A month ago we had the chance to visit Belgium. Originally it was a “business” trip, but we took the opportunity and added some holiday. We had never been in Belgium (apart from a short day-trip from the Netherlands to Liege when I was 16), so we thought of visiting as much as possible. But between work and the idea of spending a few days with long-not-seen friends that live there, we decided not to take a tour of the country, but rather just go to Antwerp and to Bruxelles and trying to discover and actually understand these two cities.
Our first stop was Antwerp, a charming city, that captured our hearts.
How to get there:
We took a really cheap flight with Ryanair form Treviso A. Canova airport to Bruxelles Zaventem, the central airport of the city. Form there we took a train of the Belgian railways that in approximately half an hour took us directly to Antwerp Centraal (11,20€).
Where to stay:
Antwerp is not a huge city and you can basically walk to any part. We stayed really close to the central station, at the Ibis Budget Hotel. It is a good option, especially if you get in Antwerp late at night.
Of course there are better options. I would have probably stayed in a smaller bed&breakfast in the Historic Centre, or in the area of the Eilandje district, to the north of the centre.
What to see and do:
Central station: just take a walk in and around this beautiful building. Surrounding the station there are some very interesting areas, such as the diamonds district and the Chinatown, with its pagoda gate entrance.
MAS: visit this amazing new museum, designed by the Dutch Neutelings Riedijk Architects. The building is stunning: the steel and glass are in perfect contrast and at the same time connection with the surrounding area of the port. A part from the architecture, I loved the visible storage room: this aspect is something that one ignores about museums, how the collections are kept and maintained, thus seeing it and almost touching it is very interesting. Plus when we were there a particular focus was given to collectors with a passion for navigation: a great surprise for us! And of course the panorama terrace at the 10th floor is a must: a 360* view of the entire city. (Tue-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm, 5€ adults excluding the temporary exhibition, that was in preparation on those days.)
Platin Moretus Museum: this UNESCO World Heritage museum is the perfectly conserved sixteenth-century printing-house of the most famous Belgian printer Balthasar Moretus. To me this is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours surrounded by wooden shelves filled with old books, typographic presses and all the tiny character that were used to complete a copy, antique furniture and majestic examples of early printing. (Tue-Sun 10am-5pm, 8€ adults.)
The Meir and the Historical Centre: take a walk from the central station to the river. Along the Meir you’ll find all the international brands and just take a little detour to visit the house of the famous Belgian painter Rubens. Reach and take a peek into the gothic Cathedral of Our Lady. And then follow till the river and take a relaxing and reinvigorating stroll along the quays.
What to eat and drink:
Friet/frite: you have to eat fries, since Belgium claims their ownership. We went to the oldest frituur (frying shop) of Antwerp: the Frituur de Smulpaep and had a huge portion of fries with mayonnaise and ketchup: gorgeous!
Beer: you can actually find hundred types of beers in Belgium, for every taste. But remember to try the local ones, such as De Koninck, the city’s brewery, served in the typical bolleke glass.
Thai cuisine: Chinatown offers plenty of oriental cuisine restaurants, but we tried a Thai one that we highly recommend. It’s the Ploy Pochana. We had a great dinner, just remember to ask mildly hot and not medium, since it is really spicy!!!
The Next Level Bar by Coffeelabs: we discovered this place by chance. Just go up to the second and top floor of the building and you’ll find yourself in a relaxing bar, full of modern wooden and light furniture, a vast amount of coffees and teas and great cakes and sweets. Order something and taste it at one of the tables or couches on the garden-like terrace.
P.s: Antwerp is an extremely tourist-friendly city. You can find great free maps and monthly magazines for the events that take place around town. We would also suggest you to check the website, download the app or look for the magazine of This is Antwerp, the perfect guide for this beautiful place!