Welcome to my place . . . Antwerp
Dublin-born ballerina Zoë Ashe Browne recommends hitting the city’s many vintage shops
Antwerp market square, Belgium. Photograph: iStock
Zoë Ashe Browne is a professional ballerina and choreographer from Sandyford, Dublin. She completed her training in 2009 at the English National Ballet school and is now a member of The Royal Ballet of Flanders in Antwerp. She is currently performing in Joy, a double bill of work by Swedish choreographers Alexander Ekman and Johan Inger, and her choreographic work was performed in Dublin last month as part of Ballet Ireland’s Bold Moves.
Where is the first place you bring people when they visit Antwerp?
If it’s a lovely day to walk around, the first place I take people is the Kloosterstraat. It’s a beautiful long street full of vintage furniture shops, cafes and several gorgeous art galleries, it’s a feast for the eyes. Another place is Think Jazzy. It’s a jazz bar/art gallery. I feel it sums up the quirky vibe of Antwerp perfectly, mixing a relaxed evening of jazz and cocktails with beautiful art collections lining the walls.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are . . .
Walk the many side streets of Antwerp, a perfect example is Vlaaikensgang which is an old cobbled alley tucked away in the medieval part of the town.
Down by the harbour, you can find a huge museum called the Mas which has a 360-degree view of the city on its rooftop.
I know it’s an odd suggestion, but the central station in Antwerp is one of the most beautiful train stations the world. I love going down there to pick up friends and family who are visiting.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Antwerp?
De arme duivel is a traditional Belgian restaurant in the heart of the city. It only has about four dishes on the menu, but what they do, they do extremely well. Bourla is a cosy bar teaming with locals enjoying Belgian beers most evenings. It’s one of my favourites.
There’s also another place that I love called Lung Wah. It’s a Chinese restaurant beside the central station, so while it doesn’t give a flavour of Belgian food it does give you a sense of how many hidden gems are dotted around this city. The restaurant looks like nothing on the outside but has the best pork belly and duck I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately for me, a food critic discovered it recently so now it’s growing in popularity and full a lot of the time.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Antwerp’s place in history?
Antwerp is famous for the diamond district. It’s about a square mile of shops right outside the central station. The jewellery shops have passed down through the Jewish, Indian, Lebanese Christian and Armenian families that established themselves there in the 15th century. It’s a really interesting place to wander around.
Another great place to visit is the port of Antwerp, the second largest port in Europe. There are many beautiful bars and restaurants along the port. My favourite is a restaurant called Ras, which gives you a beautiful view of the port and allows you to watch the sun set as the boats travel in and out of Antwerp.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Antwerp?
It goes without saying, but Belgian chocolate. We have a chocolatier on every street pretty much, and the quality is second to none. My favourite shop is The Chocolate Line. Duvel beer is a staple among the Belgians. It seems to be their favourite beer and I have to admit, I’m not a beer drinker, but even I enjoy it.
Vintage shopping is also very popular and extremely inexpensive here. Antwerp is home to the Flanders Fashion Institute, one of the most prestigious fashion universities in the world. As you can imagine, the vintage shops have incredible stock to keep up with the demand from the students.
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