Leaving Holland’s quaint streets and stair-step gabled architecture could have made us regret that we were nearing the end of our Holland & Belgium cruise with Viking were it not for the continuing charm of Antwerp. Even though the official capital of Flanders is Brussels, we found the “unofficial capital” — Antwerp — to be one more example of the vibrance and beauty of this area.
We loved the intimacy of small pubs, outdoor restaurants, and sightings of locals doing whatever they do best in their Flemish home town. And we enjoyed being a part of the active scene as we strolled down alleys and into spaces flanked by beauty and real life everywhere.
As a major port as early as the 14th century, Antwerp became a popular mercantile center with its sugar trade and sales of woolen goods. And, since 1476 when the first diamond was cut, Antwerp has been known as (and still is) the “Diamond Capital of the World.”
It’s also known for cheaper thrills: beer, brews, and the pursuit of happiness in affordable terms.
We found Antwerp to be a place for getting out and about in this great city. Biking — alone or in groups as pictured at the top — is as strong an activity as it is in Holland. It’s just part of living the good life.
Markets, too, add to the ambiance — like the ones in Grote Markt offering fresh foods and pretty flowers all grown locally.
If you love chocolates (fine, Belgian chocolates) you’ll be in the midst of a whole-country love affair.
For gathering, eating out, and learning about legends and namesakes, head to Grote Markt where an imposing City Hall (built between 1561 and 1565) looms large. The statue in front honors Silvius Brabo, a Roman soldier who killed Druon Antigoon, the giant who forced all navigators to pay tolls before they were allowed to go over the Scheldt river. As the legend goes, if they refused, Antigoon cut off their hands and threw them in the river.
Turn about is fair play, we suppose, as Brabo, in turn, cut off Antigoon’s hand and threw it into the river. (And that’s why you see a man holding a hand in the upper part of the sculpture.)
The entire Grote Markt is impressive with its guild halls, ornate buildings of varying styles, and touches of gold accenting famous people and legendary figures.
In the old city center, Het Steen (built between 1200 and 1225 as a medieval fortress) looms large as Antwerp’s oldest building — and one of its most fascinating.
Of course, you can’t leave Belgium without sampling the waffles. It’s just not polite. So, we did our civic duty and downed a couple of these crispy delights. (Crispier than those in the U. S. and made with fizzy water, according to our guide.) Regardless of ingredients or techniques for making them, Belgian waffles just taste great!
Hope you’ll join us for our next post on Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady. Until then, keep thinking architecture, legends, chocolates and waffles: you’ll want to book a cruise to Antwerp in no time.
Travel through history and art,
Rusha & Bert
This post is one in a series prompted by a recent trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to Viking cruises (Holland & Belgium 2022) and our travel agent, Lauren Gunnels of Ortelius Travel Advisors, for the arrangements and free time to enjoy the scenery!