“Gallo-Roman Antverpia”, “The Diamond Capital of the World”
2nd of May, 2010
On another of the frequent weekends spent in Düsseldorf, we visit the city of Antwerp in Belgium. At almost 200km apart, it is one of the farthest destinations we have reached for a day trip from Düss up to date although surely many others will soon come once I relocate for the next 9 months for a project in my work to Düsseldorf, opening me the door to a great choice of destinations to visit on the weekends now that I have England pretty much exhausted.
This is the second time I’ve been to Antwerp, being the first one a simple 1 hour visit more or less, which basically meant I haven’t really visited it properly until now. An older first encounter with this city was back in August 2004 when I passed by bus through the city and to the bus station on way to Amsterdam from Brussels.
It’s the second largest city in Belgium after the capital, and with difference, also the second city in elegance and richness. While Ghent and Brugge are incredible beautiful cities, they are not as grand and powerful as Antwerp was. Even in the luxurious central train station you can admire the carrara marbles and elegance of a design with similarities to the Cathedral of Florence in Italy.
No wonder the city is designated the diamond capital in the world. It’s the most important place in the world for trading the precious stone while the Diamond Stock Exchange is right in the middle of the diamond district.
Since the historical city centre is not big and everything is compact and short distance each others, visiting whole city won’t take you any over than a day, and unless you would like to include it as a stop over should you be travelling towards Netherlands or south towards Brussels or elsewhere, you can easily visit the city on the go without the need to spend here the night. This is basically what we did, coming to enjoy the Saturday on a day trip from Düsseldorf, and that was well enough time to see everything without any rush.
With regards to food, the good news is that you are in Belgium! Food is delicious, and knowing where to go or checking some restaurants before choosing one it can be really good value for money. But remember to be careful with any of those fancy restaurants which are basically a tourist trap. You will find the national dish everywhere, mussels and chips. They do them in many varieties and many sauces to choose from. It does not matter which one you select it is guaranteed you will enjoy them.
And of course, you should not leave the city, or Belgium, without drinking any of their beers. Belgium is world famous for having some of the best beers in the world. The choice is so vast you will really get lost. Apart of the usual Duvel, Leffe, Kwak, Chimay, Kriek or Hoegarden to name a few, there are hundreds of others you should try. Basically the ones above are nowadays easily to find elsewhere in the world hence why not to try something new?
What to see and do in Antwerp:
- Grote Markt Area It’s the landmark Main Square, second in beauty after that of Brussels but as imposing, elegant and historical like the one in Brussels. The incredible amount of guildhouses and their design denotes how wealthy the city was in the 16th century.
-City Hall Designed in a combination of Gothic and early Renaissance, is a style only found in Belgium was completed in 1564.
-16th-century Guildhouses The whole square and nearby streets are filled with those beautiful houses. Pay attention at each of them for the details and statues in their façades.
-Statue of Brabo and the giant’s hand Symbol of the city. Legend says a dragon habited the river and asked for a toll for anyone crossing it, while those refusing to pay, the right hand side would be cut off until one day a hero cut the right hand of the giant and threw into the river.
-Church of St. Paul With a beautiful baroque interior.
-Vleeshuis Hall Meaning Butchers’ Hall, is a Gothic brick building, former guild hall for the butchers now housing a musical instrument collection museum.
- Groenplaats Just few hundred meters south of Market Square, is the second largest square in the historical centre.
-Cathedral of Our Lady This church was begun in the 14th century and finished in 1518. The church has four works by Rubens, viz. “The Descent from the Cross”, “The Elevation of the Cross”, “The Resurrection of Christ” and “The Assumption. Is the highest cathedral in the Low Countries and tallest building in the city. Adults 5 euros, students 3.
- Meir Street Area Connects the square with the Central Train Station. It’s the main shopping street and major pedestrian thoroughfare.
-Rubenshuis The former home and studio of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Entrance 6 Euros, students under 26, 1.
-Bourla Theatre Not far from the Ruben’s House is this 19th century neo-classical theatre.
-Trading Exchange One of the world’s first stock-exchange built in 1531, the current building dates from 1872.
-St. James’ Church Even more ornate than the cathedral itself, it is where you will find the tomb of Rubens. Located on the parallel street to Meir, on Sint-Jacobsmarkt.
- Zurenborg District Developed between 1894 and 1906 it features a high concentration of townhouses in Art Nouveau and other fin-de-siècle styles, among the best are:
-Zonnebloem Or the Sunflower, on Cogels Osylei 50, designed by Jules Hofman.
-The Battle of Waterloo On Waterloostraat 11 designed by Frans SmetVerhas.
-Boreas House On Transvaalstraat 56 designed by Joseph Bascourt.
-The 4 seasons On Generaal van Merlenstraat 27 designed by Joseph Bascourt.
- Diamond Quarter As the name suggests, it is where you will find hundreds of jewellers and diamond traders.
-Diamond Stock Exchange
-Central Train Station Designed by Louis Delacenserie and completed in 1905 is a wonderful piece of art. The main hall has similarities in design with Florence Cathedral and also using the same colours of marble.
-Zoo Just across the train station is this urban zoo, one of the oldest in Europe. The entrance gates are a wonderful piece or Art-Nouveau.
- Boerentoren Farmers’ Tower or KBC Tower as it is more commonly known is a 26 storey Art-Deco building from 1932 and regarded as the oldest skyscraper in Europe (though not the first built, which is located in Madrid).
- Het Steen Castle Literally meaning The Stone is a medieval fortress located at an strategic location in order to control the access to the Scheldt River. It is nowadays the archaeology museum.
- Law Courts A massive 21st century building designed by the Richard Rogers. For architecture lovers this is a must see. Very picturesque from all angles.
Although the city is served by its own airport, this is a solely business facility with only one airline, CityJet. The good news is that Brussels airport is not really far and frequent buses and trains run between both. Furthermore, since the introduction of the new fast rail link between Antwerp Central Station and Brussels via Brussels airport, the journey time is only 35 minutes with a cost of 10 Euros for a single ticket (at the time of writing this); making this option the best choice.
Buses and trains from neighbouring countries are frequent day and night for what Antwerp can be your best bet should you want to do a day trip from wherever you are nearby, like France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands or elsewhere in Belgium.
Within the city you have buses, trams and commuter trains, but as a tourist you will not need any of them as you can walk from sight to sight. Distances around the old town are not big while most of it is now pedestrian friendly.
Unfortunately I cannot recommend any place in the city as I only came here as a day trip from Düsseldorf. In any case, being a city of such importance in business, banking, jewellery, and the increasing tourism, it boasts a wide choice of hotels. Make sure you check well in advance because there are many trade fairs through the year and availability can be affected and so the prices.