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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.