11 Epic Things to Do in Antwerp

Panoramic of Antwerp

– Written by Victoria Philpott

If you’re looking for a fun weekend away that’s a bit different from the usual Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and Florence, give Antwerp in Belgium a go. Just three hours on the train from London it’s a scenic quick trip that will take you to a land of waffles, frites, beer and brilliant people…

1. Arrive by train

Antwerp’s Grand Central Station is one of the city’s main attractions. This is not only down to its beauty, but also because trains can depart on any one of four levels from 14 platforms. If you arrive on the Eurostar from Brussels this is where you’ll start your Antwerp expedition.

The beautiful station in Antwerp

2. Explore the cathedral and churches

Antwerp Cathedral is the largest Gothic structure in the Benelux countries – and it’s well-known as the symbol of Antwerp. Go in and you’ll see “The Descent from the Cross” and “The Elevation of the Cross” paintings by Antwerp’s darling, Rubens.

There are also plenty of churches to admire in Antwerp. The façade, tower and interior of the Carolus Borromeuskerk were partly designed by Rubens so make for a beautiful sight. The Jakobskerk is equally impressive with a huge spire and 15 century furniture and interiors. Rubens is actually buried here in one of the seven chapels. What a guy.

3. Eat frites

Ask any Belgian and they’ll tell that it was them, not the French, who invented the humble frite. Throughout the city you’ll find several classy frites cafes, including the eco Café Haute Friture in the Zuid Quarter.

If you’re looking for some midnight frites head to Frituur N°1 right in the city centre and ask the owner Maria for “E klentje mè mayonaise en ne gebakken cervela” (* A small package of fries with mayonnaise and a baked garlic sausage).

Tasty things to eat in Antwerp

4. Drink Belgian beer

Paters Vaetje is a great spot to sample a cool Belgian beer – it’s next to the cathedral and the people watching potential is epic. There are more than 100 beers to choose from, good luck.

Alternatively you could visit the Antwerp Brewery and sample the De Koninck beer in exactly the spot it was made.

These bars are pretty cool too:

  • K. Zeppos – servews Flemish and French cuisine and an excellent selection of Belgian beers
  • Revista – for magazines, coffee and chill out time
  • Vertigo – an amazing 50s New York themed bar with free jazz concerts at night

5. Hit the shops 

The Stadsfeestzaal is one of the most beautiful shopping centres you’ll ever see. After a fire ripped through it at the start of the century it’s been refitted with a grand entrance, a sweeping marble staircase, mosaic floor, gilded facades with gold-leaf stucco, all housed under an enormous glass dome.

Stadsfeestzaal Shopping Centre in Antwerp

If you’re in Antwerp on a Friday morning check out the famous ‘Vrijdagse Markt’. The second hand market is filled with knick knacks and relics you never knew you wanted.

On a Sunday the Kloosterstraat makes a great window shopping street filled with weird objects and overpriced ‘hebbedingetjes’; Dutch for the little things you want, but you don’t need. Atelier Assemble is another great retro clothes shop with made to measure and off the hanger cool designs.

‘Kringloopwinkels’ have become really popular in Belgium. It means the ‘shop of the circle of life’ and basically refers to charity shops. One of the best ones, called Kringwinkel, is on Kroonstraat 166.

6. Relax in a cafe

Antwerp has a strong cafe culture and there are hundreds dotting the streets. Park Spoor Noord is the coolest square, this week anyway, check out Zeppelin, Bar Leon, Caravan and Zum.

Here’s the cream of the crop for the rest of the city…

  • Witzli-Poetzli – in a beautiful spot near the cathedral the white coffee is the best
  • Kolonel Koffie – in a peaceful area enjoy a strong black shot expertly brewed by owner Kobe
  • Caffe Internazionale – the pastrami sandwich is apparently the best hangover cure in the world!
  • Café Stanny – new menus every day in cosy and comforting surroundings
  • Café Beveren – the only bar with its organ still intact from the days of the sailors
  • Hopper Café – a perfect little sun trap playing jazz on a Sunday afternoon
Cool cafes in Antwerp

7. Check out the museums

  • The Photo Museum
  • Royal Museum of Arts
  • Hang out at Museum Square
  • Museum Plantain Moretus
  • Middelheim Museum
  • Sint-Jansplein Square

Top tip: Visit Café Storm on the top of the Museum aan de Stroom for a coffee and you can enjoy incredible views over the yacht harbour, for free!

8. Explore the Old Town

The Grote Markt and Stadhuis stand at the heart of the Old City of Antwerp. Here you’ll find an impressive array of former guild houses and the current City Hall. The beautiful Renaissance building has UNESCO heritage. You’ll be welcomed by the statue of Antigone out the front throwing away a hand. The story goes that she guarded the city port, and boatsmen who refused to pay taxes got their hand cut off, which was then tossed in the River Schelde…

For another taste of the old Antwerp try De Roma. It’s an incredible venue that’s risen from the ashes and rubble thanks to the dedicated volunteering locals who’ve worked hard to make it into the cinema, theatre and dance hall it is today.

Once a police station back in the day, the De Klappei Movie Theatre is now a cosy theatre with director’s chairs for seats and independent movies for entertainment. Well worth a visit.

9. Check out the Diamond Pavilion

As long as you’re just looking the Antwerp Diamond Pavilion is a great thing to do on the cheap in Oslo. Start getting your wallet out and you could find yourself pawning that backpack though. Learn all about the rich history of the diamond and how it influences trade today at The Diamond Pavilion at the Museum on the River.

10. Relax and enjoy your surroundings 

With nouveau architecture side by side with Renaissance and modern intercepted with green parks, Antwerp really is a brilliantly interesting city. Make sure you take the time out to admire it. 

  • Get a picnic and watch the sunset at the Kattendijksluis Quay. 
  • Chill out in Groenplaats (Green Square) before taking a short walk to the west bank of the wide Scheldt to admire the glorious Cathedral tower.
  • Walk around Stadspark and enjoy the bunnies hopping around. 
  • Hop on the number 12 tram from the courthouse to the end of the line – this will give you a behind the scenes tour of Antwerp.

11. Eat cake and ice cream!

Not only is there an ice cream factory in Antwerp to enjoy, there’s also the ‘t Bieke ice cream shop on Korte Gasthuisstraat 8. It’s a toss-up between which is the best in town – I’d recommend multiple visits to both to see where your allegiance lies.

Goossens is an amazing bakery that’s so good it’s guaranteed to have a queue outside. The bread is made the old-fashioned Belgian way and pastries are simply made the delicious way.

Where to stay

Antwerp hotels

Hotel Rubenshof is a beautiful Art Nouveau building housing wood carvings, stained glass windows and 22 beautiful rooms. It’s centrally located on the Amerikalei in Het Zuid with its mix of theatres, galleries, boutiques and all kinds of places to go out. In just a few minutes walking distance you’ll find the Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Photography.

Cool hotels in Antwerp

Private rooms from €18.61pppn.

More hostels in Antwerp

Thanks to  e³°°°,  UnorthodoxYFaceMePLS,  toolmantim and  thomas_heylen for the images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting. 

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