HOW TO DO ANTWERP IN A WEEKEND
TAKE A STROLL
This is a totally walk-able city, and you’ll be on your feet from the minute you arrive, which will likely be by train from
Amsterdam or Paris. Give yourself several hours to stroll Antwerp’s 16th-century Old Town, hitting the cathedral, Grote Markt and Vlaeykensgang, a hidden ivy-covered alley with great antiques shops (it’s just a few hundred feet from Grote; ask a local to point you in the right direction).
From there, walk 15 minutes north along the Scheldt River to Het Eilandje, a once-gritty marina whose Port Authority building was designed by Zaha Hadid. Next door at Museum Aan De Stroom
( entry AED 33; 0032-3338 4400, mas.be), a museum that goes deep into Antwerp’s port history, skip the exhibits and head straight to the rooftop – it’s free and has the greatest views of the city, including the cathedral spires.
WHERE TO STAY
For 18 years, the intimate Hotel Julien ( doubles from AED 790; 0032-3229 0600, hotel-julien.com) inside two central 16th-century townhouses, ruled Antwerp’s hotel scene. It still does, though now it has more competition from two newbies. In 2017, the Hotel Franq
( doubles from AED 690; 0032-3555 3180, hotelfranq.com) opened inside a former bank with 42 cosy rooms and a fabulous Belgian-French restaurant from the star chef Tim Meuleneire, followed by Hotel
Pilar ( doubles from AED 690; 0032-3292 6510, hotelpilar.be), an artsy boutique property with a design shop worth checking out even if you’re not checking in.
THE BEST SHOPS
The high-end consignment store Rosier 41 ( 0032-3225 5303, rosier41. be), in Theaterbuurt, is where you’ll find vintage Raf Simons and Haider Ackermann hanging alongside new collections from Jil Sander (they replenish their stock daily). Around the corner in the riverfront shopping area Sint-Andries, look for Christian Wijnants’ ( 0032-3284 4176, christianwijnants.com) trademark knits and exotic Dries Van Noten ( 0032-3470 2510, driesvannoten.be) prints at their namesake boutiques. Ann Demeulemeester’s flagship ( 0032-3216 0133, anndemeulemeester. com) is on the main road, Nationalestraat.
WHERE TO DO LUNCH
The central theatre district is home to cafés and high-end restaurants with tables that spill on to the streets. Sit on the terrace at Bourla ( 00323232 1632, bourla.be) facing the neoclassical theatre of the same name. Their take on Belgium’s classic steak frites, done with thick Belgian rib eye and twice-cooked fries with mayo on the side, is the city’s best.
THE DESIGN SCENE IS STILL SO STRONG
One of the first things to do here: Visit Axel Vervoordt’s signature moody, minimalist interiors at his year-old gallery inside Kanaal ( 0032-3355 3800, kanaal.be), a 15-minute tram ride from the main train station.
Antwerp was an epicentre of the Flemish Renaissance; check out the works of Old Master Peter Paul Rubens at his palace,
Rubenshuis ( entry AED 42; 0032-3201 1555, rubenshuis.be). For modern art, take a bike as the locals do to the Middelheim Museum ( entry free; 0032-3288 3360, middelheimmuseum.be), home to Rodins and Calders. DIVA museum ( entry AED 42; 0032-3360 5252, divaantwerp.be) opened in May this year, spotlighting Antwerp’s 500-year-old, highly secretive diamond trade.
EAT & DRINK LOCAL
Because of climate change, the terroir in the south of Belgium now has similar traits to the terroir in French bubbly, which means it’s producing some excellent whites. Try the grape Clos D’Opleeuw at the intimate bar Belgian Wines ( 0032-3755 8755, belgianwines.com), which supplies top restaurants like the finedining mecca The Jane ( 0032-3808 4465, thejaneantwerp.com), in the Green Quarter, where reservations are required (and must be booked three months ahead). If you don’t snag one, head next door for sourdough pizzas from year-old Standard ( 0032-3230 1341, standardpizza.be).
Clockwise from far left: Antwerp’s Grote Markt; plates of steak tartare at Bourla; the boutique Hotel Pilar; shop Dries Van Noten; the Rubenshuis museum; stroll the city’s pretty medieval alleys