A welcome understatement infuses the northern Belgian city of Antwerp, though it has plenty to shout about: its Gothic cathedral; the ornamented guild houses lining the Grote Markt; and the Museum Plantin-Moretus, home to the world’s oldest printing presses.
Even those who don’t enjoy clothes shopping might have a change of heart here, where one-off boutiques such as glove purveyor Huis A. Boon line cobblestoned streets and where grand designer stores—including those of local fashion stars Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester—display a refreshing lack of attitude.
In Antwerp, it pays to ditch the sightseeing checklist and just wander. Walk north of the center to explore the regenerating docklands area of Eilandje; head south to reach Zuid, with its Parisian-style café culture. Whichever way you go, there will be chocolate.
Chocolatier Burie makes palaces out of the sweet stuff for its famously creative window displays. And Del Rey, near the train station, produces a not-as-innocent-as-they-sound line of “chocolate milks” spiked with liqueurs, like Grand Marnier.
Must-see museum: The Red Star Line Museum, which tells the story of the thousands who set sail here for the New World.
Winning day trip: Drive or take the train 65 miles west to Brugge, another Belgian city brimming with culture and chocolate.
This piece, adapted from a story that originally appeared in the UK edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine, appeared in the magazine’s August/September 2015 issue.