Antwerp, Belgium's largest port and the country's second city is somewhat of a sleeper. Sure, it made a splash a decade ago in the fashion world thanks to an avant-garde school of designers, but the country's second city has remained unexplored by visitors. Home to baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, the cool kid city is a delightful maze of cafe-lined cobblestoned streets, galleries, and a picturesque medieval center.
What We Love
The Residential Zurenborg Area: Hop a tram in the city center and head toward Berchem. Get off in Zurenborg, a planned urban community replete with art nouveau, belle époque, and several different revival architectural styles. Streets here are lined with lovely houses that have been lovingly restored in recent years.
Central Station: Completed in 1905, the monumental main railway station boasts a neo-baroque façade and a soaring marble and gilt interior topped by a 200-foot dome. Trains arrive and depart on three levels, including along mezzanines and on either side of the central well.
Best Known For
Grote Markt: This main square in the heart of Antwerp is flanked by ornate, 16th-century "guild houses" (buildings dedicated to the gathering of special trades), and a city hall with a Renaissance belfry.
The Cathedral: The looming Cathedral of our Lady is the tallest building in the city and can hold up to 25,000 people. Begun in the 14th century in Gothic style, the church houses major works by native son Peter Paul Rubens.
Diamonds: If you're looking to be dazzled, you'll find the world’s largest diamond center near the main train station.
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Who It's Best For
Urban History Buffs: Antwerp is one of Europe's great, overlooked cities that is finally coming into its own. Not only is it easy to tour, it's a delight to discover the new art and entertainment options housed in its collection of classic architectural styles.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The City Has a Rep for Being Boring: Friends or acquaintances might tell you Antwerp is just a big port and is known mainly for diamonds, but the city has a vibrancy that's alluring.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.