Antwerp (Photo:Pigprox/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Adrian Mourby
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Antwerp

Flanders, the northern half of Belgium, has four lovely cities to visit. Brussels is the national capital, and it's full of well-heeled diplomats as the home of the European Union. Brugge by comparison is tiny and almost impossibly beautiful in its own medieval way. Ghent can be a tourist trap, but it's also very much a place for students. Antwerp, of the four, is the trendiest. It's the fashion hub of the Low Countries and a renowned center in the international diamond industry. "Cut in Antwerp" commands international respect in jewelry circles.

About Antwerp


Pro

This trendy, fashionable Belgian port is known for its diamonds

Con

Antwerp's weather can change rapidly; some tourist attractions close early

Bottom Line

Of Brussels, Brugge, Ghent and Antwerp, the last is the least touristy


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Though it receives its share of visitors, drawn to its churches, medieval guild houses and winding backstreets, Antwerp is the least touristy of Belgium's Big Four. Everyday life goes on, largely undisturbed by visitors, and it goes on with enthusiasm. There are lots of places to eat in Antwerp, but the majority are full of locals.

Antwerp is also home to one of the pre-eminent collections of artwork by the painter Peter Paul Rubens, who spent much of his life there. Visitors can tour the house where he ate, slept and painted, and then check out samples of his work in the Cathedral of Our Lady. A more 19th-century kind of art can be found across town in the stylish residential neighborhood of Zurenborg, where most of the opulent mansions are showcases of Art Nouveau architecture and interior design.

Antwerpenaars are very proud of their city. In fact, someone whose parents were both born in Antwerp can refer to himself as a "sinjoor" from the Spanish, Senor. The people of Antwerp are also proud of their Flemish identity. Belgium has long been governed by a French-speaking minority based in Wallonia, the southern half of the country. Antwerp has led the Flanders region in maintaining the Flemish language, cuisine and culture. This has occasionally been taken to extremes, particularly by the Antwerp-based political party Vlaam Belang, which has pushed an anti-French-speaking agenda and campaigned for Flemish independence.

While most Antwerpennaars do not hold such extreme views, there is still a lingering rivalry within Belgium between Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia. Visitors should be aware that speaking French to the locals in Antwerp may sometimes be received as rude or insulting. If you don't know Flemish (or Dutch, to which it's quite similar), try English instead.

Where You're Docked

Larger ships dock along the Wandelteras Zuid, which is only a 10-minute walk along Hoogstraat to Grote Markt, the city center. Cabs line up outside the terminal.

Smaller ships dock at Kattendijkdok or Willemdok, both about a 15- to 20-minute walk (through the Red Light District) from the city center. Your ship's reception staff can call a taxi if you don't wish that pleasure.

Good to Know

Belgium's position on the North Sea coast means the weather can change rapidly. Pack an umbrella and sunglasses, and be prepared to use both.

Check on the times tourist sites close before setting off. The Cathedral closes at 3 p.m., and last admission at the Rubens House is at 4:30 p.m.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The local currency is the euro, which you can get out of various ATM's throughout the city. The BNP Paribas Fortis Bank on the corner of Melkmarkt and Lijnwaadmarkt is convenient to Grote Markt and the Cathedral. There is a Western Union on the corner of Hoogstraat and Suikerruistraat.

For up-to-the-minute conversions, visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.

Language

The official language is Flemish, a variant of Dutch. Most shopkeepers and waiters speak a range of languages, including English. Use French and you may be politely ignored.

Shopping

If you can afford it, buy diamonds. If not, invest in chocolate. The Chocolate Line (Paleis op de Meir 50; 32-3-206-2030) is a store located in the palace used by Napoleon during his time in Antwerp. It's now a second home for the undisputed prince of Belgian Chocolate, Dominique Persoone, TV personality and cofounder of the guild of Belgian Chocolatiers. Dominique helped put Brugge on the chocolate map and is now doing the same for Antwerp in these palatial surroundings.

"Antwerp hands" (cookies in the shape of hands) are a popular treat based on the legend that Antwerp gets its name from a giant's hand that was cut off and thrown into the River Scheldt.