Brussels may be the heart of the EU but unassuming Antwerp, an hour away by train, has long been one of Europe’s most prosperous ports. For this guide we’ve toured both destinations and found plenty of gems throughout, from Brussels’ fine restaurants and spectacular museums to Antwerp’s stellar fashion offering and architectural delights.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Language divide: What language does the Belgian football team communicate in? English. That’s because Belgium is split into the Dutch-speaking Flemish side in the north and the French-speaking Walloon side to the south. As such it’s not uncommon to find two Belgians strug
  2. History: No one suspected that Belgium would have the oomph to make it big in Europe but the little state was the second country to industrialise after Britain and became one of the world’s richest nations.
  3. Food: It’s an ongoing joke that Belgians only eat waffles, mussels, frites and chocolate. Naturally you’ll find oodles of all four – and do note that frites are a Belgian invention – but this country’s gastronomic pedigree is more nuanced than you’d expect.
  4. Cycling: There are more than 4,000 bright- red bikes available from some 300 Velo stations in Antwerp, with more to be added in due course.
  5. The port: Antwerp’s history is tied to the sea. It’s the largest port in Belgium and second only to Rotterdam in Europe.
  6. Fashion: Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, whose fashion department is world-famous, has produced scores of talents, among them the Antwerp Six. The group set the tone for the country’s fashion scene.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Hotel des Galeries, Grand Place

    Designer digs

    Opened in 2014 by Parisian publisher and art collector Nadine Flammarion, and laid out by her daughter Camille together with interior designer Fleur Delesalle.

  2. Hotel Le Dixseptième, Grand Place

    Listed beauty

    This grande dame sits in a Unesco World Heritage site in the city centre. Each of the 37 rooms is named after a Belgian painter and decorated accordingly.

  3. Hotel Pilar, Zuid

    Welcome respite

    The heart of Hotel Pilar’s operation is the ground-floor restaurant and bar, which offers an eclectic menu riffing on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.

  4. Hotel Julien, Historisch Centrum

    Well-appointed boutique

    Whitewashed minimalism, marble counters and small touches of colour, all juxtaposed against the 16th-century building’s historic trimmings.

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. La Petite Production, Flagey

    All-week brunch

    This little café ticks all the boxes on a brunch-spot wish list. The menu covers all bases, from healthy chia-seed breakfast bowls to hunger-busting cooked breakfasts.

  2. Chez Richard, Sablon

    Bistro à la cool

    Drop by this bijou bistro for a timeless mix of French and Belgian classics rustled up from quality ingredients.

  3. La Pharmacie Anglaise, Quartier Royal

    Steampunk cocktails

    Cure whatever ails you with a drink (or two) at this meticulously recreated Victorian apothecary.

  4. Barchel, Klein-Antwerpen

    Good looks

    This elegant spot metres from the Stadspark offers the stuff of salty and sweet brunch dreams, be it Turkish fried eggs in herbed yoghurt or halloumi toast with carrot hummus.

  5. Le John, Theaterbuurt

    Too cool for school

    Concealed behind the façade of an art deco secondary school, this staple of the Antwerp creative set is elevated by its strikingly sober mid-century decor: all muted browns and (aptly) Friso Kramer Revolt chairs, often used in classrooms.

  6. Vitrin, Zuid

    Meeting place

    This corner café morphs into an aperitivo hotspot come early evening. Opt for an Aperol Spritz if the sun is out or, slightly more adventurously, a Cynar and white wine.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Eva Velazquez, Brugmann-Lepoutre

    Custom treasures

    Eva Velazquez’s charming womenswear shop caters to anyone looking for long-lasting pieces that are personal, ethical and unique.

  2. Bautier, Bas Forest

    Keeping it cosy

    Come for oak beds, tables and desks – pieces that radiate simplicity and durability.

  3. St Vincents, Theaterbuurt

    New lease of life

    You’ll find furniture, art and design from brands such as Apparatus Studio and Santa & Cole, as well as pieces by young Belgian designers.

  4. Morrison, Sint-Andries

    Mini marvel

    “Small is beautiful,” says Patrick Olyslager, who, together with his brother Jan, deliberately sought a diminutive space for his menswear shop in order to create intimacy and ensure the tightest edit of products.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Brussels:
  2. Coucou: hello (informal)
  3. Une chope: a beer
  4. Dikkenek: someone arrogant or pretentious
  5. Zievereir: joker
  6. Allons-y! : let’s go!
  7. Dada!: bye!
  8. Antwerp:
  9. Een pintje: half-pint of the lager on draft
  10. Dankjewel: thank you
  11. De rekening, alstublieft: the bill please
  12. Nachtwinkel: nightshop
  13. T’ stad: the city (as referred to Antwerp)
  14. Velookes: the Velo Antwerpen city bikes

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