antwerp

Antwerp, Belgium

We arrived into Antwerp on the train from Ghent. We found the trains in Belgium to be reliable, cheap and (crucially) easy to navigate. Buying tickets at the station on the day was only €9.50 and the trains have handy screens making it’s destination and stops super clear.

The main reason I’d heartily recommend taking the train into the city is that Antwerp station is a stunner. Finished in 1905, it’s vast entrance hall has some astounding architecture. The rest of the station is a layered labyrinth of platforms and shops.

antwerp-3-crop

After staying slightly out of the centre in Ghent, here we went for location and value in an Ibis Budget. Just out of the back of the station, it was a great base to explore from. They also have generous check in/out times; both at midday. Other hotels we noticed close to the station were Leonardo and Radisson Blu.

Shopping

Known as the fashion capital of Belgium, Antwerp is a great place to spend your Euros. The centre has high street shops with a European slant, like Zara, Urban Outfitters, H&M, Uni Qlo and Esprit.

There’s also a fancy pocket of designer shops. The most interesting, independent stores are in the lanes. An international magazine shop with a floor of records above offers top browsing potential. Also worth a stop is The Other Shop; cards, gifts and cook books.

antwerp

Eating and drinking

There are fewer things that Rob and I like better in a new city than a brewery tour. It also wouldn’t truly be one of our city breaks without a day of walking until our feet threaten to leave us. We certainly worked up a thirst trekking to the De Koninck brewery in the south of the city.

De Koninck has been a brewery on the site since 1833, but only opened a visitor centre in 2014 when they were bought by Duvel. For €12 they offer a self guided tour and 3 tastings in the tap room at the end. You can wander through the rooms of videos and installations at your pace and you’ll also walk over the working brewery.

antwerp-32

There’s also a cheese maker’s on site, which we sampled with our trio of tastings. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours, but given it was only recently renovated, we felt they could have made more of the different brands and varieties they brewed (and translated more of the signs into English).

On our first night we were craving something salty and substantial so tried Ellis Gourmet Burger. It’s a Belgium/Netherlands chain, soon to expand into France. It was just what we were after; I had a special ‘Fig in Love’ beef burger with mascarpone, fig chutney and pistachios. Rob was impressed with the veggie option; a soy pattie with red peppers and paprika.

Before we left we stopped into La Popete for brunch. It’s a charming place out of the back of the station, where everything is homemade.

antwerp-34

It’s probably unfair to Antwerp, but coming straight from Ghent a comparison is inevitable. It has the cobbles and impressive architecture, but for us lacked some of the charm, maybe due to its size. Still, Antwerp didn’t feel too busy, there were just a few school/tour groups dotted around.

Things to look out for 

  • Bikes and getting hit by them
  • Shops and restaurants being closed on Mon/Tues
  • The station and shopping centres are patrolled by armed police and soldiers.
Advertisements

Ghent, Belgium

I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready for a holiday than before we left for Belgium. The trip was a balance between soaking up as much as we could in 5 days and catching up on much-needed sleep.

Bruges was the place that initially sparked our interest in a trip to Belgium, and somewhere that we actually didn’t make it to!

Our first stop was Ghent (or spelt Gent), the quieter neighbour of Bruges. On seeing a photo of the splendid architecture by the harbour, my brother-in-law described it as looking like a cross between Prague and Venice. This is a pretty apt description, just without the crowds of either.

Ghent canal side

We stayed in an AirBnB north of the city centre. It was a top-floor apartment with super skandi-cool interiors. Each room felt lovingly designed with large plants, utilitarian furniture and wood flooring throughout.

Ghent is in the East Flanders region and the dominant language is Flemish. But of course, everyone we met put us to shame with their excellent English.

We met a woman on the train from Brussels who spoke four languages. She talked to us about Brexit and we felt compelled to apologise and bore her with our love for Europe.

Getting there & about

This trip was all about using the trains. We took the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels and then onto Gent Saint-Peters station. We booked 3 months in advance so managed to bag £69 return tickets.

Where we stayed also provided bikes, and was a 10 minute ride into the city along the canal. Ghent also has buses and trams, but once you’re in the city, you can get around on foot.

ghent canal

A spot of culture

We visited the Design Museum, tempted by the Bike to the Future exhibition. Featuring futuristic feats of cycling design, it was worth the €8 entrance fee.

I wasn’t too impressed by the rest of the museum; much of it felt like a mix of eras and objects thrown together. I also didn’t feel the love from museum staff…

Sign in Ghent design museum

Are they for real?

You can get a good feel of the historic area on a boat trip along the river Leie. Ghent has some huge buildings with rich histories, such as…

  • The Castle of the Count (Gravensteen) – originally built in 1180 for count Philip of Alsace inspired by ones he’d seen in Syria, the building has since been a prison, courthouse and factory
  • A 1517 house, which became a cotton factory and is now a River Hotel
  • A surviving 18th century monastery of Carmelite Monks

Fave spots

Vooruit arts centre – for food or drinks at any time of time. Their sun-soaked terrace offers playful seating and great views of the mixed architectural skyline.

Stam museum – for sitting outside by the water for coffee/brunch. We didn’t venture beyond the gift shop, but they have a permanent exhibition about the story of the city

L’incontro – for traditional Italian food. This place was one of our TripAdvisor saves and was an oasis of warmth, beer and piping pasta after the chill of a boat ride.

Het Spijker – for a great selection of late night beers and disco music. It’s candlelit cavern off one if the main square

I’m sure we barely scratched the surface on our brief stop, but we were charmed by Ghent. If we hadn’t been heading onto Antwerp, I would’ve happily spent a couple more days wandering it’s cobbled streets.

Read more…

Guardian – The alternative city guide to Ghent, Belgium