When you spend so much time in Brussels, you tend to run out of things to do or visit. Normally, people flock to Bruges which is definitely picturesque. Ghent is a close daytrip destination offering equally impressive medieval architecture. But if you still have another day to spare, you might take a peek at Antwerp which also offers its own unique flair being the second most populous metropolitan area in Belgium.
Like most Belgian cities, Antwerp’s historic center is concentrated in a small area which you can scour in a day. If you go by train, a grandiose welcome abounds with its elaborate central train station that is probably one of the most attractive in the world. From there, you can simply follow De Keyserlei street traversing through the renowned Diamond district. I know nothing about buying these precious stones so I don’t want to give any unsolicited advice but window shopping wouldn’t probably hurt. Following this street is the easy way to go bringing you to the shopping district and eventually to the old town where all the magic awaits. Along this path which continues to Leysstraat and then Meir is everything you are looking for – from shops to restaurants to museums. Easy walk indeed.
Arriving in the old town square, you’ll pretty much see all you need to get back the cheap weekend train ride to this city. The guild houses that scream Flanders more than anything else and the city hall nearby dwarfing behind the gigantic Cathedral of Our Lady housing religious works by Rubens, this quarter has it all. The statue of Brabo and the giant’s hand, the symbol of Antwerp stands proudly in the center in all its washed out cuprous glory. It is believed that this brave man cut off an oppressive giant’s hand and threw it to the river, hence the name Antwerp from old English hand and wearpan (to throw).
Not far from the old town square, just along the Scheldt river is a small castle called The Stone. It is a remnant of what was once a walled fortification that surrounded the entire city. It also is along the river promenade which is a welcoming pathway for those who want to enjoy tranquil walks. I love the overall vibe of the city and it definitely is a fitting quick stop when you get bored in Brussels. There’s probably more things to do in the outskirts but that requires a lot more commitment; however, for a day tour, this would probably suffice. It still has a taste of Belgium but already the more renaissance version of its medieval counterparts in Flanders. It’s definitely a unique city.