Antwerp: The Capital of Style

Boasting a mishmash of high-fashion, diamond trading, and all-night clubbing, mixed Antwerp excels as a thriving, working class town and a chic, diverse port city.

Antwerp, Belgium’s most stylish city, is often skipped on classical European tours, and it’s a shame because it’s one of the most textured, tourist-free destinations in western Europe, with a bustling diamond trade (the world’s biggest), an avant garde fashion scene (home of Dries Van Noten, one of the famed “Antwerp Six”) and more Rubens paintings (he’s from here too) than you can shake a frite at.

Founded as an independent nation in 1830, Belgium is a modern construct by European standards and divided into three distinct regions, French Wallonia in the south, the Brussels-Capital in the center, and Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north. Antwerp—the capital of Flanders—is a place where French languages and customs are eschewed, and the Dutch (Calvinists!) are flat out made fun of. The Flemish way of life here is prickly, fiercely independent and most defiantly not a composite of Dutch and French cultures as many visitors mistakenly assume.

And Flanders has a lot to be proud of, having perfected some of the world’s finest vices: Chocolate, beer (over 5,000 kinds), crispy frites and clubbing. Add diamonds, fashion, nude paintings of fat women, and a sizable gay leather scene to the mix and you have yourself a unique city and an ideal alternative from the usual European getaway.