A lovely 16th-century square lined with buzzing sidewalk cafes and restaurants filled with Antwerp’s sleek residents, the Grote Markt is the city’s social and cultural epicenter. Dominated by the neoclassical Brabo Fountain, it is surrounded by majestic buildings like the many-gabled Huis den Spieghel at Grote Markt 9. This was a meeting place for great Renaissance thinkers such as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, who was in Antwerp when he began to write “Utopia” in 1515.

The Renaissance Stadhius (City Hall) takes up the entire west side of the Grote Markt and was designed by Cornelius Floris de Vriendt; it is an outstanding example of the Flemish mannerism that replaced Antwerp’s early Gothic architectural style in the 16th century; it has a splendid central tower and a pleasing, symmetrical frontage. The hall was burned during the city’s sack by invading troops in the “Spanish Fury” of 1576 and rebuilt in 1579. If you are lucky enough to get inside, look out for the frescoes by Hendrik Leys, a 19th-century Antwerp painter; otherwise content yourself with admiring the building’s orderly proportions and gilded coats of arms as well as counting the flags of the ever-growing European Union that flutter constantly from the facade.