No matter how many times I visit Antwerp, I never seem to cross the bounds of the familiar. The city seems to have a never-ending charm about it.
It’s within reasonable distance from my resident city Tilburg, in the Netherlands. Bus 450 at the Central station goes right to Turnhout, and a second bus from there gets one to Antwerp with two options available: the fast (snel) bus or the slow. The journey may be take a toil on one with the two hours travel time, but it’s easy on the pocket costing just seven euros per day trip.
What brings me to Antwerp time and again? I wish I could say diamonds and chocolates but that’s not it. I come here to shop at the numerous cosmetic and hair shops scattered close by the Antwerp central station at Astridplein; not only do they have a variety of hair creams, moisturizers, polishers, wigs, weaves, ribbons and hair bands, but they are awfully cheap in comparison to similar stores in the Netherlands.
Antwerp is a city to behold, quite stylish with its baroque buildings, imposing statues and cobbled streets. Legend records that a giant named Antigoon attacked the city and punished those who didn’t pay bridge toll by hacking off their hands. A brave soldier named Silvius Brabo slew the giant, chopped off his hand and tossed it into the River Scheldt. The name Antwerpen translated from Flemish, the local language means hand-throw (hand-werpen).
Despite being the second-most populous city after the capital Brussels, Antwerp is an easy city to explore. There’s a tour bus that sets off hourly, from the front of the central station. It costs 13 euros per adult for a hop off and on, along the way, and 10 euros for a straight out tour. The charges for kids is 6.50 euros. Just from the viewing section at the top of the bus, and with a narration in several languages of your choice, you can sit back and enjoy views of the city.
Some fun things you can do here include:
1) Eat waffles: Antwerp is considered the best place to enjoy Belgium’s world-famous waffles. They are sold by roadside vendors, at the station, restaurants, bars or pubs and you can have them in any version you want; plain, or slathered in chocolate glaze, topped with whipped cream, fruits or even nuts.
2) Buy diamonds: With its ‘diamond district’ stretching over one square mile and boasting a turn-over of $54 billion, it is no surprise that Antwerp is considered the de-facto capital of the world’s diamond industry. 80% of rough diamonds and 50% of all cut diamonds are brought to Antwerp for further processing each year. You can get a nice ring or chain here from as low as 200 euros, and many stores have the sale signs. There are beautiful varieties as well of silver and gold jewelry.
3) Walk around Antwerp Central station: The entrance of the Antwerp Central station will likely remind you of a cross between the Taj Mahal and a cathedral. With its neo-gothic facade, the 1905 station is one of the world’s most beautiful stations. The multi-level platforms add to it’s practicability as well as a shopping city that includes a diamond gallery with more than 30 diamond shops. The station building was designed between 1895 and 1905 by architect Delacenserie.
4) Visit the Cathedral of our Lady (Onze Lieve-Vrouwekathedral): The Onze Lieve-Vrouwe Kathedral is a masterpiece of lace work in stone and the largest church in Benelux. Begun in 1352 and completed by around 1520, it stands on the site of a 10th-century chapel dedicated to the Virgin and a subsequent Romanesque church. The Cathedral as well shelters four magnificent Rubens altarpieces. Just outside the Cathedral is a statue of Peter Paul Rubens, a seventeenth-century Flemish Baroque painter, a style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He was well-known for his altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.
5) Go to the Antwerp Zoo: With it’s location right next to the station, it is a great place to visit. It is the oldest animal park in the country, which throughout the years has encouraged wildlife preservation through activities and exhibits on a recreational, educational, scientific and cultural level. The Antwerp Zoo houses over 7,000 animals of about 950 species that include the polar bear, Siberian tigers, Indian lions, Arabian oryxes, Indian elephants, gorillas, bisons, orangutans, crocodiles, small panda, koala, panthers, sharks,…You are set up for an enjoyable day when you visit Antwerp Zoo.
What are some of the cool places you love visiting in a neighboring country?