Eilandje translates into English as ‘Islet’ and is a district in the old port area of Antwerp. It covers the area between the red light district and the main harbour.
One of the dock basins is called Bonaparte, after Napoleon who had the docks built in 1811, but as the port expanded towards the Dutch border then the old docks fell into decline leaving behind what must have been a pretty run down area.
The 21st century has seen its fortunes start to change with the Willemdok becoming a marina and the opening in May 2011 of a new museum known as MAS (Museum aan de Stroom), which translates as ‘Museum by the Stream’.
The ‘stream’ in this instance is probably The River Scheldt and the museum is mainly about the history of the port of Antwerp. Nearby there are 12 dockside cranes left to remind everyone what it was like here not so long ago, but things are starting to change and many of the old buildings are being converted into bars and restaurants. My favourite was ‘Bocadero’ which opens during the summer months and has a man made beach and deckchairs alongside the old dock area next to the river. When I was here with the VT crew it was sweltering hot and it felt more like Ibiza than Antwerp.
Eilandje is a little way out of the city centre, but a place worth exploring for an alternative option to the more obvious landmarks that most people come to Antwerp for.
Some distance away from the city center, but reachable by either car or tourist tram, is Willem Dock. This is one of the countless docks in Antwerp's humongous harbour. Here you will find among others the Pacific Princess, a floating hotel/restaurant and one of the former "lightships" or floating lighthouses Westhinder. Though the one here in Antwerp is a bit run down and not as well maintained as its sistership in Zeebrugge, it is well worth a visit, especially when you're travelling with kids, to whom an experience such as this is always exciting. You'll get to see the bridge, crew quarters and captains cabin and you'll be able to look down into the engine room. A booklet about the history of the harbour of Antwerp is available for the prize of 2 Euro.