When you think of Antwerp one of the first things that come to mind is it’s majestic cathedral, the docks and the hundreds of lovely restaurants and shops. With this post I would like to go in a different direction and show you some places that aren’t that known by tourists and give you an exclusive look at some of Antwerps best kept secrets.
Fiskerbar – Where they have the best seafood platter I have ever tasted
Den Artist – Perfect to enjoy some delicious shrimp croquettes and in the meantime enjoy the cosy wooden interior with red leather sofas.
Charlie’s – To start of your day with the perfect brunch or avocado toast.
Go and have a look at one of Antwerps most modern buildings: The Justice Palace also called the butterfly palace. The building was designed by Richard Rogers who also designed the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
While most people know Brussels is famous for Art Nouveau architecture, not everyone realises Antwerp also offers some stunning examples. Art Nouveau in Antwerp can be seen in all it’s variations and developed it’s own special characteristics that were based on a re-reading of the Flemish Renaissance and national specificity. The new style was limited to two areas: in the south district and to the east in the neighbourhood of Zurenborg, also known as Cogels-Osylei.
Another stunning piece of architecture that can be found a little outside of the city is the new Port Authority designed by Zaha Hadid. Of all her works, Hadid designed only one government building, offices for the port authority, or Havenhuis, in Antwerp, Belgium, completed in 2016.
Most new government buildings attempt to express solidity and seriousness but Port Authority, a ship-like structure of glass and steel on a white concrete perch, seems to have landed atop the old port building constructed in 1922.
The faceted glass structure also resembles a diamond, a symbol of Antwerp‘s role as the major market of diamonds in Europe. It was one of the last works of Hadid, who died in 2016, the year it opened. The square in front of the building was renamed to Zaha Hadidplein (Zaha Hadidsquare) to honour her death.
While you’re in the area definitely check out the northern district of Antwerp here easily referred to as “Het Noord” where you will find “Het Eilandje”. This place earned his name of “Little Island” because it was surrounded by streams and little ditches in the past and now by the Scheldt, docks and old harbours. In the past it was an almost rundown neighborhood, a forgotten corner of Antwerp. Today, however, it has been greatly upgraded and the townspeople have come to know and appreciate the picturesque area, with its old historic docks.
During the reconstruction of the Eilandje around the docks, the streets were narrowed, but the footpaths widened and re-laid. The cafés and taverns benefit from this in order to display their wide terraces in the summer. In the middle of all of this is the MAS or Museum aan de Stroom. If you want to experience a panoramic view of the entire city you can go up the escalators inside for free and enjoy this spectacular site from it’s rooftop.
One of my favorite places in this area is the Felix Pakhuis. In the nineteenth century large warehouses were built and one of the most impressive ones is the Felix Pakhuis. In 1861, just three year after it opened, the warehouse burned down. It was immediately reconstructed, reusing material that was recovered from the rubble, but now with six floors instead of the original seven and with the addition of a wide central arcade. This arcade, 77 meters long and more than 6 meters wide (253ft x 21ft), divides the building in two and is covered with a glass roof.
Another very well hidden gem right in the center of Antwerp is the Vlaeykensgang. It’s a unique location hidden between two streets close to the Antwerp cathedral and dates since 1591. You can find this little gangway by going through the gate at Oude Koornmarkt 16. Enter and step into a different era. It used to be the shoemakers area but these days you can find here little galleries, antique shops and a famous restaurant.
Not far from here you will find the St.-Carolus Borromeuschurch on the Hendrik Consciencesquare. The church was formerly known for 39 ceiling pieces by Rubens that were lost in a fire when it was struck by lightning on 18 July 1718. The church was rebuilt and opened its doors again. Sketches of about half of the ceiling paintings by Rubens have been preserved and are distributed in various art collections around the world.
If you are returning home by train before you enter the majestical central train station of Antwerp you should pay a visit to the Zoo of Antwerp. Cause fun fact: the main entrance is open to the public and here you will already find the cutest bunch of flamingo’s.
Antwerp Central Railway Station
And now last but not least: Antwerps Central Railway Station. In 2009 the American magazine Newsweek judged Antwerpen-Centraal the world’s fourth greatest train station. In 2014 the British-American magazine Mashable awarded Antwerpen-Centraal the first place for the most beautiful railway station in the world. And I can only agree with these nominations.
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