Everyone will be able to find his or her favorite facet of Belgium’s second largest city. With a rich historic heritage, Antwerp is an energetic and modern destination that offers something for every visitor.
The city of Antwerp can rightfully pride itself on its rich, historic past. Through the centuries the city has managed to develop a rich and unique cultural heritage. Antwerp has always been at the crossroads of culture and the arts, being the hometown of great painters such as Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck, as well as architects and authors.
Belgium’s second largest city (population: 450,000), Antwerp is a cultural melting pot, with a port that is Europe’s second largest. The river Scheldt links the city to the North Sea some 60 miles (97km) away.
The importance of the river Scheldt cannot be overemphasized. Antwerp would not be what it is today without its river, which has been – and continues to be – of major strategic importance to the city. Many river cruise vessels visit Antwerp.
The river even appears in a well-known legend, said to explain the origins of the city’s name. Antigoon, a giant who lived on the river, would demand a toll from anyone wanting to cross the river. Those who did not pay would lose one of their hands. That all stopped when Brabo, a young hero, defeated Antigoon in combat. He then cut off the giant’s hand and threw it into the river. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch hand werpen, or “hand throwing” in English. A statue in front of Antwerp’s town hall immortalizes the important moment.
Legends aside, historic documents show that the city was officially named as early as in the fourth century.
In more recent times, the river Scheldt played an important role as Antwerp developed into one of the most important centers for the transatlantic liners that transported people and goods to the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Currently being developed into a museum, the departure halls used by Belgium-based Red Star Line still stand at the city’s Rijnkaai quays.
Throughout the centuries, the quays of Antwerp have been important to many others too. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, saw a military potential in the city. For that reason, he constructed the Bonaparte Dock in the early 19th century.
Napoleon was not the first (nor the last) military man to consider Antwerp an important city. Het Steen – “The Stone” in English – stands as a reminder of this. The citadel was finished in 1225, built to control access to the river Scheldt. It is now Antwerp’s oldest remaining building. It also used to be the home to the National Maritime Museum, but this is being moved to the Museum an de Stroom (MAS) – set to open next year (see below under Museums).
Today’s cruise passengers can admire the old medieval and modern skyline of the Antwerp waterfront, while sailing up to the mooring right in the city center. Ships moor only 110 yards (100m) from the marvelous Market Place (Groote Markt), 16th century City Hall, amazing Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady and enchanting ancient city center with its churches and museums. New facilities, such as the computer controlled gangway and cruise terminal, welcome passengers efficiently. Before arriving, passengers will have passed a 12-mile (20km) panorama of port activity and nature reserve.
Antwerp is also the world’s diamond capital. Since the 15th century the city has played an important role in the diamond trade and industry. More than 85 percent of all the world’s diamonds are cut, set or traded in the city representing an annual turnover of US$26 billion.
Antwerp has become a major trendsetter in the European world of fashion. Belgian designers that scored internationally have artistic roots in Antwerp. Most of the up-and-coming designers have their atelier, showroom and shop in the city center. The number of fashion shops in Antwerp continues to grow, and the range of boutiques in the pedestrian friendly center makes strolling and window-shopping particularly easy.
Several museums are located in Antwerp and its surroundings. Some of them are within walking distance from the cruise terminal. Examples include:
Shore excursions in and around Antwerp include:
Brussels, the capital of the European Union, is only 28 miles or 45km away. Distances from Antwerp to other marvelous Flemish art cities are barely 31 miles (50km) to Ghent and 62 miles (100km) to Bruges. Even Paris can be reached within three hours.
Antwerp Official Tourism Web Site
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