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Cruising into the heart of a historic city

by Guest

18 March 2014 • In many cruise ports around the world you arrive in the middle of a cargo terminal where you have to take a shuttle bus or other transportation to get to the city itself. But luckily there are also cities where you could practically walk from your cruise ship into the historical buildings. Antwerp in Belgium is one of these cities.

One of the most special characteristics of Antwerp as a cruise port is that the cruise ships literally dock in the heart of the city. When your ship arrives at the cruise terminal, located at the historical quays of the city, you can already see Antwerp's most striking architectural monument; the Cathedral of Our Lady, which can be found at only 200 metres from the river side.

The Boudicca (left) and the Marco Polo (right), two vintage cruise shipsAn early morning swing for the AIDAluna. This is probably the largest ship that can turn on that part of the River Schelde.

We in Antwerp like to see our city as a world city, but for that it is maybe just a little too small. I think the best way to describe Antwerp is as a world city in pocket-edition. All the elements are there but it's all combined in a compact space which makes it easy to find your way around and do as much as possible within a limited time span.

One of the things Antwerp is well known for is its striking architecture. The most famous buildings are the Cathedral of Our Lady, the medieval fortress Het Steen and the Grote Markt with the town hall, guild houses and the statue of Brabo, the symbol of Antwerp. When you walk around the city you should take a look around because you will stumble upon dozens of other beautiful buildings with marble, copper or golden statues. But apart from all the large architectural monuments the city of Antwerp also has its hidden treasures that can be easily overlooked. One of these gems is the Vlaaikensgang, located at the Oude Koornmarkt close to the Grote Markt. This medieval alleyway is an oasis of rest within the bustle of the city where can you can relax, and if you want you can even enjoy dinner at the speciality restaurant located in this ancient passage.

The 'Grote Markt' and BraboBraboThe 'Steen'Detail of the 'Steen''Vlaaikesgang'

Another thing to look out for around Antwerp is Mary. All across the city you will find small statues of the feminine saint attached to the façades of the houses. There even is a café next to the Cathedral with hundreds of Mary statues inside.

Beside the architecture the city also offers a wide range of museums. Thanks to the fact that Antwerp is fairly compact all of the museums can easily be reached on foot. You can, for example, visit the house of the famous painter Pieter Paul Rubens, or maybe you are interested in the very first industrial printing business in the world. When you are intrigued by history and ships a visit to the new Red Star Line Museum is highly recommended. There you will find the history of the shipping company, its immigrants and their stories. 

For the animal lovers among us the Zoo of Antwerp is the place to be. The park is located in the middle of the city right next to the Central Station. The zoo opened back in 1843, which makes it one of the oldest in the world with numerous classified buildings. Be sure to also take a look inside the railway station next door. Throughout the years the impressive building has earned the surname Railway Cathedral. A look inside the main hall will certainly leave an impression on you.

The railway stationFred Olsen's Balmoral is a frequent visitor. The mainly British passengers love the shopping.

Shopping is also a big part of the city. This year the city has once again been listed in the top 10 of fashion capitals in the world. All these trendy designs can be found in and around the Nationalestraat. For people with a more modest budget the shopping street Meir will certainly also do the trick.

Another valuable product Antwerp is specialized in is diamond. When you would like to buy yourself, or your partner a diamond ring or necklace you will certainly find your taste at the dozens of jewellery shops located in the quarter around the Central Station.

After a long day, when you are tired from walking around all day sightseeing, visiting museums or shopping you can relax at a sidewalk café. The only problem you will have is choosing which one, as there are hundreds of restaurants and cafés around the city.

Many restaurants in Antwerp. In the distance, the railway station.

When you should ever have the chance to book a cruise that visits Antwerp I would not hesitate and just do it. The city really is unique. The location of the cruise terminal and the many activities that can be found will certainly keep you busy during your stay. There is only one thing you may not forget before leaving the city, and that is to buy some of our delicious Belgian chocolates.

Text and photos: Sebastiaan Peeters

On the containerside MSC is Antwerp's biggest customer. It was nice to see the MSC Lirica too.The sun sets over the left bank of the river.

Sebastiaan Peeters is a student who lives in Antwerp, Belgium. Since he sailed onboard the cruise ferry Color Fantasy in 2005 when he was only 11 years old, he became interested in ships. In 2009 he started to follow and photograph all the cruise ships in his own city, Antwerp. Three years ago he combined all these photos, together with info about the port, on his website 'Cruiseschepen in Antwerpen'. During the past few years he has photographed many cruise ships and ferries in different ports around the world. On Sebastiaan Peeters Photography' you can find those pictures and his non-ship related pictures.