Best of Antwerp what to see

Best of Antwerp – What to See and Do in 1 or 2 Days

In Belgium, Europe by Jurga0 Comments

When I first came to Belgium, I spent all my weekends exploring the cities – Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven… These are all amazing destinations and people travel from the other side of the world to see them. We now live just outside Antwerp and we are lucky to be able to visit this beautiful city whenever we feel like it.

I could write a whole epistle about all there is to see and do in Antwerp, from most famous landmarks to secret alleys, a great variety of museums, some of the best boutique shopping in Belgium, beer pubs and trendy restaurants… But today I want to tell you about Antwerp’s must-see places as that is what most visitors come here for.

What to see and do in Antwerp

If you only have limited time in Antwerp, you will probably want to see the most famous places that the city is known for. I made a list of the city’s most famous landmarks and with some help from Google Maps created a sample city walk itinerary to help you get the best out of your time in Antwerp.

Please note that if you want to actually visit all of these places (and not just see the exterior), a day will not be sufficient to cover it all. But you can easily make this walk including a visit to one museum in a day. Keep reading for more details and my recommendations.

Antwerp in 24 or 48 hours and a sample city walk itinerary

Antwerp must see and do city walk map and itineraryAntwerp must see and do city walk map and itinerary

Click on the map to enlarge it

 

Antwerp Central Station – Antwerpen Centraal

Recently restored, the central station of Antwerp (no.1 on the map) 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 should start your city walk here.

Antwerpen-Centraal railway station

The arrival hall of Antwerp’s central station

Right next to the station is the famous diamond area. 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 something, make sure to bargain. Negotiating the price is normally not done in Belgium, but Antwerp’s diamond stores are an exception to the rule.

Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp Zoo (no.2) is 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.
The 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! But if you only have a day in Antwerp, you probably won’t have the time for a visit to the zoo.

Antwerp zoo is one of the oldest animal parks in the world

Antwerp zoo is one of the oldest animal parks in the world

 

Meir Shopping Street

The Meir shopping area (no.3) 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.

Meir shopping street in Antwerp

Antwerp offers some of the best shopping in Belgium

 

The Rubens House – Rubenshuis

If you visit just one museum in Antwerp make it the Rubens House (no.4). 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.

Best boutique shopping in Belgium

After leaving the Rubenshuis continue in the direction of the Graanmarkt (no.5). 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 (no.6) where you can find some of the world’s most luxury boutique stores like Hermès, Chanel, or Louis Vuitton to name just a few.

Groenplaats

Antwerp’s Green Square (no.7) 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 Starbucks, you can find one here (the other one is at the central station).

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.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady – Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal

The Cathedral (no.8), 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.

On certain days during the summer months you can climb the tower of the Cathedral. The guided tour and the climb takes 2.5 hours. You can reserve a spot online on the official tourism site of Visit Antwerp. We have never done this, but will definitely give it a try now that the kids are older.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady

Antwerp Cathedral

Grote Markt

Grote Markt (no.9) is the main square of Antwerp and is one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe. The magnificent sixteenth-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 – Antwerpen – hand 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 the whole place for yourself.

Antwerpen Stadhuis and Grote Markt

Grote Markt and the City Hall of Antwerp

 

St. Paul’s Church – Sint-Pauluskerk

St. Paul’s Church (no.10) is impressive both from outside as well as from the inside. Definitely worth a short visit!

St Paul's Church atrium in Antwerp

St Paul’s Church atrium and the garden are well worth a short visit

 

Vleeshuis

Vleeshuis (no.11) 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 Antwerp

Vleeshuis

 

Steen Castle – Het Steen

Het Steen (no.12) is Antwerp’s oldest building. It lies on the Schelde 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 in Antwerp

Het Steen castle

 

Make sure to take a short walk next to the river Schelde (no.13). 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.

Plantin – Moretus Museum

If you like history and museums, you will enjoy a visit to Plantin – Moretus Museum (no.14). 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.

What you absolutely shouldn’t miss in Antwerp

My idea behind this list of things to see and do in Antwerp was to provide you with a 1-day itinerary for Antwerp, but I realise that you cannot see all of this properly in one day. So what are the places you absolutely have to see?

Make sure you don’t miss the Grote Markt (no.9), Cathedral (no.8), Groenplaats (no.7), take a walk along the river (no.13) and visit the Rubens House (no.4). If you have more time, do some window shopping (no.3 or no.6) and take a look inside the central station (no.1).

Next time I write about Antwerp, I’ll try to cover some of the best less known places and give you some insider tips. If you only have limited time in the city, this list is pretty much all you need to experience the very best of Antwerp.

Where to stay in Antwerp

Looking for a nice hotel for sightseeing in Antwerp? 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, the aquarium, and close to many shops and restaurants.

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Insiders guide to the best places to see in Antwerp in one day

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Read also:
Insider’s Guide to a Different Antwerp with Kids
Why I love Antwerp Christmas market
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Best of Antwerp – What to See and Do in 1 or 2 Days was last modified: October 12th, 2016 by Jurga

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