Skyline of Antwerp

Antwerp, or as the locals call it: 't stad (THE city). According to them, it’s the best city of the country. Or how they put it, grinning: it’s the centre, the rest of the country is just the car park. Arrogant, you say? They’re just really proud of their capital of cool, and with good reason. Even Lonely Planet agrees: it selected Antwerp as a Top 10 City in its Best in Travel 2018-awards. Here’s some of the reasons why.

1. Party like a local

Bartender making cocktails - ©Bas Bogaerts

Antwerp has plenty of fine clubs where you can party all night long. The true party animal will surely get his or her fill. However, if you really want to blend in with the locals, you’ll want to visit a pop-up party. They’re all around town, each time at a different location. Just enter terms as Noord Feesjes or Pret Bederf in Google or Facebook and you’ll find them. Or ask a hip looking local where the party's at.

2. From Mr Big shot to broke students

Nick Bril - chef of The Jane Antwerp - ©Michaël Dehaspe

If you’re prepared to spend some euros, Antwerp offers you some of the best food in Belgium and beyond. Restaurants like The Jane, ‘t Zilte and Nuance are top of the bill. You can even dine in an age-old chapel or on top of one of Antwerp’s most iconic buildings (such as the MAS). But also if you’re backpacking and only have a couple of euros to spend, there is plenty of choice. Try some bargain-priced food in Bar Buenos Aires, ‘t Lastig Portret or go to La Cuisine, where you can enjoy a bowl of soup and a main dish for just under 9 euros. Those dishes are, by the way, prepared and served by underprivileged youngsters, as a training to become restaurant professionals.

3. Shine on, you crazy diamond

The Port House Antwerp - ©Havenbedrijf Peter Knoop

Antwerp is home to many historic buildings such as the Cathedral of Our Lady and the medieval fortress Het Steen, but that’s not all. This city isn’t standing still when it comes to architecture. The Port House aka ‘The Diamond’ is the best proof of that. The world famous architect Zaha Hadid designed it as the new head office of the Antwerp Port Authority. The building is considered an honorary salute to the diamond, one of the products Antwerp is most renowned for.

4. A city with a soundtrack

Bourla Antwerp - ©Milo-Profi

If Belgium and Flanders have a music capital: you’ve found it (although people from Ghent might disagree…). There are plenty of music venues all over the city. Try visiting KAVKA, for instance. With a wide range of artists, bands and deejays, you’ll surely find your match here. Want to go back in time? Then go and gaze at BOURLA. It’s not only one of the most marvellous buildings in the city, it’s also home to a magnificent theatre. In the concert hall, take a look up. The ceiling has a painting by contemporary artist Jan Van Riet. When still in awe, go upstairs to the Foyer, pick a table and let it all sink in while enjoying a great view over the paintings and skylight.

5. Architectural treat

view of interior Central Station Antwerp - ©Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres

Even the railway station is an architectural gem in Antwerp. It appears in almost every list of the world’s most beautiful railway stations. Probably lesser-known, is the street called Cogels-Osylei, the main street of the Zurenborg neighbourhood and a must-see for architecture lovers. You’ll see a stunning mix of Art Nouveau, Jugendstil and Neo-Classicism. And to think that the city was going to tear those ‘old-fashioned’ buildings down, back in the 1960s... Thank god for a group of artists who bought the houses and saved the neighbourhood.

6. Bring Rubens a visit

Interior Rubenshouse Antwerp - ©Visit Antwerp

The city has a long and flourishing relationship with art and artists. The greatest of them all: Pieter Paul Rubens. The celebrated baroque master painted and breathed Antwerp. You can admire his paintings all over town, but the most famous ones are in Rubenshuis. This 1611 building was his home and workplace, rescued from ruins back in 1937. A must see, yet not the only palace of culture that Antwerp has to offer. The museum Plantin-Moretus, for instance, is given the UNESCO World Heritage status. There you can see the world’s oldest printing press, priceless manuscripts and original type sets. The medieval building-with-courtyard has been a museum for nearly 150 years.

7. The old underpass

Pedestrian Tunnel under the Scheldt Antwerp - ©Carl Pendle

The Scheldt is the picturesque river that cuts Antwerp in two. Do you want to get to the other side? Don’t worry, it’s possible without getting wet by using the Saint-Anne Tunnel or Underpass. Built in 1933, it allows you to even travel back in time, since the interior decoration hasn’t changed a bit since. Walk through the entrance building, past the sings and fences and go down on the original wooden escalator. It’ll truly give you the feeling of being in the avant-garde, breathing the city’s atmosphere of a century back.

Take a look at Lonely Planet and Use-it for more inspiration.

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