Even if you’ve never been to Antwerp – and that’s likely – there’s something familiar about this port on the River Scheldt.
Why? Because Antwerp is the perfect European city: a metropolis filled with the all the things the continent is really good at (cycle paths, liberalism, sausages) with hardly any of the bits that it’s not (litter, bad service, racists in tracksuits). Antwerp is what a city should be: fun, friendly, inspiring.
For people who like to look good while downing bottles of Belgian brews like Vedett or De Koninck, the southern part of the city centre (“Zuid”) is where you should head to. Populated with fashion workers, fashion students and people who dress as if they’re one or the other, the area around Marnixplaats provides ample scope for quality noshing and late-night boozing.
Daytimes can be spent shopping in the independent boutiques along Nationalstraat and Kammenstraat, while you can get culture by the bucketload at the stunning MAS gallery/museum in docklands (“Het Eilandje”). MAS’s Rooftop Panorama — free of charge to visitors — provides the sort of city views that will make you want to move here.
Architecture buffs can satisfy their appetites at the wealth of art nouveau buildings (especially in Zurenborg), while if you’re looking to pop the question to the lady (no not that question, the wedding one) then the Diamond District has more bling than a lifetime subscription to QVC. She’ll love it every bit as much as you.
One bar to visit
Cafe De Vismijn
You have to go here, a local treasure that serves “real” Stella Artois, a world away from the stuff you get in Blighty. Co-owner Yves Van Roy was Belgian Barman of the Year, 2009 — ie, he’s the Messi of pint-pulling. cafedevismijn.be
One place to eat
Antwerp has an endless supply of great restaurants, but the grub at Belgian brasserie Ciro’s takes some beating. Go for the boiled beef, and order lots of chips. ciros.be
One club to go to
Located in the north of the city, Cafe D’Anvers has been the home for proper dance music in the city since 1989. Check the website for a selection of new DJ mixes. cafe-d-anvers.com
if architecture is your thing, a stroll in the art nouveau neighbourhood of Zurenborg is a feast for the eyes, especially on Cogels-Osylei, which is lined with the sort of mansions Mario Balotelli would consider a bit over-the-top.
One place to avoid
Like London’s Oxford Street or Manchester’s Market Street, the pedestrianised Meir is crammed with the sort of crass high street chains that will make you want to give up shopping for good. Hellish, especially on Saturdays.
One boutique hotel to stay in
De Witte Lelie
Housed in a trio of 17th Century houses, this hotel mixes modern furniture with traditional Flemish fixtures and fittings. The large beds are exceptionally comfy, too. dewittelelie.be