A Diamond In The Rough: Setting Your Sights On Antwerp

Those with an eye for adventure have turned their attentions away from the glittering capitals of Europe such as Paris, Rome and London, and are looking elsewhere for travel pastures new. While any number of smaller European cities are having something of a “moment”, there are few places receiving as much buzz as Belgium’s second city, Antwerp. Located in the Flemish region of the country, Antwerp is a real mix of cultural influences, straddling Germanic, Latin and local tastes to serve up something that is really quite unusual.

While the city might be best known for its diamonds, there is much more to the place than meets the eye and, nestled in the area’s winding streets and historic courtyards, you must just stumble across a new kind of treasure. Whether you’re into culture, fashion or architecture, the city delivers something unique; it’s knowing where to look which is the trick.

Located on the docks of the River Scheldt and just 80km from the North Sea, Antwerp is a bustling port town, still taking in many shipments today. The hub for the majority of the city’s deliveries and commerce, the docks are some of the most interesting places to take a stroll, and are surrounded by a number of new cafes and popups. Making use of the industrial architecture that surrounds the area, the Museum Aan De Stroom takes in the best view of the waterside, which you can enjoy from its top floor. Telling the story of the city, it seems appropriate that the museum should highlight some of the town’s very best features; great views, stunning architecture and historical squares.

There’s a lot of contemporary content going on in the city, too. Antwerp’s fashion museum, affectionately known as MoMu, is home both to an in depth museum and to the current fashion department of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Given the city’s proximity to the fashion giants like Paris and up and modern arts towns like Amsterdam, the place is a hotspot for fresh new talent, serving up something that lies between the classical and the contemporary.

It’s not just all about culture, either; design and architecture are big news in the city and many new builds are changing the face of the place entirely. Compacted into a relatively small space, the city’s innovative designs read like a who’s who of architectural innovation, trialing a huge range of experimental building styles. The use of simple aesthetics and natural materials is often balanced alongside more avant garde trends, like graphic roofing or expressionist shapes, as seen in the new Palace of Justice. While the city is very much steeped in the old, it’s not afraid to try out new styles.

If you come for one thing in Antwerp, however, it might just be the food. Home to more Michelin starred restaurants per square kilometer than most other countries around the world, the city is bursting with fresh flavors and ideas and no matter what you’re on the hunt for, you’re well covered. Fiskebar is one of the most popular places and it’s not hard to see why; utilizing the city’s port-side location, the restaurant serves up a rich range of seafood, including some of the best oysters for miles around. If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, however, you should set your sights on Au Vieux Port. A cosy wooden bistro, the place serves up dishes like prawn croquettes and Charolais steak, balancing the tastes of French and Belgian cuisine.

Bustling with new life and maintaining its history, Antwerp really is a city of two halves. Unlike other places, however, it has somehow managed to incorporate its heritage into its new builds and businesses, enabling the new to slot alongside the old as if it had always been there. Attracting new builds, creative projects and dining styles from around the world, the city is growing like never before and if you should choose to visit the place at any time at all, make it now.

Hannah Lamarque
Hannah is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Europe. She writes about travel, art, design and culture and loves discovering hidden places in the cities that she visits.

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