Even without a specific restaurant in mind, a stroll down Het Zuid’s terraces at dinner time has the mouth watering in seconds. Trendy restaurants and cafés dot the historic neighborhood’s wide boulevards and squares. The afternoon running up to the meal is well spent exploring the FoMu photo museum, the MoMu fashion museum, the stately Museum of Contemporary Art, or a couple of its many art galleries.
When challenged to incorporate an old protected fire station into the city’s new international Port House, Zaha Hadid Architects decided to plop quite the juxtaposition on top. The monument now carries a glittering, glass-covered expansion simultaneously referencing Antwerp’s reputation for diamonds and its maritime culture. The piece of prestige architecture is begging to be admired in the sunlight.
A massive 16th-century City Hall, a grand fountain depicting the city’s mythical origin story, and a flurry of step-gabled guild houses—these all combine to make Antwerp’s main square a beauty of monumental proportions.
The ultimate place to learn about Antwerp’s folkloric origins would be at the foot of the Brabo Fountain in front of City Hall. Looking up, courageous Roman soldier Silvius Brabo can be seen flinging away the severed hand of Antigoon, a malicious giant that terrorized the region. Legend has it that by throwing the giant’s hand in the river Scheldt, Brabo gave the city its eventual name—“handwerpen” (throwing a hand) would lead to “Antwerpen.”
Antwerp’s eminent medieval alley has to be the idyllic Vlaeykensgang. It’s a beloved spot to listen to the city’s carillons chime away during a concert and to dream about simpler times.
Crossing from the left to the right bank of the river Scheldt via the underpass (or St. Anna’s Tunnel) holds its own handsome rewards. The white-tiled pedestrian tunnel, built in the ’30s, still uses its authentic wooden escalators, a unique feature at the time. Once on the left bank, a splendid view of the historic core’s skyline is yours.