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Cruise Diva Goes Ashore: Sights to see, things to do & where to shop

Antwerp, Belgium

Diamonds are indeed a girl's (and Antwerp's) best friend. It's here that 70% of the world's diamonds are sent to be cut, polished, and set. Splendid art nouveau and art deco architecture and charm belie the fact that Antwerp is one of Europe's leading port cities. As in the rest of Belgium, three languages are all "official" and, depending on where you are, you'll hear Flemish, French, or German.


Taxis meet arriving cruise ships and Antwerp features a tourist-friendly network of trams. Plan a stroll through the narrow cobbled streets and broad squares of the old town, one of the cultural capitals of Europe. It's a short walk from the pier to the city center and the Grote Market or main square lined with cafes, shops, the Renaissance style Stadhuis (town hall), Brabo Fountain, and guild houses. Also close to the pier, the National Maritime Museum is housed in the Steen, a 12th-century medieval castle. 

Antwerp's traditional brick buildings are interspersed with stark, modern skyscrapers, and beautifully detailed art nouveau and art deco structures. Heavily damaged in World War II, modern buildings rose to replace  traditional ones lost to bombs. That practice has stopped and the facades of historic buildings are now retained, although the interiors are updated with modern conveniences. Look for the Mary and Child statues on building corners--the ones with lanterns assured the buildings' owners of free oil to light the streets.

The 17th Century home and studio of Antwerp's favorite son, Peter Paul Rubens is as much a treasure of contrasts as is his birthplace and his artwork. The original house is typical of the architecture of the period; however, after spending time in Italy, Rubens returned to Antwerp and built a shocking Italianate studio right next door. His work reflects this change in style--staid and somber until his creativity was unleashed in Italy when he began creating flowing works with bright primary colors and a sense of movement.

As impressive as the Cathedral of Our Lady's exterior is with its towering spire, it's inside where you'll find several of Ruben's important masterpieces, including Descent from the Cross.

In the suburbs, well-to-do citizens emulated Rubens' penchant for Italy, building mansions inspired by castles and Italian palazzos. Even a bank replicates a French castle.


The diamond trade followed the silk route to Antwerp and flourishes to the present. Plan to see cutters at work in Diamondland and purchase your baubles there or from one of the many merchants located along Applemans-straat.

Known for exquisite lace and divine chocolate, Antwerp is also a high fashion center. Lace shops flourish in the area surrounding the cathedral; fashionable and trendy shops are located on De Keyserlei and the Meir; and chocolate is available everywhere.

Back to Europe, Baltic Ports of Call

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