Antwerp, you are looking beautiful today! This is the caption I used for a photo I posted on A Highwaygirl’s Facebook page a while ago – and it is so true. Antwerp is perfect for a day-long walk through the city. You can see so much without paying (almost) anything. These were the five highlights of our walk:
1. Get neck pain at Antwerp-Centraal
Antwerp Central Station is already beautiful from the outside, but wait until you enter the building. Especially the roof of the waiting hall is so beautiful, I think I stood 5 minutes in the way of everyone staring up speechlessly to the dome inspired by the pantheon in Rome. Standing in the middle of the hall looking up, I just wanted to spin around like they do in the movies. From the waiting hall you get over some big stairs to the platform area, which is just as spectacular as the station building itself: If you arrive by train, you’ll arrive at one of the platforms, which are spread over three layers. A 43-meter-high skeleton of steel and glass spans over the tracks. A giant clock and the sign “Antwerp” welcomes travelers to the city. I personally love these old stations because despite the modern trains they still give me the feeling that time has stopped there a hundred years ago.
A handy tip if you take the metro: Central Station does not have its own metro stop, but is connected to Astrid and Diamant. It looks a bit weird on the metro map so we thought it was a separate stop. We realized a bit too late that it’s not 😀
2. Feel like a princess in the Stadsfeestzaal
From Centraal Station you can promenade on the Meir, Antwerp’s most important shopping street. At some point we found ourselves in front of an impressive golden entrance. At first it felt so luxury that we expected an expensive shopping mall so we did not enter. However, when the memory card of our camera was full we found out that there are normal stores inside so we entered. Just as the Central Station the hall, which used to be a festival ballroom, is beautiful. If you are a dancer like me, you’ll feel the same itch to waltz. And those pralines looked irresistible:
If you follow the Meir to the next square, you’ll get to the Rubenshuis, the house of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. If you like art and want to spend some money, this is the place to be.
3. Flee market at Grote Markt
Antwerp is not only famous for its diamonds, but it is also a center for antique. We were lucky that there was a small flee market held at the Grote Markt. Although we did not buy anything, it was lovely to stroll through the market with its stands full of old books, kitsch, art and little treasures. The location of the market made it extra special. Right to the impressive city hall you find a row of guild houses, called “gaffels”. Three of these houses (# 24, 38 & 40) are authentic and between 300 and 400 years old. The remaining buildings were built in the 19th and 20th century based on old paintings of the square.
If you turn 180 degrees, you can see the tower of the cathedral Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. We did not go inside so I cannot judge if it is worth it, but it is definitely already impressive from the outside.
4. Vlaeykensgang – escape the big city
Antwerp is a busy city – especially around the Grote Markt and the cathedral it can get overcrowded since many (touristic) cafes and restaurants are located around here. However, one of the blocks around the corner hides a little secret not many tourists manage to find. After some search we managed to find the entry to the Vlaeykensgang, a quiet and peaceful hidden alley in the middle of this busy city. We escaped from the noise and sat down on a bench to relax for a moment and take a breath. It felt like I traveled a few centuries (it dates back to the late 16th century) in just a few footsteps:
For that you don’t search for it for hours, you can enter the Vlaeykensgang via Oude Koornmarkt number 16 or via a port in the Pelgrimstraat. Look for the restaurant t’ Hofke.
5. Crossing the Schelde
Antwerp is located at the mouth of the river Schelde. The city center spreads across both side of the river, with one bridge and two tunnels connecting both sides. I have to admit that I get claustrophobic in tunnels so I usually try to avoid them (I’m that kind of person to rather walk half an hour than taking the metro), but the pedestrian tunnel is definitely worth taking a look. The Sint-Annatunnel was opened in 1933. The old wooden escalators still give you the feeling that you travel in time with every meter the escalator moves downwards.
The view on the Antwerp skyline from the other side is worth the 572-meter walk, so I would recommend it to anyone. Even despite my tunnel phobia I crossed the tunnel and enjoyed the view a lot. (What I did not consider was that I also had to walk back oO.)
Antwerp has of course a lot more to offer, but if you only have one day, you can see a lot without spending a fortune. These 5 stops were only the highlights of our walk, we saw a lot more! Antwerp is perfect to just wander around, get lost and explore.
PS: I’d be happy to hear your tips for Antwerp. Leave me a comment.