Antwerp is known for diamonds, avant-garde fashion and gothic architecture. The city of half a million people sits on the east bank of the River Schelde, and its compact center gives Antwerp a bustling vibe. The locals, with a reputation for being relaxed and friendly, are more than happy to switch from their native-tongue Flemish to English.
The city’s position as a key trading point saw it explode into riches during the 16th century; many relics from this golden age still exist. Buildings like the City Hall in the Grote Markt and the palatial Central Station give the town an architectural beauty to rival any in Europe. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal), a huge and ornately decorated Gothic cathedral that houses artworks by Antwerpen artist Peter Paul Rubens.
Art enthusiasts can find out more about Rubens by visiting his old home and studio, the Rubenshuis. The sculpture garden at Middelheim Park south of the center is also a popular spot for art lovers, with its mix of modern and traditional pieces dotted among shrubs and winding paths.
Antwerp is known as the diamond capital of the world. Nearly 60 percent of the world’s diamonds are traded here. Browse the sparkling displays of jewelers’ windows in the Diamond District, east of the city center.
The city’s fashion school is one of the best in Europe. Many well-known designers have made Antwerp their home. Shop for one-off designer clothes and accessories in the Kammenstraat area.
It’s easy to get around Antwerp on foot or by bicycle. Rent a bike using the city’s public Velo system, which sees bike stations dotted around town. There’s also a good network of buses, trams and a pre-metro system (underground trams). Buy a fixed price transport card.
The climate is maritime, with mild and often wet weather throughout the year. Winters rarely see snow, and June and July—the hottest months—are also the rainiest. The city makes the most of its climate with no shortage of cozy cafes and bars. Pull up a stool at a bar and drink Belgian beer with the locals.