Spend an hour or two people watching beneath 16th-century buildings in Antwerp’s cultural heart.
Take a seat in a cafe along the Grote Markt and enjoy a rich hot chocolate or a cool Belgian beer as you watch the comings and goings of Antwerp’s historical center. The city’s main square is surrounded by 16th-century architecture, with the impressive Brabo Fountain at its heart. Locals come to enjoy the many cafes, shops and restaurants that line the square.
The City Hall dominates the western side of the Grote Markt. It was built in 1565 and remains a fine example of Renaissance architecture, with elements of both Flemish and Italian style. Note the red brick arches of the ground floor, which were once filled with dozens of small shops. Above this, two rows of Ionic columns give the building a more Roman feel.
In the center of the square is the towering green statue of Brabo, Antwerp’s most famous mythical figure. It is said that Brabo slayed the giant who charged excessive tolls to those wanting to enter the city by water. The statue depicts him throwing the giant’s hand into the river Scheldte.
Surrounding the square are the attractive Guild Houses, which date back to the early 16th century. The original houses were destroyed by fire. The buildings you see today are the result of a 19th-century renovation, which explains the lavish decorations on the facades. Look for the golden statues on the roofs of several of the houses.
Stop for a tasting in a boutique chocolate shop or enjoy a lunch of mussels washed down with an artisan beer. As the sun goes down and the buildings are lit up, the square takes on a romantic feel, perfect for a stroll or an intimate meal.
Those visiting in December can browse for presents or souvenirs at the annual Christmas markets. Winter also sees the installation of an ice rink in the square. Rent a pair of skates and glide beneath the many shuttered windows of some of the town’s oldest buildings.
The square is open all year. It’s within walking distance of many of Antwerp’s major attractions. There’s no fee to enter.