Antwerp might not be top of your travel wishlist, but that's just because a city with its own booming cultural scene and a star role in the world's diamond trade can afford to keep a low profile. Combining architecture to rival Prague, shopping and fashion creds to rival Milan, and a Berlin-flavoured nightlife with a distinctly Belgian feel, Antwerp is well worth a visit any time of year.
At a very short hop with a flight from London City Airport, Antwerp is one of Europe's closest and easiest city break destinations for Londoners – here are eight reasons why it's also one of the best.
1. The five-minute journey (sort of)
Ok, ok we're taking a liberty here. Full disclosure: flights from Antwerp to London City Airport don't actually take five minutes. But they do take a quick-sharp one hour and five minutes, which means that on the way back, after adjusting local time from Belgium to the UK you land just five minutes after your departure time. That means you can take off from Antwerp at 0705 and land at London City Airport at 0710. Check flight times for London City to Antwerp and back on the full timetable.
2. Get a full weekend away with no leave
You can get flights between London City Airport and Antwerp seven days a week, and there are several at very handy times if you're planning a weekend break. Catch the 1810 from London City Airport on Friday and that super-short journey time means you can enjoy dinner and drinks in Antwerp and get a full three-night weekend – if you're prepared to get up early on Monday you can take off from Antwerp at 0705 and be in central London for work before 0800. If two nights away is enough, you can always head back to London City Airport from Antwerp on Sunday at 1830. Check out our deals on Antwerp flights to pick a weekend that suits.
3. Outstanding fine dining
Yes, there's much, much more to Belgian cuisine than fries and waffles. Belgium deserves a far higher profile when it comes to fine dining and as the country's second city, Antwerp has an outstanding pedigree. You can easily plan a trip here around the food scene, making it a great foodie break destination; there are 20 Michelin-starred restaurants around Antwerp, with a pair of two-star establishments right in the city centre; the menu at the Jane fuses local tradition with Asian and Mediterranean influences, with an open kitchen where you can watch master chefs Nick Bril and Sergio Herman at work. 4. Fries and waffles!
Well you can't eat Michelin-starred haute cuisine for every meal. There's a reason this golden pair are Belgian icons – they're undeniably delicious, and they're also the perfect handheld street food for exploring a city. Wafelhuis Van Hecke on Nationalestraat just south of the historic centre has been serving some of Antwerp's best waffles for over a century.
5. Serious fashion credentials
A couple of minutes' walk up Nationalestreet is the home branch of superstar designer Dries Van Noten's fashion empire. The city is particularly associated with its most famous fashion designers, the Antwerp Six, who rose to fame in the 1980s, and has maintained its reputation as a European fashion capital. The Meir street is the main shopping area in Antwerp, packing in a huge number of big names and designer boutiques on a street that's much prettier than your average high street. The city also hosts Antwerp Fashion Festival in the first weekend of September. It has the catwalk shows you'd normally expect from a major fashion festival, but there are also shopping events with sales and late-night openings, as well as a full-on festival programme with food trucks, competitions and more, making the perfect excuse to enjoy a unique event and discover a new city. Book a flight from London City Airport to be there.
6. Antwerp is the perfect size
With a population of half a million, Antwerp is Belgium's second largest city by a distance. But it's still relatively compact and most of the main sights are within 30 minutes' walk of one another. What's more, exploring Antwerp on foot is one of the highlights – the city is knockout-gorgeous, from the Neoclassical train station and spectacular Gothic cathedral to the trailblazing modern designs of buildings such as the Museum an de Stroom (MAS).
7. Belgian beer
When in Belgium… Like the rest of Belgium, Antwerp takes beer seriously, and you can't really go wrong if you're keen to explore the country's fabled beer culture. It's a treat on any trip to Belgium, but Antwerp's status as the capital of Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) means you're guaranteed a healthy selection from around the region, wherever you drink. The city is also home to the De Koninck brewery, which is centrally located at 291 Mechelsesteenweg, a convenient tram ride from the historic centre or easily reached on foot if you're staying in the south of the city.
At the turn of the millennium this dockyard area was a pretty tired reminder of Antwerp's former trading glory, with little going for it. Since then its transformation has been spectacular – its facelift has been more Hackney than Canary Wharf, with a host of coffee shops, excellent museums and even a communal barbecue area. It's worth visiting just to see the spectacular Port House, home to the Antwerp Port Authority and designed by Zaha Hadid with inspiration taken from the diamonds that Antwerp is synonymous with.