Changing in Brussels it is just a thirty-five minute journey to this pocket metropolis. You can be sipping one of the five hundred different beers, each served in their own glass and enjoying steaming bowls of mussels with chips and mayonnaise within sight of the famous cathedral by 1.30 - this is an experience not to be missed.
If food is not your main priority then arriving at the grand central station, which is on three levels, puts you in the heart of the Diamond District. Having moved from the tawdry Nissan huts that sheltered under the railways arches it is now in a new home within the station complex. If you are looking for diamonds this is the place to come but the vast number and selection somehow cheapen their value. Each window is packed with diamonds of every size from small chips to egg size sparkling under the display lights make it look like “a bling paradise”.
However, it is worth taking time to visit one of the diamond cutting showrooms to learn about the transformation of the raw product into sparkling jewellery or industrial cutting tools. This gives you a more balanced view of why this city is the world’s centre for the diamond trade.
Its fashionable centre is easily accessible on foot and walking from the main station, down the pedestrian thoroughfare (Mier) is a shopper’s paradise. Here all the designer brands jostle for attention and the chic arcades offer smart eating places.
Antwerp is the home of Rubens and a visit to his house should not be missed – it nestles in a leafy square and offers the visitor a chance to see actual house where the great master lived and painted some of his most famous works.
The old town clusters around the cathedral and the market squares are all within its shadow. The Groenplaats is the largest and is the centre of a lively café culture which abounds in Antwerp. Moving in front of the cathedral you are in the Shoemakers Market (Handschoenmarkt) and this is crowded with lace and chocolate shops as well as fashionable restaurants.
The Town Hall is in the Grote Markt and is an imposing building surrounded by impressive guild houses. In front of the Town Hall is the celebrated Brabo fountain – which tells the legend of Salvius Brabo who defeated the giant Druoon Antigoon and inflicted on him the same punishment that the giant had meted out to sailors unable to pay his toll: Brabo cut off the giant’s hand and threw it into the River Schelde.
Walking down to the river one is immediately reminded that Antwerp is a world port as the Schelde gives access to the sea. Luxury apartments look over the broad sweep of the river and give this part of the city a truly cosmopolitan feel.
This is a city that offers the visitor history and modernism – good food and culture in equal measures. It is not as well known as Brussels or Bruges but is well worth a visit and it will draw you back time and again.