Stylish and confident, the appeal of Belgium's second city extends far beyond its gritty dockland heritage. Modern Antwerp combines high fashion with a medieval Old Town and a vibrant nightlife scene. Much like its eclectic, forward-thinking nature, this is a city where dining is an international, trendy affair and shopping for the latest quirky designer yet-to-be-discovered is de rigeur. Did we mention the diamonds? The figures are sparkling: 80% of the world's rough diamonds and 50% of its cut diamonds are traded here annually.
Things to Do
Start by taking in the Renaissance architecture of the Grote Markt, the pulsing central square in Old Town. At Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady), the ornate Gothic cathedral, see several Rubens paintings displayed inside. South of the square, cutting-edge designs are displayed at MoMu, the city's dynamic Fashion Museum. Watch a girl's best friend being cut and polished at Diamondland, a vast diamond showroom. At the day's end, relax on the banks of the tranquil River Scheldt.
The Antwerp Six fashion designers, including Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, put the city firmly on the international style map in the 1980s. Their legacy lives on in the up-and-coming boutiques huddled around Nationalestraat and Huidevetterstraat, south of the center. Don't let fashion distract you from the Diamond District (next to the train station). Pick up sparkly souvenirs or simply gawk at all those baubles.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Many of Antwerp's bars and clubs cluster around the Grote Markt; the coziest is Paeters Vaetje, a timber-lined pub just below the cathedral with low lighting and more than 100 beers to choose from. Slip into a table at De Vagant, a cafe serving more than 200 varieties of jenever (Belgian gin), including sweet raspberry and crisp apple flavors. For a sense of the city's arts scene, de Singel stages an eclectic mix of dance, theatre, music and art exhibitions.
Restaurants and Dining
The Old Town's cobbled streets overflow with brasseries and bistros serving French cuisine with Flemish flare. Moules frites (mussels and chips) are the staple along the Suikerrui, while Belgian, Italian and fish restaurants line the little streets shooting off this main drag. Join local fashionistas in the Zuid district at cafes that serve everything from vegetarian to traditional French-Belgian dishes.