Welcome to Gay Antwerp
Whilst Amsterdam continues to dominate the gay scene for many, Antwerp is fast becoming the destination of choice for the gay visitor to mainland Europe. You'll often hear the term Holebi used for the gay scene in Flanders, as the word Gay is often used exclusively to apply to gay men.
Antwerp (Antwerpen) is located in the Flanders region of Belgium, and is renowned as a port city. The majority language of the city is Flemish (which is a variant of Dutch), although most people you meet do speak English and/or French in addition to Vlaams.
The city has good rail, air and road links with high speed trains to Paris, and Amsterdam direct from Central Station. By changing at Brussels, this extends to London, Cologne and many other destinations. As well as this, Antwerp has its' own airport, with daily flights to London City and Manchester airports.
Getting around Gay Antwerp is quite easy by foot, and there are excellent (and cheap) bus and tram networks throughout the city. A tip for visitors is to buy a "Lijnkaart" for 9EUR, as this will give you at least 10 journeys (you put it in one of the yellow machines on the bus/tram when you enter). There is an hour "window" during which no further amount will be deducted from your card. The Lijnkaart is available from many newsagents and supermarkets as well as the "Lijnwinkels" located throughout the city (including one at Central Station), and also from vending machines at the "pre-metro" tram stations
There is also an extensive cycle path network, pedestrians be aware that the nice red/pink pavements are cycle paths, and you should avoid walking on them!
Driving in Antwerpen can be very daunting to those who are not used to it. If you are visiting from abroad, remember that you have to give way to traffic coming from the right, and that pedestrians and cyclists usually do not get a seperate "timeslot" when crossing at traffic lights (if you have a green light at crossroads, and are turning right or left, pedestrians will usually be crossing at the same time - pull away slowly and watch for pedestrians and cyclists). Parking can be difficult (and expensive - on street parking has recently gone up in price in Antwerp) to find in some areas, and it really is best to leave the car in a long term or hotel car park once you've arrived, and use public transport.
Unlike many cities Antwerp doesn't have a single "Gay Village", with gay venues being spread throughout the City.
Whilst there are a couple of cruising grounds, they are not that busy and often are used by rent boys, as there are saunas and fetish clubs open throughout the week. It is worth noting that sex in public open spaces (parks etc) is against Belgian law, and the Police have been known to mount operations against cruising.
The health promotion organisation for Vlaanderen is Sensoa
There is no overall free condom distribution scheme in Antwerp, although many venues supply them free or at a reduced price - it may be a good idea to stock up before you go "out on the town".
Out on the Town in Gay Antwerp
During the week the scene tends to be fairly quiet (events do still exist - check the agenda for details). At the weekend, however, Gay Antwerp really erupts into action. Visitors can be easily confused, as the Belgians tend to go out alot later (often midnight or later), and continue partying until the morning. It may be a good idea to get a couple of hours sleep before going out in Gay Antwerp on a Friday or Saturday Night!