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.
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).
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’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.