Popularly regarded as Belgium’s capital of cool, the bustling city streets of Antwerp are loved for their vibrant cafes, boutique shops and the spectacularly designed buildings that make the country’s second largest city a haven for budding architects. Severe bombing in WWII has meant the city’s landscape is a mix of medieval cobbled streets and impressive contemporary designs. This fascinating hybrid of old and new reflects Belgium’s rich industrial heritage, modern history and the city’s status as a modern metropolis. Here are eight of our favourites.
Antwerp Central Train Station
The portal to the rest of Europe, Antwerp Central Train Station is filled with excited holidaymakers and backpackers. Architecturally, it is an eclectic and busy mix of various styles, with the final effect being an unusual building with fantastic quirks. The most impressive part is the entrance hall with its hard marble floor, grand pillars and the baroque style clock that sits as a magnificent ornamental and functional centrepiece.
Image ©: SvetlanaSF
A medieval fortress in the old city centre of Antwerp, Het Steen was built after the Viking conquest in the early Middle Ages and has served various purposes over the centuries – from functioning prison to defensive fortress. The building is Antwerp’s oldest and is characterised by its pointed towers and steeples, slate grey sweeping roofs and classical castle design with arrowslits..
The collision of ancient and modern architecture is spectacularly clear in this fascinating building that references the city’s long-standing function as an industrial port town. The building is a disused fire station with a gleaming glass structure on the roof that resembles a ship and catches the light to reflect the colours of the surrounding sea and sky.
Image © MartineDF
Grote Markt or Great Market Square is the beating heart of the city’s old town. It is here that the old town halls come together in harmony to align a quaint square. The narrow buildings have all been designed in a classically Flemish style with pointed roofs and the beautiful symmetrical brickwork that defines Flemish architecture.
The most impressive building in the square is the magnificent City Hall built in the 16th Century in a beautiful Renaissance style. It has been extravagantly designed with opulent details to highlight the grandeur of the city and symbolise Antwerp‘s wealth and power. Throughout most of the year, the facade of the city hall is colourfully adorned with 87 flags that represent member countries of the European Union and nations that have a consulate in the city.
Once home to influential Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, this dwelling for an artistic genius is now the site of an art museum that houses some of Rubens’ most famous works. The artistic theme transcends through the walls, with the exterior of this cosmopolitan villa a beautiful piece of art in itself thanks to a grand archway entrance and intricately designed courtyard.
Cathedral of Our Lady
This Roman Catholic cathedral is situated in the heart of the Antwerp and has become an iconic landmark with its soaring spire and Gothic style of architecture. The stone carvings and complex detail has been likened to delicate lace and the beautiful gilded clock is another feature that lures tourists to this part of town. The interior is equally as spectacular, with swooping arches, richly decorated alters and some intricate stained glass windows.
Antwerp Law Courts
Amongst the many contemporary buildings in the Flemish city, the law courts stand out with their dramatic jutting glass design that imposes on Antwerp’s skyline. The unique project, created in conjunction with Belgian architects VK Studio, houses eight distinct civil and criminal courts and has a grand public hall capped with the striking roof structure. The aim is to reflect a commitment to the future practice of democracy and the regeneration of urban life.