Inspiration is around every corner in the city that unleashed both Baroque artist Pieter-Paul Rubens and contemporary fashion designers, the Antwerp Six, upon the world. Devotees of Antwerp believe it is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, with an artistic and architectural heritage that rivals any of the continent’s more celebrated cities.
Art, architecture, and local legends
Begin your exploration at the Grote Markt, the city’s main square, which is lined with imposing 16th century guildhouses. The square is also home to the Stadhuis, a fine example of Flemish Renaissance architecture, and an impressive fountain featuring a statue of legendary hero Silvius Brabo. Brabo is said to have given the city its name after chopping off the hand of a giant, who was terrorising the locals with high tax rates. ‘Antwerpen’ incorporates both ‘throw’ (werpen) and a corruption of ‘hand’, with statues of hands all over the city serving as visual reminders of the city’s mythical origins.
Another point of interest is the well-head, embellished with fine ironwork. It was crafted by Flemish Renaissance painter Quentin Massys, before he left behind his blacksmith career to become a world-renowned artist.
Antwerp is renowned for its avant-garde designers, many of whom graduated from the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Follow the exceptionally well-dressed locals to Kloosterstraat, where you’ll find vintage and antique stores and, on Sundays, the Sint Jans Vliet flea market. Couture lovers should pay a visit to MoMu, the city’s respected fashion museum. It’s also home to the Academy’s Flanders Fashion Institute, which guarantees the continual evolution of the exhibitions.
The Diamond Quarter is at the heart of the world’s precious stone trade: 85% of the world’s diamonds trade hands in these unassuming offices. If you’re keen to make a purchase, it’s recommended that you make an appointment well in advance.
Rainy days in Antwerp provide the ideal excuse to visit the city’s excellent collection of small museums. A bibliophile’s dream, the Plantin-Moretus Museum is dedicated to the history of the first printed books. Inside you will find rich tapestries, ancient printing presses, portraits by Rubens, a beautifully illustrated 15th-century bible and a secret garden. The Museum also hosts workshops, showing visitors the ancient techniques of printing, bookbinding or etching. The modernist MAS museum on the waterfront traces the history of Antwerp and the city’s place in the world, while the Royal Museum of Fine Arts includes works by some of the city’s most celebrated painters.
Dining and drinking
Given Antwerp’s position on the Westerschelde estuary, which opens onto the North Sea, it should come as no surprise to learn that freshly caught fish and seafood are generally the highlights of local menus. The Jane is a critically acclaimed fine dining restaurant, housed in a stunning former chapel. After dinner, look no further than Brasserie Appelmans & Absinthbar for delectable cocktails, with and without absinthe. On Fridays and Saturdays, resident DJs are on hand to set the tone for an evening of all-around entertainment.
To invest in your own piece of historic Antwerp, contact Engel & Völkers. Our portfolio of high-end properties is always available to browse online, or you could travel to our very own central Antwerp shop at Leopoldstraat 49, to discuss your exact requirements.