Shopping in Antwerp
If diamonds really are a girl’s best friend, then a lady can make many companions in Antwerp; most of the world’s diamonds are cut and sold in the city’s bustling diamond district. Add this to the plethora of designer boutiques and fashionable high street stores and you can see why Antwerp has forged a reputation for being “Belgium’s shopping city.”
There are also plenty of antique stores, bric-a-brac shops and lively markets for you to hunt down unique treasures. Not only do these spots make for good shopping, but they also give visitors a taste of local life.
Antwerp is famous for its fashion district, De Modewijk, found on and around Kammenstraat and Nationalestraat – don't miss Schuttershofstraat if you want to check out high-end labels. Meanwhile, pedestrianised Meir (pronounced my-er) is the main shopping street, lined with a host of national and international brands. For more individual shopping, browse the alleyways of the Historic Centre and try Kloosterstraat (www.kloosterstraat.com) for bric à brac and antiques. One of the hippest shops in town is Fish & Chips (Kammenstraat 18-22), which boasts three floors of new and second-hand vintage clothing, bikes, oddball gadgets and alternative art. It also doubles as a bar and restaurant.
Vogelenmarkt, the Sunday morning bird market at Theaterplein, is an Antwerp institution and great for a slice of local life. The Exotic Market is also lively, although if you don’t like seeing caged birds give it a miss. It’s held all day every Saturday.
There are several shopping centres in Antwerp, but Stadsfeestzaal (Meir 78/Hopland 45) is by far the best. Located in the city’s old Festival Hall, this lavish 20th-century building is now home to approximately 40 retailers including Urban Outfitters and Tommy Hilfiger.
Shops in Antwerp normally open Monday to Saturday 0900/1000-1800/1830. The main exceptions are Kloosterstraat and Hoogstraat, where many shops open on Sunday.
The Belgians are masters of brewing beer. Stella Artois, Leffe and Chimay are some of the most celebrated tipples, but there are hundreds to choose from and absolutely no excuse for returning home without a few bottles. Avoid tourist shops where you’ll pay over the odds – small off licenses and supermarkets have the best deals. Those looking to procure some of Belgium’s famous chocolate should visit one of the city’s numerous chocolatiers; prices aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for. The Chocolate Line (tel: +32 3 206 2030; www.thechocolateline.be) at Paleis op de Meir 50 is the best for pralines. The shop just so happens to be a former residence of Napoleon, of whom there is a chocolate sculpture inside. Those on slimmer budgets can find some of the big brands at local supermarkets.
Antwerp is synonymous with diamonds, so if you’re looking for something more than a souvenir (i.e. an engagement ring) this is the place to buy it. More than half the world’s diamonds are traded in the city’s bustling diamond district.
Sales tax in Antwerp is 21% and can be refunded to non-EU citizens by shops affiliated to Global Refund. Participating shops will issue a Global Refund cheque, which should be stamped at customs.