When meeting and event planning in Belgium's largest city, Antwerp, be prepared for an obsession with diamonds, as the city is one of the world's greatest markets for sparklers. Only a handful of miles south of the Dutch border, Antwerp also boasts the second-busiest port in Europe (after Rotterdam, The Netherlands). The main language here is Flemish, but English is certainly spoken in the major Antwerp event venues.
Within the city limits is Antwerpen International Airport (ANR), approximately two miles to the southeast of the center. Its service is predominantly on small jets to London and Manchester, due to the airport's small runway. All North American service will come first to Brussels Airport (BRU), Belgium's principal gateway.
There cannot be too many convention centers anywhere that share space with a city zoo, but that's the case in Antwerp with the Flanders Congress & Concert Center and Antwerp Zoo. The center has two large exhibit rooms, a smaller banquet room, a winter garden and a concert hall, among other offerings. It is very stylish, although the largest events will still gather in Brussels or Ghent.
Hotel venues in Antwerp that are able to cater to meetings include the 262-room Crowne Plaza Antwerp, which has 14 meeting rooms for up to 500 persons; the trendy, 247-room Radisson Blu Astrid Antwerp, which has 18 meeting rooms and a ballroom for 600 persons; the grand, 211-room Hilton Antwerp, which has 13 meeting rooms and a 12,320-square-foot ballroom; and the 173-room Lindner Hotel & City Lounge, which also has 13 meeting rooms, as well as a 12th-floor panoramic events lounge. A wonderful boutique choice is the 127-room Theater Hotel, which has three meeting rooms for up to 40 persons.
Special event venues in Antwerp include the Stadhuis Antwerpen, possibly the grandest building in the city and right on Grote Markt (square), which has space for up to 120 persons; the also-grand Huis Happaert house, which has space for up to 80 persons; tongue-twisting Arenbergschouwburg, which has reception space for 400 persons and an auditorium for 815 in a cultural center that is one of Antwerp's principal spots for live music and theater. Aquatopia, the city's aquarium, has reception space for up to 100 persons, and Mode Museum, also known as MOMU, has an esteemed collection of modern art and reception space for 150 persons.
Food in Belgium is rightly celebrated. Excellent choices for groups in Antwerp include the Restaurant Sir Anthony van Dijck, which has room for groups of up to 60 persons in a grand space that indeed does have a feel of being a painting by a Grand Master; Grand Cafe Horta, which has space for an incredible 1,000 persons; Zuiderterras, which has a French/international menu and seating for 60 persons, reception space for 80; Amadeus, which has a slight Memphis feel to it and does indeed specialize in ribs and other meats; and De Peerdestal, whose interior looks like a baroque ballroom, its exterior, a French country restaurant.