Bored of Brussels? OutUK's Adrian Gillan hits Belgium's bejewelled second city, Antwerp. With a population of more than half a million, it is by far the most populous city in the north of Belgium.
One of Europe's biggest ports, Belgium's second largest city, Antwerp, is also the main town of Flanders - perched on the mighty River Scheldt, scarce twenty miles north of capital Brussels. Occupied by the Germans in WW2 and named European Capital of Culture in 1993, Antwerp's population proudly speak Flemish, or immaculate English and it also happens to be the centre of the Belgian gay scene.

Antwerp has long been an important city in the Low Countries, economically and culturally, especially before the Spanish Fury (1576) in the period of the Dutch Revolt. The inhabitants are locally nicknamed Sinjoren, after the Spanish honorific seńor or French seigneur, "lord".

WHERE TO STAY

For an unrivalled choice of hotels with guest reviews at low online prices check out our hotel partners Booking.com. Or for something more intimate, in the centre, the 4-star Hotel 't Sandt is a boutique design hotel with individually-themed rooms, all flooded with light, plus large garden terrace.

WHAT TO SEE

Stroll along the city's system of boulevards, which replaced the walls that formerly encircled the city; take in the historic city centre - the Grote Markt, the Groen Blaats, the magnificent Gothic Cathedral (14th - 15th Century) with its 120m spire, even the renovated (and thankfully cleaned-out) underground former city sewers.

Then browse the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, hanging out with Rubens and van Dyck; visit palatial Rubens' House ; or shimmy through the boutique-lined fashion quarter and Fashion Museum MoMu to learn how the "Antwerp Six" put the city on the global couture map.
Drool through the Jewish Quarter, with its Diamond Museum to learn about the four "c"s (colour, clarity, carat & cut), and drop into the Diamondland showrooms, to see cutters at work - maybe even fixing a Diamond Cocktail evening, where you or your mates get the chance to walk off with a sparkling stone; troll the gorgeous southern art nouveau district, Zurenborg; or see Antwerp from the docks with a Flandria river cruise, maybe even including dinner.
Photo: Rick Lord
Antwerp Pride takes place at the beginning of August. It was first launched in 2008 and was an initiative of the City of Antwerp and a few other gay hospitality organisations. Nowadays, it's a way bigger event as they present Antwerp as a gay-friendly city on a local, regional, national and international level and try and attract as many gay visitors and supporters as possible to the city.

WHERE TO EAT, BOOZE & DANCE

Sit and chill at Café den Draak - the light-and-airy café-bar beneath Antwerp's main LGBT community hub, Het Roze Huis, down south around Zurenborg. Den Draak serves reasonably-priced coffee, beer, wine and cocktails as well as small, simple dishes. It's popular with the young gay crowd.

Gay Pride festival in Antwerp. Photo: Barry177
As night falls, two-level Café Hessenhuis gets crammed with young, trendy, teasing cuties. It's located in Antwerp's trendy neighbourhood near the MAS Museum and red-light district. Hessenhuis features a large dance floor and live DJ's on the weekend with 90's Therapy, SugarDaddy and Drag Shows.
Meanwhile, Cafe Twilight can be found at Theatre Square. Twilight has a huge outdoor terrace, friendly staff and laid-back atmosphere. Located near the main shopping street in central Antwerp.

Café Que Pasa is a friendly gay bar and café with a chilled atmosphere and Latin music. Situated in a lovely area halfway between the historic city centre and the red-light district. They have drag shows on Tuesdays, latin beats on Saturdays and DJ's Friday nights, with some happy hours on other days. Just down the road, City Coffee is a Gay-friendly café bar, located just near Café Que Pasa, that serves a tasty menu of hot and cold drinks, snacks, cakes and more. The outside terrace is the perfect spot to relax and unwind.

Café Strange has been in business for 60 years, and claims it's the oldest gay bar in Antwerp. Frequented by local, older guys. Armand the owner makes all guests feel very welcome here with some fantastic service. They have a saying here, "Perverse is that millions are enthusiastically in front of the tube when two men punch each other to the blood, while everyone is painfully struck and appalled when two men touch each other tenderly."

For something crusier, check out Club Random on Geulinckxstraat - it's the best disco-dance cruising bar in Antwerp. Great music, excellent atmosphere with very friendly people. Clients vary from young to old, as there are no boundaries here. Music is deep house and disco on weekdays, and a mix of electro, house, techno on the weekends.


Gay Pride festival in Antwerp. Photo: Barry177
For leather 'n fetish, you are best to slip into The Boots on Van Aerndtstraat. They host leather and rubber nights, frequently have DJs and hold regular naked, underwear, pup, army, denim and sportswear nights. You'll need membership the first time you go there by filling out a form at the entrance or beforehand online.
Antwerp's two main gay clubs are swish D Club, up on Damplein, Weds-Sun; and cavernous Red & Blue, on Lange Schipperskapelstraat, every Saturday - the biggest gay venue in Benelux. Both get packed with handsome hot Flemish hunks. If you're still restless after all that, you can often find some men taking airs in the Stadspark.

GETTING THERE

Highly recommended airline VLM fly direct from London City and Manchester to Antwerp whereas most other airlines take you through Brussels. There's also the choice of Eurostar, which takes you to Brussels where you can change to another train.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Antwerp Pride (Website)
City Coffee (Sint-Paulusstraat 40; T: +32 3 294 34 43; Website; facebook)
Café den Draak (Draak plaats 1; T: +32 03 290 5304)
Café Hessenhuis (Falconrui 53; T: +32 03 231 1356)<; facebook)
Café Que Pasa (Lange Koepoortstraat 1; Website)
Café Strange (Dambruggestraat 161; T: +32 474 424 901; Website; facebook)
Cafe Twilight (Nieuwstad 4)
Club Random (Geulincxstraat 28; T: +32 465 76 07 39; facebook)
D Club (Damplein 27; T: +32 03 232 71 60; Website)
Red & Blue (Lange Schipperskapelstr. 11-13; T: +32 03 213 0555; Website)
The Boots (Van Aerndtstr. 22; T: +32 03 231 3483; Website)

Revised March 2018.

 

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