It’s really hard to say how many times I’ve been in Belgium and how many times I’ve slept at the Charleroi Airport. For a long time, I regularly used Ryanair’s cheap flights, combined with the discount tickets offered by Flibco (more information here). That’s why, I’ve visited many places in the so called Benelux countries and even in France.
After visiting Dutch Rotterdam – the largest port in Europe, I thought it was time to see Belgian Antwerp.
I have to admit that my knowledge of this city was limited to the information that I read from the book of Economic geography, when I was preparing for my final exams in high school.
The Diamond Capital
While Brussels is the “capital” of European Union, Antwerp can be described as the capital of diamonds. It is estimated that around 80% of exploited, rough diamonds and nearly half of the cut ones are sold on Antwerp market. The value of the diamonds is classified by so called 4C, which stands for: “cut, color, clarity and carat – weight”. However, it is widely said that diamonds form Antwerp have an additional fifth class C – confidence.
All right then, diamonds are beautiful stones, it’s said that they’re women’s best friends, but I must admit, they’re out of my league. Besides , it’s also said that one cannot buy friendship.
So what can you do in Antwerp, of course, apart from window – shopping?
While organizing a trip, to find the answer to this question I decided to search for information on the Internet. At first I came across a post on travel blog, where in the first paragraph was stated that Antwerp is known for many attractions “such as the station, town hall or even the shopping centre”.
At THIS moment, the thought of sightseeing the train station gave me chills, and the prospect of visiting EVEN the shopping centre made me feel as desperate as tourists on holiday in Egypt without an all-inclusive option. After all, I’ve decided to face it and see by myself what Antwerp has to offer.
Of course, the first place where I landed in Antwerp was the Train Station. I can only say one thing about this place:
To Antwerp only by train!
Indeed, I must admit that one of the main attractions of the city is the Railway Station – Antwerpen Centraal. Built between the 19th and 20th century, it is one of the largest railway stations in Belgium. It’s a place where you just have to be.
The raw, marble interior of the main hall, the glass dome and the old clock make the unique climate of this place. No wonder, it;’s called Spoorwegkathedraal, which means: Railway Cathedral.
Meanwhile, the other side of the Antwerp station looks completely different…
What’s more, the train station is so high that the platforms are located on 4 levels. The observation of arriving and leaving trains from the top floor of the station was impressive. I felt like I was a part of the famous Tetris game.
EVEN shopping centre is not that bad…
The main shopping street – Meir leads from the train station to the Old Town. There are plenty of exclusive boutiques and designer shops, as well as the original stands.
Here is EVEN the famous shopping centre called Stadsfeestzaal. Indeed, the interior of the centre is impressive, while the amount of decorations and gold made me think of a trip to St. Petersburg 😉
But this is not the end of the city’s attractions, because in the vicinity of train station, there’s a Jewish district inhabited by Orthodox Hassids. More interestingly, this district is also called ” Kleine Warschau ” which means “Small Warsaw “. This name is not random, as many inhabitants of this district are the descendants of Jews arriving here from Warsaw, during World War I. It is worth to add that before the outbreak of World War I, Warsaw was a kind of a diamond trade centre.
Walking the famous Pelikaanstraat street is like moving into another reality, it feels like time has stopped there. You can meet Hassids dressed in traditional black coats and tall, furry caps. The Jewish district is also a quarter of diamonds, and actually it’s composed exclusively of jewellery shops and diamond galleries.
One can ask the question: why the Jews are excel in diamond trade and cutting? Despite the fact that the Jews have been living in Europe for a long time, they weren’t able to be fully assimilated. They work in a numerous possessions. For this reason, they’ve specialized in specific sectors of the economy like: trade, banking or diamond cutting.
On the main market called Grote Markt you’ll find the representative renaissance building of the Town Hall. Nearby, you can admire the Cathedral, which can be recognized by the high tower.
A little further is the Museum aan de Stroom, in short MAS, which can be translated as Museum by the river. Inside you can see the exposition dedicated to the history of Antwerp.
At the top of the MAS, there’s a panoramic terrace with 360° panoramic view of Antwerp. Access to the terrace is free of charge.
Finish your sightseeing in one of the cosy pubs, located on the secret street – Vlaeykensgang. Although it’s close to the Old Town square, it isn’t easy to find. This is the perfect place to relax from crowded centre.
The perfect ending to a tour to Antwerp is Middelheim park. It’s an open-air museum where you can see numerous, interesting sculptures and various types of artistic facilities, such as bicycle skeleton, totaled car or bent sailboat.
In my opinion, Middelheim is one of those points which are must, while being in Antwerp.