ANTWERP (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore Antwerp, a Belgian city with a rich history, delicious food and an artistic heritage that makes it one of Europe’s hidden delights.
The home of the 17th century artist Peter Paul Rubens, Antwerp is known for its diamonds, chocolates, museums and beer. It is perfect for a 48-hour visit.
9 a.m. - Enter the Oude Stad (Old City) where you will encounter a statue of a youth tossing a huge hand. Legend has it that a giant used to stop ships with his hand until he was slain by the young hero. The hand “ant” was thrown “werpen” into Europe’s second largest harbor.
10:30 a.m. - Visit the ‘Grote Markt’ where Flanders Golden Age flaunts its glory with ornate gilded buildings and a town hall that reflects Gothic and Renaissance styles. The hall was once a center of power.
11:30 a.m. - Grab one of the city’s famous beers. Connoisseurs look for logos with churches or stained glass on them. These are the Trappist beers made by local monks.
12 p.m. - Time for lunch. Taste a local dish of mussels and fries in the Rooden Hoed, a Belgium/French restaurant in the Old City. www.ROODENHOED.BE
1:30 p.m. - Stroll to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady), Antwerp’s cathedral. Built in 1351, it stands more than 400 feet tall, dominating the skyline of the Old City.
Inside, view the four Rubens altar pieces, decorated after the Protestants destroyed the city’s medieval art. In his Assumption of Mary, the lady in red is painted in memory of his wife, who died when the family stayed too long during the outbreak of plague waiting for Rubens to finish the piece.
3:30 p.m. - Antwerp is known for its chocolate shops which compete with each other to lure customers, making animals and even a full-size chocolate car.
If you look hard enough in the Old City you’ll find what appears to be a garage door. Ring the bell and enter the Burie Chocolate factory where a man with spiked hair demonstrates his artistry with the cocoa bean. There is also a souvenir shop stocked with the sweetest gifts.
6 p.m. - Try one of the famed horse steaks at De Peerdestal. For those less gastronomically adventurous there are plenty of Belgium specialties like mussels and fries. www.depeerdestal.be/
9 a.m. - Rubens is synonymous with Antwerp. Travel to the Rubenshuis, faithfully restored to reflect the life of the artistic genius who lived there and includes some of his paintings.
10:30 a.m. - The Fine Arts Museum houses more than 1,000 works by classical painters including the Flemish Primitives and more than 1,500 more recent works. This is where you will find the world’s largest collection of works by Rubens.
12 p.m. - Walk along the historic Vlaeykensgang, a small network of streets that dates back to the 16th century. Stop at the Sir Anthony Van Dyck restaurant for a traditional waterzooi van staartvis, which is still made with fish, instead of the more common version made with chicken (www.siranthonyvandijck.be).
1:30 - Keep your credit card handy while visiting Antwerp’s fashion center near the Central Station where you can find the latest designs.
3 p.m. - Four out of five of the world’s diamonds pass through Antwerp, making it a great place to shop for the gems. The trade, still plied by Orthodox Jews, bestows the name ‘Jerusalem of the North’ on the area.
6 p.m. - By now you should have worked up an appetite so treat yourself to the bouillabaisse at In de Schaduw van de Kathedraal. (here)
10 p.m. - Finish the evening at the Cafe d’Anders nightclub. It was one of the hot European party stops in the late 1980s and still provides music and dancing till dawn.
10 a.m. -- After breakfast take a tour of Zoo Antwerp with 5,000 animals and an 1856 Egyptian Temple to explore. (www.zooantwerpen.be) (Editing by Patricia Reaney)