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Travel Guide: a design-packed bloggers tour of Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

When you think of the design capitals of Europe, cities such as London, Paris, Milan and Stockholm might spring to mind. But, there’s another city out there that should be on that list, the slightly more under the radar Belgian city of Antwerp – a Flemish jewel with an emerging design scene that’s giving others a run for their money.

With a strong artisanal heritage and cultural legacy, from the 17th century paintings of Rubens and Van Dyck, through the thriving, polished world of the diamond industry, to its cult status in the fashion world with Belgian fashion royalty Dries van Noten, the merchant city Antwerp has developed into a super stylish cosmopolitan centre. Today, young, emerging Belgian designers are putting their stamp on the city, while contemporary concept stores and gastronomical delights are attracting visitors from across the world. There’s certainly more to the city than frites and beer, there’s culture galore, art and architecture, and design by the bucket load, untapped and waiting to be discovered.

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

The Function & Form bloggers A team! L-R: Ilaria (Une Due Tre Ilaria), Hege (Hege in France), me, Annie (Stylejuicer), Igor (Happy Interior Blog), Tiffany (Curate & Display), Kate (Fabric of my Life), Judith (JOELIX.com)

In October I visited the city as part of a bloggers tour with Function & Form and eight blogger pals. Set up by two fellow bloggers – interior stylist Tiffany Grant-Riley of Curate & Display and graphic designer Annie Kruse of Stylejuicer – Function & Form is a community of like-minded individuals who all share a love for interiors and handcrafted design.

This was the first outing abroad to explore all things design, meeting designers and delving deeper into their process, touring furniture factories and getting a peek behind the scenes, and visiting design-led concept stores and galleries. There we all are above (I’d like to say that we colour matched our outfits on purpose!).

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

The pretty streets of picturesque Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Tramways wind around the cobbled streets

So here I’ve created a travel guide for a design-packed weekend in Antwerp, taking in the best design shops, concept stores and art galleries off the beaten track that we discovered. I’ve even collated all the places we visited into a handy Jauntful map below.

Travel Guide: a design-packed bloggers tour of Antwerp

There is also a downloadable pdf version which you can print off here or just click on the tab on the right above.

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Antwerp off the beaten track

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

The soft, muted tones of Antwerp

Here’s my must-visit list in brief:

Things to do

Eilandje / MAS – Museum Aan de Stroom
Gallery Valerie Traan
Designcenter | De Winkelhaak
Cogels Osylei art nouveau street

Coffee shops and cafes

Graanmarkt 13
Native Bio Bistro
Maurice Coffee & Knits
Balls & Glory
Felix Pakhuis
Copper cafe

Shops and boutiques

st. vincents concept store
Helder
Magazyn
Espoo
Wunderkammer

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Don’t forget to look up at the rooftops

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Bustling cafe corners

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Narrow doorways and large windows squeeze into slim alleyways

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Antique and vintage shops are dotted along Kloosterstraat

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Parisian-style chairs cluster in courtyards and squares

And here’s what we got up to in more detail…

Things to do

Eilandje / MAS – Museum Aan de Stroom

Sited along the river Scheldt, Antwerp is a charming city of cobbled lanes and a hodge podge of building styles – gothic, medieval, art nouveau – all crammed together. The old city centre offers a wealth of history, with plenty of pretty lanes to get lost down (top tip: Vlaeykensgang) and cafes that spill out into the squares to stop off at.

Head along the quayside though and you’ll reach the city’s historic harbour and its oldest dock area surrounded by water, Het Eilandje, or The Islet. This once industrial area has seen a stream of redevelopment, with old warehouses being repurposed for trendy restaurants and fashion studios (Dries van Noten’s looks over the water).

There’s lots of contemporary buildings here, but two stand out amongst the others. Firstly, the MAS Museum Aan de Stroom, a towering red-brown sandstone and glass block by Dutch practice Neutelings Riedijk Architects. The exhibition spaces tell the story of Antwerp’s connection with the rest of the world, while a rooftop panorama provide views across the city. The port’s latest building further across the water is now vying for attention – Zaha Hadid’s port house, which dramatically thrusts a jewel-like form over a former fire station building.

Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerp

Gallery Valerie Traan

The white, modernist space of Gallery Valerie Traan, founded by Veerle Wenes, fuses art, architecture and design into a way of living. More than just an art gallery, the light space looks onto two courtyards and connects fluidly to Wenes own home, housed in an adjacent old convent.

On display are pieces from valerie_objects, a new design label created by Wenes together with Axel Van Den Bossche and Frank Lambert. The label works with contemporary architects, designers and artists to translate signature works into tangible objects, from Muller van Severen’s colourful, multifunctional furniture to exquisite cutlery sets by Maarten Baas.

Reyndersstraat 12, 2000, Antwerp

Galerie Valerie Traan, Antwerp

Galerie Valerie Traan, Antwerp

Galerie Valerie Traan, Antwerp

Galerie Valerie Traan, Antwerp

Designcenter | De Winkelhaak

This design centre, close to the central station, is an incubator for creative entrepreneurs, offering co-working space tailored to start-ups and companies. In addition to studios, a meeting room and services for architects and freelance designers, there is also design shop, exhibition space, and coffee bar open to the public.

Lange Winkelhaakstraat 26, 2060, Antwerp

Cogels Osylei art nouveau street

Cogels Osylei is a particularly lovely street and for me, an absolute must-visit to take in the atmosphere of old Antwerp. Plus it’s absolutely free to walk down of course. The site was transformed by the Cogels and Osy families in the 19th century from a rural area into a district of mansions for the elite. The cobbled street is lined with elegant art nouveau townhouses, all built between 1894 and 1908. Look up and take in the ornate cornicing, the intricate ironwork of the balconies and the extravagant decoration of the entranceways.

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

The old facades of Cogels Osylei

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

A mish-mash of styles lines the pretty street

Ornate doorways on Cogels Osylei

Ornate doorways on Cogels Osylei

Grand entrance stairways on Cogels Osylei

Grand entrance stairways on Cogels Osylei

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Stately mansions and urban palaces built for the city’s bourgeoisie

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Bright October sunshine lights up the picturesque street

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Overgrown stairways exude an air of mystery

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Porch stooping

Cogels Osylei, a beautiful art nouveau street in Antwerp

Magical light dances on the cobbled street

Places to eat

Graanmarkt 13

Graanmarkt 13 is a restaurant, store, gallery, and rooftop apartment to rent, all under one roof. They say on their website ‘stay as long as you want’ and we certainly would have had no problem moving right in. Housed in a historic building designed by one of Belgian’s finest architects Vincent Van Duysen on one of Antwerp’s prettiest tree-lined squares, Graanmarkt 13 is the brainchild of husband and wife team Tim & Ilse. They’ve beautifully curated a design haven – the boutique stocks stylish high-end fashion, curious design objects and collectibles, while the apartment is a warm and welcoming space that can take up to 6 adults for 1,300 euros a night.

Graanmarkt 13, 2000 Antwerp

Travel GuideTravel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp Antwerp - MAS museum

Graanmarkt 13, Antwerp

Native Bio Bistro

Native Bio Bistro is a quaint organic bistro that serves tasty healthy meals, with a focus on fresh, seasonal product from local suppliers. Think vibrant open sandwiches, quiches and grain salads.

Muntstraat 8, 2000, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Native Bio Bistro

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Native Bio Bistro

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Native Bio Bistro

Maurice Coffee & Knits

Maurice Coffee & Knits is a light-filled homely cafe that does great coffee and a brunch buffet on the weekends. Stop off here to fuel up after a stroll down art nouveau street Cogels Osylei.

Cogels Osylei 88, 2600 Berchem, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Maurice Coffee & Knits, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Maurice Coffee & Knits, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Coffee at Maurice Coffee & Knits, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Inside the light and airy Maurice Coffee & Knits with its mid-century furniture

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Maurice Coffee & Knits, Antwerp

Balls & Glory

Sample fresh meat and veggie filled balls in this industrial space Balls & Glory on the Eilandje.

Godefriduskaai 30, 2000 Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Balls & Glory, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Balls & Glory, Antwerp

Felix Pakhuis

Felix Pakhuis is another restaurant housed in the former warehouses of Eilandje. Run by chef Andy De Cremer, it serves lunch and dinner with a focus on seasonal products, offering Belgian takes on the classics such as fish and chips, chicken supreme and mushroom risotto.

Godefriduskaai 30, 2000 Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Felix Pakhuis

Shops and boutiques

st. vincents concept store

Concept store st. vincents is a design haven featuring a thoughtful collection of refined home, wardrobe and office wares. Housed in a converted old printing office on Kleine Markt 13, it’s a hybrid mix of shopping and art dedicated to niche and established designers, creatives and artisans. It has something for everyone, whether you’re an interior and antiques magpie, a fashion lover, or whether you simply want to while away an hour or two over a good coffee or tea in this beautiful, raw but contemporary setting.

Kleine Markt 13, 2000 Antwerp

St Vincents concept store, Antwerp

st. vincents concept store, Antwerp

St Vincents concept store, Antwerp

st. vincents

St Vincents concept store, Antwerp

st. vincents

St Vincents concept store, Antwerp

st. vincents

St Vincents concept store, Antwerp

st. vincents

Helder

Helder is a small shop and platform for contemporary design objects, furniture, jewellery and accessories by international designers and artists. Founded by Diana Keller and Brecht Baert, it has a studio where they create and develop their own products both individually and in collaboration with other artists.

Vrijdagmarkt 13, 2000 Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Helder boutique, Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

The vintage shops of Kloosterstraat

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

One of the only streets with shops open on a Sunday, which came in useful!

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Absolutely no frowning in Antwerp…

There were many, many more places to see but I ended up getting a bit stuck with all the shops and cafes closed on a Sunday. I’d been recommended Copper cafe and design shops Espoo and Magazyn, but I guess it’s always nice to have something to come back to right? If you do find yourself in the same predicament while on a weekend in Antwerp, make sure to head to Kloosterstraat, a long stretch of quaint antique shops, boutiques and cafes running parallel to the river, open on Sundays.

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Wandering the streets of Antwerp

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Ornate buildings line the streets

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

Looking up at the higgledy piggledy rooftops

Travel guide: a design packed weekend in Antwerp

A grand old door in Antwerp’s old town

So there we go, you got to the end of this long post! I hope you enjoyed my travel guide to Antwerp. It really is a wonderful city, deserving of a prime spot on the world’s design stage.

Travel guide, a design packed weekend in Antwerp

The beautiful buildings of Cogels Osylei

All images Cate St Hill. Thank you to Function & Form for organising the Bloggers Tour Antwerp, and the Designcenter de Winkelhaak and City of Antwerp for hosting us

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