I’ve been traveling to Belgium since 2000. I’ve been visiting Antwerp since 2003. Antwerp is one of my favorite Belgian cities. The city is easy to get around in and there are plenty of places to visit and the people in the shops are usually friendly.
I fly into Brussels Airport in Zaventem, which is a half hour train ride from Brussels or a forty-five minute ride to Antwerp, on the Airport Express bus. Just follow the airport signs to the stops for each of these modes of transportation. You can also take the train to Antwerp but it usually requires changing trains in Brussels and takes a little longer. Plus you would have to haul your suitcases up and down the train steps. Your luggage is stored in the belly of the bus.
I get off at the Central Station bus stop and walk twenty to twenty-five minutes to Mia’s house. She owns a bed and breakfast called the Blue House. It is at 89 Lamorinierstreet. She is in the Jewish or diamond district and is within easy walking distance of many places that you might want to visit.
Mia is multilingual and is very good at helping you find your way around her city. She offers two bedrooms. Each can accommodate one to four people. They each have bathroom facilities. She offers a breakfast with a variety of choices and you are free to use her kitchen for your other meals. She can also cook you a meal on request. Mia will also take you to and from the train, bus stop or even the airport, upon request.
Antwerp is divided into eight shopping zones. I’m most familiar with three of them because they are within walking distance of Mia’s and they suit my shopping needs and interests more than some of the other areas which I have also been in. Mia’s street connects with a street that will take you directly to the Central Station where the diamond district is.
This street has several names, Mercatorstraat, Simonsstraat, Pelicaanstraat and another one beyond Mia’s street. These streets are listed in the order you will find them while going toward Central Station. The best way to
describe the street, is that it is the street that runs along the train tracks that are on an elevated track. The track looks like a bridge or wall with open gates.
The first shopping zone is around the Central Station, which you cannot miss because it visually dominates the area. The station is worth visiting for its eclectic, glass domed architecture out of another era. It has such a wonderful atmosphere. In the past few years, many of the diamond shops were moved off of the street and built into a mall inside the train station. This is accessed by several doors along the street. This access is for both the stores and the train station.
From Mia’s house this walk takes about twenty to twenty-five minutes. If you continue to walk straight past in front of Central Station, you will pass between some shops and an open plaza called Astrid Plein. If you
follow this street it will turn into Van Wesenbekesstraat which is where the only China Town in Belgium is located. There are quite a few gift shops, grocery stores and specialty shops there that are worth investigating.
If you choose to go around behind to the far left side of Central Station you will find the Antwerp Zoo. “The Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest and most famous zoos in the world.” You will find that the 150 year old zoo not only has over 4,000 different animals, they also offer a planetarium, aquarium and a green house full of botanical specimens s well as other inviting venues. The zoo is open daily, including weekends and holidays.
The street in front of Central Station is De Keyserlei. You will find shopping malls, restaurants, street vendors of their famous waffles, chocolate shops, diamond shops, jewelry shops, clothing shops, shoe shops and grocery stores located in the malls along with a variety of bargain shops and various other shops .
As you follow this street it turns into the Meir. This is the second shopping zone. This area is for pedestrians only. No vehicular traffic runs in this area. As you walk along this stretch of road you will find all of the large, well known and popular clothing chains represented in renovated buildings from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. There are also designer outlets, malls and more bargain shops.
There are also other shopping opportunities on the side streets along both De Keyserlei and the Meir.
About half way down the Meir you will find Wapper Sq on the left, past Kolvenierstraat. When you face this square you will find Ruben’s Huis on the left, facing Wapper Sq where Peter Paul Rubens the famous painter lived. Actually, it’s very hard to find unless you know what you are looking for. It’s easier to find when you are coming back in the other direction and you are facing Ruben’s Huis or as we know it as Ruben’s House. There is a large, glass walled building in front of the house which houses all kinds of items pertaining to Rubens. The house itself, now a museum, contains some of Ruben’s work as well as some of the work of some of his students
such as Anthony Van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. You will also see other works of art and furniture from his time period, the 1600’s.
As you get closer to the city center you will find yourself surrounded by buildings that are increasing in height and more impressively large. It feels like you’re walking through a very impressive and ornate canyon.
This brings us to the third shopping zone. This is the historical city center which is located around the Cathedral, the Grote Market and the Groenplaats Square. If you keep following the Meir it divides into two directions which curve around to the right and to the left. Take either way and you will come to the Cathedral which is as impressive as Central Station. It sits on the far side of the Grote Market, which is surrounded by the various official Guild houses of a bygone era.
The Grote Market also is the scene of the flower and bird market on Saturdays as well as other special events through out the year. You can find some pretty exotic offerings to photograph. This is also where you can find a tour bus to take a tour of the area.
Behind the Cathedral is the Groenplaats where you will find the statue of the boy, Brabo, who is said to have cut off the hand of the giant who was standing guard over the River Scheldt. The giant required a toll from each passing ship or the cutting off of ones hand in order to pass. One of the reputed sources of Antwerpen’s name comes from this incident. One of the possible meanings of the city’s name is “throwing of the hand”. This loosely transliterates into hand weapon, from which comes hand gun.
The Cathedral of our Lady is the home for Ruben’s “Resurrection” triptych as well as “Descent From the Cross” and “Elevation of the Cross”. the church also has “the bronze tomb of Isabella of Bourbon” and “34 huge stained windows”.
The area around the Cathedral is a good place to get Belgium’s famed frites or fries. There are several shops among the maze of streets around the Cathedral. When you get the fries make sure to order a topping to put
on them. I can’t quite work myself up to mayonnaise or tarter sauce on my fries. However, I just died and went to heaven when I had curried catsup on my fries. You can buy the curried catsup in the grocery store and bring it home. Unfortunately the fries don’t translate to our country very well.
The area around the Cathedral is a good place to find post cards and all of the typical tourist type items that all of your family and friends back home might want plus chocolate, lace, antiques and fun little unique gifts. I have friends who own a shop in this area, so I walk the five miles from Mia’s. Every time I come, I go see them and catch up with what is happening with them. Plus, I too have friends and family who just have to have the tourist gift from “Antwerpen”. The only other place I could get that sort of stuff would be in the airport. I’d prefer to buy from my friends to help them pay their bills.
I have taken a bus to this area and it is easier and faster. But I missed all of the wonderful discoveries that I usually find when I walk.
There is another shopping zone near the Cathedral where you can find gourmet shops and other boutique shops. The Zuid or south district is on the other side between the Cathedral and the river. This area is home to
several museums such as MUKHA, Museum for Contemporary Art on Levenstraat, the Photography Museum on Waalsekaai and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts ,which holds old masters from the 1300’s up to the modern era, on Leopold De Waelplaats. You will find work from all of Antwerp’s masters, such as Rubens, in residence. There is also a Maritime Museum in this area, along the river.
There are two other shopping districts over near Wapper Sq. Beyond Ruben’s Huis, going from the Meir, you will find the Latin quarter which is the theater district and close by there is the fashion district. In this area you will find the Fashion Museum MOMU, the Flanders Fashion Institute FFI and the Fashion Academy. You will also find boutiques with unique fashion finds.
For more information on Antwerp such as the shopping zones or any other specific need you may have about a visit to this city then go to this shopping link or to the home page for visitors.