Antwerp is the principal city of Belgium’s Flemish region. It’s an often overlooked gem in Europe, yet it presents numerous rewards for the visitor. While the city is commonly known for its favorite son, Flemish master Pieter Paul Rubens, and for its fame as one of the world’s principal diamond dealing and cutting centers, there’s much more in store. Historically, the city was known as a major port, and today it’s still the world’s fourth-largest.
If you take the train to Antwerp, make note of the Central Station where you’ll be arriving. It was completed in 1905 and has two baroque façades, a 200-ft. high metal and glass dome and a marble interior.
Begin your exploration of Antwerp in the Grote Markt, Antwerp’s central square. It’s anchored by theStadhuis (town hall).
Next up is the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kathedraal), the largest gothic cathedral in Belgium; it’s noted for its spire and its four works by Rubens.
Art lovers must continue on to the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, the city’s best fine arts collection, for its work by Rubens and van Dyck; the Modern Art exhibit includes Belgian Rene Magritte.
You don’t have to be an art aficionado to enjoy a visit to the Rubenshuis: the master’s home and studio for the last 30 years of his life, 1610-1640.
For a change of pace, Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest and largest in Europe, housing as many as 6,000 animals. And of course, any visit to the city should include at least a casual browsing for diamonds.
As with most destinations in this region, Antwerp has many opportunities for day trips. Places like Brugge, Ghent and Ieper (Ypres) make for easy side trips by car or train. Other destinations in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) region are also easily accessible by rail or car from Antwerp.
Antwerp is a cosmopolitan city that’s home to many “name brand” hotels, including Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Radisson Blu, Ramada, Novotel, Best Western, Holiday Inn Express, Tulip and Ibis.
Direct flights from the U.S. into Brussels are provided by United, Delta, US Airways, Jet Airways, Brussels Airlines, Air Canada and American. It’s 60 minutes by train to Antwerp.
Bus and tram service are the best ways around the city, however, most of the city’s main sights are within walking distance of the Grote Markt.