Belgium Antwerp – One thing we noticed while traveling through Belgium with Visit Flanders was that no matter where we went, the people absolutely loved their own cities.
It was actually very charming to see how excited they were about their home and how much they enjoyed living here – they all thought that “their” city was the best in Belgium – but nothing could compare to what we found in Antwerp.
Other Belgians tend to think of Antwerp locals as snobby and arrogant, but we decided not to make judgments before we had seen it first hand.
Belgium Antwerp is a City of Old and New
It turns out that the people in Antwerp really do love their city, but in their opinion they’re not arrogant – they’re just telling the truth.
There is a famous saying that goes “There is Antwerp – and the rest of Belgium is just a parking lot”.
But jokes aside, we could see why they liked it so much – Antwerp, also nicknamed “T Staad” (The city, another arrogant nickname), has the best of both worlds, the best of old and new.
It’s a vibrant city which is always looking for the latest trends and newest ideas, but their history and traditions will always stay close to the peoples’ hearts.
Antwerp is not as beautiful as Bruges or Ghent where the Old Towns look the same as they did several hundred years ago, but Antwerp has an interesting mixture of everything, with new and modern buildings standing next to old and traditional ones.
The people of Antwerp are, just like in the rest of Flanders, very proud of their city and history.
“Antwerp is always looking for something new – whatever is new, Antwerp wants it”, says Rick, our guide who has taken us on a “fashion tour” through Antwerp’s trendiest streets, where there is a cafe in every clothing shop, and young children go to fashion academy studios to learn about fashion.
There is no doubt that the people here are brought up from an early age to think in new and different ways.
He explains that because Antwerp was occupied and suppressed for such a long time, people found their liberty in other ways, like design and art, something which has stayed with them.
In between the fashion shops and high-end bakeries that Rick shows us, we find out more about the people of Antwerp and their history, from their struggles to their fortunes, legends and heroes.
Meeting The Locals
We had been paired up with a couple in Antwerp through “Comme Chez Moi”, a new website with a concept to connect travelers with locals living in the city.
After all, one of the most memorable experiences are always the people you meet.
In Belgium, we had met so many wonderful and charismatic people, and Isabelle, her boyfriend and their friend were no different.
It was really fun and interesting to get a different angle of Antwerp from the one you get through guides and what you read, and getting to know the people on a different level – we definitely suggest you try the concept next time you visit Belgium.
Feest In Het Park … Bikes & Beats In Belgium
At first sight, you wouldn’t think that the small town of Oudenaarde is a popular stop for visitors, but it has two big main draws that attract people from all over the world: the world famous road biking routes, and the music festival Feest in Het Park.
When arriving at the B&B we quickly got the hint: this town was all about biking – the walls were covered with photos, t-shirts and autographs from famous bikers, and when sitting down for breakfast we shared table with the entire Australian national youth team, who told us that two other national teams from UK and USA were also staying there.
The team, along with a handful of other teams, were living in Oudenaarde for the next few months to train.
This place was a serious road biking mekka, and equipped with over 15 pages of biking maps, we were off to explore the routes.
Nathan would take care of the camera, and I was in charge of directions – this, naturally, turned out into us having great photos, but getting lost after only five minutes…
I don’t know where I get these ideas from that I’m so great at biking and orienteering, because every time I prove myself otherwise.
After 10 minutes trying to find the right way, the map was no longer useful, so we “decided” to just bike around.
You probably know the famous quote “not all those who wander are lost”.
I think it’s more like “when you’re lost, you might as well enjoy it”.
I’m not going to deny that I was completely lost, but it doesn’t always matter so much when the surroundings are beautiful anyway.
Part of the enjoyment of new places is to not really know where you are or where you’re going – I remember someone who once told me that you can’t be lost if you don’t care where you’re going … and you may just stumble upon a “frites” shop that has the biggest servings you’ve ever seen..! (see the picture above!)
Feest In Het Park (Party in the Park)!
The same evening, we biked down to Feest in het park, a festival that has developed from being a small, free event for locals, to a famous festival which people travel from all over Europe to visit.
Feest in het Park is not the biggest festival in Flanders, but the people we talked to preferred it over the others because it was much cozier and had a friendlier vibe.
With the sun setting over the lake, and the Ferris wheel switching on its red lights, the festival park took on that very special cozy atmosphere they all had been talking about.
Unlike festivals like MetalTown in Sweden – Feest in het park was a very mixed festival, which naturally attracted a very mixed crowd – each tent had its own music genre, from House to Reggae to Rock.
The best part was that you got to explore different styles of music, and nobody stuck to their “genre” – you would see an audience with Goths and Rasta Farians listening to House music – this place was awesome!
Not only does it bring people together, but people with different tastes and likes who might not otherwise have met at other festivals.
We had a great time, and found some new bands we really liked, which is always the best thing about festivals.
We had no idea how many festivals Belgium had until we went on this trip, and in the future we’ll definitely look into other festivals to visit in Belgium.
Exploring Antwerp’s Diamond District
Antwerp is a city of industrial progress and abundant historic heritage – there is no way that a tourist will be bored while walking along the streets of this city or visiting this or that museum – there are too many places to explore and to distinguish and, therefore, a trip to Antwerp should be planned carefully.
The first thing to point out is that the history of Antwerp goes back to the beginning of the Middle Ages period, which is why a big number of monuments and sightseeing spots are guaranteed.
Secondly, this city gave home for numerous Belgian painters, sculptors and artists, such as Antoon van Dyck, Jos van Immerseel, Jacob Jordaens and, of course, Peter Paul Rubens.
Thirdly, it is a world-famous diamond industry center, which draws an attention of both curious tourists and rich businessmen – so, the statement that Antwerp is a pearl of Flanders is truly justified.
Antwerp Diamond District (Diamantkwartier) is a fashionable, luxurious and expensive place to visit – there is a whole set of exchanges and workshops, where everyone is engaged in the diamond industry, including the manufacture, the trade, the gem-cutting or simple jewelry-making.
In particular, there are four diamond exchange houses in function, nearly 400 workshops dealing with precious gems and 12 thousand workers engaged – hence, it is no surprise that Antwerp’s gem-cutting is recognized as the best one in the world, which preconditioned a large share of this city on the global diamond market.
All in all, Anwerp quarter is a gorgeous and magnificent place to visit.
The history of diamond manufacture started in the 15th century, when the first precious gems were exported from India.
To date, the diamond businessmen of Antwerp are occupied with estimating the best gems from India and South Africa.
During its entire lifetime Antwerp was an important transport point and just like Amsterdam became a big center of this industry.
The whole history of diamonds might be observed in the Diamond Museum (Diamantmuseum Provincie Antwerpen), where rich and elegant exhibitions are introduced, including those diamonds and accessories worn by the famous women of the 20th century (Marylyn Monroe, Sophie Lauren, etc.).
Moreover, there are some diamond shows arranged on Saturdays, where professionals demonstrate their gem-cutting skills to the audience.
Diamond District starts with streets, with numerous cafes and restaurants set on one side and jewelry stores on the other.
As a rule, one should pass a face-control procedure to get inside.
As one could guess, being a leading center of a diamond trade makes a salesman abide by safety rules.
While a shop-assistant is looking for the best gem or jewelry to satisfy the client’s desire, the last one is gladly offered coffee with a traditional Belgian chocolate in a cozy atmosphere.
Usually the trade hall of Diamond District is called the kingdom of four “C” – color, carat, cut, clarity; hence, all the gem characteristics are taken into account accurately.
It is also might be referred to salesmen, who trade through the windows of their houses within Antwerp Diamond District.
Brussels Belgium Travel Video
Brussels, the city where all the important decisions about Europe are made, I expected boring seriousness and grey suits, not random street parties to appear out of nowhere.
I’m so glad that the Europe Train Challenge brought us to Brussels.
Because of my silly assumptions it would probably have taken me a long time before I got there – but now it won’t take me long before I return …
We hope you enjoy our Brussels Belgium Travel Video
I was Proven Wrong About Brussels Belgium
Assumptions can be bad, and sometimes downright dangerous – we all know this, so why do we never seem to learn?
I will be honest, I didn’t have very high expectations about Brussels.
I don’t know where I got it from, but I thought it would be boring.
But already when we stepped out of the central train station I knew something about my assumptions were wrong:
We were greeted with loud samba music and a stage where people were getting their hair a make over in all of the rainbows colors.
Continuing to another square there was heaps of fun entertainment for kids, and there were concerts everywhere around the city.
It was a Sunday and the whole city was buzzing with people – after having rested at our Brussels hotel, we went out to walk the streets in the evening.
All of the sudden we entered the most beautiful square I had ever seen.
I had heard that Brussels was an ugly city, but the buildings in the Grand Place were incredible!
Strolling down the cobble stoned streets we heard music.
Turning around the corner we saw a big crowd circling a little orchestra.
There were about 7 people in the orchestra, and they weren’t very good musicians – but the vibe was incredible.
Soon the whole place turned into a street party.
People were dancing to the music, inviting strangers to dance with them and really let go.
They didn’t care who was watching, they just wanted to dance.
The following day we realized more and more what a fun city this was, and how many cool free stuff and events they had so often.
I had no idea that Brussels was such a fun city, that it would be such a care free place.
Brussles, the city where all the important decisions about Europe are made, I expected boring seriousness and grey suits, not random street parties to appear out of nowhere.
I’m so glad that we went to Brussels. Because of my silly assumptions it would probably have taken me a long time before I got there – but now it won’t take me long before I return
5 Cities To Visit In Belgium
Belgium is the perfect country to explore on a one or two week holiday – its rather small size means you will spend less time traveling and have more time left over to actually explore the places you’re visiting.
You can easily get around the country in a small car like the MINI Cooper Hatchback car, which would also be a cheap option if you want to save on fuel.
5 cities not to miss!
Brussels – A Quirky Capital
Self-proclaimed as the capital of Europe, Brussels is a vibrant city with a lot to offer, from amazing cuisine to beautiful architecture and a lot of quirky history.
Whether you want to follow the comic strip walk or visit historical places such as the peeing statue, you will find that Brussels is a city with a tongue in cheek humor.
A must visit is the Grand Place, the most beautiful square in Europe (in my opinion anyway), and a stop at one of the many chocolate shops to stock up on Belgian pralines (Leonidas is a good place with fairly cheap prices, around €5.60 for 250g).
Ghent – Best of Both Worlds
When visiting Ghent for two days last summer we fell head over heels for the city.
With medieval architecture, beautiful canals and history around every corner, Ghent also has a great city atmosphere and is rapidly growing as the country’s premier foodie city.
Combining historical beauty with culinary expertise and city atmosphere it’s has the best of Bruges and Brussels while being less touristy than both of them!
Bruges – Historic Idyll
If you visit Bruges in summer you will likely be a bit overwhelmed by the many tourist crowds filling the streets, but they’re certainly there for a good reason: few towns are as picturesque as Bruges, which looks as though it’s taken out of a fairy tale.
Sit down at one of the cafes by the many squares, take a beer tour at the brewery (highly recommended!) and enjoy the beautiful surroundings along the river.
Antwerp – Fashion Center
If you’re a shopaholic, forget about Brussels and head to Antwerp instead.
Being the designer hub of Belgium, Antwerp is proud of their local designers and the shopping streets are some of the best I’ve seen in Europe, showcasing not only local designers but international brands that are rare elsewhere in Europe.
Many shops in Antwerp have combined Belgian culture with shopping by having a café selling Belgian sweets and coffee so you can shop even during your coffee break.
A small car like the MINI Hatchback makes it easy to navigate the narrow cobbled streets of Antwerp, stuffing the trunk full of shopping bags as you go.
But there is more to Antwerp than just shopping. Besides being a beautiful city, it has some of the best nightlife in the country.
Leuven – Beer Capital
Finally, you can’t write a whole post about Belgium without praising its beer.
Belgian beer is by far the best beer I’ve had throughout my whole travels, beating even Bavarian pints.
While you can quench your thirst with Belgian beer in just about every city in the country, Leuven is the brewing capital of Belgium.
Leuven is the headquarters of Inbev, the second largest brewery in the world, famous for Stella Artois beers.
Centuries of Flemish tradition and craftsmanship lie behind Leuven’s premium brews.
Take a brewery tour at Stella Artois or Domus, do some beer tasting at one of the many pubs such as De Blauwe Kater or De Metafoor, or why not take a whole workshop about food matching beer or cooking with it?
Bruges Fairy Tale Town
The adorable medieval town Bruges was almost a surreal place – with old traditional buildings, narrow cobbled streets and weeping willows dipping their branches in the canals, and as many horse carriages on the streets as there were cars – Bruges was a town taken out of a fairy tale.
Bruges was a town taken out of a fairy tale
The only thing that kept me from pinching myself were the hordes of tourists around me that kept poking me in the back, as they elbowed their way trying to get the best photos.
For some reason, all the tourists seemed very stressed, and they were all running around with waffles in one hand and a camera in the other.
With only a couple of hours in this cute town, we were moving pretty fast too.
First stop was a boat tour along the canal, which was one of the best ways to see the city (had it not been for the heads popping up in every picture).
After that, we joined the other tourists as they raced around the streets snapping photos, yelling and eating – making our way to the beer brewery.
Beer is very important in Belgium, and has a long history – today, Belgians are the fourth heaviest beer drinkers in the world, flushing down 90 L per person per year.
In the Medieval days, people in Belgium drank beer as if it was water – literally – because the water was so polluted, everyone drank beer instead – including the children…
This resulted in 400L per person per year, but in those days the alcohol was much weaker than it is today.
Trying the many different beers is one of the top things to do in Belgium, and every local you talk to will ask which beers you’ve tried and tells you which ones you must have.
A brewery tour is definitely a highlight on a visit to Bruges, so most tourists who were rushing around had also had a couple of beer glasses throughout the day!
There was no question whether Bruges was pretty, but looking around yourself and being surrounded by so many tourists, the question was rather if it was perhaps too pretty for its own good.
Must Do Things in Brussels
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the headquarters of both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
What began as a mere fortress outpost in the 900’s has grown into a sophisticated metropolis, admired the world over for its architecture, universities, and its food.
Brussels is a bilingual town, where residents speak, and street signs are printed in, Dutch and French.
The people of Brussels are known for a sharp sense of humor, as evidenced by the Manneken Pis, the city’s most famous statue, which depicts a urinating boy.
Below are descriptions of five can’t-miss attractions if you’ll soon travel to this lovely city.
- Must Do Things in Brussels
The Grand Place
The grandest place in Brussels is the Grand Place. Originally a market in the 1200’s, this palatial landmark is today a center for the city’s residents and tourists.
It’s a gilded architectural masterwork, where you can take in concerts, admire quaint churches, enjoy charming cafes, and people-watch to your heart’s content.
Come in the spring and the summer, and you’ll see the Grand Place’s flower market in full bloom.
Or come at Christmastime for the giant Christmas tree, elaborate lighting, and the Christmas Village, a market selling all kinds of Christmas decorations and edible treats.
Rue de Boucher
Stroll the Rue de Boucher and you might momentarily think you’ve stepped back in time to the 1600’s.
This avenue is lined with restaurants and cafes, many boasting ornate doors and large fish hanging in the windows.
Many different kinds of cuisines are available on this street, including Indian and Chinese.
For families, the restaurant Aux Armes de Bruxelles is a reliable choice.
It offers tasty steaks, a traditional Belgian stew called waterzooi, and some of the best mussels in Brussels.
The 1958 World’s Fair was held in Brussels, and for this fair the city constructed the stainless-steel Atomium Building, which resembles a giant, round molecule.
This monument includes nine connected spheres, and you can reach five of these spheres via elevators.
The view from the top sphere, 335 feet high, is spectacular.
At night, the Atomium dazzles, decked out as it is in brilliant blue lights.
The building is also home to an outdoor bar, an indoor panoramic restaurant, and a mini-museum dedicated to the 1950’s, including gigantic wall photographs of fifties movie stars.
Cathedral of Saint Michel and Gudule
The Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule, the seat of the Malines-Brussels Catholic archdiocese, began as a crypt in the 900’s and was finished in the late 1400’s.
Predominately built in a style of architecture known as Brabant Gothic, the cathedral sustained heavy damage in 1695, when French forces bombarded Brussels.
State funerals are often held here, and the cathedral houses a collection of priceless medieval religious relics.
Brussels is the world’s choco-champ.
The chocolate companies Leonidas and Godiva make their homes here, and a Brussels chocolatier named Jean Neuhaus first came up with the praline in the early years of the twentieth century.
The city’s teeming with excellent places to buy the stuff. There’s Mary on Rue Royale, which since 1919 has offered all-natural gourmet chocolate made from beans from all over the world.
There’s Laurent Gerbaud on Rue Revenstein, which sells delectable concoctions mixing chocolate with spices and fruit.
And there are many, many more.
Come to Brussels in late November for a brand-new tradition: Chocolate Week.
This is a week when the city sells visitors “chocolate passes,” tickets admitting them to tastings and workshops throughout Brussels.
Be forewarned: if your friends and family know you’re going to Brussels, they’ll probably expect you to bring home some chocolate for them.