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It’s impossible to untangle Antwerp from fashion and art, and particularly from the lives of two of their protagonists: Peter Paul Rubens and Dries Van Noten. Whatever the reason you’re visiting the so-called “diamond capital”, you’ll come across world-renowned baroque masterpieces as well as the places the eccentric designer spent his fashion infancy (Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts also counts Martin Margiela among its alumni.
The city’s diverse architecture will please everyone from cobbled-street obsessives to contemporary design lovers. Once northern Europe’s answer to Italy’s piazzas and palazzos, Antwerp’s Flemish Renaissance architecture comes to light at its central square, Grote Markt, while the city’s Cathedral of our Lady easily competes with Rome‘s frescoed churches. Here, you’ll find three major works by Rubens: one above the main altar as well as two triptychs.
Following extensive travels in Italy, Rubens designed his own palazzo/studio/home right in the centre of Antwerp. Now a museum, it is remarkably Flemish-looking from the outside but the main draw is a Roman portico, complete with stone arches and columns looking out into the garden, as well as an indoor Pantheon-inspired marble rotunda.
When you’ve ticked off the obvious, don’t miss the Zaha Hadid-designed port house by the colourful harbour or the Extra City Kunsthal, an open-plan art space dedicated to connecting art and city dwellers. To see Antwerp’s best designers in a museum setting, visit MoMu.
Antwerp also has an abundance of shops, including Labels Inc. for pre-loved ready-to-wear items and Graanmarkt 13, where you’ll find everything from bucket bags to locally designed jewellery. To unwind, make use of the city’s rich coffee culture – it’s the world’s largest coffee port – with some our favourite cafés including Buchbar (which comes with a separate library) and hip hangout Kolonel Koffee.
Who to take with you
A friend who spends their weekend browsing exhibitions.
When to go?
Spring or summer.
Most likely to bump into…
Art history geeks.
Essentials to bring with you
Keep it casual and don’t bring too much as the variety of shops offers plenty to fill your suitcase.
How to get there
There’s no airport in Antwerp, but you can easily hop on the Eurostar from London to Brussels, then it’s 45 minutes on any regional train.
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