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Relief at the entrance to Antwerp's Maagdenhuis, a former 16th century girl's orphanage and now home to a small museum

Antwerp is Belgium's most underrated tourist destination. Few places tangle the old and the new quite so enchantingly. Here eclectic Art Nouveau mansions stare back at Neo-Renaissance villas, and medieval castles provide a magical backdrop for the city's myriad bars and cafes.

The obligatory Antwerpian activities include smearing your face with pralines, staining your chin with a glass of potent oude jenever, stuffing your mouth with filleted herring, discovering how good chips can really be and pressing your nose to the diamond merchants' windows.

One of the best of all the local pursuits is to sit in at least one (but preferably several dozen) of the city's many bars or brown cafes (small pubs) and bend your elbow until you determine which of Belgium's myriad outstanding beers is the finest.

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