Antwerp is the second biggest city in Belgium after Brussels, but this isn’t the reason why we stopped by.
When a dear friend of ours heard that we were going to travel in Belgium during the summer, suggested that we visit Antwerp, without justifying himself or telling us why. He said he loved it more than other Belgian cities, adding “Go and see what I mean”. We are the kind of people that love tips and that don’t need to be told twice so we decided to stop for a few days with our tips for Antwerp we’d collected on our way to The Netherlands.
Once there we soon realized what our friend had meant, especially judging by the kind of person he is – a real hipster. The city is a paradise for fashion lovers, it is full of fancy shops and you can find any brand you are looking for. Perhaps it has something to do with its history of being an important port city, that the trade of exotic goods in the past has developed during the years into something more sophisticated and trendy nowadays, but still just as expensive. Even if we don’t like shopping, some of these shops are amazing to look at for their interesting interior design which really left us speechless at times. There is even a Fashion Museum in Antwerp, though we chose to skip that as it wasn’t quite to our taste.
We instead enjoyed other parts and sides of the city that we think are certainly worth checking out if you ever decide to visit Antwerp, in fact there is more to see and do that isn’t just hopping from one shop to the other looking for the best bargain or for the trendiest outfit. Here are our personal tips for a city that has so much more to offer than just shopping, let’s hope you’ll enjoy our suggestions as much as we did.
Tip #1 – St. Anna Tunnel
For a different view of the city go to the left bank of the river Schelde by crossing the St. Anna tunnel. Both the tunnel and the other side of the river aren’t on the usual touristic itinerary but we strongly recommend taking this sole pedestrian 572 meter passageway. Walking through this tunnel feels like jumping in the past because it still maintains its Art Deco style, and its unique and very old fashioned wooden escalator. If you have a bike then you’ll swiftly pass through the tunnel to the other side, just be sure to keep your shoulders covered as it get’s quite chilly down there.
Tip #2 – De Zwarte Panter Gallery
We stumbled into this art gallery completely by accident, we were simply walking by, the door was open enough to let us glimpse some of the artwork inside, so we popped in to satisfy our curiosity.
De Zwarte Panter – The Black Panther in English – is apparently the oldest active gallery in Flanders, located in the center of Antwerp that attracts many different kind of artists and art lovers too. There were several pieces that we enjoyed, the exhibition might change from time-to-time so it’s always worth having a look to see what’s on or just to at least stop in the beautiful garden to relax and escape from the busy streets.
Tip #3 – Zurenborg
We really have to thank our amazing Couchsurfing host for suggesting to take a walk through this off the beaten track neighbourhood. This area is in fact located in the south-east of Antwerp away from the city center, to get there the best way in our opinion is to walk as you’ll see parts of the city that often get missed. Considering it isn’t a super short walk you can of course take a bike instead, but there are public transport options that can also be taken too if preferred.
Zurenborg is a very different area due to its eccentric and diverse buildings that are all built in different architecture style. You can find some very beautiful Art Nouveau houses close to some Flemish or Moorish buildings. There also are Renaissance, Gothic or even Classic style houses that look almost like palaces due to their very elaborated decoration. It’s a real mixture of era styles and a lovely area to walk through for architecture lovers like us.
Tip #4 – Exotic Market
The best way to start the weekend is to pop by Theaterplein on Saturday morning where an amazing market takes place each week from 8am until 4pm. This market is one of the favourite amongst the locals because it’s possible to get budget friendly fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers and also Turkish, Moroccan and southern specialties like olives, nuts, cheeses, bread, spices and so much more.
You can just shop and take the bought goodies at home or enjoy some lunch there if you wish, the food looks delicious and it’s not expensive. Needless to say that we loved this market, sampled some delicious food, bought some fresh veggies to make dinner later in the day, and personally I’d never before seen so many different kind of mushrooms altogether. It’s a must if you like local markets.
Tip #5 – Antwerp Central Station
This railway station is an attraction in itself and, even if you aren’t travelling to the city by train (we actually hitchhiked from Ghent), you must stop by to admire the amazing complex. If we didn’t know it was a train station we could have easily thought it was a cathedral or something else altogether, in fact the historic domed entrance in the front doesn’t resemble a classic railway station at all, hence our immediate love for it and urgency to pass it to you as our last tip for Antwerp
But that’s not all, there’s also an extension that has been added after some renovation works which is designed in a very modern style that has little to do with the rest of the old structure. It’s a very bizarre combination that very simply works and it’s nice to see.