When planning a couple of days away, three things are always a top priority: great company, glorious booze, and a good price.
So why not look to visit Antwerp in Belgium? It’s number eight on Google’s list of ‘Best places to visit in Europe for beer.’ So if you like beer, chips and a brilliant atmosphere then this is the place to visit.
You can get the Eurostar for a decent price to Belgium, if you don’t mind travelling at an unsociable hour in the morning to get the cheapest trains. £36 each way doesn’t feel like you’re blowing your budget, and a cheeky drink on the train certainly makes the early morning easier.
Alternatively, you may be able to catch the Eurostar sale, which brings prices down even further. The journey is quick and easy from St Pancras, with a change at Brussels, but the station is well sign-posted and easy to navigate.
“Top Tip: DO NOT attempt to try all the beers on the menu in one night”
Belgium isn’t short of hostels by any means. My biggest recommendation would be to stay at the Abhostel (€47 per night for a twin room or €20 a night for a dorm), which is a twenty-minute walk away from the station and the city centre.
With the Abhostel, you feel like you are really embracing the heart of the city, but without the hotel price tag. Abhostel is great: breakfast is included and it prides itself on being eco-friendly, has both private and shared dorms, its own bar (and beer vending machine), and even a garden paradise with hammocks where fellow hostel backpackers can all hang out together. If you’re lucky enough to have some interesting people staying there when you are, you can make some new friends and some new drinking buddies along the way.
Top Tip: DO NOT attempt to try all the beers on the menu in one night. Belgium beer is much stronger and heavier (but also tastier) than what is usually served in any local ‘Spoons. You will regret it in the morning. However, you will also impress all the others staying at the hostel, so just take into consideration the pros and cons.
The ‘Use It’ map which is available in the hostel is a fantastic guide to the city. It’s a pocket sized map, with recommendations of places to visit from locals, other tourists and small businesses. If you want to see the real Antwerp, this is the map to use. What better way to help a hangover than exploring the city on a six-hour walk? Antwerp boasts a unique array of sights, food, and sounds, all in a very pedestrian friendly city.
“A trip to Belgium is not complete without getting a cone of frites with mayonnaise.”
Street art is particularly popular there, and not just random, unreadable tags. The street art in Antwerp is beautiful, with technicolor images and designs that run the length of alleyways and underneath railway bridges. It is easy to see that there has been a lot of care and attention put into them.
Sometimes, it is best to forget the map and follow the art. Discover cobbled streets and a ‘gallery’ with a twist. The Street Art festival is something unique that happens every year in Antwerp. The current artwork is covered, giving artists a blank canvas to work with. The whole street is then covered with new designs, meaning if you do choose to visit again, you may not necessarily see the same art twice.
Belgium is also famous for its chips. A trip to Belgium is not complete without getting a cone of frites with mayonnaise. Recommended on the ‘Use It’ map is ‘Chips with a View’. A little way out of the city, but worth it.
Travel down the famous wooden escalator to St Anna’s tunnel and walk half a kilometre underneath Scheldt River. At the other side is a little chip shack. It is rumoured to have some of the best chips in the country, and just from seeing the queue outside before opening, the rumour must be true.
The bench outside overlooks the river and the city. Feel free to stop a while and take it all in, enjoying the moment, and the chips, of course.
If you’re feeling a little more cultural, Antwerp has no shortage of museums and churches to explore either. Even the city zoo and Diamond District are worth pottering around for a day. Trying all the different chocolate shops should be an essential. But sometimes, just wandering around the city can be enough.
Everywhere you go, there is something to look at, something to see. Antwerp has an ingenious ability to blend the old world with the new with its cobbled streets and towering, cramped houses, also demonstraing their modern beauty and elegance.
So grab a bestie, and grab a beer, because Belgium is waiting.