In July, AFAR Travel Magazine sent me to Flanders to indulge in the rich culture of the region and to enjoy the Flemish way of life. I was visiting four different cities (Gent, Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp) in six days and shot tons of pictures. I met a lot of interesting people who were very proud of their country and profession, I tasted few different kinds of beers, I even sniffed and inhaled chocolate and experienced the original Gentse Feesten in Gent. It was a hectic, enjoyable and an eye opener trip.
To learn more about my Flanders’ experience, make sure to read my complete Guide to Flanders on AFAR.com.
From the four cities I’ve visited, Antwerp is the one I wished I had more time to spend there. The city has a successful balance between culture and commerce, high end fashion and local tradition. It is strategically located on the Scheldt river, and has some great architectural highlights alongside 16th century guild houses and Art Nouveau gems.
Buildings such as the Train Central Station, which was completed in 1905 and serves as the main hub to Antwerp
The Law Courts by the architect Richard Rogers, with the spiked roofs and the bright yellow lines alongside the stairs.
Huis Van Roosmalen, which is a private residence, owned by designer and art collector Will Van Roosmalen. The house was finished in 1985 and designed by Bob Van Reeth. I love the black and white stripes and the curved structure.
and the Zuiderterras, which was designed by Bob Van Reeth as well and looks like a ship moored on the Scheldt’s river and serves as a cafe and a restaurant. All these architectural wonders make the city more interesting and surprising.
Antwerp is known as the center of the world’s diamond trade, and since 1980s, thanks to the emergences of Antwerp Six, designers such as Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Walter Van Beirendonck, drove the city to fashion cutting edge and led the creation of institutes such as the ModeNatie.
The city is very active. It has a great fashion scene, it hosts an impressive collection of restaurants and bars, has various museums, great architecture and a young and trendy vibe. I highly recommend to visit Antwerp during the Summer times, when the days are long and it is getting dark after nine.
Here is my Antwerp’s intake and my express guide to the capital of Flanders; Where to shop, sip, eat and visit.
Shop: Graanmarkt 13
Named after the building it is located in, Graanmarkt 13 is ‘a special house where every floor tells a story’. This beautiful building that used to be a bank, was bought by Ilse and Tim, who live with their two kids on the 3rd floor. I was lucky to meet Ilse, the owner, who gave me a tour around this beautiful concept store and restaurant. Graanmarkt 13 has a restaurant on the lower level, overseen by the young chef Seppe Nobels, who, by the way, uses only local products and grows the herbs on the rooftop terrace above the restaurant. The entrance level is the store and gallery, where fashion, jewelry and home accessories hand picked by Ilse herself, are displayed beautifully. The second floor serves as offices and a gallery, where sometimes designers can show and present their clothes. Isle, who used to be a lawyer, told me it was her dream to create such a concept store, and I must say, it’s a beautiful one.
Graanmarkt 13, Graanmarkt 13, 2000 Antwerp
This should be one of the stores to see when you visit Antwerp. It is quite a small place but it has an impressive collection of high quality gloves since 1884, the year it was established. The store interior seems like it stayed the same since that year. The great collection of gloves, ranging from lambskin gloves trimmed with rabbit fur or pigskin gloves lined with cashmere, is all stored in green colored drawers that line the walls. When I ask the salesperson how many gloves she holds at the store at that moment, she answered about 10,000 in store and in stock. People all over the world are attending the store and order this well known gloves brand.
Huis Boon Gloves, Lombardenvest 2-4, 2000 Antwerp
I was very happy to discover Seven Rooms store in one of my morning strolls in Antwerp. I was on my way toward Marnixplaats square, which became a favorite location for me, when I saw the colorful sofa in the entrance of the store. It triggered my curiosity and I had to check out this huge white space. Seven Rooms was opened in January 2013 and it is a combination between Aldo Torelli, an Italian Fashion Agent, his Japanese wife Mie Sazen, and Gustav Bruynseraede, a Belgium retailer. The Concept Store is called Seven Rooms, because there are seven ‘units’ in that open space; Bedroom, Bathroom, Kitchen, Garden, Living room, Library and Walk in Closet. Each ‘unit’ has the right functional accessories. The whole experience is revolves hospitality. When I got in and met with the store manager, she made sure I would feel right at home, and welcomed me with coffee and cookies. Mie is the one who travels the world to find unique brands and things that look different than what the other designers bring to Belgium. The store has been a great success. Despite its high end brands and prices, I highly recommend to visit it.
Seven Rooms, ST Antoniusstraat 12, 2000 Antwerp
Sip: Cafe Hopper
Cafe Hopper is a well known ‘institution’ in Antwerp’s nightlife and Bohemian scene. It is a small place with simple wooden chairs and a piano but it is always packed. If you are not familiar with the local scene, you might think Cafe Hopper is just a simple place, but it attracts local and international jazz musicians and it is packed day and night. The cafe is located in Leopold De Waelstraat, a central square surrounded with great other restaurants and cafes, but despite its simple look, it considered one of the most mythological places in the Zuid. (South)
Cafe Hopper, Leopold De Waelstraat 2, 2000 Antwerpen
It is always good to know where the ‘cool’ local people hang out. I believe it is the best way to experience the local scene. One of the places I have discovered is Vitrin, an all-day cafe with a cocktail bar and an outdoor chairs and tables, packed with young and hype Antwerpenese.
Vitrin is located in the ‘Zuid‘ (The South) area of Antwerp, known for its recent gentrification of young and artistic crowd. The cafe is in the Marnixplaats Square, which is surrounded by other cafe places, restaurants and bars. The two owners of Vitrine are Michiel Thys and Kenny Aernouts, who opened Vitrine in 2011, as they wanted to create a place that will be low key and simple, and yet, people will feel comfortable and welcomed. If you go there during evening time, or you just fancy a drink, ask for the special- a spritzer made with cava, aperol and sliced orange.
Vitrine, Marnixplaats 14, 2000 Antwerp
Located just across the street from Vitrin, also in Marnixplaats square, you can find the great seafood-only restaurant Fiskebar. The place is like ‘Scandinavian flavors meet Belgian tradition’ and is heaven to fish and seafood lovers. The place is simply styled; white tiled walls, chalk-written menu on the walls and wooden chairs. There is the bar area, which is mostly for small dishes and appetizers or the main dinning room for full courses. In the Summer times, better enjoy sitting outdoors and watch the crowd.
Fiskebar, Marnixplaats 12-13, 2000 Antwerp
See: MAS Museum
Museum aan de Stroom, or MAS, (or Museum on the Stream) is one of the most significant cultural and architectural building in Antwerp. The museum is entirely dedicated to the city of Antwerp, with some changing galleries and exhibits mostly around the escalators area. I visited the museum twice; First time at night and second time during day time. It is fascinating in every hour of the day. The museum facade looks like a stack of red boxed connected by see through tubes. These curled wave-shaped floor to ceiling windows allow you to have a marvelous overview of Antwerp’s docks.
Take the escalators to the 9th floor and exit the rooftop to see a 360 view of Antwerp. If you climb to the first and upper floors of the museum and you face the square, you can notice a painted mosaic of a skull, based on a painting by the Belgian painter Luc Tuymans.
MAS, Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerp
Being in Antwerp and not visiting the ModeNatie Museum is like being in Beijing and not walking on the Great Wall. If Antwerp is considered the capital of Fashion, the ModeNatie is a must. The Complex includes Flanders Fashion Institute, MoMu Fashion Museum, the editorial department of A magazine and the fashion department of Hogeschool Antwerp. The building has an interesting interior of geometric lines and dark wood stairs that can stand in contrast to the flowing shape of the fabrics that are part of the exhibit and display.
When you visit the museum, don’t skip the Copyright bookstore that keeps a great collection of Art and Fashion books. I loved it!
Mode Natie Museum, Nationalestraat 28, 2000 Antwerp