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With its narrow streets, UNESCO-protected museum and medieval Grand-Place, Antwerp’s old city centre is compact enough to explore on foot. But it’s worth wandering further afield, too. Follow Nationalestraat south to find Volkstraat, with its independent cafés, bars and scattering of hip boutiques. Leading down to Leopold de Waelplaats square, it’s the centrepiece of Het Zuid (‘the South’) – a once down-at-heel neighbourhood that’s become the city’s coolest hangout.

If Nationalestraat’s known for its high-fashion flagships, Volkstraat’s much more varied. At no. 59, don’t miss Steen en Been, an exquisite cabinet of curiosities, whose treasures run from polished meteorites to cases of butterflies and beetles. Elsewhere you’ll find organic bakeries, cold-pressed juice bars and chic cocktail joints ­– like the low-lit Bar Palmier, with its rattan chairs and jungly murals. Amid the street’s wave of new addresses, look out for its art-nouveau relics, including the magnificent, mosaic-tiled Maison du Peuple at no. 40.

Antwerp itself is an easy day trip or overnighter from Brussels; the train takes around 35 minutes, with services every half hour. If you’re heading straight there from London, it’s even simpler: your Eurostar ticket’s valid all the way, after a platform change in Brussels. Ready to start exploring? Here’s our insider’s guide to Volkstraat, with six essential addresses.  

  • Moss

    Volkstraat 11, 2000

    At the northern end of Volkstraat, this small but charismatic café punches well above its weight. A La Marzocco coffee machine hums on the white-tiled counter, with beans from local roastery Caffènation. All-day breakfasts include herby shakshuka, pancakes and pain perdu; lunch brings leafy salads and superior sandwiches (the sesame-dressed pork belly gets the regulars’ vote).

  • Haven

    Volkstraat 18, 2000
    The city may not have a beach, but it still has its own surf shop. Naturally, it’s stocked with all the essential gear, from eco-friendly wax to wetsuits, via some exceptional boards. It’s also a concept store, with plenty to appeal to non-surfers, from homeware to sunglasses and clothes. The must-buy from its own-label line? An understated slogan sweatshirt, or soft, organic-cotton t-shirt.
  • Buchbar

    Scheldestraat 79, 2000
    Everyone loves this tiny café-slash-bookstore, squirrelled away on a side-street, from literary types and local families to snap-happy Instagrammers. Inside, its trailing plants and tranquil nooks couldn’t be more inviting, while its shelves are stocked with classic reads, kids’ books and graphic novels. Turn a few pages over coffee and apple-pecan pie, or drop by for a simple, wholesome lunch.

My favourite spot on Volkstraat? I’m a big fan of Charlie’s. The coffee menu’s epic. I always have the cappuccino, with cardamom and dark chocolate.

  • Bún

    Volkstraat 43, 2000

    Bún’s original outpost focused on Vietnamese street food and pho, but its sleek Volkstraat follow-up is all about fine dining. Kick off with cocktails in the bar – try a lemongrass-infused Qui Nhon Mule – then share a succession of deliciously inventive dishes. Ingredients are sourced from the best local producers; think fluffy, heritage-beef bao, or Zeeland oysters with green tea and ginger granita.

  • Coffee & Vinyl

    Volkstraat 45, 2000
    There’s a lot to like at this lo-fi address, starting with the café and its mismatched vintage chairs, iced coffees, and piles of music magazines. Beyond that, the shop is stacked with new and vintage vinyl, from 80s punk-rock promos to rare blues compilations, via reggae, metal and more. There’s plenty here for under €20 and the affable owner, Lars Cosemans, can help hunt rarities down.
  • Enes

    Volkstraat 58, 2000
    This chic womenswear boutique is kitted out like an apartment, with beauty brands arranged in the wood-panelled bathroom, and ceramics in the 1930s kitchen. A cherry-picked array of labels lines its rails, from familiar names (Vanessa Bruno, Paul & Joe) to lesser-spotted talents. Look out for Mallorcan cowboy boots courtesy of Tony Mora, and made-in-Belgium merino knits from Cesar Casier.

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