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Port of Antwerp Boat Tour with Jan Plezier

Port of Antwerp Boat Tour with Jan Plezier

The Port of Antwerp is the second-largest seaport in Europe, after Rotterdam. And there is probably no better way to explore it than by boat.

When looking for a nice Antwerp harbor tour, we stumbled upon the Jan Plezier’s Antwerp harbor boat tours with pancakes (aka the pancake boat or de pannekoekenboot in Dutch). We just had to try it! Our boys were really enthusiastic about spending Sunday afternoon on a pancake boat.

Surprisingly, there are just very few port tours in Antwerp. So if you are looking for a nice boat tour, this might be a good place to start!


Antwerp port tour by boat – our experience

We started our Port of Antwerp boat tour at Het Eilandje (‘The Little Island’), the quickly growing new area North of the city centre of Antwerp. Some of the most impressive new landmarks of Antwerp can be found here: The MAS museum, The Red Star Line museum, and probably the most unique building of Belgium – The New Port House of Antwerp.

And while a few years ago all the main highlights of Antwerp were found in the old town, anno 2017 no trip to Antwerp would be complete without visiting this new bustling area, Het Eilandje.

The Port of Antwerp boat trip with Jan Plezier starts at London Bridge, and the very first thing you see is the impressive islet with the New Port House of Antwerp.

Jan Plezier boat tours of Antwerp harbour
Jan Plezier boat tours start at Londenbrug (London Bridge)

The drawing bridge opened as we sailed past the ‘Diamond Ship’ and into the Port of Antwerp.

Some of the world’s largest container ships stop at the harbor of Antwerp. Ships like Madrid Maersk, a 399m (1,309 ft) long and 58,6m (193 ft) wide giant, carrying over 20.000 containers, visit Antwerp harbor. I have difficulties even trying to imagine a ship like that!

New Port House of Antwerp - Havenhuis
New Port House of Antwerp

Antwerp port tour – what to expect

Almost immediately we saw some huge container ships and the ultra-modern handling of containers. The cranes were unloading heavy containers as if they were Lego bricks. It’s really impressive to see such a big harbour in action!

We passed some large ship repair companies, fruit terminals, and so much more. Antwerp harbour is the main European harbour for fruit and vegetable transport. It also has the world’s largest stock of coffee. Petroleum and tobacco are very important for the port of Antwerp as well.

Around 30,000 people work in the Antwerp harbour. Almost 100,000 people have jobs that are related to the harbour one way or the other. Needless to say that the harbour is extremely important to the city of Antwerp.

Port of Antwerp
We pass one of the big cargo ships at the Port of Antwerp
One of the best ways to see the Port of Antwerp is by taking a boat tour
Boat tour is one of the best ways to see the Port of Antwerp
Port of Antwerp is the second-largest sea port of Europe
Port of Antwerp is the second-largest sea port of Europe

Pancake boat

While I spent most of my time on the deck of the ship, the kids couldn’t get enough of the tasty all-you-can-eat pancakes inside.

Belgians love pancakes and they are a popular treat on many occasions, especially for kids. But we had never seen such an interesting pancake baking technology as on this boat!

They have a pancake ‘machine’ that bakes hundreds of pancakes per hour. And I have to say that the pancakes were really good too! As I’m updating this article a few years after we did this trip, our kids are still talking about the pancake boat and how we should do it again.

Pannekoekenboot Antwerpen
All-you-can-eat pancakes on the pancake boat tour
Belgian pancakes
Typical Belgian pancakes are eaten with brown sugar

After we all ate more pancakes than was good for us, we spent the rest of the trip on the deck outside.

On the way back we passed two more drawing bridges; always fun to watch for young and old.

We passed several drawing bridges during the Port of Antwerp boat tour
We passed several drawing bridges during the boat tour

Jan Plezier’s Antwerp harbor tour vs. pancake boat

If you really want to learn a lot more about the port of Antwerp, you should take one of the regular harbour tours with Jan Plezier. They have new interactive guides with iPads and headphones that will give you deeper insight into this fascinating side of Antwerp. Note that these regular cruises have no meals included. And the pancake boat doesn’t include the guided commentary.

In both cases you get to see just as much, but for those who have never been to Antwerp harbour before, I would suggest a regular harbour tour with commentary.

I have to mention that in addition to the harbour cruise and the pancake boat, Jan Plezier also offers other harbour experiences. One of them is a very popular spare ribs boat. But once again, if you really want to learn more about the harbour, just book a harbour tour with commentary. There are plenty of nice restaurants to have lunch or dinner before or after the boat tour.

Harbour boat tour starts and ends at Kattendijkdok in Antwerp
Kattendijkdok and Het Eilandje district in Antwerp


I would definitely recommend taking a boat tour in the Port of Antwerp – whether you are visiting Antwerp for a longer time or for just a day.

Walking to the boat is a nice experience by itself. You will pass beautiful places that are a bit outside of the main tourist routes. I recommend walking next to the river till you see the MAS museum on your right. From there it’s just a few more minutes.

And if you come on a weekday and take a regular harbor cruise, make sure you have lunch nearby. There are so many good restaurants and cafes in the area.

A boat tour of the Port of Antwerp is also a really nice way to discover more of Antwerp with kids.

Port of Antwerp boat tour is nice to do for families with kids as well
Port of Antwerp boat tour is fun to do with kids

Practical Info

  • Jan Plezier’s Antwerp port tours run from April to October, several times a day, every day except Monday. You can find all the practical information on their website.
  • Antwerp harbor tour takes around 90 minutes.
  • Jan Plezier’s port tours depart at London Bridgesee this map for more information on how to best get there from the old town.
  • The boat is easiest accessible from the side of river Scheldt. If you come by car, park it close to the Red Star Line Museum. If you are coming on foot, it is about 20 minutes walking distance from the Grote Markt in the old town.
  • From what I understand, the pancake boat is extremely popular. Since it only runs every second weekend, you definitely need to reserve in advance. We went on a rainy Sunday afternoon and the boat was full – they had to decline passengers who hadn’t booked.
  • If you come for a regular harbor tour, you can probably just buy the tickets on the boat. However, if you want to be sure that you can do the tour, I still advise booking it in advance.
  • The boat departs on time, so make sure to arrive at least 10-15 minutes in advance.

Disclaimer: We were guests of Jan Plezier via Visit Antwerpen, but all opinions are my own. To be very honest, I have to add that the reservation and the boarding process could be handled better. That’s why I strongly suggest to book a tour in advance and bring a proof of your reservation. Apart from that – really recommended.

READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Antwerp

More tips for your visit to Belgium:

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Discover a different side of Antwerp, Belgium, by taking a boat tour of the harbour

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Wednesday 26th of July 2017

You had me at pancakes!


Wednesday 26th of July 2017

:) Did I say you could have as many as you could eat!


Monday 24th of July 2017

I really didn't know how fascinating this place was! Never heard of it before you but you really make wanna visit!


Tuesday 25th of July 2017

Really? Never heard of Antwerp before? You really should come over to Belgium, Ari, and definitely include Antwerp in your itinerary. It's one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium!


Tuesday 18th of July 2017

I have never been to Antwerp before but all your lovely posts on the city makes me want to go more and more. I never knew that it is the second-largest seaport in Europe. Jan Plezier’s Antwerp harbour boat tours with pancakes sound like fun. I meant who wouldn't want to eat yummy pancakes while exploring :-)


Wednesday 19th of July 2017

I will have to take you on a tour when you finally get here, Melissa. Antwerp is one of the most fascinating places in Belgium, there's so much to see and do!

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