Antwerp is the capital of the Belgian province of Flanders. It is one of the most populous cities in Belgium, although the old city centre gives the impression of a much smaller and more intimate town. It is about 40 kilometres north of Brussels, and only 15 kilometres from the border with The Netherlands. The Port of Antwerp is one of the largest in the world, and the city is home to the world’s oldest stock exchange building, originally opened in 1531. Antwerp is also known as “The Diamond Capital of the World” for its sizeable diamond district.
Antwerp has great international transport connections via land and various sea routes, but why would one go there? I was, truth be told, wondering the same thing until I actually went there myself.
Places to visit in Antwerp:
Cathedral of Our Lady
Cathedral of Our Lady. This church was begun in the 14th century and finished in 1518. The church is celebrated for is impressive artworks and it houses four pieces by Rubens: “The Descent from the Cross”, “The Elevation of the Cross”, “The Resurrection of Christ” and “The Assumption”. These are internationally celebrated works of considerable proportions, but this is a cathedral so there are many more seats than one would find in a bespoke gallery. There’s a story about one of these canvasses – see my article on ‘The Dog of Flanders’ here. But don’t overlook the architecture. This is a marvellous example of ecclesiastic workmanship.
Plantin-Moretus Museum preserves the house of the printer Christoffel Plantijn and his successor Jan Moretus. It is a must-visit. It’s quite likely that one would not have heard of The Plantin-Moretus Museum, as it has its focus predominantly on printing. That might seem like a rather limited subject, but this considers the lives and careers of those two celebrated 16th century printers, and that is a rich adventure. The museum is located in their former residence and printing workshop, which has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. One can see the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world, along with all the paraphernalia of a press company of the time. This is a museum of great character which is mostly devoid of dusty glass cases. All the family will enjoy this one.
tel. +32 (0)3 221 14 50
The Grote Markt
The Grote Markt or “Great Market Square” of Antwerp is an open town square in the very centre of the old quarter. It is overlooked by an ornate city hall and rows of historic 16th century guildhalls, and there is a huge statue. It was erected in 1887 by the architect Jef Lambaux and depicts the hero of Antwerp’s most famous legend. He is the mythical Brabo. It goes that the giant, Antigoon, demanded a toll for each ship entering the port. If the ship’s crew refused to pay, their hands were cut off. Brabo fought the giant and cut off his hand and threw it in the river. The statue is a freeze-frame of the event.
Rubenshuis is the former home and studio of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) and it is now a museum. It’s a charming one which will appeal to those who love history and architecture just as much as to those who are there for the paintings.
Rubens designed the house himself and it is ideal for a celebrated artist and family man. There are living quarters and a studio, along with a courtyard garden which would doubtless have been filled with fragrant herbs and plants for the kitchen.
The walls in some rooms are covered by tooled leather which was popular in Spain. Here it is varnished and gilded to a fine antique lustre and a great example of the craft. There are period furnishings and paintings by Rubens and his contemporaries. Allow plenty of time to visit both the house and the museum shop opposite.
Find out more about Rubens in Antwerp at:
Phone: +32 3 201 15 55
The streets of the old city quarter are lined with restaurants and cafés. One can sample Belgian fries with generous toppings and sauces. Bakeries abound with their shelves laden with spiced cookies and traditional breads. And, oh, yes, there are quite a few chocolate shops, too, and it would be rude not to try just a few of Belgium’s most famous sweet treats.
Antwerp is a delight. It’s accessible, cultured and delicious. Its transport links make it easy to reach from the UK and all parts of Europe. It’s a stylish city which still remains great value for money.
DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais, offering up to 54 daily sailings, with prices from £39 each way. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding is also available from £10 per car each way. For more information or to book visit www.dfds.co.uk
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018