Going to Belgium made me experience a lot of new things as it was not just a new destination but my first international trip as well.
The day came and I took an eight-hour-long flight from Delhi to Brussels. The flight was comfortable and I ended up sitting next to a completely unknown person throughout the flight. I arrived at the airport and, after checking out, I took a train from Brussels to Antwerp. As much as I was looking forward to exploring the new city over the subsequent three days, I was absorbed by the wonderful journey to the city itself. There is something truly incredible about European train rides!
Upon alighting at the Antwerp Central Railway Station, I realized that my tour to Antwerp had already begun. The brainchild of architect Louis Delacenserie, the station is a gem in itself, which is sure to make your jaw drop with its intricate illustrations and aesthetics. Once I made my way out of the station, I began my tour of Antwerp from Meir with a visit to Rubens House – the former residence and workshop of the much-acclaimed artist Peter Raul Ruben – and of many others who came after him. Surrounded by well-manicured lush green gardens, which are tourist attractions in themselves, the seventeenth-century mansion is home to a vast collection of artwork by Ruben himself (including pieces that were only partly painted by him and completed by his staff).
I then made my way to Meir Street – the shopping Mecca of Antwerp (and one of the most important fashion destinations in Belgium). Home to many high-end fashion boutiques, it is also known for being the most expensive fashion street in terms of rent. And if shopping is not your favourite pastime, you can make your way (like I did) to the Royal Palace and the historic Stadsfeestzaal (a building of historic importance that is now a shopping arena) where I found myself drooling at the architecture like a kid at the sight of ice cream! I then made my way to the MoMu (Fashion Museum) and the Fashion Academy to learn more about the evolution of European and global fashion trends.
However, what I was looking forward to the most was visiting the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Essentially a printing house, it is more like the time machine that takes you through the entire history of publishing – from its invention to expansion. It houses the details of the work done by the sixteenth-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, along with a diverse collection of archives, artworks, printing equipment, and an extensive library making it an ideal spot for every book lover!
I started the second day by paying a visit to the most famous church in Antwerp – the Cathedral of Our Lady. It was not like any church I had seen before, owing to its unique Gothic theme and stained glasswork. After a short stroll, I headed to The Vleeshuis – a museum dedicated to the evolution of music and dance in Antwerp dating as far back as the year 1501. From the first-ever Opera Ball to witnessing the making of musical instruments, this museum had me dancing to the “sounds of the city”, a unique experience that has stayed with me ever since.
Post the wholesome immersion in the six hundred years of musical legacy, I headed to one of Europe’s (and the world’s) oldest zoos called the Antwerp Zoo. It is home to one of the largest and most extensive collections of flora and fauna, including thousands of species of mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds. It houses rare specimens of the white rhinoceros, Okapi, and Pere David’s Deer. You can opt for one of the many timed walks, which provide a detailed description of the zoo’s history.
The next stop and the last for the day was the Grote Markt, another important market square of Belgium. The best part of this square (apart from the wide array of shopping options) was the City Hall, with the statue of Brabo (a young Roman hero) adorning the city centre.
I began my last day in Antwerp by visiting the Museum by the Stream (or MAS) – another architectural marvel famous for its terrace that provides the most picturesque views of the city that you cannot help but fall in love with! It was then time to start my Food Tour (a three-hour-long tour of the city’s best delicacies) in the Old Town of Antwerp. It was truly the highlight of my trip because it helped me see the city from a local person’s viewpoint and helped me rediscover the foodie in me.
I had one last stop before heading out of Antwerp, and that was the New Port House – the latest addition to Antwerp’s fascinating strip of architectural jewels. These headquarters of the Antwerp Port Authority provide the most stunning evening views of the city in its true essence – as a Port City.
Tips for travellers
- Antwerp is an evergreen tourist place and can be experienced to the fullest anytime during the year.
- It is very reasonable in terms of the cost of accommodation and one can find everything from home-stays to luxury hotels.
- The city is well connected through road, rail, and air with other major cities in Belgium including Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges.