Best of Belgium: Antwerp

So I got the idea of creating a ‘Best of Belgium’ series. I want to not only capture my citytrips and travels far far away on this blog, but also share some of the highlights of my home country. Having lived abroad for some years it is nice to rediscover your own country and to show foreign friends around. So with these posts I’ll aim to do exactly that: give you my top tips for some of my favourite places in Belgium. First up: Antwerp!

 

If you’re going to Antwerp I would always recommend you to take the train, so you can arrive in the gorgeous central station. Especially when you’re coming from Brussels, you arrive in the newer and lower levels of the train station. You then make your way up by escalator and little by little the beauty that is the train station reveals itself!

To see & do

Next to the train station is the Zoo. It’s been quite a few years since I last visited it with my godson. However, this 19th century zoo is one of the oldest out there, in the middle of a city, which is a very strange yet quaint thing to see.

The best view of the city is from above – and for free! Go to the Museum aan de Stroom or MaS. You can go all the way up, round and round, to enjoy the view. Just keep your fingers crossed for nice weather!

Zuiderterras/Noorderterras: for a nice walk along the river this is where you need to be. It’s where the city meets the river and its industry. Where history meets culture. And where friends meet for drinks and a picnic in summer.

To see the city from a different angle you need to get to the other side of the river. No better way to do that than to descent the original wooden escalators and take the St. Anna’s Tunnel or Underpass. Also an excellent location to shoot your latest music video, trust me.

To see a bit of historic Antwerp go find the Vlaaikensgang, a medieval little street – more like a passage – winding through the city centre.

Shopping

Antwerp is known for its shopping. For the main brands and shops head over to the Meir. A thing I like to do with visitors when on the Meir is to take them into the Stadsfeestzaal. It’s a glorious place from the early 1900s that has been renovated and turned into a shopping centre. The building itself is absolutely stunning, and they often have nice pop up stores. Another favourite on the Meir is Juttu.

If you are looking for a retro present, then you have to go to Akotee – or Akotwee, only a little further.

A great find last time I was in Antwerp was Mark. Its a shops combining a love for cycling, books and interior design/lifestyle goodies. What’s not to like?! Great place to buy presents (for yourself).

Coffee bars

After all the shopping you need to fuel up and luckily for you Antwerp has the biggest density of coffee bars I’ve seen so far. I don’t manage every time I go but it’s nice to try out different ones. These are some of the ones I like:

  • Caffènation: an institution. They also have a second venue – Pakt – that looks really cool but I have yet to get to.
  • Barnini: we sat among the hipsters eating bagels and enjoying some sunshine on their terrace. In winter. In Belgium. Climate change is real, folks. But lovely place.
  • Esco*bar: stumbled upon this one as I needed the toilet. Very cute and artsy place though, nice and chill. And with a toilet.

Food

If you need (or want, c’mon) to eat something these are my two suggestions:

  • Hoeked doughnuts: pronounced as ‘hooked’ – these are square doughnuts. Yeah, you read that right. Still delicious though.
  • Poule & Poulette: my friend and I tried out this chicken restaurant. The interior is quirky, it imitates a chicken coop. We didn’t make a reservation so were lucky to get a table. The wait for our food was quite ridiculous and it seemed like they were very understaffed that night, but the food was nice (and gone in seconds).

Drinks

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  • Vitrin: close to the chicken place is a big roundabout with different bars on the corners. We went to one called Vitrin. They didn’t have cocktails as we hoped for, but don’t worry, we managed to find something to drink on the menu.
  • One thing I love doing when going round Antwerp with my foreign friends is taking them to De Vagant for a shot of jenever (the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved – thanks Wikipedia). They have all sorts of different flavours and it’s really an oldschool café, so cheers!

That’s where I’d recommend you go when you visit Antwerp. You can do most of this in a day, Antwerp is a very walkable city. There are trams and busses however to make getting around easier, or you can rent a bike through the city scheme.

Have you been? Spotted anything amazing I didn’t mention here and I should really check out next time I go? Let me know!

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