Antwerp positively sparkles and I was mesmerized by the diamond capital of Europe from the moment I stepped off the train onto the platform of the fabulous Art Deco train station. Though often overlooked in favor of Brussels, Antwerp’s cutting-edge fashion, modern architecture and innovative cuisine gives it a funkier vibe and proved to be a great choice for a girlfriends’ getaway.
Our weekend getaway began with a guided tour of fashionable Antwerp. Antwerp’s reputation in the world of fashion was built around the Antwerp Six, a group of six designers who all met while studying at the famous Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
Our tour guide, who also happened to be a personal shopper, lead us through Antwerp’s fashion and design district. We visited a number of designer boutiques, including Modepaleis, the fashion house started by Antwerp Six member and native son, Dries Van Noten.
ModeNatie is the gorgeous complex that houses the world-famous fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and ModeMuseum (MoMu). MoMu has a collection of over 25.000 items, from clothing to shoes and accessories and lace and pieces date as far back as the 16th century as well as newer items from contemporary designers, and is a must-see for any self-respecting fashionista.
Graanmarkt 13 is a concept store comprised of a boutique, gallery and a restaurant – tucked away in the basement – where we had lunch. The interior of the restaurant was small, with only had a handful of tables, and the décor was sparse and stylish, as was the menu, which included an affordable 3-course lunch special.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Het Nieuwe Palinghuis. Not as new as the name suggests, Het Nieuwe Palinghuis is a reincarnation of the original Palinghuis that existed from the early 1900s, and is now a bit of a culinary landmark in Antwerp. With its rustic furnishings and old black and white photos decorating the walls, Het Nieuwe Palinghuis has an understated charm that makes you feel right at home.
There is nothing, however, understated about the menu, which the chef recites to you at your table, and consists mostly of a selection of seafood sourced from the North Sea prepared to perfection by the chef and served in a timely manner.
Holding court in the center of Antwerp is the largest church in Benelux, the Cathedral of Our Lady. While construction was never completed on the large Gothic style church, there is plenty to see and admire, including the cathedral’s one finished tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the four magnificent Rubens altarpieces.
After our visit to the Cathedral of Our Lady, we went to the Rubenshuis. Designed in part by Rubens himself, the Rubenshuis includes a portico, interior courtyard and Baroque-style garden in an effort to recreate an Italian Renaissance palace. The 17th century building, which served as the artist’s home and studio, houses dozens of his works and those of his students, however Rubens’ more important pieces are in the Cathedral.
Antwerp’s historic port area, Het Eilandje, is experiencing a rebirth and is poised to be the hot new neighborhood in Antwerp. Located in this area is Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), the contemporary art museum that tells the story of port and the city and is known for its distinctive, LEGO-esque design.
Branding itself as a city center and Antwerp’s newest monument, the 10-story building also houses the two Michelin-starred restaurant ‘t Zilte on its top floor, as well as the more affordable Café Storm on the ground level. There is also a spectacular terrace on the ninth floor of the MAS, which offers panoramic views of the city, port and river.