For too long a city that many Americans tourists whizzed by on their way between Amsterdam and Paris, Antwerp has recently — and very quickly — become one of the top European destinations for gay tourists from around the world.
This country, with its Dutch-speaking, Germanic-yet-Catholic Flemish region, and its French-parlant section Wallonia, offers all sorts of attractions — from the culinary (delicious beer and chocolate, waffles, and seafood) to the cultural and historical. What’s more, gay men and lesbians are equal to their straight countrymen in the eyes of the law. Marriage equality is the law of the land.
Antwerp itself is a compact city of half a million resident that is entirely walkable but also offers a system of trams and buses. It boasts a range of architectural styles, though late-19th-century designs, including marvelous examples of Art Nouveau, predominate. It’s justifiably known for its beer (try Duvel, named for the devil, with is higher degree of alcohol content than American beers) and chocolate, but it’s also a world-class capital of fashion, with a world-famous fashion school, The Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Antwerp offers the best of Europe without the maddening crowds of tourist traps; it's still a well-kept secret, but not for long.
EAT: Where European Cuisines Collide
Belgium, and Antwerp in particular, is the best of all worlds when it comes to food. Because the city is at the crossroads between France, Germany, and Holland, there’s a bit of everything to satiate any hankering.
• Sjalot en Schnaul: This restaurant offers fresh meals prepared with a southern Mediterranean influence. Sjalot en Schnaul can be found 100 meters from the bustling Grand Place tucked away on a quiet side street. (Oude Beurs 12, 2000, sjalotenschanul.be)
• Graanmarkt 13: “Life is uncertain, eat dessert fast.” Chef Seppe Nobels offers patrons a taste of the freshest local foods available. Dishes are seasonal, varying daily while offering a choice of fish or meat for lunch and a three course meal for dinner. Dishes can be altered to accommodate a vegetarian diet, dietary restrictions, or allergies. (Graanmarkt 13, 2000, graanmarkt13.be/en/restaurant/the-restaurant)
• Eetkamer A L’infintiste: This restaurant offers an intimate place for dinner, only accommodating 16 people at a time. The menu is updated every two weeks to offer fresh and seasonal meals. The price for the meals is 40 euros and the main courses come with "creative and playful bites." (Kasteelpleinstraat 6, 2000, alinfintiste.be)
• InVINcible: A wine bar tucked away in an old Antwerp house on one of the narrow streets in the city center, it’s far from the crush of tourists and offers an eclectic menu with exotic riffs on unusual dishes. (Haarstraat 9; RestaurantinVincible.be)
• Josephine’s: (Pictured) Belgian-French plates are served up in a comfy, retro-chic locale in the Zuid district. Try one of the "perfumed" martinis. (Gentplaats 1; Josephines.be)
• Raven: Celebrated local gay chef Gert-Jan Raven serves up classic and seasonal dishes at this centrally located restaurant overlooking the old City Hall and Guild Houses. (Grote Markt 14; restaurant-raven.tv)
SLEEP: At the Heart of Everything
Because Antwerp is a relatively compact city, almost any hotel is within walking distance of where you want to be.
• De Keyser Hotel: (Pictured) This 4-star hotel is located close to Antwerp Market Square, the Diamond and Antwerp Zoo, and the Plantin Moretus Museum. The hotel also offers guests a fitness center, sauna and bar/lounge while being nestled in the heart of the city. (De Keyserlei 66-70, 2018, hoteldekeyserantwerp.com)
• Best Western Hotel Docklands: Best Western Hotel Docklands is conveniently located between the historic port of Antwerp and the city center in the Eilandje district. The area came into existence during the second half of the 16th-century and is surrounded by docks. There are international restaurants, museums, and parks all within walking distance of this hotel. (Kempisch Dok–Westkaai 84-90, 2000, hoteldocklands.be)
• Leonardo Hotel Antwerpen: Located opposite the main train station, Leonardo Hotel Antwerpen is directly in the city center. The shopping district, as well as many museums and historical sights, are all within walking distance. (De Keyserlei 59, 2018, www.leonardo-hotels.com)
• Hotel Matelote: Located near the history Grote Markt, it’s all contemporary design wedged into a 16th-century panorama.
• Radisson Blue Astrid: The Michael Graves-designed hotel is closest to the Central Station and is a great jumping-off point. (Kaningin Astridplein 7; RadissonBlu.com/AstridHotel-Antwerp)
• Huis Ergo: A gay-owned patrician-style abode in a super-convenient location, it hardly feels right to call it a B&B. (Venusstraat 16)
SEE: Art and the Park
Over the past two decades, Antwerp’s rebirth as an avant-garde fashion capital has overflowed into nearly aspect of its existence — including its equivalent of Central Park.
• The Rubens House: Home to Peter Paul Rubens, one of Antwerp’s most renowned artist from the 17th-century, this museum showcases some of the artist’s most impressive works. The city of Antwerp acquired the home in 1937 and immediately began restoring the building. (Wapper 9-11, 2000, rubenshuis.be)
• St. Paul’s Cathedral: This cathedral served mainly as a Dominican church. The Baroque steeple on the exterior was built on after a fire destroyed the church in 1679. Step inside the old church to marvel at its intricate black and white marble exterior and make sure to visit with the sculptures that surround the exterior. (Veemarkt 13, 2000, visitantwerpen.be)
• Museum Mayer van den Bergh: Fritz Mayer van den Bergh spent most of his life collecting art. Today you can visit the most memorable piece of his collection, from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, in this small, intimate museum. (Lange Gasthuisstraat 19, 2000, visitantwerpen.be)
•Park Spoor Nord: Party in the park! Antwerp’s green lunch bustles with concerts, barbecues, and Sunday brunches. (Ellermanstraat 2; Antwerpen.be)
• MAS/Museum Aan De Stroon: (Pictured) With breathtaking architecture and interactive rotating exhibits on Antwerp’s history and connection to the rest of the world, the city’s newest museum offers a stunning rooftop panorama out over the city on the River Schelde. (Hanzestedenplaats 1; MAS.be)
• Het ModepaleisDries Van Noten: Having put Antwerp firmly on the fashion map with his colorful, eccentric designs and prints, Dries Van Noten’s flagship store, Het Modepaleis, remains a mecca for the fashionable set. (Nationalestraat 16; DriesVanNoten.be)
PLAY: Where to Be
Here are a few of the hottest spots to see and be seen.
• Café Den Draak: Café Den Draak was founded by a group of volunteers of Het Roze Huis and offers a good time for everybody. This straight-friendly bar is a great place to relax and grab a coffee, beer, or cocktail after a day of sight-seeing. (Draakplaats 1, 2018, dendraak.be)
• The Boots: (Pictured) This bar caters to the leather fetish with events to match. Make sure you follow the dress code on any given night and don’t forget to follow the house rules, including not using your phone to make any kind of recording. (Van Aerdtstraat 22, 2060, the-boots.com)
• Karaoke Bonaparte: Karaoke Bonaparte is a great place for those who want to a bite to eat and an amateur show. For 15 years, Bonaparte has operated in Grote Markt and is always a good time. (Grote Markt 21, 2000, bonaparte.be)
• Popi Café: A favorite with an age-spanning LGBT crowd for its affordable drinks, relaxed vibe, summer terrace, and special whisky menu. This centrally located bar is the top spot before hitting the clubs. (Plaantinkaai 11-2; facebook.com/popi.cafe)
• Hessenhuis: Lunch by day and DJ grooves at night in this small, two-floor café/bar set in a 16th-century warehouse. Theme parties are in regular rotation. (Falconrui 59; hessenhuis.com)
• Red and Blue: Belgium’s largest gay nightclub hosts a sexy mix of events, from men-only Saturdays to lesbian Café De Love party every second Sunday of the month. (Lange Schipperskapelstraat 13; redandblue.be, cafedelove.be)
MY CITY: ANTWERP
Fashion star Tim Van Steenbergen designs us up an Antwerp itinerary. READ MORE
Tanguy Ottomer -- a fashion expert, personal shopper, and tour guide -- maps out his favorite spots in Antwerp for fashion, food, drink, and fun. READ MORE