Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders and the second largest city in Belgium behind Brussels. It is most famous for its diamond industry and so known as the World Diamond Center. 70% of all diamonds in the world pass through Antwerp at least once. The Antwerp Diamond Square Mile houses 1500 diamond companies and 4 diamond bourses. The area is closed off to vehicle traffic by bars that rise out of the ground and as you stroll through the streets of the Diamond Square Mile, you can’t help but notice the hundreds of security cameras covering every inch. Thousands of jewelers display glittering diamonds in their store fronts. The Diamond Museum takes you on a history lesson through the geology of diamond formation, mining, cutting, polishing, and Antwerp’s rise to becoming the World Diamond Center.
The Central Station was built between 1895 and 1905. A huge glass and iron dome welcomes railway passengers in stunning magnificence. The huge glass vault was designed by the architect J. Van Asperen. It is 185 meters long and 44 meters at its highest point.
Just steps outside the Central Station is the Antwerp Zoo. The Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world, established in 1843. The zoo covers about 30 acres of land outside the Central Station and has 900+ species including tigers, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, zebras, and hippopotamus. The Indian elephants also have a baby, the first elephant ever to be born in Belgium. The Moor Temple (1885) houses the Okapi (the Antwerp Zoo was the first to have Okapis after they were discovered in the Congo in 1919). The immaculately kept gardens are worthy of a visit themselves. Many of the gardens feature beautiful sculptures created with flowers and shrubbery.
A walk to the Old City Center will bring you to the the massive Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady (1521). Its spire is described as “stone lacework” and dominates the skyline at 123 meters. The church houses four works by the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.
The main square, the Grote Markt, is surrounded by guild houses from the 16th century. The City Hall (1565) dominates the square and directly in front of City Hall stands the statue of Brabo throwing away the hand of the giant Antigoon, who forced everyone who wanted to cross the Scheldt river to pay a toll fee. Brabo stopped the giant by cutting off his hand. The city was named according to this legend, Antwerpen (Ant = hand, werpen = throwing).
Continuing on to the Scheldt river, the historic medieval castle, Het Steen (1225), rises above you. The castle helped to control access to the river and it was also used as a prison between 1303 and 1827. Het Steen is all that remains of the former fortified city.
Also across from the Central Station is the Aquatopia aquarium. Aquatopia is involved in several nature conservation projects including breading of seahorses, which are on the endangered species list, and participating in the international coral-zoo project. Aquatopia is one of the rare complexes where living corals are being raised.
The De Keyserlei/Meir area steps away from the Central Station offers just about every type of ethnic cuisine you can imagine! We especially enjoyed the Argentine Grill where my lamb chops were served cooking on a mini charcoal grill.