Antwerp is an underrated city that suffers in comparison to its near neighbours Ghent and Bruges. It’s certainly not as picture-postcard as the other two and lacks the canal-based culture, but has many beautiful buildings and is a very pleasant place to spend a day or two. You could even use it as a base to explore all three cities as my friends and I did in January 2018 – the hotel prices are significantly lower.
I first came here for a night in March 2015, before heading to Cologne the next day to meet friends. As I was travelling through Brussels to reach Germany anyway, I decided to leave a day earlier and take a minor diversion…
Your first experience of Antwerp is the magnificent central station – an architectural wonder that like St. Pancras has been sympathetically restored and modernised with new underground concourses and platforms.
Come out of the station and your walk towards the centre is dominated by high street stores and not worth lingering in. However it is certainly worth a call into Bier Central, not far from the station – a bewildering array of delicious Belgian beer is available, all selected from an absurdly thick catalogue. There’s also a few nicer small squares not far from the main drag.
The real Antwerp is seen on reaching the true centre, the market square dominated by the city hall (the cover photo in this article), and the nearby cathedral – one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe. The market square and nearby smaller squares are surrounded by Flemish medieval guild houses and there are many bars and restaurants in the area.
Antwerp is famous as a centre of diamond production, that area lies south-west of the station. There’s also some pretty narrow streets and cool bars towards the docks (Schippenkwartier), also home to the red-light district – the area was fine during the day but didn’t feel a particularly safe place to wander about late at night.
It may not be as famous as Bruges or Ghent but I’d recommend Antwerp as a lovely city to look around and an ideal base for Northern Belgium, or a stop-off on the way to Germany or the Netherlands.