Ah Antwerp…the city of money, art and fashion. Where the first newspaper was printed, the first stock exchange established (actually a commodities exchange as stocks had yet to be invented) and Europe’s first sky scraper was built in 1932. 300,000 tons of coffee are stored in the harbor and diamonds litter the streets…well, not really, but 84% of rough gems pass through the city, 54 billion dollars’ worth. Tickets to the Fashion Academy Graduation Show sell out quickly to an audience eager to discover the next Who’s who of cutting-edge design. In the 16th century it was the economic hub of the world. Merchants showed off their wealth by building…houses, churches, offices…many remain, making the centre one of the most beautiful spots in Europe. Now a foodie mecca, Antwerp is a must for anyone seeking the latest fashion, cafes that roast their own beans, restaurants that top awards and a culture influenced by money like no other.
Eat at Hertog Jan Restaurant. Eye wateringly expensive, yet worth every penny. Gert & Joachim shut their 3 Michelin Star restaurant in 2018 to focus on other projects. October 2021 this gem became one of their new endeavors. Seating a maximum of 22 people and only opened 2 weeks a month, this is one tough table to get. Those lucky enough to get a reservation will experience a culinary adventure like no other. Guests are asked not to share details to maintain the surprise for those who eat next…you’ll have to trust me on this one. Check the website for last minute cancellations.
Visit the Handelsbeur. The mother of all stock exchanges was the places deals were done, goods bought & sold and the focal point of European commerce from 1531 to 1631. It was copied in London, Lille and Amsterdam. Destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt in 1872 in a curious mix of neo gothic and revolutionary metal construction. By 1997 it had been abandoned and left to decay. Restored, more gorgeous than ever, it reopened in 2019 to house concerts, dinners and special events. On weekends it is open for the public to just wander around…but I recommend a tour with Tanguy Ottomer who literally wrote the book about the exchange. He is an expert on the rest of Antwerp too.
Drink at De Koninck Brewery…and learn about beer too. They’ve been making it since 1833. Described as high fermentation, low sugar brew, it is loved by connoisseurs. Local expert Michael Jackson calls it a ‘mild but treacherously quaffable beer’. Attend a food & beer paring or get a draft beer in an oversized can, to go.
Shop at Louis… the first store anywhere to sell Ann Demueulemeester, they are known for discovering new talent and selling cutting edge but wearable fashionable for both men and women. The owner is on the judging panel of the famous fashion school. Every year she offers the Louis Prize to a second-year student which includes the chance to display their collection in the store.
More shopping at Gantarie Boon, the greatest glove shop. Founded in 1884, Arthur Boon bought it in 1920; members of his family have been in charge ever since. Do they know gloves, collaborating with workshops all over Europe. Every glove is unique, an artistic creation. Leathers are carefully sourced and tanned. Though they have an online presence, you want to go in person. The original counters, cabinets and glove boxes remail… the one-on-one service ensures a perfect fit.
Up your culture in the Museum Quarter. Lots of art in a few blocks…Antwerp’s biggest, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, established in 1890, dominates. The brand new way cool modern addition, constructed in the courtyard of the old building is a must see. So are renown art galleries Tim Van Laere Gallery & Gallery Sofie Van de Velde. The FOMU (the Photo Museum) and MHKA (Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp) show why Antwerp is also a city for edgy new art.