CULTURAL EXTRAVAGANZA IN TRENDY ANTWERP
Belgium’s second city is hard to resist! Bursting with exquisite architecture, top-class art museums, trendy shops and a world-famous Zoo, Antwerp has something for everyone. Stay in the exclusive Radisson Blu Park Lane Hotel or enjoy modern elegance in the Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel. Both hotels are centrally located and only a short distance from the city’s main attractions, restaurants and bars.
An unforgettable stay is only possible with an exceptional hotel that shapes memories. The Radisson Blu in Antwerp is one of them. For either romantic getaways or family holidays, here at Radisson Blu we have taken care of everything. All of the rooms are fully renovated and modern with unlimited Internet access, flat-screen televisions and individual air conditioning. They come with comprehensive service, with a breakfast buffet and a restaurant offering Belgian specialities for dinner. A babysitting service is available to allow you to fully enjoy the Radisson Blu experience and swim lengths in the indoor pool, for example. Located right in the city centre, the building is opposite the train station and only a few minutes away from major tourist attractions such as the zoo, the diamond dealing district and Rubens' house.
A city with a fascinating history
Antwerp was established around the year 900, and grew first and foremost due to its location on the Escaut river, with its port activities. This is where the first trade exchanges came into being and this made it one of Europe's most significant towns, a status that it held throughout the Middle Ages. At this time, it had a broad reach and attracted scientists, artists and major merchants in equal measure... During the 17th century illustrious painters such as Rubens and Van Dyck came and settled here, as well as the printers who made the town so renowned. A strategic prize at the centre of many conflicts, from the Dutch wars of succession to the Second World War, Antwerp has always rebuilt itself whilst preserving the historical identity which gives the city its present day appeal.
Getting acquainted with Antwerp
Antwerp is a unique city, owing both to its history going back almost a millennium and its architectural heritage. Opposite the Radisson Blu hotel lies the central train station, one of the world's most beautiful, nicknamed the “Cathedral of Rail”. While strolling in the diamond dealing district and along the Meir river, you will see the fantastic architecture which is traditional in Flemish towns. You won't be able to miss the gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral, where you will get a first glimpse of Rubens, the grand master who called the city home. Rubens is the city's second-biggest attraction, and you will find his masterpieces mostly gathered in his fine stately home, which is a must-see. Antwerp has many other assets, such as its trendy boutiques, its museums and its art nouveau district.
Located in northern Belgium, Antwerp is the largest and most densely populated locality in the Flemish region. Brussels is only a one-hour drive to the south, whilst the border with the Netherlands is only 30 minutes to the north. It has a small international airport serving the whole of Europe, and a central train station. In terms of climate, Antwerp is more pleasant to visit in summer, when temperatures reach around 23°C, though winter also has its charms in the run up to Christmas. Although most people from Antwerp speak French, Dutch is still the region's official language.
Start your sightseeing tour of the city with a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral. Before entering, have a walk around the streets of the city centre. You will have the chance to admire the architectural wonders that make Antwerp so renowned. Each of the buildings, in the traditional Flemish style, is unique and tells a part of the story. The cathedral is the pièce de résistance. This Gothic building is impressive because of its grandiose size and the feeling of artistic purity and airiness that it exudes. Inside, you will find eight monumental works painted especially for the cathedral by Rubens.
The diamond dealing district
To understand the significance of the diamond in Antwerp, it is worth knowing that 50% of the gems cut worldwide pass through here, making these few housing blocks the universal capital of the precious stone. The trade is thriving today, and has been since the end of the 15th century. A stone's throw from the Radisson Blu hotel, the Diamond Square Mile is a vibrant district where many different religions, small boutiques and major international banks cross paths. A few minutes away, take a break to see Rubens' house, a mini-palace in the heart of the city. Everything has been restored as it was, in particular the painter's studio and part of his personal collection.
The city's zoo is the country's oldest and one of the largest in the world. If you are travelling as a family, take advantage of the proximity of the Radisson Blu hotel to tour this magnificent animal park. It has more than 5,000 animals of 950 species, and children are sure to love looking at Siberian tigers, king penguins, zebras, lions and giraffes. All this in a fine setting where it is enjoyable to stroll and have a picnic.
The fashion district
Since the 1980s, the little Belgian town has emerged as one of Europe's top fashion centres, thanks to six artists from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, who put the town on the fashion map. As a result, fashion creation is everywhere you look in Antwerp. The Fashion Museum, nicknamed the MoMu, is unmissable with its fine exhibitions organised by theme. About 10 minutes' walk from the town centre, it lies in the heart of a district known for its designer boutiques open day and night, its contemporary museum, the Mukha, and the Photography museum.
After touring the Fashion Museum, it’s time to think about shopping: you're in the heart of the Nationalestraat, the town's fashion district. This is where you'll find the finest designer boutiques, where the world's biggest names in fashion gather, such as Victoria Beckham, Alexander Wang and Helmut Lang. Among the unmissable establishments are those of Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, both of whom are from Antwerp. A little further away, two minutes from the cathedral, drop in to the very contemporary fashion designers' concept store, which showcases and sells clothing, accessories and home decoration pieces.
Diamond buying in Antwerp
The diamond capital is tempting, of course. And why not? It also gives you the chance to wander through the heart of the diamond dealing district, not as a tourist but as a buyer. Shop around to find the right one for you. Somewhere like Diamondland is obviously very well-known for its broad range, but you can also go to any jeweller belonging to the Antwerp Diamond Jewellers Association (ADJA) to be sure of finding a quality diamond.
Le Meir, shopping avenue
Le Meir is a bit like the Champs-Élysées: a large avenue where you will see all the shops of your dreams. Only 10 minutes' walk from the Radisson Blu, it’s shopping heaven with a great many shops all its length. As you pass by, don't miss The Chocolate Line, a Belgian institution owing to its delicious chocolates and also its quirkiness.
Vintage fashion heaven
Antwerp would be nothing without its vintage boutiques, where you can snap up real rarities. Head to the Klooterstraat to get acquainted with the small world of retro fashion with three unmissable shops. t' Koetshuis is a real Aladdin's cave where you will find anything from 1930s postcards to rococo home decoration items. Right next door, The Recollection stocks reworked, well displayed furniture and clothes. Finally, top off your day with your children at Rewind Kids, where you will find games with a difference, such as one involving pizza making.
Over the last few years, the port of Antwerp, which is among the world's largest, has become a trendy district, ideal for walking around and eating out. The “Het Eilandje”, as it is known, has been rebuilt around the MAS, a wonderful contemporary museum showing collections on the town's history. On the docks of the port, you find a series of organic restaurants and welcoming little bistros where you can enjoy very good Belgian specialties.
Recommended places to drink
You simply can't come to Belgium without trying the uber-famous Belgian beer, said to be the best in the world. There is an unmissable place for that: the Zuid, in the south of the town and 10 minutes' walk from the Radisson Blu hotel. This is the district that never sleeps: day and night you will find young people strolling, whether to have a drink or go shopping. All night long you can drink cocktails there in quirky bars, which by night sometimes turn into nightclubs.
Every year at the beginning of July, an unmissable event starts: the Summer Festival. Each year this electronic and techno music event draws tens of thousands of people who come to enjoy Antwerp's night life. It brings bands from all over the world who play in the town for several days, and big spaces are converted into “summer bars”, where you can sip a cocktail with your feet in the sand. The rest of the year, Antwerp is a town of culture thanks to its museums and its many theatres.
Antwerp's night life
Antwerp has become one of the most vibrant towns in Belgium. You will find anything and everything here, from trendy clubs offering the cream of current electronic music to an eco-friendly club beneath railway tracks, to a nightclub in a converted church. Le Zuid is still the best district for a night out, but the port and Eilandje district are giving them a run for their money, with a few unmissable spots.