Guest post: Five Places to Read and Relax in Antwerp

Timo is a teacher of English Language and Literature at an international school in the Antwerp area, and enjoys reading, cycling, and playing, recording and mixing music in his free time. He was one of the very first people to subscribe to Nessascityblog, and remains a loyal reader to this day. Timo is Dutch/ American, but has lived and worked in Antwerp for over a decade, and also plays in a local band (110). You can listen to his music here.

I would like to share with you some good locations for reading in the central Antwerp area. If you live in an apartment in the city, as I do, you’ll find that it is important to get out once in a while. I tend to go for walks, and sometimes bring a book with me. Here are a five of my favourite “walking & reading” locations.

  1. Harmoniepark

harmonie (1)

About a two kilometre walk from Antwerp Central Station, Harmoniepark (left) is nestled next to the slightly bigger Koning Albertpark; the latter was once Antwerp’s prime location for a hanging! Harmoniepark is great for readers, as it has extended, comfortable wooden benches, both in the sun and shade. The Feestzaal Harmonie building is currently under renovation – scheduled to finish in 2020 – after which it will function as one of Antwerp’s districtshuizen (or town halls). During the summer months, you’ll notice there are a number of free sporting activities taking place in this park, including yoga, for adults and for children.

 

  1. Permeke Library

The Permeke library – about a 5 minute walk from Central Station – contains several good reading places. If you want a quiet  indoor area to read or study, try the upper floor inside the library. You do not need a membership card to enter and use the facilities, and summer opening hours are from 10 am to 5 pm Mondays to Saturdays, and from 10 am to 2 pm on Sundays. Do keep in mind the opening times change in winter. A hidden gem is the vast CD and DVD collection in the back on the first floor. On sunny days, you can use the reading courtyard out back (leestuin)  and if you prefer having a coffee or even lunch with reading, you can visit Cafe Kubus right across from the library entrance. This is the only cafe I know of in Antwerp where you are actively encouraged to study and read.

permeke
Kubus Cafe & reading courtyard at Permeke Library
  1. “Den Botaniek”  – botanical garden

Den Botaniek” is a tiny but beautiful botanical garden located next to St Elisabeth Hospital, about a 15 minute walk from Central Station. Sometimes referred to as “the garden of poets”, this is an oasis for readers who like quiet, serene spaces. There are benches throughout the park, and, if you want to stretch your legs, you can visit the greenhouse (a warm place during winter!) or admire the gorgeous Koi fish in the garden’s ponds. Den Botaniek is open to the public from 8 am to 8 pm during summer, and until 5.30 pm during winter.

 

  1. Antwerp Zoo
zoo
Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp has been investing a lot in improving its zoo, and one of my new favourite spaces is the small square just inside the zoo’s main entrance. Access to this area is free. There are numerous benches, and it is surprisingly quiet, given its central location next to Antwerp’s main station. Do keep in mind that the gates to the free area close with the zoo’s closing hours. Inside the zoo itself, there are many places to relax and read as well. If you are interested in this, I suggest you look into their year pass options. If you have children, the family zoo pass is a good deal, given the zoo contains a large playground and several cafes serving relatively cheap food and drink, with a 10% discount for card holders or “abonnees”.

  1. Zaha Hadidplein & Willemdok area

I’m cheating a little bit here by combining two different places, but they are very similar in atmosphere and relatively close together. The Antwerp Port Building, designed by the late award-winning British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is striking and controversial- some people love it; others don’t. There is a big open space underneath the building, with great views of the city and some of its docks. Personally, I think this area could do with a few more places to sit, but there are some stone benches by the waterside, providing a great location to read and relax. Do keep in mind this is slightly further out if you live in the centre of town; it will take you about 45 minutes to walk from the station, but it is well worth a visit. When heading back south and into the centre of town, you’ll find another reading haven: the attractive Willemdok area, with its many benches and great views of the MAS building.

zahahadidplein

I hope you will enjoy some of these mostly free places and read in Antwerp. Next time you feel you need to get out of your apartment or house, why not carry book or e-reader with you, and perhaps even leave your phone at home?

 

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This weekend: 26th, 27th & 28th May

[Next post: 1st June]

Yasssss …. it’s a long weekend and the weather is going to be toasty. We will respond to this winning combination in the traditional Antwerpian fashion by sloping around in the sunshine, eating and drinking. What luck! For this weekend seems to hold many opportunities to do just that. Just watch out for a wee bit of drizzle or thunder on Sunday, but nonetheless temperatures are set to be high …

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HERE’S THE MAP!

A fun event which is fairly new to the Antwerp Summer scene is Vakantie op T’ Zuid
which describes itself as a holiday market. This event is very much focused on food or drink and it is fairly easy to tailor your consumption to your budget, as the food ranges from small snacks and sweets to larger meals. It has a truly international feel with stands from all over the world, as well as some performances (we saw some Indonesian dancing last year). It takes place down on the Vlaamse Kaai, so there is also a handy playground for kids, as well as a play area for the event itself. Starts Thursday at midday and continues until Sunday.

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Mercado on Groenplaats is also having a food festival that takes place over the whole weekend (25th -28th May) offering -in addition to their usual stands – outdoor stands, street musicians and magicians, and kids’ entertainment.

Friday

Update: No picnic today apologies for the error!

Critical Mass takes place as usual for the last Friday of the month, meeting at 6pm -also on Theaterplein. Bring your bike for the musical edition of this monthly communal bike ride

Aper’eau is back for the summer -their kick-off event takes place on Groenplaats from 5pm. Outdoor drinks and cocktails in the sun in Antwerp’s most famous square. Sounds like a good way to start the weekend…

Groenplaats
Groenplaats

Saturday

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Brick Boat in Stadspark   This plinth (where different exhibits are featured) is a project from Middelheim Museum

Middelheim -Antwerp’s free  sculpture museum is a beautiful place to visit, but even more so when the weather is good. So this weekend should be a good time to take advantage of the opening event of the Richard Deacon exhibition, complete with a free guided tour.

Or enjoy a browse round the ABC (Antiques Books Curiosa) market at Den Beulebak from 11- 5pm. Free.

Sunday

Snitt are holding a second hand market at a fun location today: at Stack (formerly Convoi)  the container village down by Waagnatie. It’s free and you can bring your own secondhand items to donate to local initiative ‘de Collectie’.

Lambermontmartre is another regular presence on the Antwerp summer scene. It’s not only a chance to browse or buy lots of art works by local and amateur artists, and to support their work, but there is always a band and some good, cheap food and drinks. The area has some lovely cafés (Finjan’s is a favourite of mine for great Falafel and middle-Eastern food) and there is usually a table where kids can paint a canvas of their own for a small price.

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Ascension is the reason for the long weekend. If you would like to enjoy some choral music, head to the Begijnhofkerk at 3pm, where for 5 euros you can hear the Cathedral Singers of Oxford with special music for Ascensiontide.

Reserve by calling 03 232 01 03

Miscellaneous

Buurtpleintjes is an initiative from Stad Antwerpen offering free sporting activities on local squares around the city. Last year my son really enjoyed a series of free basketball lessons on Sint Andriesplaats as part of this initiative. Start by checking here to see what’s on offer near you.

Next week Wednesday is the last Wednesday of the month so Antwerp City museums are free (Plantin Moretus, Rockox, Mayer van den Bergh, The MAS and The Red Star Line Museum).

During summer Antwerp offers two open-air swimming pools which are now open! It is free to swim at Boekenberg, but there is a small entrance charge at the Linkeroever pool (it is also recommended that you have a 1 euro coin with you to use the lockers; and your A-kaart, if you have one).

Runners again -here’s a run with a difference: Silver Run takes you up and down towerblocks, on the 11th June, for which you can register now. It does cost to take part, unless you live in social housing, in which case it is free.

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I’m proud to share my first guest blog post on Nessascityblog! If you missed it, have a read of Dolrish’s personal story of coming to live and work in Antwerp, all the way from the Philippines. And if you’d like to contribute and tell your story, please get in touch via nessascityblog@gmail.com

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Antwerp with Kids

Out and about in Antwerp.

This post is about hanging out in Antwerp with kids, and is especially for the grandparents of my kids who do so much to look after our two youngest, when their school holidays do not coincide with ours.

In summer, keeping kids entertained is pretty easy. When the sun shines there are so many parks and pop- up bars with play areas and activities that it’s not hard to find somewhere budget- friendly to take them to each day, where adults will also be able to relax. The parks and play areas we most commonly visit are Stadspark (also has a skate park), Park Spoor Noord, the play area at the Gedempte zuiderdokken (kaaien) and the play area on Dageraadplaats in the Zurenborg area. The scenic Rivierenhof also has a lot of space and a play area for kids and it’s a lovely place to walk and get away from the city if you need some peace.

Stadspark
Stadspark

In autumn, when the weather turns colder, it is not always so simple, so this a brief guide to some of the places we like to go with our kids, when the weather is no longer so warm.

autumnberries

The most obvious choices in the centre of town are the zoo and Comics Station , which are both good days out, but not cheap, especially if you are taking a few kids. At time of writing (October 2015) the zoo is undergoing renovation in some parts, meaning that some animals are not around, and there are parts which are occupied by building works. On the other hand, the aquarium section is finished and open and is a huge improvement on what was previously there. If you live in Antwerp, you may want to consider buying a year pass to make your visits more cost effective. I would also recommend keeping costs down by bringing your own picnic. There is a new restaurant in the zoo (La Latteria) and although the venue itself is very attractive, being one of the old zoo buildings, the food is nothing special and it is not cheap, again, especially if you are there with a few mouths to feed.

Flamingos at Antwerp Zoo
Flamingos at Antwerp Zoo

When we are sloping around town, there are two cafés in particular which welcome children and have facilities for them. The first is on Theatreplein (where the market is) and is called Het Geluk. It looks like a regular café, but is geared to kids and families. Because the outside area is covered, it is a good way to get kids out and about with their own trikes, scooters, bikes, roller skates etc in a place that they can use them, even if it is raining. Additionally, there is a play corner, and a selection of toys and games which the kids can borrow while they are there by asking at the bar and leaving their name. Het Geluk is open from Wednesday – Sunday.

Het Geluk is part of the theatre Het Paleis which runs performances and shows for children. These are in Dutch. They also run workshops and activities during the Belgian school holidays. You can pick up a programme or go along to the theatre for information and leaflets. I am sure they would also be happy to advise you which activities would be suitable for kids who do not speak Dutch. Theater performances and drama activities for kids can also be found at De Studio.

Pick up a programme for Het Paleis
Pick up a programme for Het Paleis

Affiliated to Het Geluk is Het Steen (open on Wednesdays- Sundays) which also offers a play area and toys within the café. During summer there is a water and sand play area at the back of the café. Het Steen also runs educational themed workshops during the holidays and at weekends. They have an atelier below the café where these take place. They are usually aimed at kids aged 6+ and are in Dutch. I like this café because of its location in the historic part of town, by the river.  At both Het Steen and Het Geluk, food and drinks are very reasonably priced, with a large bowl of soup for example, costing only 4 euros.

I haven’t been to Plaasj Kaffee yet, but I am planning to at some point this autumn or winter as I have heard good things about it and it has play areas for kids which are both outdoor and covered. It’s also a bit away from the city centre, being on Linkeroever (other side of the river) over the water from the Eilandje area.

Also over the water is Antwerp Bowling . It’s very easy to reach by bike, tram or car. It’s certainly a pricier way to kill an afternoon than Het Geluk or Het Steen but my kids always have a good time here. For younger kids, there is a soft play and climbing area which they really like. This costs 5 euros for unlimited play. The food and drinks are moderately priced. Antwerp Bowling is open seven days per week. Our son also had a really good birthday party here one year. The staff are efficient, friendly and used to children.

Cinemas in town include The UGC on Keyserlei, right in front of Central Station, Kinepolis just outside of town, to the north on Groenendaallan (Tram 6) and Cartoons cinema (open Thursday -Sunday) on Kasstraat in the old town (off Suikerrui, in front of the cathedral). Cartoons also has a really nice basement bar/ café.

It’s cheap to go swimming in Antwerp, but you do need to check the website to ensure that you turn up at the right times for public swimming, as some hours are set aside for particular groups of swimmers (e.g. women only). The two closest pools to the city centre are Zwembad Plantin Moretus and Sportoase. Note that pools can also be a bit strict about suitable swimwear: guys are expected to wear swimming trunks, but not long beach-style shorts or itsy bitsy speedos. If you forget, you can usually purchase a pair at the pool. If you have long hair, make sure you tie it back.

For workshops and activities for children during holidays and half-terms, it is worth keeping an eye on the many museums in Antwerp. As well as being worth a family visit, they sometimes have special activities for kids. My son enjoyed a workshop at Mayer van den Bergh museum and also at The Museum of Modern Art which is near the river and the kaaien. MAS and The Red Star Line Museum also have activities for kids. Note that for workshops, children may need to reserve places online, in advance.

The Permeke Library on De Coninckplein (near China town area) also has a programme (again in Dutch) of reading and activities for children.

If you live in Antwerp and often make use of the city facilities (e.g. swimming pools, museums, library) then you will get reductions if you get an A -Kaart. You can get them at any venue where a reduction is given for card holders (I got mine at the Red Star Line Museum) or at the Districtshuis.