Cathedral of Our Lady – Antwerp, Belgium

On the Rubens Trail

While Brussels and Bruges attract tourists, Antwerp carries on its busi­ness. If you bypass it, though, you will miss seeing what remains of the 16th- and 17th-century golden period, when Antwerp dominated the intellectual, commercial, and artistic life of the Low Countries. Antwerp’s defining cultural landmark is the soaring 404-foot white stone lacework tower atop the Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal), with its famous carillon of forty-seven bells.

In summer, Monday evening concerts at eight shouldn’t be missed. The cathedral is the city’s largest public building and the largest church in the Benelux countries with seven aisles and 125 pillars. Four masterworks by Peter Paul Rubens hang in the transept and in the choir, and are among the most emotional biblical scenes ever rendered.

Although he was born in Germany, Rubens’s parents were from Antwerp and the artist returned here as court painter and diplomat. Follow the Rubens trail by visiting the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts), which holds one of the world’s largest collections of his work. Then drop by the more intimate Rubenshuis (Rubens House Museum), a patrician mansion where the artist lived and worked from 1610 to 1640.

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