Europe’s second-largest port, the city of Antwerp
has moved on from its purely industrial past. Today, the inhabitants,
or Sinjoors as they are known, are at the cutting
edge of fashion and design with countless boutiques and shops across
the city. This energy also surfaces in the many trendy bars and
hip nightclubs that have now joined the more traditional charms
of the beer and gin bars that still pull in the more reserved drinkers.
Beyond modern Antwerp the more traditional attractions complement
the new, with the impressive Grote Markt, containing
the Town Hall and the Brabo Fountain,
which commemorates the legend of the city’s origin and also
the 18th-century Groenplaats, with its Rubens
The work of local artistic luminary Peter Paul Rubens
surfaces all over Antwerp, most notably at the Royal Museum
of Fine Arts being home to what is arguably the world’s
finest collection of his work. The Rubens’ House,
the magnificent 17th-century house where the painter lived and worked,
contains many works by the painter and his associates as do other
museums and churches. Antwerp’s maritime heritage can be explored
on tours of the port and also at the Steen, a 12th-century
fortress now housing the National Maritime Museum,
that overlooks the buzzing new city of today.
Bruges is a pure picture postcard with a perfectly preserved ‘medieval
heart’ that can be explored in a canal boat ride,
which takes tourists around the myriad of waterways that lead to
the city often being referred to as the ‘Venice of
Bruges offers a variety of attractions such as the Lake
of Love, which in the Middle Ages was the city’s
internal port, the 14th-century Town Hall featuring
a façade decorated with bas-reliefs and statues of a Biblical
nature; the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour, a fine
example of 13th-century Gothic architecture and home to many treasures,
and the Grote Markt which was formerly the commercial
hub of the city.
Bruges boasts several good museums, including the Groeninge
Museum which houses a comprehensive and fascinating collection
of six centuries of Flemish paintings, from Jan van Eyck
to Marcel Broodthaers. The Memling Museum,
housed in the medieval Saint John’s Hospital,
is dedicated to the painter Hans Memling.
The city is close to some excellent beaches and the fertile Polder
region, dotted with abbeys and beautiful parks. The year 2002 was
a big one for Bruges as its lively cultural and artistic scene was
recognised with the award of European City of Culture.
Bruges’ perennial poor cousin has plenty to offer its' visitors
of today, with the lack of tourist crowds an attraction in itself.
This old cloth centre was once the largest medieval city in Europe
after the capital of France, Paris. The medieval heart of Ghent
boasts many historic buildings, including 3 abbeys. Key attractions
include St Bavo’s Cathedral, place of Charles
V’s baptism and home to The Adoration of the Mystical
Lamb, the Van Eyck brothers’ masterpiece, the Town
Hall, where the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1576; the
Castle of the Counts, a medieval castle surrounded
by the Lieve canal; the 15th-century Cloth Hall,
the medieval town centre with its old guild houses, the Museum
of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Industrial Archaeology.
The Coast and West Flanders
The Belgian coastline is largely sandy and stretches for 67km (42
miles) from Knokke near the Dutch border to De
Panne on the French border, with over a dozen resorts.
Bathing in the sea is free on all the beaches and there are facilities
for sailing, sand yachting, fishing, riding, rowing, golf and tennis.
Some of the best resorts are Bredene, De Haan, De Panne,
Lombardsijde, Nieuwpoort, Wenduine, Westende and the town
of Ostend, where Queen Victoria once took to the
Knokke, Middelkerke and Ostend
are the liveliest resorts. Visiting the World War I battlefields
is an increasingly popular activity, with a number of sites open
with varying degrees of facilities. The killing fields of Ypres
are the most accessible with a war museum, monuments, military
cemeteries and the battlefields themselves all situated around town.