Antwerp is one of my favorite cities in Belgium. It’s a vibrant city full of culture, architecture and delicious food. Because of that, and the fact that one of my besties lives there, I frequent the city often. A couple of weeks ago I went to Antwerp for a little city trip, the first one in months. It goes without saying, that I was super excited to explore some spots that I hadn’t been to before. On that note, I figured it was about time I’d put together an Antwerp travel guide with all the best things to do in the diamond capital of the world. So here we go…
Arrive at Antwerp Central Station
When you arrive in Antwerp by train, you can immediately scratch off one of the city’s highlights from your to do list. Antwerp’s Central railway station was selected amongst the most beautiful railway stations in the world! And honestly, every time when I arrive in Antwerp, I can’t help myself but to make a few snaps of this beauty. So if you don’t arrive by train, make sure to make a little detour, it will be worth it, I promise!
Stay at Hotel Indigo Antwerp – City Centre ****
My favorite hotel in the city, Hotel Indigo Antwerp – City Centre is located across the square from the central station. Besides the proximity of the train station, you can find the Antwerp Zoo, Chocolate Nation, Chinatown and the Diamond District at the hotel’s doorstep. We already visited these places in the past, so we decided to check out some other sights instead. I have to say though, Chocolate Nation is one of the most fun museums I have ever visited! The best part about the museum?! The tasting of course 😉 If you like to know more about our stay at Hotel Indigo Antwerp – City Centre click here.
Don’t miss the Park Bridge
From the hotel it’s about a twenty minute walk towards one of the most unique sights of the city; the Park Bridge. It’s for sure one of the coolest spots in Antwerp to take photos, as the light and shadows on this bridge change continually throughout the day. So get your camera’s ready and get that perfect Instagram shot you guys!
Explore ‘The Little Island’
The Little Island, Antwerp’s oldest port area is just around the corner of the Park Bridge. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods. The area is surrounded by water, so the views around the docks are pretty great. Nowadays the port is not active anymore, but the feeling of a port is still very much alive. Besides a lot of hip and trendy restaurants, two of the city’s most interesting attractions are located here; the ‘Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)’ and the Port House.
In all honesty, so far I have only visited the viewing platform of the MAS. You can take escalators all the way up (free of charge!) to the rooftop, from where you have a wonderful 360° view over Antwerp and its surroundings. In the museum itself there are several exhibitions telling the story of Antwerp, its harbor and its relation to the rest of the world.
The Port House, designed by the famous architect Zaha Hadid, is an architectural jewel and one of the eye-catchers of the Antwerp skyline. On top of an old fire station, they build this contemporary construction in the shape of a diamond. It’s such an impressive landmark, you can’t miss it!
Enjoy the view from Linkeroever
We wanted to check out the view from ‘Linkeroever’ upon Antwerp’s skyline. Antwerp is divided into two parts by the river Scheldt. The fastest way to go from one bank to the other is through the Saint Anna’s Tunnel. The tunnel itself is pretty special too. It opened in 1933 and to this day holds all of its authentic features from the entrance buildings to the beautiful wooden escalators.
A fun alternative to the pedestrian tunnel is the free ferry. The ferry sails from the jetty at Frederik Van Eedenplein to the pontoon near Steen Castle. And as for the view upon the skyline itself… Honestly I wasn’t that impressed. I have seen the most amazing pictures from this point, but with the tower of the cathedral under construction, it wasn’t that impressive. I will have to return here once the works are done.
Afterwards we walked down the quays and enjoyed the views upon the Scheldt before heading back to the hotel for a cozy night in. Man, did we miss going out for dinner during this trip…
Explore Antwerp’s Old Town
After a good night’s rest and delicious breakfast at Hotel Indigo, it was time to hit the road again. Our first stop was Antwerp’s Beguinage. I had never been there before, so I just had to check it out. It turned out to be such a scenic and peaceful spot. Perfect for when you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
From there it’s a short walk to Antwerp’s Old Town. I have been many times before, but the landmarks you come across there are for sure some of the highlights of the city. The Cathedral of Our Lady is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the center of Antwerp. It took over 170 years to build this masterpiece. The cathedral is currently undergoing some renovations, so the tower is not visible unfortunately. You can however still visit the inside and admire the impressive art collection, including several paintings by Rubens. In front of the cathedral there’s the cute statue of Nello and Patrasche, the main characters from the novel ‘A Dog of Flanders’. Their sad story is world famous and takes place in Antwerp.
Another stunning place is the Vlaeykensgang. This secret alley dates back to 1591. Walking around there makes you feel, like you just stepped into a time machine. In the past the Vlaeykensgang is where the poorest people of the city lived. Nowadays you can find antiques stores, art galleries and a restaurant there.
You can’t visit Antwerp without spending some time at the Grote Markt, the city’s main square. The magnificent 16th century City Hall dominates the square surrounded by lovely Guild Houses. You cannot overlook the Brabo Fountain in the middle of the square. According to legend, there was once a giant who built a fortress along the Scheldt River. The giant forced passing boats to pay a toll. If the travelers refused, Antigoon cut off one of their hands and tossed it into the river. The giant’s reign of terror came to an end when Brabo sailed down the river. He refused to pay the toll, and challenged the giant to a duel. Brabo won, and chopped off the giant’s head and hand, which he threw into the river. The name Antwerp (Antwerpen in Dutch) came from this very legend, with Antwerpen in Flemish meaning “hand throwing.”
Not far from the Grote Markt, you will find the Hendrik Conscience Square, named after the famous Belgian author, Hendrik Conscience. The beautiful Baroque Carrolus Borromeus Church and the Heritage Library are also well worth a visit.
Walk, walk, fashion baby
After another lunch on the go, it was time for some shopping fun. Antwerp is the fashion capital of Belgium. Whether you want to shop high-end fashion or buy a bit more budget-friendly, Antwerp is the place to be. So I guess it’s needless to say that we had to schedule in a little shopping spree at some point right?! At the Meir you can find all big chains, while the area around the Wilde Zee (“Wild Sea”) has fun little boutiques. You will find all the international luxury brands in the Schuttershofstraat and Lange Gasthuisstraat.
However if shopping isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you can perhaps visit one of Antwerp’s museums. I’m not gonna list them all, because they are quite a few, but you can find the list on Visit Antwerpen.
My favorite coffee spots, restaurants & bars in Antwerp
Antwerp is full of amazing restaurants. Unfortunately because of Covid-19 restrictions, the restaurants and bars were still closed while we were in the city. At the moment it’s already allowed to have a drink or eat at one of the terraces, but the full opening is planned for the 9th of June 2021. Rest assured though, underneath I will be sharing my favorite spots, so you know where to go for a delicious meal and yummy cocktails.
- Charlie’s: one of the best spots for breakfast and brunch. The avocado toast is absolutely delicious.
- MOOY: for sure one of the most Instagrammable spots in Antwerp thanks to its pink flower wall. As MOOY is located close to the Meir & Wilde Zee shopping district it’s the place to be to enjoy a cup of coffee during your shopping spree.
- Cuisinette Domestic: is known for the best afternoon tea in the city. Besides serving the classic sandwiches and sweets, we’ve all know and grown to love, Cuisinette Domestic manages to give an original spin to the afternoon tea concept. The décor of the bakery is also very pretty, with both a pink and golden sitting area. Make sure to book your table in advance, because it’s super popular.
- Marolus: another hotspot for the girly girls that can’t can enough of yummy toasts, salads, cakes & desserts. You can find Marolus at the Hendrik Conscience Square.
- Cocktails at Nine: in my opinion the best cocktail bar in the city. I have been going here for years now and always enjoyed my time there.
- Brasserie Appelmans: another spot I have been frequenting for years. On the menu you can find a lovely combination of tasteful Belgian classics with a touch of Antwerp. The waiters are also super friendly, so I’m sure you will have an amazing time there.
- Roest: is an eatery with a gorgeous industrial interior full of plants. I went there for lunch and opted for a yummy pasta with prawns. You can also have dinner there or have a drink on the terrace with a view upon the Museum aan de Stroom and the Little Island.
- Black Smoke: is located on top of the ‘De Coninck Brewery’. And believe me, this is where the BBQ magic happens you guys. In summer it’s extra fun, because of the rooftop bar. You can enjoy an amazing view over the city, while indulging in the best cocktails and fingerfood.
- The Jane: the two Michelin star restaurant by chefs Sergio Herman and Nick Bril. Obviously the food is to die for, but it got also named the most beautiful restaurant in the world. It’s such a unique experience to have lunch or dinner there. I went there to celebrate my thirtieth birthday and we really had the best time.
- Direct trains from Brussels and Ghent leave every 20 minutes to half an hour. Which means that you can just show up at the train station and there should be a train leaving soon.
- Antwerp has a Low Emission Zone (LEZ). If travelling with your vehicle to Antwerp, please click here to register your car.
- Currency: Euro (€)
That’s it for now peepz! I hope you will enjoy your trip to Antwerp as much as I always do!