What is more lavishing for a couple, than spending a weekend exploring a city known for its baroque legacy, a highly extravagant style of architecture? Let us show you the many things to do in Antwerp, a city famed for international trade and known for its great Flemish art. Antwerp is the capital of Flanders, situated on the river Scheldt. Antwerp has long been an important cultural city and its inhabitants are nicknamed Sinjoren, which refers to the Spanish nobleman who ruled the city in the 17th century. We want you to be "Sinjoren" for a weekend and discover the exquisite things to do in Antwerp, specially tailored to suit couples looking for a romantic weekend away.
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We always say that first impressions matter and Antwerp sure took this seriously. The moment you get off the train at the Antwerp Central Station, you will be impressed with how majestic the building truly is. The original station was built in the 19th century but suffered severe damage during World War II.
The station was closed in 1986 for safety reasons, after which restoration works of the roof (starting at the end of March 1986 and finishing in September 1986) and façades were performed. The entrance hall is simply stunning and you will be forgiven for not wanting to leave Antwerp ever again. The clock at the upper level is what initially caught our eye, so make sure you look around for it. As you leave (or approach) the station, you will see its incredible dome designed by Louis Delacenserie.
Paul Rubens House
Our tour guide made an interesting statement about The Rubens House. He said "this is no ordinary house, but a palace", and rightfully so. The Rubens House is located in the heart of the city, a masterpiece designed by Rubens himself. The Rubens House doesn't just contain pieces created by Rubens, but his collaborators as well. You can walk in Rubens' footsteps and see who and what inspired him and his work. Enjoy an intimate atmosphere and don't forget to end your tour in the garden, where you can take a sit on a wooden bench and contemplate Rubens' life.
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Learn about Baroque
Antwerp is famed for its Flemish art, especially for invaluable paintings left behind by masters such as Rubens or Van Dyck. Most tourists photograph the baroque details present in the Grote Markt but some travellers will find elements of baroque in various paintings located in the chapels of the city. Any baroque tour should take the curious mind to The Rubens House where they will be met by the imposing Italianate arch.
In 2018, Antwerp will pay tribute to Paul Rubens and his baroque legacy. If you love art, fashion and history, add Antwerp to your itinerary right away.
Grote Markt is perhaps one of the most iconic parts of Antwerp. It is located in the heart of the old city quarters and it features various guildhalls, including the city hall. It's a place to sit down and relax with a Belgian beer and admire the Brabo Fountain.
It is said that the giant Druon Antigoon cut off the hand of all ship captains who refused to pay the toll for mooring in the city. In an interesting turn of events, the captain of the Roman army, Brabo, cut off the giant's hand. The fountain reflects the moment when Brabo throws the giant's hand into the river.
Eat at Backyard
Since you are already exploring the gorgeous Grote Markt, we recommend taking a break to enjoy lunch at Backyard. Backyard offers a variety of delicious lunch options as well as well crafted cocktails. There are some vegan options on the menu, as well as great Belgian beers if you prefer. Don't forget to visit the restaurant's site to book your table in advance.
Antwerp has been a focus of the diamond trade since 15th century and this is because a resident called Lodewyk van Berken invented a new form of diamond polishing tool, the scaif. This allowed him to transform the diamonds can be transformed into sparkling spectacles. Of course, this caught the attention of various European noblewomen and men and Antwerp quickly became the go-to-place for diamond traders and manufacturers. Love diamonds? Over €14 billion in polished diamonds pass through Antwerp's exchanges each year. There are 380 workshops and over 3,500 brokers, merchants and diamond cutters in Antwerp.
For those wanting to learn more about diamonds but don't wish to purchase that engagement ring just yet, I suggest a visit to DIVA. DIVA is a modern venue with many pieces of jewellery on display. They also feature an audio guide in various languages so you can learn a lot about precious stones and silverware. Our favourite part of our visit to DIVA was the video which shows how diamonds are being polished. The work and technology that goes into creating that perfect ring are quite impressive. You can learn more about it here.
Hey fashion couples, this one is for you. If you are anything like us and love shopping, we advise that you visit Meir, a shopping zone in Antwerp. You will discover many cosy terraces and wonderful fashion boutiques. We say that you should mix fashion with the love for arts and architecture: so make sure to have your camera ready for all those fantastic Rococo buildings on the pedestrian-only shopping boulevard.
The Fashion District
Did you know that Antwerp is a very important fashion city? Many renowned designers graduated from the prestigious fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Start at ModeNatie and continue towards Kammenstraat. If you love vintage stores, add Kloosterstraat to your fashion itinerary. Schuttershofstraat is for those who have a taste for expensive and luxury brands. Oh and if you really want to discover fashion in Antwerp, don't forget to download a dedicated fashion app to learn more about special places to go and create your most suitable itinerary. Click here for the app.
Chocolate in Antwerp
Antwerp is a city in Belgium and that means amazing chocolate. What is more romantic than enjoying a chocolate tour around the city in order to sample all its exquisite, hand-made truffles and local delicacies? If you travel vegan, you can still purchase various black chocolates with no milk or butter. We sure indulged in too many sweets during our trip to Antwerp. Taste the Antwerp handjes, a local culinary speciality since 1934. These are made of either biscuit or chocolate, with marzipan filling dipped in Elixir d’Anvers.
Our favourite truffles were at Nello & Patrasche, followed by chocolate at Elisa and biscuits at Philip's Biscuits.
Cross to the other side
Everyone who visits Antwerp should head over to Linkeroever, located on the left bank of the Scheldt. Most people visit the main attractions on the right bank, not knowing they can cross the St. Anne's tunnel with ease. St. Anne's tunnel is a 572-meter-long tunnel for pedestrians and bikes only. The tunnel features wooden escalators which date back to the 1930s. We recommend heading to the other side just before the sunset, in order to get some really lovely pastel colours over Antwerp's skyline.
Cathedral of Our Lady
Cathedral of Our Lady is a Roman Catholic Cathedral built in gothic style. The Cathedral houses several works by Paul Rubens and it is currently listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The Cathedral of Our Lady suffered significant damaged throughout the years but was completely restored and refurbished in the 19th century. What stroke us as most impressive is that the largest bell in the tower currently requires 16 bell ringers, so you can already imagine what a majestic building this gothic beauty truly is.
Eat at Debroers van Julienne
Vegan and vegetarian friends, this recommendation is for you! We spent our evening in Antwerp devouring several dishes offered by Debroers van Julienne. Since we visited Antwerp during late May, we were lucky to have wonderful weather. So naturally, we reserved a table in the restaurant's garden. What a joy that was. Debroers van Julienne is a gem of a restaurant, and their garden was a leafy oasis far from the city's agitation. You know we are foodies, so this place will not disappoint. Click here to make your reservation.
Stay at De Witte Lelie
Antwerp is one of the cutest places we've ever seen and an absolute sensation for any couple who wish to spend a romantic weekend together. We stayed in a luxury boutique in Antwerp called: De Witte Lelie. This five-star hotel was incredible. We wrote an in-depth review of De Witte Lelie and we invite you to read it. We guarantee it will be love at first sight. Click to book your stay here.
Take a walking tour
If you've been following our stories for a while, you probably noticed that recently, we started booking walking tours with experienced guides. This is because we found it much easier to learn about the history of the places we visit. In fact, we learned a lot about Antwerp's influence on fashion, diamonds and art. We realise that without an experienced guide we would have missed a lot of details. When visiting Antwerp, get your Visit Antwerp city card and ask about booking a local guide.
A Dog of Flanders
A Dog of Flanders is a novel written by a British author who tells the story of young orphan Nello, who grows up with his grandfather in a village near Antwerp. After reading the book, a Japanese diplomat sent a few copies back to Japan, which is now the best-known children's story in Japan. The statue is a tribute to the novel which is so very loved in Japan.
Are you ready to visit Antwerp? Will you enjoy the intricate network of narrow alleyways or go straight for The Rubens House? Let us know in the comments section below.
Thank you Visit Flanders for hosting us in your incredible city. We absolutely loved Antwerp and we cannot wait to visit it again, soon. As always, thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.