Best things to do in Antwerp Belgium - updated for 2018

Best Things To See and Do in Antwerp

In Belgium, Europe by JurgaTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

Lonely Planet just announced their selection of the top-10 cities to visit in 2018 and I am really excited to see Antwerp on that list. We live here and to me Antwerp is the most beautiful city in Belgium. So I thought it was time to update my older article about Antwerp in order to highlight the best things to see and do in Antwerp in 2018. It’s an insider’s guide to the best places that you must not miss if visiting the city for the first time. It now includes the best new landmarks of the city as well.

I hope that this will not only inspire you to come 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!

Best things to see and do in Antwerp

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 of Antwerp. I listed them in the same order as you would visit if you start walking or biking from the Central Station. I also created a map with a a sample city walk itinerary to help you get the best out of your time in Antwerp – see further down.

Even if you are visiting Antwerp for just one day, you can see most of the best places in town. 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 visit Antwerp, especially if you are short on time and want to see a lot. Check this post for some inspiration: Off the beaten path in Antwerp by bike.

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. 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

 

Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp Zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium and one of the oldest in the world, established in 1843. This historic zoo is located in the centre 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 without leaving it.

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! However, if you only have one day in Antwerp, you can skip it.

In winter they have a beautiful light festival China Light – not to be missed, especially in the evening.

Antwerp zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium

Antwerp zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium

 

Diamond District

Right next to the station is the famous diamond district of Antwerp. Most shops are open every day except Saturday. I bet you have never seen so many diamonds and jewellery 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 trip will easily pay itself back.

City Park

Antwerp City Park is a nice 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.

Explore Antwerp City Park by bike

Antwerp City Park

 

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, the offerings are first-rate. You’ll find all the major, international chains here. Don’t miss Antwerp’s Stadsfeestzaal, an exclusive shopping centre in the beautifully restored city festival hall.

The Meir - the main shopping street of Antwerp

The Meir – the main shopping street of Antwerp

 

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 centre of Antwerp.

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

Belgium’s Best Boutique Shopping

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

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.

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

 

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 art works, 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

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.

You cannot overlook the Brabo Fountain, right in the centre 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

 

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 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.

Het Elfde Gebod cafe in Antwerp Belgium

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

 

Saint Carolus Borromeus Church

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

Antwerp is the most distinctive Baroque city of the Low Countries and it will be lavishly celebrated in 2018. On the website of Visit Antwerp you can find more information about Antwerp Baroque 2018.

Saint Carolus Borromeus church in Antwerp

Saint Carolus Borromeus church

 

Vleeshuis

Vleeshuis is now a museum featuring all kinds of music 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

 

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

 

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 along the new cruise terminal next to the Steen fortress, right in the centre of the city. If you have a couple of hours to spare consider a boat tour in Antwerp harbour.

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

Antwerp harbour is best explored by boat

 

St. Paul’s Church

St. Paul’s Church is impressive both from outside as well as from the inside. Definitely worth a short visit! Note that it’s only open in the afternoon, and only in high season. 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.

St. Paul's church in Antwerp

St. Paul’s church

 

MAS

The modern red building of MAS museum has quickly become one of the landmarks of Antwerp. It has many interesting expositions, but even if you don’t have much time you should see the interior of the building. Make sure to also go all the way to the top. The rooftop terrace of MAS has some of the best views in town. The entrance to the building and the rooftop terrace is free of charge.

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

MAS museum

 

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 different light.

New Port House of Antwerp

New Port House of Antwerp

 

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 harbour.

Red Star Line museum in Antwerp

Red Star Line museum

 

Best of Antwerp – suggested city walk map

Here is my custom-made city map for 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

Looking for a well-located hotel for sightseeing in Antwerp? Here are my best recommendations.

For the very best location in town try the Hilton on the Groenplaats. If you don’t mind walking a bit more and are looking for a better price/quality hotel in Antwerp city centre, you may like Radisson BLU Astrid Hotel or Park Inn by Radisson which are both located near the central station, the zoo, and close to many shops and restaurants.

Alternatively, you can find the best deals for Antwerp accommodation here.

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Insider's guide to the best things to see and do in Antwerp Belgium #Antwerp #travel

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Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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. 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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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