Who does not know Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady or the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom)? Instead of writing about Antwerp’s most fabulous places, I decided to give you a glimpse of the hidden gems in Belgium’s second largest city. After having lived 27 years in the historical city center, it is about time to guide you to the places that remain hidden for the average tourist and even for most of the city’s inhabitants. Feel free to add to this list! Always curious to get to know new places in my hometown.
1 – Het Begijnhof (“Court Beguinages”)
Located in the student area, this Begijnhof was founded in 1544. The adorable Saint Catherine Church was rebuilt in 1827 after its demolition almost 30 years before. This picturesque place remains an oasis of peace in the middle of the vibrant city center. When stepping through the old doors, it feels like going back in time to the Middle Ages. The area is open for visitors and there are even apartments for rent.
2 – Square Saint Nicholas
This cute renovated square is literally a hidden gem, close to the Lange Nieuwstraat and Sint-Katelijnevest. Eye-catching is the 15th century chapel – built by Pieter Appelmans, the architect who built the Cathedral of Our Lady – and the cultural center that shelters several authentic theatre groups. Moreover, the famous Royal Doll Theater Van Campen stands out in the left corner, which was founded in 1935 and whose dolls bring joy and laughter to each and every single adult and kid. Definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a good joke!
3 – Calvary* at St. Paul’s Church
The Calvary (Calvarieberg) next to St. Paul’s Church was founded between 1699 and 1747 and used to be a cemetery for prisoners of the Galgenveld (Veemarkt). During the 18th century, this desolate and poor place in the middle of the Schipperskwartier (neighborhood of the seamen) shelters a garden full of biblical statues from renowned artists such as Kerrickx, Van Papenhoven, Van der Voort de Oude, Baurscheit etc. These statues are placed on a small path that leads to a hill crowned with a big cross. In order to watch this beautiful but quite hidden spot, you should enter via the Veemarkt.
*Golgotha was the place outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. In the Bible the term is translated into “place of skull”, which in Greek is “Κρανίου Τόπος” (Kraníou Tópos), and in “Latin Calvariæ Locus”. The English word is Calvary. (source: http://www.newadvent.org/)
4 – Elzenveld
What used to be a hospital and later a monastery, is currently a hotel and a complex of meeting rooms. What remains today are the beautifully renovated buildings and the convent garden. Next to the monumental trumpet tree, Albert Szukalski installed two spooky statues, representing a cripple and a blind person. Interesting encounter of 15th century architecture and 21st century art!
5 – Chapel ‘The Groote Witte Arend’
Enjoy a typical Flemish dish in the Reyndersstraat, just around the corner of the Cathedral. It was conceived as a brasserie-restaurant since 1976, when the “Les Filles de la Charité de Saint Vincent de Paul” (a monastic community aka “De Dochters van Liefde”) sold the historical monument to a Flemish family. Today, Tim and Ronald Ferket welcome you with their culinary wonders. If you are lucky, you can take a quick look in one of Antwerp’s best-hidden chapels.