Last Updated On: July 16th 2015
What do you look for during a weekend break to a European city? Museums and fine art galleries? Stunning architecture, gothic cathedrals, and panoramic river views? More shopping than you can handle in a weekend (and that’s before you have discovered the diamonds)? Boutique and mainstream hotels, fabulous food, and so many beers to choose from that you don’t get a menu, you get a book? If this is what you are looking for, then look no further. Antwerp is host to the second largest port in Europe (third largest in the world) so this city really does have it all.
Antwerp’s history will grab your attention and capture your heart, so rich is the history here. As you wander around the impressive tree-lined streets gazing up at the stunning architecture, one building after another – you really get a sense of what a metropolis this city was in the 17th century. There is so much to see in this vibrant city but don’t forget to make time to sit at one of the many pavement cafes and watch people go by whilst you sip a beer chosen from literally a thousand options. Just be careful – the sweeter ones are the stronger ones! You have been warned.
The city once destroyed by the vikings was built up again to become a thriving trading and maritime centre. The first commodity exchange in Europe opened in Antwerp. This city thrived during the Renaissance with the influence of Rubens who was consulted over every decision made for the city and who, with his talents, helped to enrich the churches and chapels in this cosmopolitan centre.
Antwerp is divided into four different areas. The historic centre where you can amble around the many historic buildings and churches. The docks, where tales of emigrants’s long and sometimes never ending voyages in search of new lives in the USA and Canada are told by the Red Star Shipping Line. The Mas offers a mirror into the history of the Western European view of the world through unique world maps. An impressive Central Station, the Rubens House, and the diamond dealing district are all located in the busy shopping district of Meir and University district which needs no further explanation.
Situated in the north of Belgium, Antwerp enjoys a European climate with cold winters and milder temperatures during the spring and summer months. May through September is the best time to visit Antwerp. Late spring is recommended for its long days and pleasant weather. Summer is also a good time to visit Antwerp, as most inhabitants are on holiday in July and August. Or you can choose to wrap up warmly and go during December to soak up the ambience of this vibrant city with the traditional Christmas markets and gluwein to keep you warm – whenever you decide to go, you will not be disappointed. I chose a weekend in early May and enjoyed temperatures between 18-20 degrees Celsius.
By Air: Antwerp Airport (ANR) provides connections to several European destinations. You can take a bus from Antwerp Airport to Berchem train station (lines 51, 52, 53), from where Tram line 9 will take you to the city centre. Alternatively a taxi will cost around 10 Euros (EUR).
Other options within easy reach of Antwerp are Brussels Airport (BRU), a one hour bus journey will bring you to Antwerp City Centre. Arrive at Schiphol, Netherlands (AMS) and take a direct train to Antwerp City Centre directly from the airport, there are 16 trains an hour Amsterdam – Brussels.
By Train: In a little under four hours you can take a train from St Pancras, London to Antwerp Central (changing in Brussels). Other European cities provide good links to Antwerp by train.
Once in the city, it is easy to navigate on foot or you can jump on and off trams to take you quickly between districts. If you are feeling more energetic you can hire a bike from one of the many Velo city bikes to get you around quicker so you don’t miss anything.
If you decide to drive there are plenty of secure 24-hour covered parking garages – you can expect to pay around 18 EUR a day.
Do not miss a visit to Antwerp Central Station, even if you have no intention of taking a train. This is no ordinary railway station, the imposing building with its characteristic dome was first opened in 1905. After a luxurious refurbishment in 1993, you will find an enormous central hallway, high domed ceilings, and staircases sweeping upwards towards the light and onto the super modern platforms from where the trains arrive and depart. Het Koningin Astridplein (Queen Astrid Square) is located directly in front of Central Station with beautifully landscaped gardens and magnificent flowerbeds. Behind Central Station you will find the Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest and best-known zoos in Europe. It is also a very special place because it has a programme to help save animals that are endangered.
The Rubens House is situated in a side street off Meir which was the home and studio of Rubens until his death in 1640. The discovery of old engravings, maps, and a search of the home of this famous artist enabled the house to be completely restored.
For millions of European residents the old warehouses of the Red Star Line Museum were a symbol of starting a new life in the USA or Canada. More than 2 million passengers made the journey to the USA between 1873 and 1934. The museum provides insight into the challenging and emotional undertaking of this epic journey and follows in the footsteps of the people who actually made these journeys. You can even tell your own story and have it remembered forever.
The Steen, a medieval castle which stands on the banks of the Schelde, dates back to the same period as the city. During the 18th century the castle was used as a prison. At the entrance bridge to the castle is a statue of a giant and two humans. It depicts the giant Lange Wapper who is said to have terrorised the inhabitants of the city in medieval times.
Our Lady Cathedral is located in the heart of the historic district and stands between the Grote Maarkt and Groenplaats, do not miss the opportunity to visit this stunning piece of architecture which took almost 100 years to build. A visit here will cost you 3 EUR, with the option of a guided tour (at an extra charge).
City Hall which dominates the Grote Maarkt is considered to be the most important Renaissance building in the Low Countries and influenced the design of many government buildings across northern and central Europe.
Conscience Plein with its stunning cathedral, the memorial for lost immigrants, the famous Appleman street and the Meat Market are also worth a visit. You can get around this city quickly by tram/bus/bicycle or if you fancy a more leisurely pace, try one of the horse drawn carriage rides (from Grote Maarkt) or an open top bus tour (twice daily from Groenplaats) which will take you on a tour of the most notable buildings and monuments.
If you have had enough sightseeing and want to enjoy a view of Antwerp from the water then the many river cruises and boat trips will provide a nice respite from the walking, you can also take tours to the islands in South Holland. If you have enough energy left after all this then there are many theatres, bars, and a vibrant nightlife to experience.
Eat and Drink
The Belgians are not only famous for their beer but also their food. Fabulous culinary experiences can be had in Antwerp and you will be spoilt for choice, a selection of local restaurants, bars and many international cuisines await you here. If you want to go with the local seasonal flavours then moules (mussels) are a must (in season from September to February). You can order them steamed in several ways, white wine is the true classic but also garlic, cream, and even curry! Paired with a crisp dry white wine – that’s one experience ticked (or eaten) off the list.
Try the Sinjoor for great mussels, or go all out for the waffels for breakfast.
Freshly cooked waffels at The Waffle House. I like mine naked, with the little crystals of sugar that melt on the tongue, and warm whilst listening to the chorus of opera music coming from one of the buildings above. A perfect start to a Sunday morning.
Certainly on the top of my list after an exhausting day of sightseeing is some rest and recuperation.
I would recommend De Koning De Spanje a delightful boutique hotel situated on Korte Nieuwstraat. A perfect location within a five minute walk from the major attractions. The rooms are delightful and full of character, the hostess, Georgette was delightful, welcoming. and very helpful. This really felt like a home away from home.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Antwerp.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more local information in Antwerp check out these local blogs and resources;
Antwerp Tourism and Travel Information – The official site for Antwerp Tourism.
Best Travel Guide to Antwerp – A busy pocket-sized guide to this busy metropolis.
USE-IT Antwerp – A rather different guide but has a good listing of local festivals and events and a useful map of the city.
Antwerp Top 10 Best Blogs – This will provide you with an insight into Antwerp from a local perspective, these top 10 blogs are voted for by city residents. You will find information on fashion, nightlife, beer drinking, and music.
This is Antwerp – Get tips, hints, and information about places to see and things to do in Antwerp – all verified by locals.
2060 Mijn Buurt – This blog/website isn’t in English but the vast and interesting content is enough to have you reaching for the Google Translate button.