- Where the Locals Go
Aileen Adalid quit her corporate job in the Philippines to travel the world. Though she grew up on the small island of Batanes and spent half of her life in bustling Manila, she found her new home base on the other side of the world: Antwerp, Belgium. A treasure trove of adventure and culture, Antwerp was an easy sell for Aileen, who describes Belgium’s most populous city as “a quaint metropolis that has something for everyone, if not everything.” Here are a few of her favorite things about this Low Country gem.
Follow Aileen’s adventures in travel on her blog, iAmAileen.com.
Antwerp Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place that I take them to is the Antwerpen-Centraal, one of the world’s most romantic and beautiful train stations. This “railway cathedral” offers a breathtaking mix of modern and classical architectural styles, and is close to the famous diamond district.
Summer is the best time to visit my city because rain is less likely. It’s also the time when the Zomer van Antwerpen (Summer in Antwerp) festival takes place, where music and theater fill the streets—and the city’s indoor and outdoor venues—for more than two months.
You can see my city best from the Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS). Apart from being a grand museum, it has an accessible rooftop that provides a stunning panoramic view. From there, take time to appreciate the charm of a city without skyscrapers.
Locals know to skip taking a taxi or a car and to check out Antwerp by bike, tram, or foot instead.
The areas around Grote Markt (Town Square), Groenplaats, and De Wilde Zee are the places to buy authentic, local souvenirs. If diamonds and high fashion are too rich for your blood, make sure to at least take some famous Belgian chocolates home with you. For vintage finds, drop by the Kloosterstraat market.
In the past, notable people like painter Peter Paul Rubens, writer Hendrik Conscience, and fashion designers Antwerp Six have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (commonly referred to as KMSKA) because it houses a huge collection of world-class paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the 14th to the 20th centuries. Unfortunately, KMSKA is currently undergoing a renovation through 2018; in the meantime, MAS is the next best choice.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to take advantage of the Antwerp City Card, especially if you’re a tourist, because it gives you free entrances to the popular attractions, use of public transportation, and discount vouchers on shops or bike rentals.
My city really knows how to celebrate art and culture, as evidenced by its abundance of museums, music halls, and theaters. There are numerous fairs, festivals, concerts, exhibitions, and events that happen throughout the year, with the grandest ones held at the Sportpaleis (Sport Palace).
You can tell if someone is from my city by the way they talk about it. Hometown-proud locals often joke that Antwerp is the city, while the other metropolises scattered around Belgium are simply parking spaces.
For a fancy night out, I grab dinner at De Peerdestal or, when I’m in the mood for traditional Belgian fare, Het Pomphuis, followed by a round of beers at Pelgrom—a unique underground cellar that exudes an air of authentic exclusivity with its quaint, medieval setting.
Just outside my city, you can visit the castles of Schoten, the long high street of Brasschaat, and the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle.
My city is known for being boring, but that’s really nowhere near the case. It seems like people tend to misinterpret Antwerp’s relaxed and laid-back vibe. As long as you know where to go and what to do, it’s an insanely charming and fun place to be.
The best outdoor markets in my city are the Exotic Market, held on Saturdays, and the Sunday Vogelenmarkt (bird market). The markets, both of which are held in Antwerp’s Oude Vaartplaats and Theaterplein area, sell everything from fresh produce and local goods to specialties from the south of Belgium.
Barnini is my favorite place to grab breakfast or brunch, and Frituur, a ubiquitous Belgian frites chain found almost anywhere around the city, is the spot for late-night eats. Try the special currywurst, too!
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read This Is Antwerp. Then again, you need only walk around the city to see posters advertising upcoming events or strike up a conversation with a local who will be more than happy to let you in on any happenings.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to the city’s Chinatown for cheap takeaways or to the area around the University of Antwerp, which boasts an assortment of affordable cafés and shops.
To escape the crowds, I head to the Linkeroever, or Left Bank, of the Scheldt River. To get there, pass through the enchanting St. Anna Tunnel, a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel under the river.
The dish that represents my city best is mosselen met friet (mussels and fries), and De Koninck beer is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at De Taloorkes and Kulminator, respectively. To be honest, you can step into any pub or café in the city center and expect to find these on the menu.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Jazzcafé De Muze is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Café Local.
In the spring you should enjoy the blooming greenery at the botanical garden along Leopoldstraat.
In the summer you should visit Park Spoor Noord, a 60-are park that was until quite recently a railway marshaling yard.
In the fall you should discover Antwerp’s museums. In addition to the ones mentioned above, plan to see the Museum of Modern Art and the Rubens House, a fitting showcase for the city’s most famous painter.
In the winter you should visit the Kerstmarkt (Christmas Market). Make sure to try jenever, Belgium’s juniper-flavored national liquor, or glühwein (mulled wine), followed by some warm waffles.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the impressive Antwerp Zoo—Belgium’s oldest animal park, and one of the oldest in the world. If you’d prefer an underwater adventure, head for Aquatopia.