Antwerp is an amazing city nested on the river Scheldt. We visited it during our 2023 Interrail trip and truly enjoyed the magnificent architecture but also impressive train station.
Although few venture to visit this city, we believe it warrants more than just a stopover on your way to bigger cities around Europe. Read more below whether Antwerp is worth visiting.
- Travel To and Around Antwerp
- Where to Stay in Antwerp
- Things to do in Antwerp
- 1. Explore the Stunning Antwerpen-Centraal
- 2. Learn About Antwerp at Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)
- 3. Find Out About Diamonds at DIVA – Diamond Museum
- 4. Admire the Antwerp City Hall
- 5. See Brabo’s Fountain in Grote Markt
- 6. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady
- 7. Take a Photo with The Statue of Peter Paul Rubens
- 8. Go in Saint Charles Borromeo Church
- 9. See the Views from Het Steen
- 10. Other Things to Do in Antwerp
- Food and Drinks Highlights in Antwerp
- When to Travel to Antwerp
- Final Thoughts
Antwerp, a city that seamlessly blends tradition and modernity, is a captivating destination in Belgium that should not be missed. This vibrant metropolis, often referred to as the “Diamond Capital of the World,” offers a wealth of experiences and attractions for travellers.
Antwerp boasts a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages, evident in its stunning architecture, cobblestone streets, and historical landmarks. It’s a cultural hotspot with world-class museums, including the renowned Royal Museum of Fine Arts, housing works by Flemish masters like Rubens.
The city is famous for its diamond trade, and you can explore the glittering wares in the Diamond District. It is also home to one of Europe’s largest and busiest ports, the city’s maritime heritage is proudly displayed.
Antwerp subscribes to the Belgian time zone of CET (UTC +1). The local currency is the Euro as throughout most of the E.U.
This is just a glimpse of what Antwerp has to offer. In the following sections, we’ll delve into the city’s specific attractions, dining options, and more to help you plan your visit.
Travel To and Around Antwerp
The city itself is accessible by most means of transportation although flights to this destination tend to be fairly accessible especially out of season. On this occasion we travelled by train to Antwerp from London as part of our summer 2023 Interrail trip.
Antwerp can be reached by air from Antwerp International Airport (ANR) which has arrivals from many European destinations. However, Belgium actually has multiple airports so plenty of options available. Another you could consider is Brussels Airport (BRU) should you find more flights.
We’ve often seen well priced flights from London. If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.
Antwerp’s public transportation system is efficient, reliable, and well-connected, making it easy for visitors to explore the city and its surrounding areas. Here’s a brief overview of the public transportation options in Antwerp:
- Trams: Antwerp has an extensive tram network that covers the city and its suburbs. Trams are a convenient way to get around the city, with frequent services and clear routes. Tram lines can take you to key attractions, including the Antwerp Zoo, Central Station, and the riverside.
- Buses: The bus network complements the tram system, providing additional coverage to areas not directly accessible by tram. Buses are an excellent way to explore neighbourhoods and areas outside the city centre.
- Antwerp Central Station: Antwerp’s main railway station, known as “Antwerp Central” or “Antwerpen-Centraal,” is a major transportation hub. It connects the city to domestic and international destinations, making it easy to travel to other Belgian cities and neighbouring countries like the Netherlands and France. We found visiting Antwerp by train convenient as we had excellent high speed rail connection to Paris.
- Antwerp Bikes: For those who prefer cycling, Antwerp offers a bike-sharing program, allowing you to rent bicycles for short trips around the city. It’s a fantastic way to explore Antwerp at your own pace.
Where to Stay in Antwerp
We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. Use the widget below to find the best hotels in Antwerp for your specific dates.
Sure, like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Antwerp
There are plenty of tourist attractions in Antwerp. We found plenty of things to do and also really enjoyed the scenic architecture but also learning more about the city and its strategic importance, noted by Napoleon himself.
We would suggest you spend at least a weekend in Antwerp to fully immerse yourself in what the city has to offer; however, it is possible to do Antwerp in a day also (like us).
We also found that the town houses in Antwerp look very nice and reminded us of Netherlands. This could be also due to their strong cultural and economical ties with the Netherlands. Below we list our top recommendations for Antwerp.
1. Explore the Stunning Antwerpen-Centraal
The first thing you will see if you are arriving by train the Antwerp Central Station. Antwerp Central Station, also known as “Antwerpen-Centraal,” is not just a transportation hub but also a magnificent architectural masterpiece.
We think it’s one of the most imposing and remarkable stations. Similar to Milan‘s main station, the Antwerp Main Station is adorned with columns and sculptures bringing life to the building.
Antwerp Central Station is often referred to as one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. Its architecture is a blend of various styles, including neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance, creating a stunning façade with intricate details, domes, and a massive clock tower.
Antwerp Central Station is more than just a transit point; it’s a destination in itself, offering a grand architectural experience and a gateway to explore Antwerp and beyond. Don’t forget to take some time to admire the station’s stunning design and explore the amenities it has to offer.
2. Learn About Antwerp at Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)
Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) is a striking contemporary museum located in the heart of Antwerp.
The MAS is more than just a building; it’s a cultural powerhouse. The museum houses an extensive collection of over 500,000 artifacts, art pieces, and exhibits that showcase Antwerp’s rich history, global connections, and maritime heritage.
You’ll discover fascinating insights into the city’s history, trade routes, and multicultural influences.
One of the highlights of the MAS is its panoramic rooftop terrace. From here, you can enjoy breath taking views of Antwerp, the Scheldt River, and the bustling harbour. It’s a perfect spot for taking in the city’s beauty and architecture.
During our time up the rooftop we had a bit of gloomy skies but we still managed to enjoy our time. We really recommend visiting the place, if not for the museum at least for the rooftop views.
3. Find Out About Diamonds at DIVA – Diamond Museum
DIVA – Antwerp Home of Diamonds is a captivating museum that offers a glittering insight into the world of diamonds and Antwerp’s prominent role in the diamond trade.
Antwerp is a major hub for diamond trading. The activity is done in Antwerp’s diamond district. Interestingly, the trade is conducted mostly by Orthodox Jews and Indians.
The industry underwent a transformative change with Lodewyk van Berken’s invention of the scaif, a revolutionary diamond polishing tool. This innovation gave birth to the iconic, dazzling, multi-faceted diamonds, drawing the attention of European nobility and inspiring artisans to flock to Antwerp.
You may also be aware of February 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, when thieves stole loose diamonds, gold, silver and other types of jewellery valued at more than $100 million, also known as the “heist of the century.” Seems like something out of a Netflix movie.
Overall, the museum is good, and offers a somewhat good understanding of the diamond trade and does host some great pieces of jewellery but can be a bit lacking in in-depth contextual information.
4. Admire the Antwerp City Hall
Grote Markt is the main square in Antwerp which reminded us of the one in Brussels. Within the Square you will find the Antwerp City Hall, a magnificent building which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its stunning architecture and Gothic design are a testament to the city’s historical significance.
Grote Markt is also a hub for alfresco dining, with numerous cafes and restaurants offering a chance to savour Belgian cuisine and people-watch while enjoying the picturesque surroundings.
We really enjoyed the atmosphere as throughout the city there was the Food Festival which takes place at the end of August. We even managed to find a good restaurant and sit down and enjoy a refreshing Belgian beer.
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5. See Brabo’s Fountain in Grote Markt
Brabo’s Fountain and Grote Markt in Antwerp offer a blend of history, folklore, and architectural charm.
Brabo is a legendary figure in Antwerp’s folklore. The story goes that he defeated a giant, Druon Antigoon, who terrorised the city.
As a symbol of victory, Brabo is known for throwing the giant’s severed hand into the river. The fountain, located in the heart of Antwerp’s Grote Markt (Great Market Square), is dedicated to this folklore hero.
6. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady
Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and one of the most prominent religious and cultural landmarks in the city.
The Cathedral of Our Lady, often referred to simply as Antwerp Cathedral, is an architectural marvel with a stunning Gothic design. It boasts an imposing spire that reaches a height of over 400 feet (123 meters), making it one of the tallest church spires in Europe.
The cathedral is renowned for its rich collection of art, including works by the famous Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. You can admire his masterpieces like “The Raising of the Cross” and “The Descent from the Cross” on display in the cathedral.
We really enjoyed the cathedral and found it a must visit when visiting the city.
7. Take a Photo with The Statue of Peter Paul Rubens
Located in the heart of Antwerp and not far from the cathedral, the statue of Peter Paul Rubens stands as a tribute to the city’s most celebrated artist. The statue captures the spirit of this artistic genius and serves as a perfect spot for photos and reflection.
We also did intend to go to Ruben’s Museum however during our visit the museum was under restoration. Perhaps another reason to visit Antwerp.
8. Go in Saint Charles Borromeo Church
Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Antwerp, also known as Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk, is a magnificent Baroque church with a rich history and ornate architecture.
The church is dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th-century cardinal and Archbishop of Milan known for his role in the Counter-Reformation.
Saint Charles Borromeo Church is a captivating destination for both architecture enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful place for spiritual contemplation. Its ornate beauty and historical importance make it a significant cultural site in the heart of Antwerp.
9. See the Views from Het Steen
Het Steen or the Antwerp Castle is a historic fortress located on the banks of the Scheldt River in Antwerp.
Het Steen, which translates to “The Stone,” is one of the oldest buildings in Antwerp. It has a rich history that dates back to the early medieval period when it served as a medieval fortress. Over the centuries, it has undergone various transformations and functions, including serving as a prison.
Today, Het Steen houses the National Maritime Museum, which showcases the city’s maritime heritage.
As we were running out of time and had to catch our train to Paris we decided to skip visiting this one and decided to continue our journey walking and admiring it in all its marvellousness.
Having said this, it’s a must-visit for those interested in history, culture, and scenic river views in the heart of the city.
10. Other Things to Do in Antwerp
Here are some suggestions on other things to do whilst in Antwerp:
Food and Drinks Highlights in Antwerp
The culinary scene in Antwerp is a delightful fusion of tradition, creativity, and international influences. You can say it’s a journey through the flavours of Belgium and the world.
Whether you’re seeking traditional Belgian classics or international gastronomic adventures, you’ll find a wide array of options to satisfy your taste buds in this vibrant and diverse city.
- 1. Typical Belgian Food Classics: Antwerp is renowned for offering classic Belgian dishes, such as moules-frites (mussels with fries), carbonnade flamande (beef stew), and stoofvlees (a rich beef stew). Don’t miss out on trying these hearty and delicious specialties.
- 2. Chocolate and Waffles: Belgium is famous for its chocolates, and Antwerp is no exception. You’ll find a plethora of chocolate shops offering pralines, truffles, and other sweet treats. Additionally, Belgian waffles, served with various toppings like chocolate, whipped cream, and fruit, are a must-try.
- 3. Seafood: Given its proximity to the North Sea, Antwerp boasts an excellent selection of seafood. Freshly caught fish and seafood are transformed into delectable dishes at local restaurants and seafood stalls.
- 4. Street Food: The city’s street food scene is thriving, with food trucks and stalls offering a variety of snacks and quick bites. Try Belgian frites (fries) with a choice of sauces or mirabilite, a hearty sandwich filled with meat, fries, and sauces.
- 5. Culinary Markets: Antwerp hosts food markets like Mercado, where you can sample dishes from different corners of the globe. It’s a great place to savour diverse flavours and enjoy a vibrant atmosphere.
- 6. Craft Beer: Belgium is known for its exceptional beer, and Antwerp is no exception. Explore the city’s numerous beer bars and breweries to sample a wide range of Belgian brews, including Trappist ales and unique local beers.
As always we decided to put some of these to the test and see whether the myths were true. Spoiler alert, they are!
Try Some Fries at De Zeven Schaken
As we had limited time in Antwerp we decide to have a quick lunch and get on with our itinerary. We discovered this typical Belgian restaurant De Zeven Schaken overlooking the Main Square.
After a short deliberation of about 2 minutes we agreed that we can’t be in Belgium and not try some of their world famous fries. And of course paired with 2 local beers.
Overall, they were a delight. Sometimes something so simple yet comforting can be so amazing to your experience. We definitely suggest you try out this place on a hot summer’s day.
Enjoy a Waflle at The Waffle Factory
After enjoying a good lunch we decided to treat ourselves to a typical Belgian waffle. On the way to the train station we found a little corner shop making fresh waffles to order.
I had the American style one and Hristina tried the Liege style waffle. I must admit the Liege waffle was better for sure, but might’ve been the Nutella contributing to my decision.
Whilst there are many places offering waffles we suggest trying this treat at any of the local shops in Antwerp.
When to Travel to Antwerp
The best time to travel to Antwerp largely depends on your preferences and the type of experience you’re seeking. Antwerp experiences a temperate maritime climate with four distinct seasons, so consider the following factors when planning your trip:
- Spring (March to May): Spring is a delightful time to visit Antwerp. The weather begins to warm up, and you’ll witness the city’s parks and gardens coming to life with blossoming flowers. It’s a great season for outdoor activities and exploring the city without the crowds that peak in the summer.
- Summer (June to August): Summer is the high tourist season in Antwerp. The weather is warm, and the city is bustling with visitors. This is an ideal time for outdoor events, festivals, and enjoying the outdoor terraces of cafes and restaurants. However, be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices.
- Autumn (September to November): Autumn is another pleasant time to visit. The weather remains mild, and you can enjoy the beautiful fall foliage in the city’s parks. September is a great month for pleasant weather with fewer tourists.
- Winter (December to February): Antwerp’s winter is relatively mild, but it can be damp and chilly. The city is beautifully decorated during the holiday season, and you can experience the festive Antwerp Christmas markets. It’s an excellent time for indoor cultural activities like visiting museums and enjoying cozy cafes.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Antwerp depends on your personal preferences. If you prefer milder weather and fewer crowds, consider traveling in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn.
If you enjoy warm weather and outdoor events, summer might be your preferred choice. We went at the end of August and unfortunately had a very cloudy day. However, it did feel pleasant throughout and there I say it a bit sweaty also.
If you’re a fan of holiday festivities and don’t mind the cooler temperatures, the winter in Antwerp can also offer a unique and cosy experience.
Antwerp is an amazing city offering a great deal of things to see and explore. Everything from it’s rich history to the diamond district, Antwerp is a jewel of a city.
It’s a great destination for all travellers and provides a year round set of attractions designed to keep the city on the European touristic map. Its close proximity to Brussels but also acceptable train ride from Paris or Amsterdam make it a great contender even for a day trip.
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