Bored of Brussels? OutUK's Adrian Gillan hits Belgium's bejewelled second city, Antwerp. With a population of more than half a million, it is by far the most populous city in the north of Belgium.
One of Europe's biggest ports, Belgium's second largest city, Antwerp, is also the main town of Flanders - perched on the mighty River Scheldt, scarce twenty miles north of capital Brussels. Occupied by the Germans in WW2 and named European Capital of Culture in 1993, Antwerp's population proudly speak Flemish, or immaculate English and it also happens to be the centre of the Belgian gay scene.

Antwerp has long been an important city in the Low Countries, economically and culturally, especially before the Spanish Fury (1576) in the period of the Dutch Revolt. The inhabitants are locally nicknamed Sinjoren, after the Spanish honorific seńor or French seigneur, "lord".

WHERE TO STAY

For an unrivalled choice of hotels with guest reviews at low online prices check out our hotel partners Booking.com. Or for something more intimate, in the centre, the 4-star Hotel 't Sandt is a boutique design hotel with individually-themed rooms, all flooded with light, plus large garden terrace.

WHAT TO SEE

Stroll along the city's system of boulevards, which replaced the walls that formerly encircled the city; take in the historic city centre - the Grote Markt, the Groen Blaats, the magnificent Gothic Cathedral (14th - 15th Century) with its 120m spire, even the renovated (and thankfully cleaned-out) underground former city sewers.

Then browse the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, hanging out with Rubens and van Dyck; visit palatial Rubens' House ; or shimmy through the boutique-lined fashion quarter and Fashion Museum MoMu to learn how the "Antwerp Six" put the city on the global couture map.
Drool through the Jewish Quarter, with its Diamond Museum to learn about the four "c"s (colour, clarity, carat & cut), and drop into the Diamondland showrooms, to see cutters at work - maybe even fixing a Diamond Cocktail evening, where you or your mates get the chance to walk off with a sparkling stone; troll the gorgeous southern art nouveau district, Zurenborg; or see Antwerp from the docks with a Flandria river cruise, maybe even including dinner.
Photo: Rick Lord/Dreamstime

WHERE TO EAT, BOOZE & DANCE

Sit and chill at Café den Draak - the light-and-airy café-bar beneath Antwerp's main LGBT community hub, Het Roze Huis, down south around Zurenborg. Another great place to sip and stare, or have a tasty munch, is Popi Café, nearer the centre, overlooking the river. As night falls, two-level Café Hessenhuis gets crammed with young, trendy, teasing cuties. For something crusier, check out aptly-named video bar Rubzz on Geulinckxstraat; or for leather 'n fetish, slip into The Boots on Van Aerndtstraat. Antwerp's two main gay clubs are swish D Club, up on Damplein, Weds-Sun; and cavernous Red & Blue, on Lange Schipperskapelstraat, every Saturday - the biggest gay venue in Benelux. Both get packed with handsome hot Flemish hunks. If you're still restless, you can always let off steam at the central Metropolitan Sauna on St. Elizabethstraat; or men often take airs in the Stadspark.

GETTING THERE

Highly recommended airline VLM fly direct from London City and Manchester direct to Antwerp and you can book low price fares at eBookers.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Café den Draak (Draak plaats 1; T: (+32) 03 290 5304)
Café Hessenhuis (Falconrui 53; T: (+32) 03 231 1356)
D Club (Damplein 27; T: (+32) 03 232 71 60; Website)
Metropolitan Sauna (St. Elizabethstr. 47; T: (+32) 03 213 4821)
Popi Café (Plantinkaai 12; T: (+32) 03 238 1530; Website)
Red & Blue (Lange Schipperskapelstr. 11-13; T: (+32) 03 213 0555; Website)
Rubzz (Geulinckxstr. 28; T: (+32) 03 295 6901)
The Boots (Van Aerndtstr. 22; T: (+32) 03 231 3483)

Revised February 2015.

 

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