There is a vibrant energy to Antwerp: perhaps it comes from the wind that whisks into the city across the broad, grey River Scheldt on its way to the North Sea. The energy is palpable, on the pavements of the busy shopping streets, in the to-ing and fro-ing of the trams and buses, in the lively arts, fashion and clubbing scenes. Spreading out from its historic centre around the Cathedral of our Lady, the modern face of Antwerp has breathed new life into its decaying docklands, first to the south of the centre with the cutting-edge Museum of Contemporary Art (M HKA), then north, which is home to the new, ground-breaking Museum aan de Stroom (MAS).
The city was badly damaged in the Second World War, but it seems to have taken this in its stride, confident of sufficient heritage to remember its glorious, historic past as a major trading port: its churches, its outstanding art – personified by the swagger of Rubens – its grand houses such as the Rockoxhuis and the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, teeming with paintings, antique furniture, historic artefacts and other cultural treasures.
Antwerp is a city on the up, offering polished hotels, excellent restaurants and a broad range of things to see and do – it’s found its place on the international tourist trail and the buzz can be felt in the food offerings too, in the shops and markets and restaurants: inventive, stylish, always open to new ideas, yet firmly grounded in the solid habits of established tradition.