The city of chocolate, diamonds, fashion, art, antique and architecture: that’s quite a list of highlights for one city. We visited this Belgian gem two weeks ago and now I’ll share my selected tips.
Antwerp is convenient when it comes to getting there: a 2,5 hour flight from Helsinki and then a half-an-hour train ride from the Brussels airport. We took the afternoon flight on Friday and were strolling along the cobbled lanes of Antwerp in search of an atmospheric mussels restaurant during (late) dinner time. And found a tasty one (Xaverius, Oude Koornmarkt 21)! Let’s dive into the culinary delights shortly.
First, must say that on Saturday, November 16, it was slightly tricky to find a nice and cosy late breakfast spot with two available seats as that day marked the yearly arrival of Sinterklaas to Belgium, an occasion we were utterly unaware of. The streets around the Bonapartedok were packed with families, strollers and children who had exceeded their sugar overdose for the upcoming week as well.
The Sinterklaas festivities begin in mid-November as he arrives by boat from Spain. In Belgium he always arrives in the port of Antwerp. Then he parades through the streets, the children are singing and the assistants of Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Piet, throw small spiced biscuits and candy to the cheering crowd. In the coming days children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or on the windowsill in hope that Sinterklaas will come and bring some presents during the night time. The anticipation culminates on the eve of the Feast day when the main Sinterklaas parties take place. This tradition has received criticism because of the Zwarte Piet character but based on what we saw that Saturday, the tradition, or at least the parade, is still very popular.
Now, back to my Antwerp favorites. The best restaurant, without doubt was Fiskeskur (Kattendijkdok-Oostkaai 20b). This place is excellent. We both had a fish curry: super rich and delicious, fireworks for the palate really. The wine list was delightfully impressive, the service was warm, and the mood was cosy and laid-back. Extra points for the Latin rhythms. We found the place by following the tempting fish aroma when we were walking towards the Port Authority.
The architectural wonder: the Port Authority Building. Its architecture combines tradition with futurism. The building is captivating, a real eye-catcher, and the stroll to see it makes for a good (and windy, in November) afternoon walk. Antwerp is Belgium’s biggest port and infact world’s fourth largest port complex and back in the day (like more than 400 hundred years back) it was one of Europe’s most important cities. On the way back the yummy fish curry awaits. Architecturally impressive is also the Antwerpen-Centraal train station, check it out!
The most interesting chocolate experience was the Chocolate Nation (Koningin Astridplein 7), which manifests itself as the Valhalla for chocolate lovers. The visitors are taken on an audio-guided journey to the history of Belgian chocolate. It was quite exciting: the execution was creative and interactive and I bet it appeals to both children and older chocolate aficionados. And, as one would expect, in the end we got to taste many different flavors, in liquid form. As they say, the only thing better than chocolate is more chocolate.
As for the diamonds, didn’t buy any (I’d rather save up for the next adventure, be it big or small); antiques (carry-on baggage pretty much excluded purchasing any antique dressers or mirrors) and fashion: I bought one beautiful leather hand bag from the Old town, an item which I’ll very likely use for years. And the Leonida’s chocolate ended up in a very safe place as did the Belgian waffles: the best one was purchased from a tiny cart on the street while we were on our way to the Grote Markt (market square).