Where the locals go in Antwerp
Antwerp: the Flemish medieval wonder and one of northern Europe’s most habitually overlooked major cities. A commercial center of Belgium and the wider Benelux region historically, today its spotlight is often taken by more internationally prominent Brussels. Of course, that fact only means that Antwerp has become a destination for the discerning traveler, a secret hidden in plain view in the heart of Europe – and even more so in winter, when this city shines even brighter. Follow these tips from Antwerp locals and join the club!
A Chinese-flavored bright night in the zoo
Photo by Jonas Verhulst
Antwerp’s zoo has a secret that attracts thousands of locals and visitors each year: China Light. This open-air light show in is turned on and opens when the animals go to sleep, so you will be seeing bright pagodas and burning dragons next to sleeping elephants and giraffes. You can even grab a snack or drink – some Chinese tea or a Tsingtao beer, perhaps?
Belgian fries by a Michelin chef
Photo by vetexbart.be
First of all: yes, French fries are actually from Belgium! Second: when in Antwerp, you will definitely visit a ‘frituur’, the place one would typically expect to have the authentic golden strips of goodness. It’s difficult to find a bad frituur, but how about visiting a deluxe one? Frites Atelier could be your best, and certainly most affordable, chance to have something that’s got a Michelin-chef stamp of approval – Sergio Herman. The crunchy-yet-soft fries and five homemade sauces (and a seasonal special; definitely try the béarnaise) are more than worth queuing up for.
Antwerp’s surprising street art
Photo by Tizarte
One of the city’s most unexpected yet thrilling claims to fame at the moment is its burgeoning street art scene. With huge festivals like Tizarte that attract the world’s biggest names in the field and breathtaking works all around the center, there’s a lot to look out for. Street Art Antwerp organises tours and even has an app for the more solitary explorer types. Happy hunting!
Belgian beer next to the cathedral
Photo by Billie’s Beer Kafetaria
You know what else Belgium is famous for? Beer, of course. You can always look for a true brown bar to enjoy local brews, like Chatleroi (or you can visit an actual brewery like De Koninck), but what if you want to combine some beer tasting with Belgian comfort food such as stew or meatballs without straying too far from the centre? Billie’s Beer Kafetaria is on the cathedral square and within the clearest earshot of the Cathedral of Our Lady. Here they have 11 beers on tap and 110 served from the bottle (and asking the barman is nothing to be embarrassed about!). You can combine your drink with a pub game, so you’ll hardly find a better spot to get the real Belgian wintertime vibe.
Gateway to the New World
Photo by Notesfromcamelidcountry
Apparently, Antwerp is home to more than 170 different nationalities, up there with Amsterdam and New York. We’re not sure of the current rankings, but the fact remains that this city has a history with its global outlook. In fact, two million passengers from Europe travelled to North America on Red Star Lines ships, once upon a time leaving from Antwerp’s port. Today, the Red Star Line Museum collects the stories of the people who travelled through the city as well as live in it now. Because, if anything, travelling and moving have been one of the constants throughout human history.
A Belle Époque marvel
Photo by Modlar
Speaking of traveling, chances are you’ll be arriving to Antwerp by train, so this tip could be a bit redundant. However, locals are really proud of the Antwerp Central Station, and for good reason, so we wanted to pay some extra attention to it. Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and impressive train stations in Europe, if not the world, it will reward lovers of fin de siècle architecture combined with modern and contemporary touches. Staying behind to walk around and admire the beauty probably ranks up there with the best possible reasons to miss your train. And if you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass, you can always just hop on the next one!
Header image by The Culture Trip
Get inspired by more local tips from our friends at Spotted by Locals: