Resting on the banks of the Scheldt River in north central Belgium is the well-to-do city of Antwerp. Boasting a remarkable medieval quarter, a superbly healthy diamond trade, and one of the world’s largest ports, Antwerp Belgium has plenty to brag about. Though Antwerp tourism has escaped the radars of many visitors to Europe in the past, it is steadfastly growing in popularity, and rightfully so. There are plenty of great Antwerp attractions to satisfy those who take an Antwerp vacation, and when the sun goes down here, the city’s vibrant nightlife keeps things interesting. Fine dining, world-class shopping, and plenty of culture are just some of the other things that make Antwerp travel so enjoyable, so be sure to include a stop here on your upcoming Belgium getaway.
Antwerp Belgium is the capital of the country’s Antwerp province, which is part of the Flanders region. The origin of the city’s name has more than one theory attached to it, with one theory prevailing in popularity. Legend has it that a large giant who went by the name of Druon Antigon demanded hefty tolls from sailors who were cruising the Scheldt River. If a passing boatman was unable to pay the toll, the giant would cut of one of his hands and throw it in the river. Having had enough of this, a Roman warrior took it upon himself to slay Antigon. Silvius Brabo was the Roman warrior’s name, and not only did he slay the giant, but he also gave him a dose of his own medicine, tossing one of his hands into the river. The Flemish word “handwerpen” translates to “throwing the hand,” which explains the theory of the city’s name. Antwerp’s appreciation of this rather gruesome legend is certainly noticeable, and if you dip inside the tourist shops here, you’ll find cookies and chocolates for sale that are in the shape of a hand. Also, while you’re enjoying the grandeur and beauty of Antwerp’s Grote Markt, or central square, check out the Brabo Fountain, which depicts a man tossing a severed hand.
Antwerp grew from a small Roman civilization in the second and third centuries AD into one of western Europe’s most important medieval and Renaissance cities. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Antwerp flip-flopped with Brugge in terms of being western Europe’s most important trading center, and this began the lead up to its much heralded “Golden Age.” By the sixteenth century, Antwerp Belgium was buzzing with activity. Traders came from far and wide to offer up their goods, and there was no doubting the city’s international popularity. A Florentine resident by the name of Lodovico Guicciardini hailed sixteenth-century Antwerp as “the loveliest city in the world.” Immaculate homes were built by manufacturers and merchants in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, and some of these structures have been preserved. The aforementioned Grote Markt (central square) is a good place to take in some of the city’s wonderful sixteenth century architecture. Antwerp’s Grand Markt is quite like the Grand Place in Brussels, and it makes for an excellent place to begin city tours.
Various medieval streets meet at the Grote Markt, and if you head just south of the square, you’ll find the Cathedral of Our Lady, which is one of the top Antwerp attractions. This stunning Gothic church, which was built between the years 1352 and 1520, boasts the highest church spire in the Low Countries, which include Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The spire reaches 400 feet into the sky, and it can be seen from quite a distance outside the city. One of the finest Gothic structures in Europe, the Cathedral of Our Lady houses some impressive pieces of art, including four masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp for much of his life. Even older than the Cathedral of Our Lady is De Steen, or The Steen, which you won’t want to leave off of your list of Antwerp attractions. A fortress that dates from the early thirteenth century, De Steen is the oldest building in the city. While you’re enjoying its courtyard and its Romanesque appeal, you can also entertain the idea of checking out the National Maritime Museum, which is housed inside the structure. De Steen graces the banks of the Scheldt River, so you can’t miss it.
For those who want to get more in touch with Rubens during their Antwerp vacation, the Rubenshuis, or Rubens House, is just a short walk east from the Grote Markt. Inside the house are some of the famous seventeenth-century painter’s works, and the gardens outside make for a lovely stroll. Just north of the Rubens House, you can visit the stunningly ornate St James Church, which houses Rubens’s vault. Again, some of Rubens’s work is on display at this Gothic wonder of a church, as are works by other renowned artists, such as Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Art has long been something that Antwerp is known for, and a scheduled stop at the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts is an Antwerp tourism must. An immaculate collection of works are housed here, including some from Rubens, Van Dyck, and Rembrandt. After you get your fill of art, you can always head over to Zoo Antwerpen, or the Antwerp Zoo, which is a fun Antwerp tourism attraction for kids and animal-loving adults.
Antwerp travel is full of fun pursuits, and since the city is well linked by rail to other great Belgian and European cities, it’s an easy addition to your overall European travel itinerary. There are plenty of great restaurants and cafes in town where you can take a break from all the sightseeing, and the Antwerp hotels have some nice choices among them, so start planning your visit today!
Top image: nan palmero (flickr)