Hip things are happening in this small Belgian town, just 3 hours by train from London St Pancras. Guild houses with ornate decorative windows and rooflines stand proudly around the cobbled main square which shoots outwards into a maze of smaller streets where you can get lost exploring independent fashion boutiques, design museums, Belgian brown bars and cool cafes.
Take the Eurostar to Brussels and it’s a short hop across the platforms at Brussels Midi to the train to Antwerp (45 mins). Arriving into the beautiful Centraal station is like stepping out into a Wes Anderson film, with the vast domed ceiling above and marble floor polished and made shiny by hundreds of hurrying footsteps. The area around the station, as in most towns, is a bit grotty; if you’re on foot head towards Sint Andries or Zuid and you’ll soon clear past the high street chains and endless diamond dealers and get into the good part of town.
What to See
Explore the city on foot, stopping in for a hot chocolate or a blonde bier here and there . Don’t miss the magical 1930’s wooden escalators that take you to the underpass to cross the river; again reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film set.
Things To Do
Everyone should see the monumental Cathedral, City Hall and Brabo’s Monument in the Old Town. Just around the corner is the new DIVA (diamond) Museum which is worth visiting for the Room of Wonder – which is a series of rooms with cabinets and curiosities that will be guest curated for short runs; we visited when it was Axel Vervoordt, the famed Antwerp antiquarian and interior designer’s turn and discovered an array of fascinating objects and artworks from a pair of earrings designed by Picasso to Old Master portraits gathered together in a magical setting. Next to take the baton are Antwerp design duo, the jewellers Wouters & Hendrix with their Wonder Room opening on September 13th 2019.
Give the MAS a miss, an interesting building with good views from the top but a disappointing collection. Instead visit Rubenshuis, the palazzo home of the great artist Peter Paul Rubens where as well as admiring the works in the collection you can visit his studio, sit in the courtyard explore the garden.
Eating & Drinking
For a croissant on the go, get in line for the pastries at Bakery Dellafaille. Buzzy brunch spots abound; Butchers Coffee serves a steady stream of Flat Whites, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, chorizo shakshuka trout toast, and Tinsel is another popular spot for really good coffee. On a Sunday you could happily hop around the cafes and bars that circle around the Monument Schelde Vrij with their tables and chairs spilling on the pavements. In the sunshine, there’s no better spot than Kaffeenini with it’s yellow-and-white striped awning, or for a light lunch close to the shops in Sint Andries Juno serves delicious healthy salad bowls, open sandwiches, falafel wraps and a spicy Bloody Mary. Chips and mayonnaise are the Belgian classic – get them from any stall around the city, and if you fancy fish to go with them, aim for fish a’gogo, a tiny strip of a take away with a few high tables outside, where you can eat oysters and all sorts of fresh fried fish.
In the evening book a table ahead at Mr Hulot, a charming little bistrot with a cool, low-key vibe and a short menu that features classic Flemish dishes like steak frites and an excellent wines. And for a treat, the romantic Sir Anthony Van Dijck offers a 4 or 5-course set menu (lobster ravioli, spring chicken with morrels etc) with chic interiors by Axel Vervoordt and an open fire.
Where to Stay
Boulevard Leopold occupies a converted nineteenth century townhouse in the Jewish quarter with classic interiors and a quiet, warm old-world charm. Perhaps the antithesis is the buzzy new Hotel Pilar, a ‘concept hotel’ with trendy pared-back bedrooms and a Foodbar where you can work with a laptop or meet friends as well as eat – situated in the cool Zuid district.
Wander along Steenhouwersvest and dip into the wonderful array of independent boutiques like Fred + Ginger for contemporary womenswear, ‘t Stad Leest for books and stationary and Marie-Marie for linens, Günther Watté for Belgian chocolate. There are also lots of bigger brands here like A.P.C and Ace & Tate. Nearby find Danish brand Samsøe & Samsøe as well as three branches of brand-of-the-moment, Essentiel Antwerp whose bright colours and patterns add zing to any wardrobe.