A historically rich, forward-thinking jewel of the Low Countries, Antwerp came into its own during the late '80s, when a cutting-edge group of fashion designers, the "Antwerp Six," began winning international renown.
The essentials: Nationalestraat is the premier shopping street; antiques-hunters should go to Kloosterstraat, then sample the butter truffles at nearby chocolatier G. Bastin. See Peter Paul Rubens's nudes at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, or drop by Rubenshuis, the Baroque master's former home, now a museum.
Where to eat: Taste Belgian treats like steamed mussels and frites in Grote Markt; for Antwerp's most dramatic dining experience, head to contemporary French spot Het Pomphuis, a repurposed pumping station—think arched windows, soaring iron-accented ceilings, and exposed hydraulic equipment. The rib eye steak is sublime.
Where to stay: Family-owned Hotel Firean is housed in a 1929 Art Deco mansion with stained-glass Tiffany windows and breakfast in the camellia-filled garden (doubles from $258; hotelfirean.com).