June 19, 2024

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A Local’s Guide to Antwerp, Belgium

2 min read

T’s monthly travel series, Flocking To, highlights places you might already have on your wish list, sharing tips from frequent visitors and locals alike. Sign up here to find us in your inbox once a month, and to receive our weekly T List newsletter. Have a question? You can always reach us at tlist@nytimes.com.


In the 16th century, Antwerp, Belgium, with its busy docks along the river Scheldt, was a booming center of trade and one of Europe’s most influential cities, attracting artists, intellectuals and entrepreneurs. In 1576, Christophe Plantin ran a prestigious printing business (one of the continent’s largest) in the center of the city, a half-mile from where, a few decades later, the painter Peter Paul Rubens would build his own studio and semicircular sculpture hall, modeled after the Pantheon. Over the years, while other long-established port cities like Venice and Barcelona evolved into throbbing tourist centers, Belgium’s second city largely kept far away from the spotlight, yet it’s always quietly maintained a reputation as a place for innovation and creative expression. In the 1980s, it became an important fashion hub with the emergence of the Antwerp Six: a group of young designers, including Ann Demeulemeester, who had been educated at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Even now, despite its relatively small size (the population is about 545,000), Antwerp is still home to a cluster of people at the top of their creative fields, including the visual artist Luc Tuymans and Pieter Mulier, the creative director of the fashion brand Alaïa. “I can see the port from one side of my apartment and Antwerp’s historic center from the other side,” says Mulier. “Those views allow me to understand the richness of this city, not just financially but culturally.” Lately, there has been a renewed sense of dynamism in Antwerp, with a slate of recently opened restaurants, bars and hotels, including Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp, a luxury resort housed in a converted monastery, as well as ambitious new architectural projects underway in the southern part of the city led by Tokyo’s Shigeru Ban and others. The art scene is also getting a boost now that KMSKA, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, has reopened after its decade-long renovation. Here, Mulier and four other notable locals share some of their favorite spots in the city, from beloved relics to new diversions.

Gisela Williams

2024-04-26 19:00:17

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