Antwerp – Cool and collected
November 26th, 2017
I will begin this post the same way I begin most, admitting my own narrow mindedness in terms of European travel destinations – Antwerp was never on my agenda until I moved to Brussels, but it should have been!
The big hitters in the Benelux region (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) have always been Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels and maybe even Rotterdam, rarely do we hear someone say they are off to Antwerp for their mini break / weekend away. (Unless they are already living in the Benelux region). I have had the pleasure of visiting Belgium’s underrated ‘gem’ of a city twice (pun intended: Antwerp is a diamond capital).
The first remarkable thing is just getting off the train and then seeing the majestic station, I mean why is Grand Central the world’s most famous train station when Antwerp has this…
Antwerp although a short train ride from Brussels feels like a different country altogether, it’s located in the Flemish region of Belgium and therefore they speak Flemish (for those who aren’t aware Flemish is more or less Dutch). While Brussels feels decidedly ‘French’, Antwerp feels very ‘Dutch’ not least because of all the bicycles and the general feel of efficiency and order which unfortunately is not the case in Brussels, (the intricacies and sometimes endearing chaos of Brussels are worthy of an entire post of their own).
Antwerp is a wealthy city, known for its diamond trade – a staggering 80 percent of the world’s diamonds are traded in Antwerp. Diamonds are in the fabric of the city, as soon as you leave the train station you are surrounded by streets of seemingly never ending jewelers, side by side. As such Antwerp may be the perfect destination for anyone keen to pop the big question anytime soon, there may be some savings to be had when you go straight to the source.
Aside from potential ring hunters there is so much more, I was surprised to learn how Antwerp is leading in the fashion stakes – and is home to one of the world’s most famous fashion institutes, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts churning out some of the world’s leading designers, including Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons.
You can definitely sense its fashion capital status and wealth as you meander along the cobbled streets, between all the chic, clean and crisp fashionistas, the fashion students, the diamond traders and the significant Orthodox Jewish population in this small city – it makes for an eclectic mix of intermingling cultures and styles. The vintage fashion scene is big in Antwerp, for a relatively compact city, you are never too far away from a vintage shop – some of them with pretty hefty discounts, check out Rosier 41 – stocking everything from Chloe to Dior.
Antwerp can only be described as cool. Like when I came across a trendy bar which I realised was actually a launderette, people were doing their washing in the back while sipping on a Belgian beer. I’m sure this exists in London too, but in Antwerp you get all the hipness without all the hassle, and you can just walk everywhere! The streets and the architecture are quaint, the whole city has a feeling of calm – it’s not overrun with tourists like Amsterdam and Brussels so you can take your time, you can rest assured you aren’t getting ripped off at any point and not every other shop is a souvenir shop – it’s a really livable city which I hope to return to time and time again.
Where I stayed
Hotel Julien – I cannot rate this hotel highly enough, unbeatable for location and the epitome of Antwerpian cool. The interiors are trendy and minimal yet still cosy and inviting. It’s a small boutique hotel, the excellence is in the detail like the REN toiletries, the outstanding breakfast and the rooftop bar. The spa also looked magnificent, I unfortunately didn’t have the time to try it out.
How to get there
By plane, the easiest way is to fly into Brussels, you can take the train directly from the airport to Antwerp which will take you around 35 mins and voila you find yourself in this beautiful train station wondering why you had never heard of this place before.
From Luxembourg you can take a horrendously long train like I did or you can take a blablacar/ drive.
P.s. For the Irish readers out there: As a frequent flyer on the Dublin-Brussels route I can vouch for the fact these flights are always ridiculously cheap all year round, why not book yourself a getaway to Antwerp for next to nothing.