Antwerp is the coolest city in Belgium, popular with fashionistas, clubbers, art lovers and diamond dealers. It’s also one of the largest ports in Europe. Despite having its roots in Gallo-Roman times of the 2nd century, the city today is quite modern thanks to extensive bombing during the Second World War. But some gems of history remain.
The 16th century guildhouses at the Grote Markt (Market Square) lean wonderfully into each other for support, vying for attention with City Hall. The Gothic Cathedral of our Lady still has the highest spire in the Low Countries (400 ft/123m), plus several radiantly beautiful triptychs by Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens.
You can visit the wonderfully restored house and studio of Rubens and he is buried in the ornate Gothic St James’ Church. If you like art, the Royal Museum Antwerp has a great collection, including famous 17th century locals, Rubens and van Dyck, and the Italian, Titian. And then it’s on to the 20th century.
The recently opened Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS) is a 200-foot (60 m) high pile of Indian red sandstone and glass. As you’d expect the displays inside use the latest technology and its exhibits celebrate Antwerp’s life as a port: Metropolis, Power, Life and Death.
The law courts are similarly eye-catchingly modern with a roof line replicating sails. The Mode Museum (MoMu) celebrates the local fashion industry that Antwerp is increasingly known for along with its excellent beers and chocolates. Antwerpse Handjes (Antwerp Hands), almond or chocolate biscuits, are a particular city pride. Even tastier are the diamonds: watch them being cut at Diamondland, learn their history at the Diamantmusuem, or just dream about buying them along the well-guarded streets Pelikaanstraat, Vestingstraat or Hoveniersstraat.