Antwerp for me is a noble setting: squares and gardens for afternoon walks and facades of buildings as background for many (I really don’t remember how many!) weekends. Antwerp to me is waking up late on Sunday morning in a trendy studio, the smell of mocha coffee, brunch and a soep van de dag at the mid-afternoon in the antique dealer district. Then a solitary walk to the railway station, train, airport and finally home.
Vanessa (sister) and Giacomo (brother-in-law) lived there for a few years and their home has become my second one. Antwerp is a gorgeous city that I strongly recommend you to visit both in winter, winter is not too cold here, and in summer, a period in which the city wakes up and puts on its best suit.
Now I tell you about my winters in Antwerp. I take you by the hand like a visiting friend, through the small habits that make a city your city.
Lunch at the saturday market
The Saturday morning awakenings are often slow and crumpled: you have breakfast, you stroll softly between the shops and then straight to the covered market. At the Saturday morning market in front of the Stadsschouwburg Antwerpen you can buy fresh flowers and delicatessen from the world: I still amaze myself with the endless varieties of olives proposed!
The best part of the market in Oudervaartplaats is, however, street food, you can have a trés chic one taking oysters (DELICIOUS) and Cava, passing through the realm of fried food and ending with The One, the Moroccan sandwich-piadina that can be stuffed with endless ingredients that punctually will fall on the ground or on the sleeves of the coat. The lovely owners of the stall pamper their customers with an hot tea, necessary to bring post-sandwich customers back to life.
Just take a walk
I recommend you to walk around in the center of Antwerp: the distances allow it and it is never too cold to stay outdoors. My favorite walk is along the river Scheldt: it starts at the Cathedral square, arrives at the Het Steen (a small castle) and then goes above the former harbor shelters (now parking lots), and then reaches a tower converted into a trendy restaurant. Then you leave the Scheldt in the direction of the MAS, Museum Aan de Storm, here you can also admire the splendid boats moored at the small marina, last stop is at Park Spoor Nord and then back home. My usual walk includes a visit to the temporary exhibitions of the MAS and its terrace that is 60 meters high and dominate the city.
We could also choose a small detour: take the cycle-pedestrian underpass that runs under the Scheldt river. Access is via wooden escalators, located along the river.
Another walk I recommend is to do your shoppings on Saturday. Go for a walk on the Meir and follow the path that starts from the Groenplaats and leads to the beautiful central station. This street is a large outdoor mall that is always packed. If you are looking for something more sophisticated you have to move to the tree-lined streets that lead up to the Operà. Here the eyes rejoice and the wallets tremble.
On Sunday mornings, take a walk through the beautiful shops of the Antwerp antiques and design district along Kloosterstraat and keep the Dansing Chocola as your point of reference. Here you order the soep den dag (that is the soup of the day, the best choice after the Saturday drinks). The cheeks will burn in response to the wind that has frozen them.
After an afternoon spent strolling through the center or reading a book in front of huge windows, you might be hungry.
To start our night out, I would take you to the Barbel, a little place that overlooks a beautiful square and where there is an excellent selection of wines. The lovely staff will be the real plus of this aperitif. Be careful not to dwell too long with the aperitif, we are always in a Nordic country and the kitchens of restaurants do not stay open until late!
Antwerp will surprise you with its cuisine and the excellent cuisines from the world. I recommend two very local places that will give you the feeling of being at home: at De Zeven Schaken and at De Potterkijker. Here you have to go for the meat, you won’t really regret it. Little BUN‘s wonderful Vietnamese cuisine will take you to Asia and you won’t want to come back. Unique tip, book a lot in advance!
Post dinner, you know, a good cocktail helps to digest better. Since it is winter why not take a good cocktail in the jazz-inspired venue, De muze or, alternatively, at Dogma? Here it’s no joke about bartendering! Rely on their wise hands. An essential and true insider spot is the Korsakov, a pub located behind the Sint Joriskerk church. Pay close attention to where you are while sipping the Antwerp beer, the De Konick because the tram here runs all evening. If the sidewalk is too crowded, move to the other side of the road!
- Shops are closed on Sunday. There are a few exceptions, but I advise you to consider this factor when organizing your weekend.
- Land in Brussels and take the train to Antwerp. The price is good as is the service.
- Visit the splendid Antwerp Centraal railway station: it dates back to 1905 and was completely renovated in 2007. Its clocks, friezes and stained-glass windows will fascinate you. It has been classified as the fourth most beautiful railway station in the world.
- Check out indoor concerts and sporting events: Antwerp will offer you some fun also in rainy evenings.
Credits: Photo Laura Caroli.