What to Do in Antwerp: A Full Guide
Here’s all you need to know on what to do in Antwerp, one of my favorite cities in Europe (and the world!)
Antwerp is one of those cities I can always return to. It feels like a second home because teenaged Milou used to pop over the border for some retail therapy. It would take me only half an hour later of train travel until I found myself walking towards the Meir and leaving again a few hours later with quite the collection of shopping bags and an empty bank account.
I’ve been so many times now, so here are my tips on what to do in Antwerp as well as where to stay and where to eat!
Map of Antwerp
What to Do in Antwerp
Try a Tour of Antwerp
Whenever I go to a new city, I like to do some sort of tour. It’s also nice to get some of the history from a local and be shown around! Here are some nice tours you can try in Antwerp:
- 2-Hour Bike Tour of Antwerp
- Antwerp Private Tour with a Local
- Historic Antwerp Walking Tour
- Antwerp: Historic Old Town 3 Hour Food Tour
Visit Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal
During a day trip to Antwerp you cannot ignore the largest Gothic building in the Netherlands, right? Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, or Cathedral of Our Lady, has been restored fairly recently (fifty years). The tall northern tower tower is even on the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with a group of belfries in Belgium and France.
In the cathedral you will find some paintings by Rubens and a few works by other painters. The cathedral itself is already impressive, but the small work of art in memory of all the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic church is perhaps the most moving.
See Central Station
If you decide to visit Antwerp, I really recommend that you take the train. The current station was built between 1899 and 1905 and looks like you would expect from a station in a large city, built when trains were still one of the most important means of transport.
If there was such a thing as “Oscars for the most beautiful train stations in the world,” Antwerp Central would win all the prizes. The style of the building always reminds me a bit of Paris, and that is of course very positive.
Shop along De Meir
The famous shopping street is of course not the most off-the-beaten-track location, but anyone who likes to shop can certainly indulge here. Most chains have at least one shop here and in the side streets of De Meir, you will find smaller boutiques and luxury brands.
Recently a huge Primark can also be found here. With around 5900 square meters and as many as 80 fitting rooms and 67 cash registers, you can spend a half (or full!) day here alone…
Visit the Palace on the Meir
The Palace on the Meir was restored in 2001 and is managed by Herita, the Flemish heritage organization. You can go there for something to eat or drink in Café Imperial, for chocolates from the Chocolate Line and to get some inspiration at interior shop Flamant. You can of course also just walk in and enjoy the beautiful building.
Check out the Havenhuis
The Havenhuis can be found in the north of the city, near Het Eilandje and on the border with the port area. The building is a fine example of architecture, and it is certainly worth the effort to cycle to see it up close.
Visit Rubens House
The Rubens House is, you guessed it, the house where painter Rubens lived and worked in the 16th and 17th centuries. The museum is located in the heart of Antwerp and has been furnished in the original style as far as possible.
To be able to admire his paintings in that atmosphere is special and an experience in itself. I am not really a big art lover, but my visit to the Rubens House was definitely worth it.
Visit MAS – Museum on the Stream
The MAS is without a doubt one of the most beautifully designed buildings in Antwerp. It is located in the trendy neighborhood ‘t Eilandje in Antwerp North.
Tip: You will find many nice restaurants and bars in this area. Another trendy neighborhood that is perhaps even nicer is Het Zuid. Townhouses, beautiful squares and boulevards, trendy restaurants and bars, you name it.
Anyway, back to the MAS. The sleek orange building towers with its 62 meters height above the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood. You have a beautiful view of the city from the roof (free to visit).
In the museum itself there are rooms on every floor with constantly changing exhibitions. The exhibitions, the great design and the design ensure that it is a pleasure to visit the MAS.
Visit the Royal Museum of Fine Arts
The KMSK is currently closed due to major renovation work, but it will definitely be worth a visit after the reopening. Normally the museum would open its doors again in September 2019, but that opening date has been postponed and no new deadline has been set yet.
Hang out in the Fashion Museum
Antwerp is of course known as a fashion city, and in the heart of the fashion district you will find the Fashion Museum. The MoMu manages a collection of more than 25,000 items that are unfortunately not accessible to the public.
You can go there for changing theme performances about certain designers or fashion houses, or other fashion-related themes. For the changing exhibitions, selections of the pieces from their own collection are shown that are supplemented with loans.
The exhibition space is filled in differently for each exhibition. In the area you will find various shops and fashion houses from both young designers and established names in the fashion world.
Walk around the Middelheim Museum
The Middelheim Museum is a sculpture park of 30 hectares. The open-air museum has a permanent collection of compiled images and in addition there are temporary exhibitions several times a year. The park itself is also very beautiful, landscape art at its best.
Tip: Combine your visit to the park with a picnic when the weather permits. Workshops, tours, and courses are also regularly organized.
Check out Moose in the City
Concept store Moose in the City combines a travel agency, interior shop and clothing store in one. Everything revolves around the minimalist style of Scandinavia, so enthusiasts can certainly indulge themselves. Address: IJzerenwaag 10-12.
Other cool stores you can check out are:
- Rosier 41 for second-hand designer clothing
- The Recollection, a concept store for design, fashion, beauty and books.
Other Things to Do in Antwerp
The Bourla Theater, built in Neoclassical style, can be found in the Theaterbuurt of Antwerp. The Grote Markt, a beautiful square that is possibly even more beautiful in the evening, is located in the historic center within walking distance of the Scheldt and the cathedral.
Take a moulting walk under the city and discover the underground corridor system. The molting, canals and vests that once crossed Antwerp provided the city with water and an inner harbor.
The “Strand” of Sint-Anneke is a city beach on the Left Bank. Especially in spring and summer it is very nice to spend a few hours here and possibly to eat or drink something in the neighborhood with a view of the Scheldt.
Where to Eat in Antwerp
In the city, as the inhabitants call Antwerp, the hotspots grow like mushrooms. Restaurants, bars, coffee houses and concept stores with unique concepts: you will find it all there.
Bite Me by Barnini
Bite Me by Barnini is the third breakfast / lunch / coffee concept of the Barnini and Kaffeenini group (both known for, among other things, the great bagels).
At Bite Me you can find a delicious breakfast, salads, smoothies, homemade iced tea, toasts and a nice interior. Address: Oude Vaartplaats 38.
Maurice is at two locations, one of which is in the center. Coffee, breakfast, lunch, and brunch on the weekend. What else do you want?
You can also follow workshops there: weaving, cake topping, macramé wallhanging, knitting egg cups, making flower wreaths and cookie art. Addresses: Cogels Osylei 88 (Berchem) and Schoenmarkt 35.
Buchbar combines books with coffee (and nice gadgets such as postcards and pins). A top combination if you ask me. There is also always cake and cake and there are always different lunch options. Address: Scheldestraat 79.
Butcher’s Coffee is a bit out of the direction, but it is certainly worth the effort to walk a little further. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup? Say no more.
The service is great, the breakfast very extensive, and the coffee delicious. The building used to be a butcher’s shop, which is highlighted in the interior. Address: Kasteelstraat 57.
Be sure to visit Camino for oriental-inspired street food. Their rice bowls and dumplings are to that for. Address: Muntstraat 4 on Muntplein.
Beni Falafel has been voted the best falafel restaurant in the world. So that can’t be bad. Fresh pita bread, the tastiest humus and falafel and typical Jewish snacks that are all equally tasty. Address: Lange Leemstraat 188.
Other hotspots not to be missed:
- The Felix Pakhuis for the very best all you can eat brunch in Antwerp
- Black & Yellow Coffee Bar
- Wine bar BarBel for good wine (duh) and delicious tapas
- Normo Coffee Bar
- Gringo’s Cantina for the best enchiladas and quesadillas
- De Bomma for typical Flemish fare (you can put together your own meal)
Tips for Visiting Antwerp
How to Get to Antwerp
Antwerp by Car
The Antwerp Ring (R1) can be easily reached via various motorways from the Netherlands. Most travelers follow the A16, which runs from Rotterdam via Dordrecht and Breda to Antwerp. The A16 changes over the border into the E19.
Another option is driving via Bergen op Zoom. For this you follow the A12. From Eindhoven you drive to Antwerp via the E34 or the E314.
The city center and part of the Left Bank are a low emission zone (LEZ). In concrete terms, this means that the most polluting cars may no longer enter the city to improve air quality.
Some cars that do not meet the standards may temporarily enter the LEZ for a fee and up to eight times a year a day pass can be purchased that allows you to drive around the city for one day regardless of which car. Click here for more information and the exact rules.
The number of parking places on the street is limited and expensive, certainly in the city center. Parking is easier and cheaper in a public parking or a free P + R on the outskirts of the city where you can change to tram, bus or city bike to get to the center quickly.
Antwerp by Train
With the Thalys you travel from Amsterdam Central in about an hour and 15 minutes to Antwerp Central. From Rotterdam Central Station you are on the road for about 30 to 35 minutes with the Thalys and also from Breda there has recently been a direct connection more than ten times a day.
Antwerp by Bus
With Flixbus you travel from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Breda, Utrecht, The Hague, Groningen, Leiden and a number of other Dutch cities to Antwerp very cheaply. Check the times and prices here
How to Get Around Antwerp
With the tram, metro and bus you can easily and quickly move through the city.
However, when the weather permits, city bikes make your trip a lot more fun. Take a Velo (bicycle) from one of the Velo stations, cycle to your destination and leave the bicycle at another station. This way you see more of the city, you don’t have to wait or look for a parking space and you are never in a traffic jam. A day pass only costs € 4. Ideal! More information can be found here
Where to Stay in Antwerp
€ – The Ash Antwerp
The Ash Antwerp consists of two buildings, ALMA and OPERA. ALMA is ideal for a short stay (1 night to 1 month), while guests staying in OPERA are often in the city for longer periods.
In ALMA you can choose between a dormitory, Japanese-style capsule rooms, private rooms or suites. There is a large communal kitchen, a games room, a ‘living room’ and a courtyard with an outdoor bar. The Ash is a five-minute walk from the Meir and the station. Check the current prices and availability here .
€€ – Hotel Indigo
Hotel Indigo is located right in the center of the city, close to the central station, the zoo, and the famous shopping streets. The hotel and the 82 rooms radiate tranquility and warmth through the handmade furniture, the oak interior, and the combination of design with modern art. Check the current prices and availability here
€€€ – De Witte Lelie Antwerp
De Witte Lelie Antwerp is one of the best hotels in the city. It is a small, luxurious boutique hotel built in the 17th century. The hotel, located in the heart of Antwerp, is fully equipped and has only ten rooms and suites.
After a busy day you can perfectly relax in one of the beautifully decorated lounges, the flower garden, or the Bronze Bar. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi and use of the minibar and pets are also welcome. Check the current prices and availability here
What’s your favorite place to visit in Antwerp?
If you want to do different things in Antwerp, you can always purchase an Antwerp City Card. This card gives you free entrance or discount for public transport, the Rubens House, the Fashion Museum, the Zoo, the molt walk and many other sights and activities. Check the conditions and prices here.
This article was written with the help of my Flemish intern, Marilyne :)
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.