Antwerp is a beautiful city, rich in history. Known as the “second city” in Belgium, Antwerp is full of museums, avant-garde fashion, and an edgy creative class.
Antwerp is known as the diamond capital of the world and the diamond industry is an important part of Antwerp’s economy. The city suffered greatly in the Second World War but still retains many of its medieval charm and beautiful landmarks.
With so much to see, we have compiled our list of Top 5 things to see in Antwerp. We have purposely left Antwerpen Centrum Railway station off the list as we assume you are traveling into Antwerp by rail so you will see this magnificent structure when you arrive and depart from Antwerp. I have also left out eating chocolates, french fries and waffles, as well as drinking beer, as those you can do in most cities and will likely do when you plan your meals.
Here are our Top 5 things to do in Antwerp!
1. Rent Bikes
If you’ve read our other blogs, you know that we feel there is no better way to explore a city than by bicycle. -And Antwerp is no different. The city is easy to navigate and very safe to get around by bicycle. You will save time and see more if you have a bike. You can explore the city, ride a long the river, and/or visit the city parks and parklands if you have a bike. Antwerp is relatively flat so it is not strenuous in any way.
Antwerp has a bike-share (Velo city bikes) but these bicycles are only designed for short trips, so if you plan to use a bike for more than 1-2 hours, you should find a bike rental nearby. You can rent bikes right at the main train station. If you decide to subscribe, you can also pick up a Blue-bike in Antwerp. Note that if you are traveling on Sunday, blue bikes will not be an option if you do not have a subscription to their service. Read more about bicycling in Belgium.
2. Go Shopping in Meir Shopping Street
You will find an abundance of shopping all the way from the Antwerpen Centrum Railway Station to the Cathedral Of Our Lady (see #5 below) but you will surely not want to miss the Meir Shopping Street. From fashion to art to Belgium’s world-famous chocolates, you will find it here.
This beautiful street is filled with historic architecture and the nearby Stadsfeestzaal high-end shopping center making it a must-see when in Antwerp.
3. Relax and people-watch in Grote Markt
The Grote Markt (“Great Market Square”) of Antwerp is a town square situated in the heart of the old city quarter. It is the main square in Antwerp and one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. The center of the square houses the famous Brabo Fountain. Grote Markt is filled with an extravagant city hall, numerous elaborate 16th-century guildhalls, and many restaurants and cafés. Lying within walking distance of the Scheldt River, it hosts a Christmas market and ice rink in winter. Many people congregate in Grote Markt throughout the day and there is always something interesting going on.
4. Visit Rubenshuis
House of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), designed an build by him. Rubens was a Flemish Baroque painter of portraits and religious figures. His work was sought after by collectors and royalty, as evidenced by his painting of the Queen Mother of France during his many European travels.
The Rubenhuis was his Italian style villa which included a large studio where he produced prolific works. Today the home and studio are open for tours. Inside, you will find his impressive art and artifacts.
5. Visit Cathedral Of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady is a Roman Catholic cathedral. Today’s see of the Diocese of Antwerp started in 1352 and, although the first stage of construction was ended in 1521, has never been ‘completed’. In Gothic style, its architects were Jan and Pieter Appelmans. It contains a number of significant works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (see #4) , as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.
The belfry of the cathedral is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France entry in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Have more time than just a day? Here are other top things to see and do.
- Visit the Diamond District
- Visit Het Steen Castle
- Visit the UNESCO site of the Plantin-Moretus HouseIf Museum
- Visit the Dockyards and the Museum aan de Stroom
- Explore the Provincial Domain Rivierenhof by bike
- Visit the Exotic Food Market (and have lunch there!)
- Spend the afternoon at the Antwerp Zoo
- Enjoy a coffee or beer at Groenplatz
- Walk the grounds at Sint-Paulusplaats (St Paul’s Church)