If glittery gemstones rock your socks, then Antwerp has what you’re looking for. As the center of the global diamond trade, more than 70 percent of all the diamonds on the market pass through Antwerp at some point. Thousands of cutters in Antwerp have being turning rough stones into polished gems for more than 500 years, and Antwerp is known for the rare skill needed to cut the complex maccle diamond. The show rooms here put that accumulated talent right on display. Polishing wheels can be seen in the windows of the diamond district, a one-square-mile area just by the onion-domed train station and Jewish quarter. It’s worth taking a free tour of Diamondland (English tours are available) to see the diamond polishers and setters at work, but book well in advance as spots fill up quickly.
If you didn't get enough of shiny baubles there, try the Silver Museum Sterckshof, which has a collection of more than 500 years of silverwork, set in a stunning park.
Fabulous is the only word for the MoMu, a fascinating museum dedicated to the history and craft of fashion. More than 25,000 items of clothing, tools, and other fashion-related artifacts make up the MoMu’s permanent collection, and the creative displays and temporary exhibits have won the MoMu fans all over the world.
The last remaining medieval castle in Antwerp, Het Steen is part of an old series of military fortifications that have since been torn down. What remains of the old castle is now a museum of Antwerp maritime history, and a war memorial to Canada’s World War II Soldiers. Its fairy-tale exterior is worth a visit.
Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts collects seven hundred years of art history under one magnificent roof. Most notable here is the extensive collection of work by the Dutch masters, including Van Eyck, Fouquet, Rubens, Magritte, and more.
The most famous son of Antwerp is definitely the 17th-century painter Peter Paul Rubens. The city bought his former home in 1937, and had it opened as the Rubenshuis (Rubens House) museum in 1946. On display are works by Rubens and his contemporaries, as well as period furniture.
Antwerp is famous for its gourmet food – especially the sweets. Be prepared to pack in the carbs because these treats are worth it. Try the traditional Antwepse Handjes, hand-shaped cookies or chocolates made in honor of the legendary Roman soldier Brabo, who is said to have saved the city from a cruel giant by cutting off his hands. Worstenbrood (sausage rolls) and appelbollen (ball-shaped apple pastries) are popular and delicious. You must try warm Belgian waffles served with fresh berries and chocolate sauce and smoutebollen (fritters). Antwerp’s famous chocolatier, Burie, is the best place to get decadent chocolate treats.
Antwerp’s devotion to beauty is evident all around the city centre. Throughout the streets and alleys, you’ll find religious statuary peering down from the facades of buildings. At street level, monumental statues pay tribute to the city’s stars and heroes: painters Rubens and Van Dijck and the legendary Brabo are among the most notable. One of Antwerp’s more quirky contributions to street life are ‘comic strip walls,’ where the country’s beloved comic-strip creators have painted comic-strip murals of their creations – some are even serialised across buildings!