Think of diamonds and Antwerp is the place that comes to mind. Antwerp, the second largest city of Belgium is known as the diamond capital of the world, aptly so, as 80% of the world's diamond trade takes place at the heart of Antwerp. But there is more to Antwerp than dazzling diamonds. Tourists throng the city to enjoy striking architecture, Renaissance monuments, cathedrals, museums and also splendid shopping experience and vibrant nightlife. It is a place where medieval culture and contemporary trends coexist happily.
Located in the northernmost region of Belgium, Antwerp is the second largest sea port in Europe and enjoys the exuberance normally associated with a harbor town. The citizens of Antwerp speak the Belgian version of Dutch, known as Flemish.
Antwerp tourist spots
Central railway Station, built between 1895 and 1905 is an important landmark in Antwerp. It is an architectural beauty and is known for its huge domes, towers and beautifully decorated interiors with marbles and stones. The platforms are covered by a huge iron and glass-vaulted ceilings. The railway tracks are elevated to accommodate three levels of tracks. The elevated construction is 3.8 km long (2.4 miles) and is locally known as 'the centers'.
Cathedral of our Lady, the tallest structure of Antwerp stands majestically in the center of the city. Built between 14th and 16th century, it measures 123 meter (405ft) tall and offers a magnificent view of Antwerp. The interiors of the cathedral are adorned by four masterpieces of Ruben, a world renowned painter. This Gothic architecture building is a must-see monument.
Ruben's house is highly appreciated by art lovers as it houses an impressive collection of the works of renowned painter Rubens and his pupils. It is a huge palatial building located at Wapper Square and one of most visited museums of Antwerp. Ruben's house is closed for visitors on Mondays and few other public holidays.
KBC tower, also known as Farmers tower is a beautiful skyscraper overlooking the Antwerp city. It is a protected monument which houses prominent offices in Antwerp.
Antwerp Zoo one of the oldest in the world is a popular attraction amongst tourists. There are around 950 different species of animals here and some of the interesting species include polar bear, Siberian tigers, Indian lions, Arabian oryxes, Indian elephants, gorillas, bison, orangutans, crocodiles, small panda, koala, panthers, and sharks. Antwerp zoo also shelters a rare animal called Okapi. Zoo also has planetarium, the winter garden, birdhouse, reptile building and aquarium. A visit to the zoo can also be combined with the Aquatopia which is located right opposite the zoo.
Grote market offers all that a shopaholic tourist would look for. The place is bustling with restaurants and shops where you can enjoy some good dining and shopping. The market, spread around city square having a large fountain in the middle and the statue of Brabo, (a mythical hero of Antwerp) is full of action; especially in summer.
Antwerp diamond district
Diamond district is the diamond hub of Antwerp, located near the central station where numerous diamond shops are lined up; showcasing and selling these precious gems. Within an area of less than one square kilometer, you can find around 1,500 diamond companies and four diamond exchanges. Everyday thousands of diamond workers work relentlessly to produce millions of diamonds.
Diamond museum located opposite to the railway station on Koningin Astridplien is worth a visit. The museum is an educative experience on the diamond making process and it is the largest of its kind in the world
From designer boutiques, delicious chocolates, fine beer, great restaurants to small street side shops selling sundry items and affordable yet tasty fast foods, Antwerp has it all. Antwerp is a shopper's paradise with markets like Meir and Grote market offering w wonderful shopping experience. The Meir Street flaunts Rocco styled structures on either side of the lane and is one of the busiest streets of Antwerp.
If you are looking for designer wear, head to Schuttershofstraat and Hopland streets lying parallel to the Meir market. The lane next to Meir called Nationalstraat offers some exclusive shopping options.
Antwerp has some impressive galleries and malls in the city. Century Center, Designcenter De Winkelhaak, Grand Bazar Shopping Center and Stadsfeestzaal are some of the prominent places to name a few.
Of late Antwerp has gained a prominent place in international fashion circles as the city's popular young designers are making their mark with their exclusive creations.
Dining in Antwerp
You will find plenty of eateries, pubs and restaurants all around the Cathedral and Grote market. Antwerp's restaurants serve steaks called Ossehaas or Rumpsteak in Flemish. These meat dishes are served with a rich cream, pepper sauce and chips or potato-croquettes. Also do not miss on traditional Flemish dishes like fresh asparagus with crushed boiled-eggs and lemon sauce, cherries with meatballs, tomatoes filled with shrimps and of course the very popular French fries from one of the street stalls.
If you love the taste and smell of chocolates, Antwerp has it in abundance. Apart from the popular brands like Leonidas and the super-deluxe Neuhaus and Godiva, one should also try some local fresh chocolates particularly 'Antwerpse handjes' (small hands in chocolate).
At Antwerp one gets to taste the wide variety of Beers, both branded and locally made. The very popular 'bolleke' beer, pils or 'pintje', Hoegaarden, Palm, Leffe, Grimbergen Duvel and Maes Pils are some of the much sought-after local varieties of Antwerp.
Beer adds to the energetic and jazzy nightlife of Antwerp. Much of the action takes place in and around Grote market and the nearby pubs and discos. You can always catch a glimpse of live bands performing on the busy spots.
Antwerp has a maritime climate associated with higher precipitation levels. Summer (between May and August) is considered the best time to visit Antwerp but July and August may see some rains. April and September are also sunny enough to enjoy your vacation. The average daily temperature in Antwerp is 3°C in winter and 25°C in summer.
Getting to An twerp
Within Europe, train is the most convenient and affordable mode of transport to reach to Antwerp. SNCB/NMBS is a Belgium's official rail website which gives extensive information about trains running between different places of Europe.
Antwerp is only 45 km from Brussels and 50 km from Ghent and can easily be reached by car/taxi/bus. It takes an hour to get here from Rotterdam and less than 2 hours from Amsterdam.
Brussels has an international airport called Zaventem by locals and is located 13 km northeast of Brussels. This airport is connected to important cities of Europe and U.S. From here, you can either opt for a train or express bus to get to Antwerp. There is one more airport in Charleroi region referred to as 'Brussels South' and is located 55 km away from Brussels. It operates most economical carriers and serves only European destinations. Antwerp has a local airport and has frequent flights flying to London and Manchester.
Getting around in Antwerp
Antwerp is best explored on foot. Most of the tourist spots are situated very close to each other and kept traffic-free and it is a pleasure to walk around the city. Another convenient way to get around the city is by bus or tram. Many tourist companies also arrange for 'walking tours' or 'cycle trips' along with the tourist guides or you can even rent a bike to enjoy the beauty of Antwerp.