When I was planning our trip to Brussels I knew I wanted to incorporate day trips to both Antwerp and Amsterdam into the itinerary. After studying Flemish art and the Renaissance in Northern Europe extensively at university in St Andrews I had racked up more than a few churches, buildings and sculptures I wanted to explore in all three cities.
Our flight back to Glasgow on the last day of our trip was extremely late on in the evening, so we decided to drop our bags at Brussels Central Station and jump on the train to Antwerp. The 45 minute train journey runs hourly, and a single ticket costs between €7.60 and €9.90 depending on the time of day. On arrival at Antwerp Central, I was blown away by the architecture of the building. Its interior is incredible modern, much akin to the main train stations in both Glasgow and Milan; with large panes of glass supported by a seemingly never ending steel frame. This modern architectural twist, alongside the brand new trains and futuristic stairs and elevators are contrasted starkly with the more Classical marble floors and carved stone walls. The station is a wonderful welcome to the city and a quick glimpse into the importance of architecture, both traditional and modern, throughout the city.
From the station to the main square or Grote Markt is only a 20 minute walk. To get there you need to manoeuvre the busy main shopping streets, which are much more fleshed out in terms of international brands than Brussels. The buildings above these shops are incredibly beautiful, and what I find about the buildings in Northern Europe opposed to Paris, for example, is that although they are all in keeping in terms of style with one another, each one is individual. It’t’s mesmerising to walk through the city and see not only the business of the streets on the ground but to observe how much is going on above the shops and homes, each building is a different height or colour shape to its neighbour.
The main square is framed by the city hall, several guildhalls and in its centre is a large fountain. Just behind the square are many windy, quiet streets with old taverns, houses and churches. Just a short walk from the square is the River Scheldt, overlooking which is Het Steen, an old Medieval fortress which you’re able to walk through. Alongside the fortress is a pier with views across the river. Not far from there is the city’s Cathedral of Our Lady, which is one of the great Gothic Cathedrals of Europe. Inside features plenty of incredible works of art, but those I was more intrigued to see were some Baroque works by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens. The cathedral itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and access costs just a few euros.
Apart from those main sights, we spent the rest of our time in Antwerp wandering around as many streets, shops and buildings as possible. I’m definitely glad we chose to only spend a day there, although I’m sure there’s plenty of sights that remain to be seen. A definite recommendation if you’re spending time in Brussels for a whole day, or even just for a few hours.