Best things to do in Antwerp Belgium - updated for 2018

21 Best Things To Do in Antwerp (Insider Tips + Map)

In Belgium, Europe by JurgaThis post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. More info: Disclosure.

Visiting Belgium’s second largest city soon and wondering what to see and do in Antwerp? First, let me tell you that it’s a great choice to visit Antwerp. In my opinion, Antwerp is the most beautiful city in Belgium! 

We live nearby and I just love Antwerp, so I might be a bit biased. But to me, Antwerp is a perfect mix of history and modern trendy places, it’s a city that has an amazing vibe. I’m certain that you’ll love it here as well!

In this article, I share the best things to see and do in Antwerp. It’s an insider’s guide to the best places that you have to see if visiting the city for the first time.

In addition to the most famous landmarks, I also included the best new additions, things to do in Antwerp that you won’t find in older tourist guides.

I hope that this will not only inspire you to come to visit Antwerp, spend a bit more time here and explore deeper but will also help you to get the most of your trip. Find out!

TIP: If you are short on time and want to experience the best of Antwerp in a nutshell, I recommend joining a city tour with a local. Here are the best-rated 2-3 hour tours that I found:

Things to do in Antwerp Belgium

 

Best things to do in Antwerp – how to use this guide

If you only have limited time in Antwerp, you will probably want to see the most famous landmarks that the city is known for. Below are the main highlights, most popular things to do in Antwerp. I listed them in the same order as you would visit if you start walking or biking from the Central Station.

The newest addition to Antwerp’s places to see, Antwerp chocolate museum, is listed in the end. The reason for this is that it’s open quite late in the evening, and so you could end your day in Antwerp with a visit to this museum.

To help you better plan your time in the city, I also created a map with a sample city walk itinerary to help you get the best out of your time in Antwerp. You can find it at the end of the article.

Even if you are visiting Antwerp for just one day, you can see most of the best places. Please note that if you want to actually visit (and not just see the exterior) every place on this list, you will need more than a day.

Renting a bike or joining a guided bike tour is a great way to see the best of Antwerp, especially if you are short on time and want to cover a lot of ground.

If you have more time and are looking for more things to do in Antwerp, please also check this article for some inspiration: Off the beaten path in Antwerp by bike.

Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Antwerp. Find out!

1. Central Station – Antwerpen Centraal

Recently restored, the central station of Antwerp is one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. The building exterior is very impressive, but to truly appreciate it, you have to see it from the inside.

The most impressive is the main hall (main entrance on the side of Koningin Astridplein) and also the big hall with a clock as seen from the ground level.

Central Station is one of the places you must see in Antwerp. Don’t miss it! If you arrive in Antwerp by train, you will start your city visit here.

Antwerpen Centraal - one of the most beautiful train stations in the world

Antwerp’s Central Station is just as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside

 

2. Antwerp Zoo

Established in 1843, Antwerp Zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium and one of the oldest in the world. This historic zoo is located in the center of Antwerp, right next to the Antwerpen Centraal railway station.

A visit to the zoo is the perfect way to escape the hustle and the bustle of the city, while at the same time being right in the heart of town.

Antwerp zoo can be visited the whole year as there are indoor and outdoor attractions. There are all kinds of activities and shows and you can easily spend a good couple of hours here. Don’t miss it if you are visiting Antwerp with kids!

Antwerp Zoo is considered one of the best things to do in Antwerp for locals and tourists alike. However, if you only have one day in Antwerp, I think that there are other places that are worth your time more.

TIP: Antwerp Zoo hosts a beautiful light festival China Light. It’s amazing, especially in the evenings. So if you visit Antwerp in the winter, I really recommend the China Light in the zoo.

Antwerp zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium

Antwerp Zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium

 

3. Diamond District

Antwerp has been known as the diamond capital of the world since 1447 and it still is today.

Right next to the Central Station is the famous diamond district of Antwerp, the place where rough and polished diamonds are traded. You can’t really visit the trading markets, but there are plenty of shops selling diamond jewelry…

Most diamond shops are open every day except Saturday. I bet you have never seen so many diamonds and jewelry in one place!

If you want to buy diamonds, make sure to bargain. Negotiating the price is normally not done in Belgium, but Antwerp’s diamond stores are an exception to the rule.

In fact, it might be worth it to make a trip to Antwerp if you are considering buying diamonds. On a bigger purchase, you can save so much that your whole trip to Belgium will easily pay back for itself.

Best things to do in Antwerp - diamonds in the Diamond district

Antwerp is the Diamond Capital of the world

 

4. City Park

Antwerp City Park is another great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy city life. It’s nice to visit with kids or if you have some time to spare, but to be completely honest it’s not an absolute must among the things to do in Antwerp.

Explore Antwerp City Park by bike

Antwerp City Park

 

5. Meir Shopping Street

The Meir shopping area encompasses the streets surrounding the area from the Cathedral all the way to the Central Station. Meir is a prime shopping destination in Belgium, but there is more to it than the shops. Thanks to its historic architecture and prestigious character, the Meir makes shopping feel special.

Not only do the buildings make it worth a visit, but the offerings are also first-rate. You’ll find all the major, international brands here. Don’t miss Antwerp’s Stadsfeestzaal, an exclusive shopping center in the beautifully restored city festival hall.

The Meir - the main shopping street of Antwerp

The Meir – the main shopping street of Antwerp

 

6. The Rubens House

If you visit just one museum in Antwerp, make it the Rubens House. Rubens lived in this palazzo with his family. He created many of his paintings in this house, in the center of Antwerp.

The museum has an interesting collection of his works but also shows how the master lived and worked.

For practical information, please consult the official website of the Rubens House.

The Rubens House is one of the best places to see in Antwerp

Daniel in the Lions’ Den
Painting by Peter Paul Rubens

 

7. Belgium’s Best Boutique Shopping

After leaving the Rubenshuis to continue in the direction of the Graanmarkt. It’s a nice little square and it’s usually amazingly quiet compared to the surrounding streets.

If you are interested in (window)shopping, then you will love the Schuttershofstraat and the Huidevettersstraat where you can find some of the world’s most luxury boutique stores like Hermès, Chanel, or Louis Vuitton to name just a few.

One of the best things to do in Antwerp is boutique shopping

You’ll find many high-end boutique shops in Antwerp

 

8. Plantin – Moretus Museum

If you like history and museums, you will enjoy a visit to Plantin – Moretus Museum.

It’s the only museum on the Unesco World Heritage list and is the only remaining printing workshop and publishing house in the world, dating back to the 16th century.

If you have some time left in between other great things to do in Antwerp, check it out!

What to do in Antwerp - museum Plantin-Moretus

Museum Plantin-Moretus © Museum Plantin-Moretus media database

 

9. Groenplaats

Antwerp’s Green Square is the perfect place for those who want to laze around on a warm summer’s day under the sun and enjoy watching the city from the comfort of a cozy café.

If you are looking for McDonalds or Starbucks, you can find them here, together with many local cafes and restaurants. A little tourist train departs from Groenplaats in summer and may be fun for the children.

Antwerp has an old tradition of open markets and you can find the daily flower market on the Groenplaats. Antwerp Christmas market is also (partially) located on this square.

Groenplaats in Antwerp

Groenplaats

 

10. Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady

The Cathedral, the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries, is an iconic treasury with an impressive collection of major artworks, including several paintings by Rubens. 

You can join the guided tour of the Cathedral or explore it at your own pace.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady - Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal

Antwerp Cathedral

 

11. Grote Markt

Grote Markt is the main square of Antwerp and is one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe. The magnificent 16th century City Hall (Stadhuis) dominates the square surrounded by the beautiful Guild Houses.

If there is one place you absolutely have to see in Antwerp, it’s the Grote Markt.

You cannot overlook the Brabo Fountain, right in the center of the square. According to the legend, Brabo killed a giant who demanded a high toll for each ship that wanted to enter the city. If the ship’s crew wouldn’t pay the toll, their hands were cut off. The little Brabo fought the giant, cut his hand and threw it in the river. The fountain’s statue depicts this story that is used to explain the origins of the name of the city – Antwerpenhand werpen meaning ‘to throw a hand’.

Grote Markt is a peculiar place – empty on cold winter mornings and buzzing with tourists and locals in summer. Filled with cafes and restaurants, Grote Markt is the place that wakes up around noon, so don’t go there first thing in the morning unless you want to have the whole place to yourself.

Grote Markt in Antwerp Belgium is not to be missed

Grote Markt is the most beautiful town square in Antwerp

 

12. Het Elfde Gebod

The café Het Elfde Gebod (the 11th commandment) can be found on the Northern side in the shadow of the Cathedral and is worth a short stop for a drink.

It might look strange to include a café into best things to do in Antwerp list, but it’s such a special place that you really should check it out when in Antwerp. The 11th Commandment has a spectacular interior filled with saints, angels, saints, pulpits, etc and has kept its authenticity for over 40 years.

You will find many traditional Belgian beers here, including the local Antwerp De Koninck beer (‘t Bolleke), the famous Trappist beers, and more. Non-alcoholic drinks are also available, of course.

Het Elfde Gebod cafe in Antwerp Belgium

Het Elfde Gebod cafe is usually crowded – this picture is taken outside the opening hours

 

13. Saint Carolus Borromeus Church

Saint Carolus Borromeus church is one of the most beautiful churches of Antwerp, slightly hidden and out of sight, located on a charming little town square.

You have to walk through some narrow cobblestoned streets to see the magnificent facade of this 17th century Jesuit church.

Antwerp is the most distinctive Baroque city of the Low Countries and Saint Carolus Borromeus church is one of the places you really should see in Antwerp.

Saint Carolus Borromeus church in Antwerp

Saint Carolus Borromeus church

 

14. Vleeshuis

Vleeshuis is now a museum featuring all kinds of musical instruments. The 500-year-old building looks very nice from the outside and is worth seeing if you are in the area.

Vleeshuis in Antwerp

Vleeshuis

 

15. Steen Castle

Het Steen is Antwerp’s oldest building. It lies on the Scheldt river and is just a short walk from the Grote Markt.

Het Steen, once home to the Maritime Museum, is now a child-friendly meeting space with all kind of workshops for kids from 6 years and older.

Het Steen castle - Antwerp's oldest building

Het Steen castle – Antwerp’s oldest building

 

16. Scheldt River and Antwerp Harbour

Make sure to take a short walk next to the river Scheldt. Antwerp is Europe’s second-largest seaport and ranks among the world’s top ten. You can usually see some large container ships in the distance.

The cruise ships visiting Antwerp are also docked at the new cruise terminal next to the Steen fortress, right in the center of the city. If you have a couple of hours to spare, consider a boat tour in Antwerp harbor.

Port of Antwerp boat tour is one of the best things to do in Antwerp Belgium

Antwerp harbour is best explored by boat

 

17. St. Paul’s Church

St. Paul’s Church is impressive both from outside as well as from the inside. Definitely worth a short visit!

We first discovered this hidden gem when exploring some off the beaten path places in Antwerp with kids. I think it’s a must to see in Antwerp.

Note that it’s only open in the afternoon, and only in high season.

St. Paul's church in Antwerp

St. Paul’s church

 

18. Het Eilandje district and MAS museum

The modern red building of MAS museum in the new trendy Het Eilandje district has quickly become one of the landmarks, a must see place in Antwerp.

MAS has many interesting expositions, but the interior of this modern building is just as impressive. Make sure to also go all the way to the top of the building. The rooftop terrace of MAS has some of the best views of Antwerp.

The entrance to the museum building and the rooftop terrace is free of charge.

MAS museum - one of the best things to see in Antwerp

MAS museum

 

19. The New Port House

The New Port House of Antwerp is yet another recent addition to Antwerp’s skyline.

It is one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen and it’s fascinating to watch this ‘diamond ship’ change in a different light.

New Port House of Antwerp

New Port House of Antwerp

 

20. Red Star Line Museum

Red Star Line Museum is a trip back in time with the stories of people who sailed from here to find a new life in North America. You can also climb to the top of the tower for nice views of ‘t Eilandje district and the harbor.

It’s one of my personal favorite museums in Antwerp. Very touching and eye-opening. Believe me, you’ll never look at emigration with the same eyes after visiting the Red Star Line museum. 

This rather recent museum is, in my opinion, one of the best things to do in Antwerp!

Red Star Line museum in Antwerp

Red Star Line museum

 

21. Chocolate Nation

Chocolate Nation is the largest Belgian Chocolate museum in the world. Opened in 2018, this unique museum is the newest addition to Antwerp’s tourist attractions and has quickly become one of the popular places to see in Antwerp.

Interesting fact. The very first Belgian chocolate factory opened in Antwerp in 1831. This new chocolate museum brings history to life and is already one of the best things to do in Antwerp. The reviews on the Trip Advisor are really loving.

Chocolate Nation is located very close to the Central Station and is open every day. Check it out when in Antwerp!

Best things to do in Antwerp - Belgian chocolate museum

Chocolate Museum in Antwerp © Photo courtesy of Chocolate Nation

 

Best things to do in Antwerp – suggested city walk and map

Here is my custom-made city map featuring the best things to do in Antwerp. I indicated each location mentioned in this post, as well as the suggested walking route.

Click on the map to zoom in or out or on the arrow in the top left corner for the legend.

 

Where to stay in Antwerp

If you can, stay at least 2-3 nights in Antwerp. This will give you some time to see the best of Antwerp and maybe also find some hidden gems as well.

If you are looking for the best-located hotels for sightseeing in Antwerp, here are my best recommendations.

So, this is our guide to the very best things to do in Antwerp. This is no way a complete list of everything that Antwerp has to offer, but if you are visiting for the first time and looking for the must-see places in Antwerp, then this list is a good place to start. Enjoy your trip!

***Read also our suggested Belgium itinerary***

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Best things to see and do in Antwerp Belgium. Insider's guide to the very best places of Antwerp
 

Comments

  1. Excellent information and a great map! Thank you! 🙂

    1. Author

      Glad to hear that. Enjoy your time in Antwerp!

  2. This was excellent information- perfect for our visit to the Antwerp Christmas Market! We take a family trip every year around the holidays- partly for pleasure and partly for destination research for our travel business- it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it 😉!

    1. Author

      Ha ha, there are definitely worse jobs in the world than researching new travel destinations :).
      Hope you had a great time in Antwerp!

  3. Hi, I live in Antwerp, Have been for the last 34 years and Iagree with your list, but you forgot De Begijnenhof and the old University close by – Ossenmarkt. De begijenehof is so sweet!

    1. Author

      Hi Nagel, thanks for sharing your tips, might be useful to visitors who have a bit more time in Antwerp and want to get a bit more off the beaten path. I wouldn’t call them must-see in Antwerp, but will keep it mind for my other article that’s been laying in the drafts forever…. Thanks again!

  4. Thank you Jurga for another great informative article which I enjoyed reading.
    Looking forward, very much, to visiting Antwerp and Brussels in the autumn.

    1. Author

      Thank you for following our travels along, June. So happy to see you’re now visiting our home country. Can’t wait to hear about your experience!

  5. Hi Jurga,

    Firstly, thank you for your blogs about Belgium. They are very informative and have been a great help.

    I plan to spend a passing day in Antwerp in the end of August. I intend to start early from Brussels, reach Antwerp and spend time in the city and then head to Amsterdam in the night.

    The places you have listed in the blog and the city walk seems interesting and I wish to do as much as I can during my time in Antwerp. Would be great help if you could give me an idea as to by what time should I be reaching Antwerp in the morning and by what time should I leaving in the evening for Amsterdam for me to have ample time to cover as much as possible.

    1. Author

      Hi Sudip, I think the time you need will depend a lot on how you go around sightseeing. Do you walk or bike? Do you visit museums? Do you go shopping… It’s difficult for me to say how much time you’ll need. I’d say no less than 3-4 hrs if you are really quick and just pass everywhere without really looking, but you can easily spend 8hrs or even a few days in Antwerp – it all depends on your interests and how much walking around you can do.
      Also, do you arrive by car or by train? I’d say start around 10AM (that’s when the shops start to open and it’s livelier in the city) – it’s very deserted in the morning. And then in the evening stay as long as you feel comfortable that you’ll get to Amsterdam in time. If you take a train, then maybe don’t count on the last train and leave a bit earlier.
      If you are looking for tips for Amsterdam, here you can find our suggestions on how to spend one day in Amsterdam or some day trips from Amsterdam.
      Enjoy your trip!

  6. Hi Jurga,
    Great read, one tip from my side: you can now explore the wonderfull street art scene thanx to http://www.streetartantwerp.com or even better download the free Street Art Cities app. Antwerp is one of the international cities featured. You can also use it in Ghent, Hasselt, Berlin, Montreal and many other cities and new cities are added regurarly.

    grtz Tim

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing this, Tim. I am sure many people will appreciate the beautiful street art we have in Belgium.

  7. Great information. Planning my first visit to Antwerp, got great leads here. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  8. Hi again Jurga, you were kind enough to send me some information last month about a day trip I’m planning to Antwerp from Brussels. You emailed me a link for the train schedule with April 5th listed. I know I can buy tickets at the station but I want to look at the schedule and have been logging on weekly but can’t see any dates available past March 17th. The link you sent shows tickets for April 5th, but when I click next, it shows a calendar with tickets only through March 17th. This is the link you sent. Just curious if I’m doing something wrong, or if they in fact haven’t posted a schedule past 3/17/2018? Thank you so much.

    1. Author

      Hi Mary, you can look up the schedule for any date if you just go to the main page of Belgian Rail website. Choose Brussels to Antwerp Centraal and you’ll see all the hours. But then again – really no need to buy the tickets or worry about the schedule in advance. There are so many trains between Brussels and Antwerp, just go to the station, get a ticket, and take the next train. You’ll see – it’s really that simple. 🙂

      1. Thank You Jurga……..I was able to see the schedule for April, but not yet purchase. It’s just easier for me to buy it online rather than figure out how to buy a ticket (not speaking the language). I’m sure it’s as easy as you say, but I always get lost in train/bus stations and have a hard time with the machines. I will wait until I get there and figure it out. Maybe I’ll buy it the day before that way I’m not wasting time on the day of travel. Thank you again. I really like your website and the fact that you help so many travellers. 🙂

  9. Hi Jurga and other readers, I’m so happy I found this informational website. I’m coming to Brussels in April and would like to do a 1 day tour of Antwerp. I’m have a very hard time finding round trip train tickets from Brussels Central to Antwerp Central stations. I then looked at buses but can’t get a same day round trip ticket to Antwerp Central. It takes me to Gare du Nord instead. Can anyone give advice as to what the best way is to see most of the wonderful sights Jurga has listed above on my own? I need to know which train station or bus stop from Brussels to take and where to get off in Antwerp, and then once there how do I get to these sights? I’ve looked up day tours but the few that I found don’t have tours on April 5th. I appreciate anything you can list here to help. Thank You

    1. Author

      Hi Mary, the train connection from Brussels to Antwerp is really good. No need to worry or book anything in advance. Just got to Brussels Central railway station, check when the next train is to Antwerp, get a ticket at one of the machines (or at a cash desk) and you are set. There are trains going very frequently, e.g. 9.01AM, 9.24AM, 9.31AM, 9.54AM, 10.01 AM and so on… It takes 40-50min depending on which train you’re on and you don’t need to change a train.
      You can find the train schedule for 5 April here.
      To come back you have just as many trains, e.g. 7.08PM, 7.26PM, 7.38PM, 7.55PM, 8.08PM, and so on (see here).
      Once in Antwerp Central Station, you are really in the city centre and can easily walk everywhere. Check the map I provided in this post. The dots on the very right side is where the Central Station is located. It gives you an idea where everything is. It’s really very easy, just walk on the De Keyserlei and you’ll get to the old town. Or follow the blue line I drew on the map and make the walk as indicated. You can see it all better if you zoom in. You can even save the link to this map on your phone and just follow as you go.

      1. Thank you so much for your quick reply and great information. I really appreciate it.

  10. I loved the positive impression made by Antwerp’s railway station upon my arrival into the city. I liked that there’s so many cultural tourism destinations within a walkable distance from the station. Your post is a handy reference for visitors.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Stuart! Glad you enjoyed visiting Antwerp. I hope more travellers to Belgium will take the time to explore this amazing city as well.

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