Best of Belgium: Three Days in Antwerp

written by:
September 18, 2012

It's hard to narrow down the highlights of a recent trip Dwell took to Belgium—a whirlwind week covering Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels, spent meeting architects and designers, exploring neighborhoods, and scouting design shops and houses. Here are some of our favorite discoveries in Antwerp, a city that melds the medieval, Gothic, modernist, and breathtakingly contemporary with aplomb. Stay tuned for the rest of the best, including what we saw in Ghent and Brussels, posting on dwell.com later this week.

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  The Antwerpen-Centraal train station, designed by Louis Delacenserie, dates from 1895 and is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Locals like to point out that in 2009 Newsweek named it "the world's fourth greatest train station."
    The Antwerpen-Centraal train station, designed by Louis Delacenserie, dates from 1895 and is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Locals like to point out that in 2009 Newsweek named it "the world's fourth greatest train station."
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  Upon arrival in Antwerp, design-lovers should beeline to Kloosterstraat, a narrow street packed with antique galleries and modern design shops. Here's the eye-catching corner where the good shopping area starts.
    Upon arrival in Antwerp, design-lovers should beeline to Kloosterstraat, a narrow street packed with antique galleries and modern design shops. Here's the eye-catching corner where the good shopping area starts.
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  The shops on Kloosterstraat vary from tiny cubbyhole galleries to vast loft-like spaces like this one, an emporium called Viar that sells clothing, accessories, and great vintage furniture.
    The shops on Kloosterstraat vary from tiny cubbyhole galleries to vast loft-like spaces like this one, an emporium called Viar that sells clothing, accessories, and great vintage furniture.
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  Rewind was another favorite discovery on the street. The shop, which is dedicated to what they call "ecodesign," sells environmentally friendly furnishings, jewelry, and housewares from local and international designers. We especially loved the wool felt cushions and rugs from Muskhane, a French company whose natural products are handmade in the Himalayas.
    Rewind was another favorite discovery on the street. The shop, which is dedicated to what they call "ecodesign," sells environmentally friendly furnishings, jewelry, and housewares from local and international designers. We especially loved the wool felt cushions and rugs from Muskhane, a French company whose natural products are handmade in the Himalayas.
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  A great place to eat while you're in the neighborhood is Ra, a concept shop stocked with art books and clothing and shoes from cutting-edge fashion designers from around the world. Upstairs there's a sale room with steep discounts on the pricey goods, and downstairs near the entrance is a cozy cafe with sidewalk seating—a prime spot for stylish people-watching.
    A great place to eat while you're in the neighborhood is Ra, a concept shop stocked with art books and clothing and shoes from cutting-edge fashion designers from around the world. Upstairs there's a sale room with steep discounts on the pricey goods, and downstairs near the entrance is a cozy cafe with sidewalk seating—a prime spot for stylish people-watching.
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  Some street signage eye candy.
    Some street signage eye candy.
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  Travelers usually focus on Antwerp's centrally located Cathedral of Our Lady, but to our eye, the smaller, Gothic St. Paul's Church was even more stunning, with its sombre, graphic black-and-white interior and collection of 17th-century paintings by Flemish masters. Don't miss the beautiful but haunting sculpture garden on site.
    Travelers usually focus on Antwerp's centrally located Cathedral of Our Lady, but to our eye, the smaller, Gothic St. Paul's Church was even more stunning, with its sombre, graphic black-and-white interior and collection of 17th-century paintings by Flemish masters. Don't miss the beautiful but haunting sculpture garden on site.
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  Here's the city's 16th-century Grote Markt, or Central Square, with its grand city hall and a fountain depicting the Roman soldier Brabo throwing a giant's severed hand into the river—part of a medieval legend that gave the city its name (the act of throwing the hand is referred to as 'handwerpen' in Flemish). Today you see the hand icon everywhere in Antwerp, from the town flag to boxes of hand-shaped chocolates.
    Here's the city's 16th-century Grote Markt, or Central Square, with its grand city hall and a fountain depicting the Roman soldier Brabo throwing a giant's severed hand into the river—part of a medieval legend that gave the city its name (the act of throwing the hand is referred to as 'handwerpen' in Flemish). Today you see the hand icon everywhere in Antwerp, from the town flag to boxes of hand-shaped chocolates.
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  Our home base was the truly lovely Hotel Julien, very conveniently located in two historic buildings near the Cathedral. It's serene and luxurious, with interiors that have been gracefully and sensitively updated for the 21st century.
    Our home base was the truly lovely Hotel Julien, very conveniently located in two historic buildings near the Cathedral. It's serene and luxurious, with interiors that have been gracefully and sensitively updated for the 21st century.
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  Here's a photo of the lounge overlooking the courtyard. In front of the sofa is a fireplace; off to the side is a round table laden with design and travel magazines from around the world, which guests are welcome to borrow and bring up to their rooms.
    Here's a photo of the lounge overlooking the courtyard. In front of the sofa is a fireplace; off to the side is a round table laden with design and travel magazines from around the world, which guests are welcome to borrow and bring up to their rooms.
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  The hotel has many intact original architectural touches, like this ornate carved wooden staircase that leads from the reception area to the guest rooms.
    The hotel has many intact original architectural touches, like this ornate carved wooden staircase that leads from the reception area to the guest rooms.
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  Another highlight of the hotel is the roof deck, outfitted with canvas butterfly chairs and offering spectacular views of the Cathedral and surrounding neighborhood.
    Another highlight of the hotel is the roof deck, outfitted with canvas butterfly chairs and offering spectacular views of the Cathedral and surrounding neighborhood.
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  One of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city right now is the Eilandje District, on the city's still-industrial northern waterfront. The neighborhood is currently undergoing a renaissance and building boom, with apartment buildings under construction that will house 6,600 residents by 2020. The most visible new development is the recently opened and much-hyped Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), designed by the Rotterdam firm Neutelings Riedijk and dedicated to telling the story of Antwerp's history as a trading hub.
    One of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city right now is the Eilandje District, on the city's still-industrial northern waterfront. The neighborhood is currently undergoing a renaissance and building boom, with apartment buildings under construction that will house 6,600 residents by 2020. The most visible new development is the recently opened and much-hyped Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), designed by the Rotterdam firm Neutelings Riedijk and dedicated to telling the story of Antwerp's history as a trading hub.
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  Across the street from MAS is the Felix Warehouse, a beautiful building and 230-foot-long arcade renovated in 2006 to house the city archives that date from the 13th century.
    Across the street from MAS is the Felix Warehouse, a beautiful building and 230-foot-long arcade renovated in 2006 to house the city archives that date from the 13th century.
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  At the end of our time in Antwerp, we were whisked away by the designers Hannes van Severen and Fien Muller, a young married couple who are both artists-turned-furniture-designers. Today they create minimalist, multipurpose furniture and lamps under the name Muller van Severen. We'll share video footage from our visit to their studio outside Ghent on dwell.com in the coming weeks... stay tuned!
    At the end of our time in Antwerp, we were whisked away by the designers Hannes van Severen and Fien Muller, a young married couple who are both artists-turned-furniture-designers. Today they create minimalist, multipurpose furniture and lamps under the name Muller van Severen. We'll share video footage from our visit to their studio outside Ghent on dwell.com in the coming weeks... stay tuned!

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