It’s saturday evening. It’s a sultry summer evening and I’m outside enjoying some wine in one of mine soft lawn chairs. Here’s to the summer, that it may be a long one. This feels rights, this feels nice. I’m relaxed and I’m sipping my wine very slowly. While my thoughts are off to sunny far destinations, my boyfriend whispers in my ear: ‘Let’s go to Antwerp tomorrow, just for one day?’. Immediately all the peace and quietness is gone. He may be whispering, I’m shouting so loud the whole neighbourhood can hear it. ‘Yes, let’s do it!’
And so the next day we’re standing at Schiphol to catch the train to our friendly southern neighbours. Antwerp it is, a city I have passed so many times by train, but never bothered to get out. It’s a city I cannot get a good sense of what it offers. It has no typical statue like the Manneke Pis or an Atomium, but what does it have? It was time for Antwerp and I to get to know each other better. Hello Antwerp, here I come!
The central train station of Antwerp is actually one of the reasons why you should visit Antwerp once in your life. The interior is one of the most beautiful in Europe. It’s even chosen as the world’s most attractive train station in 2014. Okay, I don’t know if that’s true, because I haven’t seen that many train stations. But it sure is beautiful. It looks kind of a cathedral. Just pay attention to the many bows and arches and the massive clock in the arrival area. You see it?
The Grand Market Square
Via the ‘Keyserlei’ and the ‘Meir’ it’s a ten minute walk from the train station to the old centre. One of the downsides of visiting Antwerp on a Sunday is that all the shops on the Meir are closed and even the few cafes I’ve written down were not open. Luckily I’m not a big shopper, but I sure have liked a good cup of coffee. I guess that had to wait. Luckily the Grand Market Square had a huge surprise for me. The Swan Market was there for the weekend! For those who don’t know what the Swan Market is, it is an originally Holland-based lifestyle market with stands that offer jewelry and vintage cloths. And of course no market is complete without a food truck. And so I could finally get my cup of coffee from a cute little food stand. I also spotted my favorite snacks in the world: cocos balls! I tasted them at Food Festival TREK in Rotterdam and here I saw them again. Of course I had to buy some to eat it in front of the massive Cathedral of Our Lady.
Street art in the Kopstraatje
No city is complete for me without some street art. It makes a city real and tells a story that otherwise stays hidden from the tourists. Take for instance the Antwerp station ‘Luchtbal’. This was once a grey dull neighbourhood that offered nothing for tourists. But now it’s covered with street art, all because of the Day One Street Art Festival. I would have loved to explore this area, but sadly the public transportation sucked the day I was in Antwerp. And so I had resort to plan B: the ‘Kopstraatje‘. This is a small and narrow street in the centre of Antwerp and it’s full with street art. For years this used to be a notorious drugs street in Antwerp, but in 2012 the youth centre Kavka decided to give this street a second life. The result: a colorful little alley.
The hotspot island ‘t Eilandje
After lunch it was time to leave the city centre and head north to the trendy neighbourhood ‘t Eilandje. You can reach this area easily by walking down the ‘Lange Koepoortstraat’ en ‘Klapdorp’. It’s hard to explain to a foreigner, but in Dutch these street names are kind of funny. Just go to Google Translate and you’ll find out. ‘t Eilandje is a completely renovated neighbourhood full with trendy hotspots. Trendy hotspot nr. 1 is the futurististic MAS museum. Bloggers Marcella and Nanda gave me the tip to go here for a wonderful view over the city. And so I did. The panorama is on the tenth floor and it truly gives an amazing 360-degree view. And the best thing is the entrance is free.
Once our feet were back on ground level we headed over to trendy hotspot nr. 2: the Felixpakhuis. This is an old warehouse that was used in the nineteenth century for storage of tobacco, cacao and hop. It functioned for over a decade until it went out of business in the 1980’s. In 2009 the warehouse revived and was turned into a mix of pop-up stores, restaurants (tip: Balls & Glory) and an indoor market. And in summer there’s even a pop-up garden. It’s pretty cool.
Finding peace in the Begijnhof
After a busy day full with sights and one heavy camera it’s great to find some peace and quietness in a busy city like Antwerp. The perfect place for this is the Begijnhof nearby the Ossenmarkt. I visited the Begijnhof in Leuven and that place was crowded with tourists, but the one in Antwerp is so quiet. We were all alone. The Begijnhof was a place in the sixteenth century where elderly pious women lived. Nowadays the last ‘begijns’ have passed away and the buildings are used as elderly homes.
Have you ever been to Antwerp?