I'll be honest, Antwerp was never high on my to do list- not even for Belgium. With the capital city of Brussels and the fairytale-esque town of Bruges on offer, why would anyone travel to Antwerp? For me, the answer was a sheer matter of convenience. Antwerp was the easiest location to meet friends from London for the weekend, so I figured it was time to give this often overlooked city the chance it deserved. If you have the option, arrive to Antwerp via train. Antwerpen-Centraal station, with its ornate stone-clad interior and airy high ceilings, is considered one of the most beautiful train stations on the planet. Whilst waiting for a train, or in my case some friends to arrive, be sure to stop and grab fresh Belgian waffles from the waffle cart or some delicious chocolate for the road!
Much to my surprise, there was quite an array of things to do in this fantastic Belgian city. To see the streets from the highest point, climb to the 10th floor of the MAS museum situated along the docks. Hopefully it won't be as gloomy and drizzly as it was for me, however the view was still well worth the climb and offered a 360 degree panorama and gorgeous photo opportunity. When glancing out over the city, keep your eyes peeled for some impressive street art installations along the rooftops of the city's buildings- one of the unique things you can only really appreciate from this perspective. Nearby to the MAS is Antwerp's own red light district- think: a more desolate, quiet version of the popular district in Amsterdam. The region is much smaller and is surprising void of the usual buzz surrounding the sex industry. It's easy to briefly pass by on your way to the MAS if you do want to have a roam through the streets and satisfy your curiosity.
If you have more refined tastes in window shopping then look no further than the diamond quarter. With over 80% of the world's diamonds passing through the city, the glistening shopfronts sparkle with delicately cut jewels in an array shapes and designs to capture the gazes of passers by. We spent hours peering into the shop windows and watching smitten lovers excitedly choose the diamonds of their dreams (and also wishing we had a little bit more money in the bank to get ourselves a souvenir).
If you still haven't quite scratched your architectural itch, the Cathedral of Our Lady's steeple pierces the skyline in true gothic fashion. Towering over the city from most angles it's a difficult site to miss, yet its worth closer inspection to admire the stain-glassed windows and listen to the chirpy chiming of the bells. Antwerp's town hall is a site to behold, towering over the main square draped in the flags of each EU nation. Come by during the day to appreciate it's intricacies and take some pictures but be sure to return at night to admire the building boldly lit up for all to see.
On the topic of evenings, no girls weekend would be complete without a manhunt for the tastiest cocktails in town. For an intimate drink stop try Cocktails at Nine- a beautifully orchestrated cocktail venue. If you're searching for a romantic spot without too much bar chatter, it's refined, cosy and perfect for date night. If you'd rather a place with a bit more attitude then Dogma is more your style. With quirky furnishings and punchy cocktails, the venue has everything you need to kick off a great night out with friends, and pick up some new ones throughout the evening. Antwerp was a city that truly surprised me with its offerings. It was a nice detour away from the stifling atmosphere of many overcrowded European cities, and really allowed you to take your time discover the idiosyncrasies of each attraction.