We absolutely adored Antwerp. Even though all Christmassy-related things were cancelled and the city was very quiet as we strolled through on a peaceful Sunday, we fell in love with the calmness, the exquisite architecture everywhere, the general sense of space and cleanliness that often goes amiss in busy Brussels, and the beautiful curated shops and attractions in the city centre.
In our mission to see as much of Belgium as possible before the borders open and we venture further afield into mainland Europe, we spent a cold sunny Sunday in Antwerp, one of the major cities in Belgium. Just a forty-five minute train ride from central Brussels, Antwerp is easy to visit in a day, although you may find yourself wishing you had more time to visit!
With the current COVID-19 restrictions, many attractions were closed and the general hubbub was dulled, but that didn't detract from our experience and how much we enjoyed the city.
Here's what we saw during our wintery day in Antwerp:
1. Antwerp Central Station
I wrote just above about how we loved the exquisite architecture in this city - and one look at the central station has it taking the cake, by far! You may think that a train station can't be that pretty, but I warrant it may be the most beautiful train station I've ever seen anywhere. There's five layers of platforms all stacked on top of each other and the entire place is massive, with the most ornate walls, ceilings and designs everywhere.
2. Sint Anna Tunnel
This one's a funky one - to access the long Sint Anna tunnel 31 metres below the river that reaches from one bank of the River Scheldt to the other, you'll find original escalators from 1933 made entirely from wood. It was our first time riding on these old kinds of escalators and it was quite fun! Be wary of the bikes - there seems to be no end of them zipping through the tunnel!
3. Saint Charles Borromeo Church
This baroque church was built in the 1600s and sits on a lovely little square where we enjoyed our lunch. A peek inside the impressive building shows intricate paintings and a regal altar space. All the pews were gone for COVID-19 purposes, giving us a sense of awe and space. We love visiting churches on our travels and like to slow down and appreciate the beauty of them.
4. Het Steen
This beautiful medieval fortress sits on the riverfront of Antwerp, which was built after the Viking invasions in the Middle Ages. Het Steen is the oldest building in Antwerp and aided in the control of the River Scheldt. Prisoners were held here as well between 1303 and 1827. Today, it's a museum (although it was under renovations when we visited!).
5. Streets of Antwerp
As is our favourite thing to do in any new city, we like to put away the maps and just wander the streets, following the pretty spots and turning down photogenic avenues and rues. The faintest hint of Christmas made our explorations here just that little bit sweeter.
6. Grote Markt
The heart of every town in Belgium (and many others across Europe) is the Grote Markt, a central bustling square with grandiose buildings and usually plenty of restaurants and cultural gathering places. The Antwerp Grote Markt featured a nativity scene, Christmas music, twinkling lights, hot and fresh frites as well as a sweet statue of a boy and his dog, a nod to literature as the main characters of the 19th century novel A Dog of Flanders.