Discover the wonders of bustling Antwerp in one short trip

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Antwerp holiday 2018

GETTYAntwerp's bustling atmosphere and deep culture makes for an amazing trip

He looks like an ordinary tourist, dressed in casual clothing, but what’s inside his luggage marks him out as different.

“There are probably around £2 million-worth of uncut diamonds in there,” my guide, Ariane, casually explains.

Ariane is showing me round Antwerp’s famous diamond district and this man is, in fact, a diamond courier, responsible for transporting stones to one of the dozens of jewel exchanges here.

I’m slightly concerned he may be a target for robbers, but Ariane points out that there are over 50 CCTV cameras on this street alone, along with countless discreet security officers.

Since the 16th Century, Antwerp has been known for its diamond trade, steadily rising to become the hub of a global industry worth billions – around 80 per cent of the world’s diamonds pass through here, and a shiny new diamond museum, DIVA, is scheduled to open in May.

Antwerp diamond tradeGETTY

The Antwerp diamond trade attracts a lot of attention, good and bad

It’s a rather unprepossessing area, though, and doesn’t quite live up to the sparkling image I had in my mind.

Luckily, not far away is one of the city’s most magnificent buildings, and if you’re canny, you can make sure it’s the first thing you see when you arrive here.

How? By taking the Eurostar to Brussels and hopping on a local train to Antwerpen-Centraal.

When you get off, I predict you will be utterly dazzled. Antwerp’s main station, constructed between 1895 and 1905, could give New York’s Grand Central a run for its money.

From the outside, it looks like an elaborate palace. Inside, the huge, vaulted roof is a masterpiece of iron and glass, while the entrance lobby looks like a temple, with a high domed ceiling and marble pillars.

eurostar.com.

Double rooms at Hotel Indigo start from £93 per night. Book at hotelindigo.com.

For more information, go to visitantwerpen.be/en.

Peter Paul RubensGETTY

Peter Paul Rubens was once a resident in the city

Top 10 things to do in Antwerp

1 Order a waffle with strawberries and extra-thick whipped cream at Désiré de Lille (desire delille.be).

2 Explore Antwerp’s old network of streams, canals and even bridges, which have been buried underground over the centuries at De Ruien (ruien.be).

3 Take home a pack of hand-shaped biscuits or chocolates, modelled on the symbol of Antwerp.

4 Tour the De Koninck brewery and learn about the origin of the iconic “bolleke”, the distinctively shaped glass the beer is served in (dekoninck.be).

5 Pimp up your chips at Frites Atelier, designed by a Dutch chef, where your potato portion can come with a range of tasty toppings, such as Flemish stew.

6 Walk under the Scheldt river by taking the St Anna’s tunnel, which connects the left and right banks, via an original 1930s lift or escalator.

7 Brave a shot of Elixir d’Anvers, a bright yellow herbal liqueur made locally since 1863 using 32 different plants.

8 Take a selfie sitting in the giant stone hand sculpture on Meir street.

9 Be the king or the queen of the castle at Het Steen, an ancient fortress by the river and the oldest building in Antwerp.

10 Visit the Red Star Line Museum (redstarline.be/en) to find out how the shipping company started, ferrying passengers between Antwerp and the USA.