Antwerp Travel Guide

Antwerp Travel Guide

A visit to Antwerp is akin to a workshop on the creative spirit. Long a city of artists and dreamers, Antwerp continually pushes boundaries in fashion, architecture, and entertainment—earning its slogan as ‘atypical’ for all the right reasons. Home to the renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts (and global trendsetters the Antwerp 6), prestigious fashion graduates are further evolving the city’s diverse design culture by choosing to stay in Antwerp to develop their distinctive concept shops (rather than depart for more obvious locales.) Architecturally, Antwerp offers an interesting juxtaposition of styles, from its prominent riverside fortress to Rococo and Art Nouveau buildings to the ultra-contemporary MAS museum. It’s hardly any surprise then that Antwerp brings its innovative air to the entertainment scene, whether via world-famous festivals like Tomorrowland or pulsating underground clubs and live music venues. It all adds up to an imaginative, open-minded bunch who know how to have a good time in great style—and a captivating gay Antwerp getaway for you. Looking for the ultimate Antwerp gay guide? Mr Hudson has got you covered.

The best hotels in Antwerp

Let’s start this gay Amsterdam travel guide with a roundup of the best hotels in Antwerp. Hotel De Witte Lelie epitomizes everything we love about Antwerp. It’s splashy and eccentric without trying too hard, weaving together a mosaic of styles and sensual colours throughout its eleven character-driven rooms. The boutique B&B is actually a connection of three 17th-century townhouses and is conveniently located in Antwerp’s cobbled medieval centre. For a splurge fit for royalty, the Presidential Suite gets inspiration from Louis XIV with its crystal chandeliers, open fireplace, and opulent gold details. Surrounding a peaceful garden courtyard, Hotel Julien also creatively merges two historic homes into a luxurious getaway in the heart of Antwerp. In parallel to the city’s striking juxtaposition of old and new, rooms are modern and elegant without sacrificing their historical roots. Exposed wood beams, Carrara marble bathrooms and limited edition Gallery 51 photographs feature throughout the space.

Continuing with the theme of historic homes turned luxury boutique hotels, no mention of where to stay in Antwerp would be complete without de Gulde Schoen. This storied 14th-century house was once the Florentine-inspired palace of banker Jeronimo Frescobaldi. After changing hands a few times throughout the centuries, the historic landmark is now a collection of nine ritzy suites awash with next-level amenities. Whether it’s private butler-service drinks in your room or a custom curation of boutiques and cafes, de Gulde Schoen is serious about its concierge services. Set in a restored former church parsonage, Hotel le Tissu is an elegant small hotel tucked away on a tree-lined street near Antwerp’s state park. Start your day with breakfast in the vintage wine cellar or relax with an afternoon cocktail on the sun-dappled terrace. It’s unpretentious sophistication in the centre of the world’s most famed diamond district.

A recent addition to the hip and happening ‘t Eilandje neighbourhood, hotel U Eat & Sleep offers a prime location near Antwerp’s old docks, where floating boats in a glimmering marina remind us this is Europe’s second largest port city. While you won’t find many swearing sailors these days, there is a myriad of quaint restaurants and bars nearby, along with the newly minted MAS museum (an Antwerp must-see.) Hotel U Eat & Sleep delivers everything its name suggests; expect a contemporary interior, warm ruby and gold accents, and a bright terrace with lovely marina views.

Hotel U Eat & Sleep

Hotel U Eat & Sleep

Hotel U Eat & Sleep

Hotel U Eat & Sleep

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Recommended hotels in Antwerp
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Marina | Photo: Hotel U Eat & Sleep

Marina | Photo: Hotel U Eat & Sleep

Things to do in Antwerp

To fully appreciate Antwerp’s rich artistic heritage, make your first stop Rubens House. This is where world-famous baroque Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens lived and worked for most of his life. You’ll find traces of Antwerp’s most famed resident throughout the city, but it is his sprawling mansion that offers a deep-dive into Rubens’ lush lifestyle and prodigious talent. Along with the home’s permanent collection of works, the gorgeously restored portico and garden pavilion are proof to the versatility of Rubens as both artist and architect. Once you’ve explored Antwerp’s artistic roots, head to the Tim Van Laere Gallery for an array of contemporary works by artists from various countries, genres, and practices. Here a special focus is given to the artist’s unique vision and personal expression, earning the gallery an esteemed global reputation.

Rubenshuis | Photo: Velvet

Rubenshuis | Photo: Velvet

You’ll find traces of Antwerp’s most illustrious resident throughout the city, but it is his sprawling mansion that offers a deep-dive into Rubens’ lush lifestyle and prodigious talent

Delve into Antwerp’s rich past as a prominent port city at the striking red-tiled MAS museum. Inspired by the neighbourhood’s 19th-century depots and the rippling water of the Scheldt River, Antwerp’s largest museum focuses on the city and its relation with the world. The exhibitions are fascinating, but the crown jewel of the experience goes to the panoramic city views awaiting on the top floor. In a world that continues to become more and more digital, the Plantin-Moretus Museum is a wondrous look at 16th-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus. It’s also the world’s only museum to boast UNESCO world heritage status. Here you’ll find two of the world’s oldest printing presses, along with a fascinating collection of tens of thousands of books—including everything from a Gutenberg Bible to the Font Garamond. Original manuscripts and type sets further the awe-factor. Keep an eye out for paintings by our favourite Flemish artist, Rubens.

Antwerp’s premier fashion museum, the MoMu tops most lists of what to do in Antwerp. But what many don’t know is that you can experience the city’s fashion culture in a much more intimate, dynamic way via a private MoMu fashion walk. It’s an immersion into Antwerp’s fashion culture that also provides a rare chance to discover off-the-beaten-track menswear boutiques and shops at the heart of Antwerp’s pulsating design scene. The Bourla is by no means Antwerp’s largest theatre, but it is one of the city’s most treasured. The neoclassical building dates back to 1834 and is the last European municipal theatre to house original stage machinery. Catch a show by theatre company Het Toneelhuis, or admire the architecture with a coffee from the first-floor cafe.

MAS museum via wyron-a-unsplash (1)

MAS museum | Photo: Wyron

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Recommended experiences in Antwerp
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Brussels has long garnered international fame for its masterful street art and murals, but like the quirky little sister it is, Antwerp knows how to hold its own

What to see in Antwerp

Antwerp’s compact size makes it easy to spot many architectural jewels in one afternoon amble, so head out for an achitour to get a sense of the city’s rich cultural heritage. Start with Antwerpen-Centraal, regularly dubbed the world’s most beautiful train station for its impressive dome and gold and glass details. From here, don’t miss classics like the gothic Onze-Lieve-Vrouw cathedral or the historic Grote Markt (Antwerp’s iconic central square.) Finally, head to the Zurenborg neighbourhood for an amble down Cogels Osylei, where spectacular protected houses display a hodgepodge of architectural styles. End the achitour with a visit to the Sint-Annatunnel; the historic tunnel connects the left and right banks of Antwerp, making it a bustling thoroughfare for locals and travellers. But what’s of particular note are the marvellous wooden escalators that take you deep beneath the Scheldt river. Pro tip: take the underpass to the Left Bank for outstanding views of Antwerp’s skyline.

Brussels has long garnered international fame for its masterful street art and murals, but like the quirky little sister it is, Antwerp knows how to hold its own. You’ll find murals and graffiti dotted throughout the city; Street Art Antwerp is an interactive map that makes it easy to discover thought-provoking pieces no matter where you are. Don’t miss Berchem; considered the street art district, each year some 100+ artists colour the walls—sometimes with 3D installations. T.A.G.S is Antwerp’s Graffiti and Street Art museum, a tribute to 20 years of graffiti art culture. For murals from big names like Nychos or Pixel Pancho, Park Spoor Noord is a worthwhile stop.

What started in 1950 as an outdoor sculpture exhibition has become a unique mainstay in Antwerp’s art scene. The 30 hectares of park and exhibitions that make up the Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum are at times peculiar yet always relevant, including incredible works by famed sculptors from the 20th-century and today. (Rodin, Carl Andre, Franz West, and plenty more all have representation here.) New works are continually added to the seemingly surreal sculpture park.

Sint-Annatunnel | Photo: Matteo Paganelli

Sint-Annatunnel | Photo: Matteo Paganelli

Antwerpen-Centraal | Photo: Ludwig Wallendorff

Antwerpen-Centraal | Photo: Ludwig Wallendorff

Antwerp’s food scene is hotter than ever, a buzzing mix of hip coffee shops, edgy bistros and Michelin-starred fine dining

Where to eat in Antwerp

Antwerp’s food scene is hotter than ever, a buzzing mix of hip coffee shops, edgy bistros and Michelin-starred fine dining. For a real gastronomic adventure, make a reservation at The Jane, a renovated military chapel turned two-star Michelin restaurant. Breathtaking stained glass windows, a ‘pièce de résistance’ 800kg chandelier, and bustling open kitchen take centre stage. It’s all very fitting of the chefs’ philosophy: ”food is our religion.” We recommend the 7-course degustation menu and wine pairing. Another mainstay in Antwerp’s fine dining scene is The Dôme. A 19th-century art nouveau manor house turned distinguished French restaurant, dining under the majestic dome is both inspiring and intimate. Expect creative takes on French classics, always with fresh and seasonal ingredients.

When wandering around the old city centre, keep an eye out for The Backyard. This trendy bar and bistro serves a mean gin & tonic (actually, it boasts some 52 varieties of gin cocktails) and is an all-around fun place for a long, convivial lunch in a cosy al fresco setting. The Backyard burgers are always a crowd-pleaser. For a casual meal that offers exquisite views of the Grote Markt, Restaurant Meat Factory is a modern but comfortable restaurant specializing in—you guessed it—meat dishes. Opt for the Rib Eye Angus Beef and Belgian frites, best enjoyed on the covered terrace. Nearby, tucked away on a quiet cobbled street is De Peerdestal. Translating to The Horse Stable, exposed wooden beams, red leather chairs, and sparkling candelabras set the stage in this historic building. It’s authentic Belgian cuisine done charmingly well.

For seafood, there’s no better option than Mojo, a fish bistro serving up fresh filets following traditional Flemish traditions. The restaurant is unpretentious and straightforward, allowing the high-quality fish and seafood to take centre stage. Opt for one of the suggestions hand-written on the central chalkboard. In stark contrast to the chic simplicity of Mojo, Het Gebaar is located inside what could easily be confused as a gingerbread house comes to life. Nestled in the oasis that is the Antwerp botanical garden, Het Gebaar is the brainchild of famed Chef Patron Roger van Damme. One look at the desserts and pastries reveal why Roger Van Damme is globally revered for his labour-intensive edible works of art. Note that the restaurant is only open for lunch, and you’ll need a reservation from Tuesday through Friday.

Antwerp is serious about its markets, and one of the most popular is the Friday Antique Auction. But rather than elbow for the best deals, watch the action over a mouthwatering lunch at Cafe Camino. From Kimchi BBQ sandwiches to Vietnamese noodle salads, the Asian-inspired dishes are flavour explosions, best washed down with a smoky mezcal cocktail.

Backyard Restaurant

Backyard Restaurant

The Jane | Photo: Pieter D'Hoop

The Jane | Photo: Pieter D'Hoop

Shopping in Antwerp

Befitting of Antwerp, Graanmarkt 13 is unlike any concept shop we’ve seen before, exuding warmth and hospitality across three gorgeous levels. The ground floor is a stunning boutique, with items carefully curated by husband-and-wife owners Cornelissen and Tim Van Geloven (many from their travels and personal meeting with creative entrepreneurs.) High-end fashion, local artisanal crafts, and dazzling design pieces are all on display. After picking out the perfect pieces, make your way downstairs for local cuisine by top chef Seppe Nobels.

Trade in the structure of a blazer for the cosiness of a knitted sweater at Morrison, where the Olyslager brothers slay with their knitwear brand Howlin’. From scarves to cardigans to waistcoats, each piece is hand finished by traditional craftsmen, effortlessly combining both style and comfort. When the occasion does call for something more formal, Suitsupply is an upmarket menswear shop with on-point suits, footwear, and accessories. For pre-loved menswear from high-end fashion houses, Labels Inc is a designer-oriented vintage boutique with a high number of Belgian and international labels. Window installations featuring works from the graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts means you might be the first to discover new, innovative trendsetters. Speaking of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Dries Van Noten is a design legend—one of the original Antwerp Six responsible for transforming Antwerp into the fashion capital it is. Van Noten’s flagship store is the Modepaleis, a pilgrimage for fashion and design lovers.

Atelier Solarshop is the brainchild of menswear designer Jan-Jan Van Essche and Pietro Celestina. A refurbished solar panel shop (hence the name), Atelier Solarshop is a curated space of vintage furniture, art exhibitions, antique treasures, and Van Essche’s menswear label. The alternative shopping destination focuses on craftsmanship above all else; you’re almost guaranteed to find a uniquity with a fascinating story behind it.

Graanmarkt 13

Graanmarkt 13

Antwerp nightlife

Antwerp might not have a specific gay neighbourhood, but it doesn’t want for gay bars, clubs, and pop-up festivals. Of particular note is SPEK, a monthly(ish) dance night that typically occurs at stylish Club Vaag. SPEK doesn’t discriminate, attracting crowds beyond the gay community so long as they understand what SPEK is all about. Come for the world-class DJs typically spinning house and techno beats. Near to the MAS Museum, Café Hessenhuis is a gorgeous gay bar and cafe in a 16th-century brick warehouse. The atmosphere is cosy and refined, though there are often high-energy DJ events. You’ll also find a welcoming terrace here, where locals mingle over a Belgian craft brew.

Het Roze Huis is Antwerp’s LGBT community centre, and tucked inside it is the gay-popular bar Cafe Den Draak. The menu is simple but on-point, and this is an excellent place to learn about the active LGBT organizations and ongoing lobbying in Antwerp. No mention of gay Antwerp is complete without Que Pasa, the city’s premier gay bar with a distinctly Latin flair. Weekly drag shows keep things exciting, but this welcoming neighbourhood bar is popular for any occasion.

Dogma Cocktails took the Belgian bar scene by storm when it opened its doors in 2013. Since then, the posh bar has earned a slew of awards, but all it takes is one sip of their signature cocktails to understand what all the fuss is about. The Tall Dragon is a smooth mix of gin, cucumber, ginger, honey, and lemon, but no matter your imbibement of choice, expect only the highest quality ingredients and unparalleled craftsmanship. The sleek industrial design with warm brown leather sofas doesn’t hurt, either. One of Antwerp’s most beloved locales, De Muze is a romantic jazz cafe that’s been luring visitors to its doors since 1964. The jazz cafe is so precious that in 2014 its regulars banded together to pull De Muze out of a tight spot, further cementing its Antwerp legacy status. De Muze retains its vintage character and hosts an array of jazz bands and up-and-coming musicians most nights after 22:00.

Diamond City | Photo: Soul van Schaik

Diamond City | Photo: Soul van Schaik

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