Quite honestly, I never wanted to go to Belgium that much. I wanted to go in the way that I eventually want to go everywhere, but my trip in January only really happened because the flights were cheapest into Brussels, and I could fit Prague in as well.
Belgium totally exceeded all of my expectations; I loved it so much more than I thought I would! My first steps anywhere other than an airport were into Antwerp’s unbelievable train station, which I think we can all agree is one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. The square outside is amazing too.
After this incredible first glimpse into Belgium, I had my first lovely encounter with a local, solidifying my awesome first impression. After half an hour of confusedly looking for the correct tram, I found it underground but was completely unable to use the machine where I needed to buy a ticket: I thought it might be broken, but the message on it was only in Dutch. Many languages, like Spanish, I can decipher, but Dutch is basically incomprehensible to me. While I poked the machine over and over again hoping to make it do something, a woman came up to me and asked a question in Dutch, so I stared in confusion, realizing I literally didn’t know one word in her language. I said, “English, Francais?” hoping one of them would work, but we sadly shook our heads at eachother as we realized we were both lost tourists and had no way to help eachother.
Luckily, a man heard my words and spoke both French and Dutch. He helped the Dutch woman before turning to me and coming out with a rapid stream of French which I miraculously understood. This trip was an awesome opportunity to practice my second language, and it helped me realize that I could actually communicate quite well in French. He told me that the machine was broken (good, I was right!) and then offered to just pay for my fare. He confirmed which tram I should be taking, showed me on a map exactly where I was going, paid my fare and showed me where to get off…it was like having a personal guide, and he didn’t even try to kidnap me!
I tend to only approach women when I’m travelling solo, but I was so grateful to this man for helping sick and confused me. Once I made my way to my gorgeous hostel, I headed out to get a taste for the city.
I was totally gobsmacked by the beauty of Antwerp, which actually ended up being my least favourite of the cities I visited. Although it was beautiful, once I had walked through the main square I found myself struggling to find something to do or see. I’ll admit by this time I was rather sick and felt horrible, so that might have impacted my opinions, but it certainly didn’t do so in Bruges. This place is beautiful, but in my eyes it didn’t compare to Bruges or Ghent – I can’t wait to share more about both those cities. I think that despite the Old World architecture and European feel, it’s a very modern city. I think it’d be an incredible place to live, but as a tourist I felt a day was just fine by me: and I went to bed very early.
The main square seems to be the most beautiful place in every European city (I say from my vast experience of three countries). The clock tower in Antwerp’s is visible from almost every point and features in the majority of my pictures. I also loved the fountain that featured prominently. If it had been warm and sunny I would have parked myself on a bench to people watch and relax for hours, but as it was I still spent a significant amount of time here!
Once I was done admiring the main square, I walked over to the river to explore its banks.
Do it Yourself
- I took a train straight from the main Brussels airport to Antwerp. If you’re under 26 make sure you purchase a GoPass and put Bruxelles as your origin, not the airport – they’ll overcharge you.
- Every guidebook says people in the Flanders region of Belgium will be offended if you try to speak French to them, but everybody was very receptive to my attempts, and spoke more French than I spoke Dutch – just be respectful!
- I stayed at the Antwerp Central Hostel and was very pleased. It’s steps from the Grote Markt, has a great free breakfast and was very clean.
- Most attractions in Antwerp are free – don’t feel like you need to budget too much for it!