Antwerp, Belgium - November 2015
After five days in Antwerp, I feel like I know the city better than any other I've visited. I remember when I was researching it, I read that Antwerp was "pocket-sized" and I love those words for describing this tiny, adorable city. You can walk from top to bottom in maybe 40 minutes at a New York pace.
But don't let that fool you--while Antwerp lives in my mind like a tiny fairy tale place, being there in real time, you get a distinct sense for its history and the working class folks who give it its realness, its edge. Antwerp gives me the same feeling as listening to Bruce Springsteen or eating a funnel cake. I especially loved the hipster, young neighborhood of Eilandje where boats bob up and down and restaurants and bars line the once bustling harbor.
I just love this place. And its not just because of the waffles, fries, beer, and chocolate (all of which are actually everywhere). Since its only a quick train ride from both Brussels and Bruges, I'd planned on traversing more of Belgium, but Antwerp sucked me in. I walked and re-walked the same paths for five days and fell in love with every inch. Here were some of my most favorite spots:
Cuperus: I loved this coffee shop where the smiley barista took his time making the most perfect latte and picking out the flakiest frangipane pastry just for me. Once you're done hanging out and using their free wifi, you can also shop for fun souvenirs or gifts including hand-shaped candies filled with marzipan--the most Antwerp-y treat ever. (Read THIS and THIS for some background on the hand thing.)
Museum aan de Stroom: Ride the escalator to the top of this big red building. Then you can climb onto the roof for 360 views of the whole city. Once you take your photos, go through the many MAS exhibits, all of which were interactive, fascinating, and really illuminated the history of the city and its people.
Balls & Glory: This restaurant kickstarted an obsession that now lives deep in my soul; an obsession for stuffed meatballs. You can get meatballs and stoemp all over Antwerp, but the selections at this spot are varied and unique and they're sooo good. Stop in for a quick meal and face the windows to watch boats come in the harbor and Belgians driving by on their bicycles.
Middelheimmuseum: I wasn't sure that this trip would be worth the long bus ride outside of the otherwise super walkable city, but it definitely was. Roam around the grounds for infinite, art-filled photo ops. And make sure to bring some cash for lunch on premises.
Broer Bretel Espresso Bar: Once I spent a few days in Antwerp and saw the major sites, I ended up spending the rest of my time in the lovely, charming, hip neighborhood of Eilandje. Broer Bretel was my touchdown spot where I wasted hours listening to their jazzy soundtrack and eating speculoos dipped in coffee.
Waagstuk: This was me and Danny's favorite spot for authentic Belgian bites and lots of beer. Waagstuk is in the university district, so there's lots of fun young people around and the restaurant itself is in a quiet, cobblestoned square that might have been my favorite spot in the city.
Others: Get a waffle at Désiré de Lille, Belgian fries everywhere/anywhere, go shopping at Moose in the City, eat at Ellis Gourmet Burger if you need a taste of home, wander down Vlaeykensgang once you can find it, go to the cathedral, and swing by the Rubens House!