Antwerp is home to most of the world’s diamond trading industry and is the most populous city in Belgium, although the Brussels metropolitan area is quite a bit larger. And Antwerp’s port is the second largest in Europe, behind nearby Rotterdam, but even with all of this, Antwerp is not considered a prime tourist city. This was the major financial capital of the region before Amsterdam took over in the late 16th Century, so Antwerp has more than its fair share of history and interesting architecture. Add in the new trendy bars and restaurants and you can see why this is one of the newer tourist hot spots.
What To Do
The old town/market square is definitely worth checking out. The grand City Hall is its centerpiece, but the whole area is filled with medieval guild houses that are nicely preserved. The Cathedral of Our Lady is an enormous Gothic cathedral that is home to several famous pieces by Rubens.
The Diamond District is where you’ll find one jewelry shop after another and a good chunk of the city’s sizable Orthodox Jewish population. It’s very interesting to see even if you aren’t at all interested in buying your own diamond. Keeping with the theme, there is a great Fashion Museum in Antwerp. They have two long displays each year, but also some permanent historical information.
Antwerp is often approached by train, so it’s a great stop for Eurail Pass holders, but there is a good-sized regional airport here as well. You can book a flight into Antwerp Airport (code: ANR) from many large cities within the region, and it’s also a stop for quite a few of the new low-cost carriers. A local bus is the cheapest way to get from the airport to the city center.
Where To Stay
This is a fairly compact city so most anywhere in town will be well located. There are several hostels in Antwerp and the usual selection of hotels in Antwerp as well. Summer is the crowded season here, but the climate is never too bad so visiting outside of summer can be a good way to escape the crowds and high prices. If you are coming during peak season it’s a good idea to book a place well in advance.