By Riselle Celestina
Antwerp. The mere mention of this Belgian city’s name fills me with excitement. I am a true island girl and the Caribbean will always be home but L’Anvers is the only place in Europe that has managed to capture a piece of my heart.
The bigger, more beautiful (in my opinion) sister of Brussels gets its name from the Dutch words “Hand Werpen” which translates to hand throwing. I know, you’re probably asking yourself why a city would be called after hand throwing. As the folklore story of the city goes there once was a giant called Antigoon that managed who and what could access the river Scheldt which runs through the city and even imposed a toll for boatsmen wanting to travel up the river. Those who did not pay got their hand cut off. According to the story a young boy fought the giant, cut off its hand and threw it in the river. The statue depicting this story proudly stands on the Grote Markt or main square in the city center.
Antwerp is the most populated city in Belgium and yet it feels small. A walk in the city center will leave you in awe of its architectural beauty and impressive churches and cathedrals, yet what makes this city famous is its port which is the second biggest in Europe and its diamond trade.
There is much to see, admire and learn in Antwerp. These are just 10 of my favourites Must Sees.
Let’s start with the obvious: the churches. One cannot stroll through the city without seeing a historic church here and there. The cathedral of Our Lady’s tower is what most use as orientation to find their way around. The following are 3 of my favorite churches to visit.
1. St. James Church or Sint Jacobskerk
This church is built on the site of a hostel for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. The interior is absolutely breathtaking and whether you are religious or not, you will find yourself dwelling around the many historical pieces inside this church, including many private burial chapels. Antwerp’s famous painter Rubens got married in this church and was buried here as well. His private grave took 4 years to complete.
2. St. Paul’s Church or Sint Pauluskerk
Also known as my absolute favorite church to visit in the city, St. Paul’s Church is a beauty with an interesting history. Consecrated in 1571 as a replacement church, St. Paul’s has a baroque interior and hosts paintings from Antwerp’s renowned artists such as Rubens. I personally love this church because of its large window which allow for a lot of sunlight to stream in, giving the inside of this church a magical feel to it. The outside garden is a must. Once a cemetery for those hung in the nearby square, it features beautiful life-sized statues.
3. The Cathedral of Our Lady or Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal
This cathedral took 169 years to complete and at 123 meters high it towers over Antwerp’s skyline. The cathedral, like some of the other churches, is also home to impressive paintings by none other than Rubens. of course.
4. Nello & Patrasche
Once you step outside of he cathedral make sure you don’t stumble over the white statue on the floor in front of you. The statue is of a little boy and his dog sleeping peacefully under a cover made of bricks. It is based on the famous English fictional novel from 1872 called A Dog of Flanders that takes place in Antwerp. It’s a beautiful story of friendship and ambition that makes me cry every single time I see, read or hear it. It is especially popular around Christmas and has become an integral part of Japanese Christmas tradition.
5. Antwerp Central Station or Antwerpen-Centraal Station
Since we’re on the topic of older buildings…one cannot visit Antwerp without either arriving at the Antwerp central station or taking a stroll through this impressive train station it. It is by far my favorite building to photograph. The stone-clad building itself is from 1892 and is regarded as one of the finest railway architecture in Belgium.
6. The Wooden House or Het Houten Gevel
During one of my many visits to Antwerp, I decided to go in search of the wooden house. It is said to be the oldest house of Antwerp and the only one left of its kind, which is with a wooden front. It has withstood 6 wars and countless fires and is now owned by a family and can be rented on Airbnb as a unique stay.
7. The Vlaaikens Alley or Het Vlaeykensgang
This one was a bit hard to find. I must have passed a dozen times without knowing it was there. All you have to do is look a bit harder, really because it is located between two famous streets in the city center. The Vlaaikens Alley is a “secret” alley dating back to 1592. Walking through this small alley makes you feel like you’re stepping back in medieval times. It is rather short and leads to a historical hidden neighborhood, where the shoemakers and the city’s poor used to live. The shoemakers were in charge of ringing the cathedral’s bells.
8. The Plantin Moretus Museum
I am not big on museums. I quite often ask myself how I could possibly call myself a traveler if I stay out of museums. The Plantin Moretus Museum however is a must visit, not because it is home t the oldest printing presses in the world and documents the dynasty of two publishing families and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but rather for its garden. At least, it is according to yours truly. By all means, do wander the museum itself. It is rather interesting but I just love the garden.
9. The 11th Commandment or Het Elfde Gebod
Right around the corner of the cathedral you will find the eleventh commandment, a bar/restaurant housed in one of Antwerp’s oldest buildings. The building is said to be from 1425 and at one point was part of the cathedral. It now is home to some of Belgian’s best beers and it’s my favorite stop for a pint or two. It is also where one gets to sit and drink with the saints. The place is filled with Christian art and statues of saints. It gives it a misplaced holy look that is quite an attraction on its own.