It may be the diamond capital of the world, but Antwerp is also known for a number of other sought-after cultural gems, including Golden Age art and Belgian beer, waffles and fries.
Diamond capital of the world, Belgium’s largest port, home to trendsetting fashion designers and a mecca for chocolate lovers, Antwerp is lively and historic, lovely and legend-filled. Visit Antwerp’s striking Cathedral of Our Lady, with its UNESCO-designated belfry and its historic surroundings, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, hop on the metro and experience the city like a local.
Antwerp walking discovery tour with Cathedral of Our Lady
Wisdom and Justice await you in Antwerp’s Market Square—handsome statues of these virtues overlook the triangular plaza, the historic heart of the medieval city. It’s an easy walk from the ship, and you’ll stop at the glorious Cathedral of Our Lady on the way. Considered one of the most beautiful structures in Belgium, the Gothic cathedral houses four masterworks by the golden age artist Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp most of his life.
Once you reach the Market Square, you’ll spot the lofty Renaissance-era city hall, topped with those statues (at one time a statue of Brabo joined them, but Counter-Reformation priests replaced the putative founder of Antwerp with a statue of Mary). Next to it are ornately adorned guild houses, which testify to the enormous wealth and economic dominance of Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries.
At the end of the tour, you may decide Antwerp is so inviting that you want to see more. Enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. Your local guide can provide some excellent insights: where to buy diamonds, the names of the best Belgian ales and the best places to find Belgian fries and waffles. You might check out the unusual boutiques in the pedestrian-only zone; Antwerp is a hub of avant-garde fashion, so these shops are full of unique clothing. The city was home to an astounding number of artistic geniuses in the 16th and 17th centuries, among them Brueghel, Van Dyck and Rubens. You can explore exquisite museums devoted to their work on your own.
Note: Tours cannot take place at the Cathedral of Our Lady during religious services. If a religious service prevents a tour, you may return later to see this beautiful structure on your own. Be sure to get a ticket from your guide.
Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Antwerp walking tour
Residents of Antwerp are called Antwerpenaars, and you’ll feel like one during your guided tour of this bustling multicultural city. Hop on the metro for a quick ride to the beautiful Central Station, then stroll down the Meir, the main shopping street, where you’ll discover a wonderful array of architectural styles. Past and present collide at the Chocolate Line, chocolatier Dominique Persoone’s sinfully good sweets shop on the first floor of the 18th-century Royal Palace. In keeping with the regal setting, Persoone’s wife adorned the shop with 33 million Swarovski crystals.
Stand amid the sparkle and glamour and watch as master chocolatiers work their magic, then taste the results. Having met your chocolate quota for the day (if such a thing is possible!), head for Farmers’ Tower, an art deco–era building that many call the first skyscraper in Europe. And no tour of the city would be complete without a stop at a stand devoted solely to french fries, which, despite the name, are a Belgian invention. Sample these double-fried delicacies with all kinds of dressings (the house-made mayonnaise is essential) and you’ll understand why they’re a national obsession. From there you can take a short walk back to the ship or stay in town and keep exploring.
A special Captain’s farewell reception and dinner will be prepared for you this evening.