Antwerp – fashionable and artsy

A beautiful city in Belgium with gorgeous medieval buildings, a large port, a great sense of fashion, a diamond market, and an outstanding art scene.

You are hit with the architectural wonder of the city right from the minute you arrive at their central train station. They definitely have one of the prettiest train stations. You can see trains arriving/departing at 3 levels. It’s a beautiful big train station.

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Antwerp central station
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The train station is an architectural marvel

As soon as you step outside the central station, you can see several diamond stores. Antwerp is known for its diamond market and apparently more than 70% of the world’s diamonds are traded here!

We had just a few hours in Antwerp and wanted to make the most of our short time and decided to just walk up to the city’s main square. We walked past a whole bunch of cyclists – definitely more of them here compared to Brussels and Bruges. We passed by medieval buildings that were an architectural delight! We walked past numerous stores of the big brands Gucci, Armani, Prada etc. – Antwerp is quite a fashionable city!

In just a few minutes, we were in the centre of the town where they had the Christmas Market – the stalls displayed a great variety of well-crafted artefacts unlike the Brussels market.

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At De Veemarkt; used to be a cattle market

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Since we got to Antwerp somewhat late and well into the lunch hour, we had to stop for some grub and beer first.

Unfortunately, the Kulminator which is one of the highly recommended beer spots was closed the day we were visiting. We settled for the next best thing. They had a nice selection of restaurants just behind the Christmas market and we found a cosy one with a good selection of beers. The city’s most famous brew is the De Koninck, locally known as ‘bolleke’. While it was not one of our favorite Belgian brews, it quenched our thirst. Their other popular beer is the Seef Bier, a pale ale – liked this one better.

Post lunch, we walked around the city centre just exploring the place. Antwerp is filled with some creative, interesting monuments – you should especially check out Sleeping Nello and Lange Wapper.

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Sleeping Nello and Patrasche (Dog of Flanders

), covered by a blanket of cobblestones

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The giant trickster Lange Wapper
  • a local legend in the Flemish region of Belgium

One of the main attractions of Antwerp is the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedraal). It is said to be one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Benelux. The cathedral is most renowned for its display of Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpieces. It also includes the works of some other well-known Flemish painters. It is a huge cathedral and a giant, mesmerizing art gallery.

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Cathedral of our Lady featuring Ruben’s paintings

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One of the first things you notice as you walk in is this amazing 14th century marble sculpture of Madonna and Child (Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus). The gentle gesture of the child and the mother’s smile as she looks upon her child affectionately just warms your heart. There’s no greater bond than the one between a mother and her child!

We continued to be spell-bound as we walked on admiring Ruben’s paintings. Most of his works are altarpieces and a reflection of famous scenes from The Bible. Ruben’s masterpieces ‘The Descent from the Cross’ and ‘The Raising of the Cross’ are simply mind-blowing. You can stare at it for hours.

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The Rising of the Cross – by Ruben

While the exterior of the church is gothic style, the interiors are filled with Ruben’s baroque art. Although the artwork is definitely the main attraction, the cathedral itself is quite spectacular with its carved woodwork and sculptures.

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We were the last ones to leave the church – we had completely lost track of time in here. As we were getting out of the church, we heard beautiful music. Intrigued, we walked out to see a choir full of youngsters. They were such a talented bunch, singing some really high-pitched phenomenal melodies.

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It was just a day before Christmas Eve and the place looked so festive!

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Grote Markt

We strolled around the Grote Markt or Groenplaats, the city’s main square. The square is filled with ornate guildhalls similar to that of the Brussels’ Grote Market (or the Grand Place). Also adorning the Grote Markt is the city’s Stadthuis (town hall) and the Brabo Fountain.

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Brabo’s Fountain, Grote Markt

This sculpture of Antwerp’s hero, Brabo, depicts him flinging a severed hand.The legend goes like this – There used to be a giant called Antigoon who used to take a toll from those who crossed the Antwerp river, Schledt. And, he cut off the hands of those who refused to pay. So, Brabo cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river. And, that’s how the city got its name Antwerpen – meaning hand werpen or hand throw or throwing hand(s).

Antwerp definitely had the best Christmas Markets we’d seen in Belgium. It had stalls all around the centre of the city and some near the port as well. There was a huge ferris wheel and ice skating which seemed to be a trend in Belgium and Netherlands. The ferris wheel ride was so much fun. I hadn’t been on one in years and the views from up there was lovely.

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Antwerp is also well-known for its jazz clubs and we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t catch the jazz band in action at De Muze, a hotspot for great jazz music in town. The last train back to Brussels was at 11 ish PM and the band doesn’t start until after 10.

There’s so much to do in this beautiful Belgian city and we know we’ll head back there someday and stay a few nights.

Despite being bigger, fashionable and modern compared to the other medieval cities of Belgium, Antwerp has a charm of its own with its amazing collection of art, cobblestoned lanes, riverside castle and splendid jazz culture.

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