I've always loved the city of Antwerp here in Belgium and have even lived there for a year during my studies. It's a city full of culture, fashion and coffee bars as well as the capital of the province of Antwerp (yes, it has the same name).
I've gathered some of the top spots and things to do in Antwerp right here for you in this .
- How to get there
- Getting around
- The neighborhoods (and shopping)
- Cultural centers and performance venues
- Parks and open spaces
- More things to do in Antwerp
- Antwerp FAQ
How to get there
It's not as big or well-known as the airports in Brussels and Charleroi here in Belgium, but Antwerp does have its own airport. The probably best-known company flying from Antwerp Airport is Jetairfly.
Most people don't travel directly to Antwerp when flying, though, as there are many more flight options to Brussels Airport.
The easiest way to get to Antwerp, however, is usually by train. The Thalys connects Antwerp Central Station to Amsterdam and here are direct and connecting trains from most Belgian cities, as well as from Brussels National Airport. For train timetables, check the website of the NMBS, the National Railroads.
A benefit of traveling to Antwerp by train is that you get to see the city's beautiful train station upon arrival.
By bus or tram
If you're staying in the proximity of the city center or in a nearby village without a train station, taking a bus or tram is an option as well. For bus timetables and routes in Flanders, check the website of van De Lijn., the Flemish bus company. That's also where you'll find timetables and routes for the trams in the Antwerp region.
Although the highways around Antwerp often have terrible traffic, the city itself is rather doable by car. There are several paid parking lots and if you park in the streets, you do usually have to pay, but there is also a large free parking lot by the docks (Cockerillkaai, De Gerlachkaai, Sint-Michielskaai).
A list of paid parking lots and park+ride parking lots can be found on the website of the City of Antwerp.
If you do decide to park on the street, be sure to check the signs as parking on the street is often limited in time.
I'd almost forget, but Antwerp also has a massive harbor and cruise ships coming in throughout the year. What's cool about cruising (literally) to Antwerp is that most cruise ships dock not in the big industrial part of the port, but right by the city center at terminal “Zuiderterras”. If you dock there, you can just walk right into Antwerp without needing to take a shuttle bus first.
Like most Belgian cities, Antwerp is very walkable and walking is the best way to explore the center. If you do get tired at some point, you can always take the tram back to the train station or into another part of town. Tickets can be bought in supermarkets, gas stations, newspaper stores and other place, but also directly on the tram. If you buy your ticket beforehand, it's cheaper, but that shouldn't matter too much if you're only taking the tram once or twice after a whole day of walking.
Another option is getting the Antwerp Citycard for 24, 48 or 72 hours. This card gives you free entrance to a bunch of attractions, discounts at shops and us of public transportation for the duration of the card.
Taking the bus isn't really a practical way to get around the city center. It's better to take the bus when you plan on visiting neighboring boroughs and towns.
Renting a bike, on the other hand, might be a fun thing to do, but I'd only recommend it if you want to visit some places that are not that close to each other and you have limited time. Otherwise, walking really is the best option to explore the city.
The neighborhoods (and shopping)
‘t Zuid or “the South” is the artsy area of Antwerp. It's where you can find three of the city's most important museums (the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Fotomuseum), antique stores, galleries, design stores and trendy bars and restaurants. It's a lovely area to stroll through and get your culture fix during the day and a good place to have fun at night.
Right by Antwerp Central train station you'll find the Antwerp Zoo as well as the diamond district. Don't go shopping for jewelry in this neighborhood though, as you'll likely pay too much.
Meir and “Wilde Zee”
One of the Antwerp things to do is shopping, and the Meir is that one shopping street every big city has. It's the street full of big retail chains like Zara and H&M. Behind the Meir (if you're coming from the station) lie the Huidevettersstraat and the area known as the “Wilde Zee” (“Wild Sea”). Here you'll find a mix of more fancy brands and big chains. Both the Meir and the Wilde Zee are car free.
De area around the Grote Markt is a more historical area, with the statue of Brabo, city hall, the castle Steen by the River Scheldt, and the Unesco World Heritage Plantin-Moretus Museum. It's also a stop for many tourists as you can find the tourist info office on the Grote Markt.
The Quartier Latin is also known as the theater area. It lies between the Huidevettersstraat, the Meir and the Stadsschouwburg (City Theater), with the Bourla Theater right in the middle. It's a more exclusive area, with stores by brands as Hermès and Jimmy Choo, but also some antique and interior design shops. You'll also find plenty of coffee shops and bistros here.
Sint-Andries is dominated by the Nationalestraat and the Kammenstraat. These two streets are physically connected, but that's about it. The Nationalestraat is Antwerp's high fashion street. Here you'll find big brand names, as well as the Antwerp Fashion Museum. The Kammenstraat, on the other hand, is the place to be for those looking for “alternative” fashion. Think punk, street and skate wear, but also tattoos and piercings.
Eilandje and the North
The Eilandje or “Little Island” is an area in the north of Antwerp surrounded by docks. It used to be a place of heavy harbor activity, but when those activities moved more north, the Eilandje started to degenerate. In recent years, however, project developers developed (see what I did there) an interest in the area and a lot of old buildings were torn down to make room for new housing projects. However, some historical facades were also maintained and restored.
A big boost for the Eilandje was the opening of the MAS, a museum I'll talk more about below, as well as the new city park Park Spoor Noord.
The Seefhoek is a very multicultural residential area in the northeast of Antwerp. It's a historically poorer area without any real sights or attractions.
The Schipperskwartier is where you can find Antwerps Red Light District – limited to three streets. It's a slowly upcoming neighborhood with typical brown bars and a few nice cafes.
The area around the university is dominated by local student bars, but you can also find some interesting sights there, such as the Letterenhuis (Literary Museum).
Antwerp has several weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual markets. An overview.
Vogelenmarkt (“Birds market”)
The Vogelenmarkt is one of my favorite markets in Antwerp as it's so diverse and definitely not a typical farmers market. The stands at the Vogelenmarkt sell flowers, fabrics, antiques, jewelry and more. You can even find small animals, like hamsters, here.
Oudevaartplaats, Theaterplein and surrounding streets
Sunday: 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Another favorite of mine, because it involves a lot of delicious foods. The exotic market is – as you could have guessed – a very multicultural market where you can buy and taste all kinds of Mediterranean specialties. It's a great place to find Turkish and Moroccan food.
Oudevaartplaats, Theaterplein and surrounding streets
Saturday: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. (except on public holidays)
On Fridays, old furniture and small antiques are auctioned at the Friday Market. It's always a lively event and fun to attend, even if you just go to watch.
Friday: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
You can also find antiques and other old/second-hand stuff at the antique market on Saturday and Sunday. This market is aimed more at “casual” buyers than the Friday market.
Saturday: Lijnwaadmarkt, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (except on public holidays)
Sunday: Sint-Jansvliet, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (also on public holidays)
Bio is hip, also in Antwerp. At the Sunday bio market, only products with a bio quality label are being sold.
Sunday: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Boekenplein (“Books Square”)
Boekenplein is more than just a books market. There are always some musicians playing and there are stands where you can grab a bite or a drink. To be consumed while reading your newly bought book, of course!
March – October: every third Sunday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Have you heard about Montmartre in Paris? It's a square where (mostly graphic) artists display their work and often there's also someone drawing portraits of people. Lambermontmartre wants to recreate the same ambiance in the south neighborhood (“‘t Zuid”) of Antwerp, but also includes acoustic concerts.
May – September: every last Sunday, from 12 p.m. – 5 pm
Flea-market where you can also find some vintage and antiques. This market has its own website.
March – October : every last Wednesday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
At the Rubens market, all merchants are dressed like 17th-century merchants and their stands are decorated in that way as well. At the end of the market day, the best-dressed merchant with the best-decorated stand is chosen. The items being sold are of this age, though, which might be a good thing if you're looking to buy some produce.
Grote Markt and surroundings
August 15: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Each year the city of Antwerp organizes a Christmas market with lots of food and drink stands but also stands selling seasonal products, an ice skating rink and even a Ferris wheel. It's a good place to do some Christmas shopping.
Aside from the markets, there are plenty of events to attend in the city all-year-round.
Antwerp has over a dozen museums. That's too many to mention here. Besides, you can find them all on the website of the city of Antwerp. The ones below are my personal favorites.
The first time I visited the MAS I actually only went up to the rooftop. You can take escalators all the way up (for free!) to get on to the rooftop, from where you have a 360° view over Antwerp and the surroundings. That's pretty cool, but of course the museum itself is worth a visit as well. There are no less than five exhibition floors telling the story of Antwerp, its harbor and its relation to the rest of the world.
First of all, this is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Second, this is the only museum in the world that is a Unesco World Heritage Site and thirdly, this is where you can find the world's oldest printing press! I'm a sucker for inventions. It's a miracle to me how people come up with them and to be able to see such an important invention in my home country is just plain cool. Also, I studied Literature and Linguistics so I have a thing with letters and books. At the Museum Plantin-Moretus you learn about the history of printing and can see old graphics, books and other art.
FOMU – Photo Museum
I like the FOMU because I can keep going back to it and see something different every time. The museum hosts several temporary exhibitions each year and has a large collection of own photos and photographic tools that are displayed in changing combinations.
Read all about my visit to the FOMU.
Cultural centers and performance venues
Antwerp is a city of performing artists and it would be a shame to visit without spending an evening at one of the many venues. Each night there's comedy, theater, ballet, music… You name it, Antwerp's got it. The following is just a small selection of places to check out. As most of the theater events are in Dutch, I tried to only incorporate places that also schedule other languages or events at which language isn't an issue.
The Stadsschouwburg is where all the big productions go. That mainly means big musicals, famous ballets and international shows, stand-up comedians, and singers. The program here is very diverse and offers a good mix of national and international shows.
The Arenbergschouwburg has a big and a small theater hall for which it programs theater, dance, music and stand-up comedy. Word-based performances are usually in Dutch, but the dance and music performances can be enjoyed by anyone.
De Roma lies just outside of Antwerp, in Borgerhout, but it's worth mentioning as it's the place to go to for a little bit of everything, from classical music to hip hop performances, from alternative movies to lectures on global issues and from nationally known bands to thé dansants.
Sportpaleis and Lotto Arena
These two big concert halls are located in Deurne, but easy to get to from Antwerp by public transportation. I've included them here because they're the two places where you can see big international (pop) stars. You wouldn't be the first to combine a trip to Antwerp with a concert of your favorite singer!
At Trix you'll find beginning bands, smaller music styles and experimental concerts.
deSingel programs international dance, music and theater performances as well as exhibitions around architecture.
Want to party in a 16th-century church? You can at Café d'Anvers! It's one of the world's most renowned house clubs and has been making people dance since 1989.
Cafee Cabron is the hip version of a brown bar. It frequently programs both music bands and DJ's.
The Red&Blue is Antwerp's best known gay club. On Saturdays only men are allowed in.
Jazzcafé De Muze
Jazzcafe De Muze was founded in 1964 and still draws in crowds. Even when there's no performance going on, it can be hard to find a seat here. Too bad that prices go up whenever a band's playing (about three times a week), but the performances are free to attend.
There's quite a bit of Latin flavor in Antwerp, if you know where to look. One of the best known parties is the salsa night at Café Local, every first Sunday of the month.
Parks and open spaces
Truth be told, I can't say that Antwerp is a very green city. The city park lies outside of the city center and is squeezed in between three very busy roads. It's better now than it used to be, with the fairly new Park Spoor Noord in the north of the city, but I find that for the best green spots, you need to leave the city and go to the neighboring towns.
Rivierenhof is a 130 ha-big park in Deurne, a tram or bus ride away from Antwerp city center. There are several sports courts, a playground and a big pond where you can fish, but you can also just have a picnic on the grass or watch locals go for a run. In summer, weekly concerts are organized at the big open-air theater of the park. Some you have to get tickets for, but some are free.
Turnhoutsebaan 232, Deurne
The Nachtegalenpark consists of three different parks: Vogelenzang, Middelheim and Den Brandt, that each have their own identity. Vogelenzang is more of a traditional park, with ponds and a playground, where Middelheim is an open air museum with sculptures on display. Quite special! Technically still part of Antwerp, you do need to take the bus from the city center to get here.
More things to do in Antwerp
At brewery De Koninck you can learn all about the history of beer in Antwerp and how to pour a perfect “bolleke”. You'll get a look at the big brewery hall and will be able to sample some of the breweries beers in the bar after the tour is over.
The Antwerp Zoo is located right outside the main entrance of Antwerp Central Station and houses around 5,000 animals. You can easily spend a full day here, with or without kids.
Koningin Astridplein 26
Pedestrians and cyclists who want to go from Antwerp's left shore to its right shore and vice versa, can use a tunnel that was built in 1933. The entrance buildings aren't that special, and neither is the tunnel itself, but the original wooden escalators are works of art.
Cathedral of our Lady
It took 169 years to build the Cathedral of Our Lady and still it was never completely finished. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited daily. A bit of a shame is that you need to pay an entrance fee to do so, unless you attend a service there.
1. What is Antwerp best known for?
The city of Antwerp is mostly known for its many museums, its world-renowned fashion school and its diamonds.
Antwerp has been famous for diamonds since the 16th century. It has a proper diamond district and is home to four important diamond markets – the “Fair for Diamand Trade”, the “Antwerp Diamond Club”, the “Free Diamond Trade”, and the “Antwerp Diamond Circle”. Today, Antwerp is home to around 1,500 diamond companies. They process 85% of the world's rough diamonds, 50% of the world's polished diamonds and 40% of the world's industrial diamonds.
2. How many days do you need to visit Antwerp?
Because Antwerp is a rather compact city, it's possible to see some of the most important sights in just one day but I do recommend staying at least two or three days.
3. Is Antwerp expensive to visit?
In the rest of Belgium, Antwerp is known as a bit of a “fancy” town. You'll easily pay between €3 and €4 for a coffee and main courses will usually cost €18 or more but overall, it's definitely not more expensive than other popular cities in Western Europe and it's less pricey than, for example, London.
And that's it! I hope this Antwerp guide will help you plan your own fun getaway to this city.