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Digital Subscriptions > National Geographic Traveller (UK) > May 2017 > City life ANTWERP

City life ANTWERP

A pretty Flemish city that’s wholeheartedly embraced the modern day, Antwerp is a trend-setting, diamond flashing, bustling port showing Belgium at its absolute best
Antwerpen-Centraal station hall

Few great European cities fall under the radar as much as Antwerp. So, arriving here and finding it to be a properly outward-looking, bona fide world city comes as something of a surprise. And a pleasant one, at that. It’s remarkably small to fit into that category — the population is just a smidge over 500,000 — but all efforts to take it down a grade seem to fail. It’s the second-biggest port in Europe, the centre of the world’s diamond industry and among the globe’s fashion capitals.

It also has an unapologetically international population, representing 174 countries, while being simultaneously historic and industrial. And crucially, it doesn’t get chippy about not being lumped in with the big boys — it has enough selfconfidence to know which tier it belongs to, even if the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge it.

Antwerp’s boom time came in the 16th century, when it blossomed as a trading port. But, unlike other once-mighty Belgium cities, it has constantly rebooted to stay relevant, rather than accept an inevitable decline and hustle a living as a giant open-air museum.

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Walk this way: Lofty passes through volcanic lunar landscapes; ancient pilgrim pathways strewn with churches and ruins; sumptuous forested trails opening out onto vineyards. a rambler’s reward is culture, ambience and wild scenery on the walking routes through Italy, France and Spain