You may not automatically think of Antwerp (Antwerpen) as a major European city, but it was once one of the most important financial centres of the world and is the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam. Not only that, it is the diamond centre of the world.

Built during the Flanders golden age of the 16th and 17th century, most of the spectacular baroque architecture escaped the destruction of the Nazi’s in World War II, though the demolition of the old town left a scar across the face of the city. Among the survivors is the magnificent Town Hall which looks out onto the bustling stalls of the Grote Markt in the town square.

Antwerp’s profound and pleasant persona has attracted many Flemish and foreign artists, writers, actors and intellectuals making it a cultural hub, blending the glitter with the grime. No doubt lured here to see Peter Paul Ruben’s house at Wapper 9-11, the hip-minded shop owners have opened up a string of quirky cafes and trendy bars. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Plantin-Mretus Museum are also an attractive proposition.

The young Flemish designers that flocked here caught the eye of the fashion world and Belgium’s darling is now one of the foremost fashion capitals of the world uttered in the same breath as Paris and Milan. Subsequently, Antwerp is a shopper’s paradise. Chic boutiques and stylish designer stores are nestled in among popular high street fashion chains, exclusive jewellers and electrical stores. For bargains head towards Groenplaats where the prices are not so astronomical and girls, if you’re looking for a best friend, you’re sure to find one in Diamantwijk.

For the more adventurous why not take a bike ride or relax on a boat tour along the sultry canals. Animal lovers should head for the 163 year old zoo, home to Golden Lion Tamarin, Congo Peacocks and elephants that live in a unique Egyptian temple. Alternatively, admire the fascinating tropical fish in the aquarium and marvel at the piranhas, sharks and octopus.

To eat head for old town or t’Zuid and duck into one of the intimate family run restaurants. You won’t be disappointed. Many restaurants in Antwerp are influenced by the French and together with a multitude of sumptuous world recipes, diners can’t really go wrong.

As you would expect from a city inspired by creative minds, the nightlife in Antwerp is pulsating, varied and around the clock. Bars and cafes playing live music can be found all over the city, though for party goers the docklands is becoming the hub of the club scene. Another Dutch influence the Belgian’s are grateful to adopt is the brown cafes and their abundance is a haven for anyone wanting to escape the disco music that rattles the windows of lively bars.

Travelling to Antwerp by Ferry

All three of the UK to Belgium ferries will get you within 75 miles of Antwerp, then it’s an easy drive that wont take you much more than an hour. There is actually eight separate UK to Europe ferries that will get you within a 2 hour drive of Antwerp. Where ever you live the UK, driving to the Antwerp should be easy with ferries available from Scotland, Newcastle, Hull, Harwich and Dover.

If you would prefer to fly, Air France and City Jet op operate flights into Antwerp airport from some airports across the UK, including London City, Dundee, Edinburgh, Manchester and Jersey! Though be careful Antwerp Airport is often described as Brussels (which is just over 40 miles away), look for airport code ANR, this is Antwerp Airport.

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