GOING SOMEWHERE: ANTWERP
Getting buzzed for 48 hours on the most famous espresso in Europe.
Famed for producing the Antwerp Six— a group of influential designers who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the early ’80s—and for being the diamond center of the world, the Belgian metropolis is an often-overlooked stop on cultural tours of Europe. It would be a mistake to miss it, though. Antwerp is a city with the perfect mix of the old and the new, where spending endless hours chatting in cafés is an obligatory custom, and where the chocolate has to be tasted to be believed. --LISA ROOLANT
This story was published on July 16, 2012.
9:30 a.m. Disembark train and immediately understand why Central Station is dubbed a “railway cathedral.” Gawk at rows of diamond shops, ignore the line for Starbucks (one of only two in the country), and head down the cobblestone streets for authentic caffeine fix.
9:45 a.m. Find Caffenation, a cosy hangout run by the city’s most famous barista, Rob Berghmans. Order Cafe Bouchee (a latte with a chocolate elephant in it), killing two birds with one stone.
10:15 a.m. Cross street to Stadsfeestzaal, the city’s grand 19th- century assembly hall which has been remade as a luxurious shopping plaza. Have a flute of champagne on the floating terrace at the giant glass-shaped Laurent Perrier bar.
10:45 a.m. Shuffle down main shopping boulevard, the Meir, slightly regretting choice of morning aperitif. Enjoy the street performers (particularly the guy playing a piano welded to his bicycle) while window shopping favorite international high street brands.
11:15 a.m. A quick tram ride south to chic square Het Zuid to check into the bed and breakfast above bohemian bistro Patine. Drop bags in spacious studio apartment while taking in the fantastic view of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
11:45 a.m. Pop into Ann Demeulemeester’s massive flagship store. Try to keep wallet in bag. Then head to nearby concept store YOUR, designer boutique Closet, and “denim supermarket” Clinic.
12:00 p.m. Wander charming Kloosterstraat with its proliferation of antique shops, until finding ultra-trendy concept store Ra, a 985-square-foot fashion Mecca housing everything from Rodarte to Complex Geometries, plus an exhibition space, bookstore, music corner, and kitchen. Have brunch amongst eccentric fashion academy students; consider a nap on the café’s bunk bed.
1:00 p.m. Proceed to the nearby Kammenstraat neighborhood for a great mix of alternative boutiques and high-end tattoo parlors. Don’t miss urban fashion stores Fish & Chips and Public Image or vintage havens Think Twice and Episode.
3:15 p.m. Give in to the aroma of Belgian waffles, which by no means resemble the tasteless heart-shaped versions that often claim their name.
4:00 p.m. Enter hallowed fashion ground at Dries Van Noten’s hometown flagship store, Het Modepaleis. A tour of the MoMu fashion museum just down the road, home to 25,000 items ranging from 16th century historical gowns to Yohji Yamamoto pieces, ensures you’ll more than meet your RDA of fashion.
7:00 p.m. Take a designer detox with a stroll along the docks of the Scheldt.
8:00 p.m. Have dinner paired with dirt-cheap beer at bustling café Dancing Chocolat back in the Kloosterstraat.
10:00 p.m. Continue beer tasting amidst live jazz at De Muze under the impressive Cathedral of our Lady.
11:00 p.m. No trip to Antwerp is complete without dancing at a house club in the red light district: Café D’Anvers is the place to be.
2:00 a.m. Get lost in the cobblestoned, nightclub-lined streets en route to hotel; wander into basement club Stereo Six and keep the night going.
9:30 a.m. Nurse headache while people watching at Patine with fresh bread and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles).
10:00 a.m. A short walk and you’ll arrive at the “bird market” (actually more of a produce market) under the ultra-modern roof of the city theater. Stumble upon the sjacherbeurs (slang for “bargain fair”), a thrift paradise in a parking garage, and dig for treasure.
11:15 a.m. Join line outside of old-fashioned Goossens bakery on quaint boutique- and chocolate-shop-lined Kortegasthuisstraat and buy a pastry. Pick a Frangipane, with a marzipan filling, and a Carre Confiture, an apricot puff pastry. Both are absolutely worth the wait. Wash it down with a locally famous Ginger Love tea at quirky vegan cafe Lombardia a few doors down. (Rumor has it Starbucks wanted the recipe but owner Alain Indria wouldn’t sell out.)
1:00 p.m. Hop on a public bicycle (three Euros per day) and ride along busy Leien boulevard to contemporary landscape Park Spoor Noord. Spend the afternoon chilling in lounge chairs in front of the Cargo, a restored warehouse with an awesome bar, alternating between beer and mojitos. (If the weather doesn’t agree: Visit spanking new MAS museum on Het Eilandtje—“the little island”—an industrial harbor area undergoing major gentrification. Walk on the roof of the Lego-shaped building for a panoramic experience.)
4:45 p.m. Next is Strantwerpen (a play on the Dutch word for beach—strand—and Antwerp), literally a beach bar along the docks of Het Eilandje with a Hamptons feel.
7:30 p.m. Have steak frites at Felix Pakhuis, the historical location of the city archives renovated to house an extraordinary multi-cultural space. Follow with swaying to live music in the buildings “living room.”
11:00 p.m. Continue on to NOXX, one of the biggest discotheques in Europe, in yet another dock-lined warehouse. 1:00 a.m. Indoor fireworks and glitter explosions? More, please.
3:00 a.m. Back in the city, stop by infamous Frituur No.1 under the cathedral for a bag of fries. Glob on mayonnaise and anadalouse and order a frikandel (a kind of sausage—in Belgium fries are the main dish, not a side). The weekend is officially complete.