This article is part of the series “A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium”A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium – Bruges (Part One) A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium – Bruges (Part Two) A Short Break in Flanders, Belgium – Antwerp
This #ShortbreakInFlanders campaign was created by the Nordic Travel Bloggers collective working together with #VisitFlanders and #BrusselsAirlines.
Full disclosure: my trip was sponsored by Visit Flanders, Visit Bruges and Brussels Airines but all opinions are my own, as they always are.
Hello again – by now you have presumably read part one and part two covering the first two nights of our blog trip which were spent in Bruges.
For our last night and some of the following morning we were to be exploring Antwerp – a city that I didn’t really have any specific expectations about, but proved to be a very nice surprise and shot straight to the top of my list for a return visit. Allow me to explain why…
Arrival by train -what a welcome!
We took the train from Bruges to Antwerp – and most visitors will probably start their time in the city here.
It is quite the welcome – a building that looks more like a museum than a humble transport hub, both from the outside and the inside, once you reach the main hall from the platforms, at least.
Now that beats East Croydon.
Even the clock is a work of historical art.
When we were in Antwerp there was a Ferris Wheel right outside the main station entrance – I am not sure if this is a permanent feature or just there for the summer, but it was a nice touch.
After checking in to our (very) nearby hotel, we met our guide and began a walking tour through the city. It soon became clear that Antwerp has an attitude of its own, and one that I like.
Doing things differently is something more cities could definitely benefit from. This shot was taken inside a spectacular shopping centre where chocolates share equal floor space with diamond jewellery and designer clothes – all of which Antwerp is known for. The city was a diamond trading centre way back in the 15th century and with the arrival of Jewish artisans and traders in the 19th it became the world hub for the precious stones.
These days the trade still flourishes but is also run by other groups including Africans and Lebanese – all of which can be seen in the “Diamond Square Mile” not far from the station.
The city is filled with statues and monuments, many reflecting its history and some with a more eclectic message.
And some are just fun.
After a while walking around in the late summer heat, refreshments were called for.
What a lovely pub – how could we just walk past?
It was time to try the famous (and rather unfortunately named, at least for Brits with a bad sense of humour) Bolleke. We would be visiting the brewery where this local classic is made the next day, but it was good to get a head start. And very good it was, too.
Lunch – HOBS
After some more wandering, it was time for lunch. At a beer bar – they must have read my mind.
The selection of beers here at Hobs (which means “hops”) is excellent, but the best thing about Flanders is that even the smallest bars have a range of options for all palates.
The food was good, too, a mix of gastropub classics – I had a very nice pulled pork burger and fries (with mayo, natch) – and local fare.
No argument there.
HOBS, Groenplaats 9/10, 2000 Antwerp
Suitably refreshed, we went to collect our rental bikes, passing along the waterfront on the way. This fairty-tale style castle is the Het Steen and was one of Antwerp’s first stone buildings – completed in the 13th century.
Best of all, outside Het Steen is this guy. Yes, you may well wonder what is going on here and it won’t help when I tell you that his name is Lange Wapper…a character from Flemish folklore, he was a naughty bloke who could make himself grow taller and this (kind of) explains why he is being “admired” by the two small guys.
To be honest, I think it is better to leave interpretation up to the visitor and for me, the Lange Wapper statue sums up Antwerp – fun, weird and hard to fully explain.
MAS (Museum aan de Stroom)
Our first stop after collecting our bikes was the rather more modern MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) which is a stunning building and well worth spending a few hours inside and out.
As usual, our time was limited but we got a taste of what was on offer here.
A different kind of museum, MAS tells the story of the city of Antwerp over five floors, each of which has a different theme – power, food, metropolis, world port and life and death.
There’s a lot of humour in the design and exhibits too.
Humour is also evident in the marketing of the surrounding bars and restaurants…
This pair of sailors are living on the edge, literally. Yes, they are mannequins 🙂
The views of the city from the roof are spectacular.
You see what I mean about the sense of fun in Antwerp?
Hard not to get a nice photo, really…
MAS is one of few tall buildings in the area so you get a virtually uninterrupted 360 degree vista from its rooftop.
The combination of ancient and modern is another standout feature of the city.
MAS – Museum aan de Stroom, Hanzestedenplaats 1, Antwerp
After finishing up at MAS, we had the rest of the afternoon to do what we wanted. What Toke and I wanted to do, was explore the African part of the city centre, just round the corner from our hotel, nicknamed “Congoville”.
Naturally our guide had tried to warn us off going there, which was like a red rag to a bull and made us even keener to go. And boy am I glad we didn’t listen to her…
The African quarter (“Congoville” is better, let’s face it) is of course the most colourful, dynamic and interesting area, and we felt right at home here. But we needed a beer, so we picked the roughest looking dive bar we could find (no offence to its jovial Polish owner.)
And of course it was here we heard the best stories, got the low-down on the area and its challenges, and made plenty of new friends.
I was advised not to take too many photos as people can be a bit nervous, but I had to try to get this wonderfully-dressed local in shot.
She hasn’t changed a bit since she first arrived in Antwerp, has she? We ended up spending quite some time here and it was one of the absolute highlights of the trip – we will be back 🙂 And sorry, we are keeping the address of this one secret. But you’ll find it, and many other great watering holes, if you venture into Congoville…
It was then time to sober up a little. I’m sorry, I mean ride through the city back to the hotel. I then got my running shoes on and went out to see some more.
Antwerp is a very photogenic place.
I like the chef relaxing upstairs in this one.
Jazz is big in Antwerp too.
And sitting on the dock of the bay watching the sun set is a popular pastime in the summer months.
Dinner – Graanmarkt 13
After a shower and a change, I biked to meet the others for at the very exclusive (and not easy to find) Graanmarkt 13, which is in an apartment building that also houses a shop – you need to keep your eyes peeled to find the restaurant.
There you go, down those stairs…
It doesn’t promise much, but just wait…
Ah yes – this is one of Antwerp’s finest and we were spoiled rotten.
Once again I will let the blurry pictures do the talking.
Each course was (naturally enough) introduced by our waiter in proper classy eatery style.
Presentation was top-notch…
…as was the food and the wine pairings. This is a seriously good restaurant and you need to give it a try – make sure you book in advance. A dinner menu can be had for EUR 45 and wines will add a further EUR 35 per person. Money well spent…
Graanmarkt 13, 2000 Antwerp
The street from which the restaurant takes its name has a number of very picturesque pubs so we stopped in for a nightcap at this charming place:
It was warm enough to sit outside, but the indoor area is cozy too.
After that it was time to head for the hotel and rest up for the final part of our trip, a visit to the De Koninck Brewery on Sunday morning before flying home.
De Koninck Brewery
Everyone loves a brewery visit, right? Clearly. But visiting De Koninck, a.k.a. the Antwerp City Brewery, is going to blow your mind as it did mine. This is WAY more than a brewery, and way more than a brewery tour where you have to book in advance to be shown around by beer geeks.
But let’s start at the beginning, with the De Koninck shop. Already here you will notice that they do things a little differently, with an incredible array of beer merch…
Obviously you can get plenty of beers in gift packs. But skateboards, that is a new one for me…
Other modes of transport are available, such as a bicycle in the De Koninck colours…
It really is a treasure trove. But we had to meet our guide at the brewery so made our way through the tap room.
On the other side is the entrance to the tour, which is also maybe not what you would expect. The entrance is in a container, for one thing…
But the real stroke of genius here is that it is automatic. You buy a ticket, and go in when you want – for as long as you want. It is more like a theme park attraction and means that only groups of more than 15 need to make an advance reservation – now that is smart.
It’s a fun presentation of the history of the brewery and the famous Bolleke beer, and worth making the trip in itself.
But there is more…
As the post boxes on the main gate indicate, there are plenty of other businesses sharing the old brewery premises.
The De Koninck people are clever. Very clever. They only rent out shops to the very best, and competition was stiff.
So you can get the best bread from The Bakery.
After that, you leave through the gate and follow the building to the remaining shops.
This is Belgium, so of course there is a chocalate maker:
And a cheese shop…
Cheese and beer are a natural combination, as I mentioned in my last article, and here you can buy some of the best fermented curd to go with your ale.
The selection is vast and includes cheese from around the world as well as local produce. Again, only the best makes the cut.
You can ask for expert advice and sample what’s on offer.
Next door is an incredible butcher’s shop.
It doesn’t get much fresher than this, and judging by the amount of people here early on a Sunday, the locals know to come here for their meat fix.
There are plenty of samples to try here too, and we certainly did.
Another really great concept is the cheese factory, which wasn’t open as it was a Sunday but on weekdays you can visit and learn about the process.
You can also take part in one of their courses and learn to make cheese yourself.
This room is very popular with groups who enjoy beer and cheese pairings after “working” in the factory.
Our guide, Wim, took us to all the shops and collected a veritable bounty of produce which we then ate in the kitchen (where groups can also take cookery classes, with beer 🙂 )
I had a plane to catch, which was really poor planning on behalf of NTB and our sponsors, but I have almost forgiven them now. I will just have to go back and spend longer there. At least I did get a couple of beers to taste before my taxi arrived but I would advise settings aside several hours to make the most of this fabulous attraction in Antwerp.
De Koninck Brewery, Mechelsesteenweg 291, 2018 Antwerp
Hotel Indigo Antwerp/Queen A Hotel
When we stayed, the hotel was called the Queen A and was an independent establishment, but it is now an Indigo Hotel. I will assume that nothing else has changed, though, and can thoroughly recommend it as a base for Antwerp.
It is very much a boutique hotel, but does not exhibit all the pretentiousness that many such places can have.
The bed was big and very comfortable, I slept like a log here.
Quirky decor? Check.
Nespresso machine? Check.
Scary bloke picture? Er…check.
Storage space was a bit limited, but ample for one or a couple at a stretch.
The bathroom was small but well designed.
The toiletries were of high quality and I liked the colour scheme.
Most important of all, the shower was wonderful.
All in all, a great place to stay.
Indigo Hotel Antwerp – City Centre, Koningin Astridplein 43, 2018 Antwerp, Belgium