz café (15, Melkmarkt).
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