Antwerp, Belgium’s second largest city but not a city many international travelers seem to visit.
And I have to admit I am just as bad: I grew up in Leiden, less than a two hours drive from Antwerp and yet I have only visited the city three times before and didn’t know it well.
But, I decided that had to change. A good friend of mine lives in Antwerp so it was about time to get to know this city better. And I have to say, if you ever make it to Belgium, don’t just visit Brussels, take a trip to Antwerp as well!
If you are in Antwerp for only 24 hours or so, these are the highlights I recommend visiting:
1. Check out Antwerp Central Station
Most likely you will arrive to Antwerp by train and will start your city trip at Antwerp Central Station (map) but even if you don’t this train station is worth visiting.
The Central Station is one of the most impressive railway stations in the world. Dubbed the ‘Railway Cathedral’, it is one of the main landmarks in Antwerp.
Built between 1895 and 1905, its rich interior is lavishly decorated with more than twenty different kinds of marble and stone. The main hall and the railway cafeteria can match the interiors of many palaces. Not a single square meter either inside or outside the building is not decorated.
If you, like me, happen to enter the train station at the modern end, don’t let that put you off, you will spot the historical part immediately and really should walk through it!
For more information about the train station and its facilities: Belgianrail.be
2. Admire the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady)
The Cathedral of Our Lady or in Dutch the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (map) is one of the most impressive buildings in Antwerp.
After 169 years of construction, the cathedral of Antwerp finally started dominating the city’s skyline in 1521. With 123 meters (404 feet) it is the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries.
The Cathedral is an iconic treasury, with an impressive collection of major art works, including a series of paintings by Rubens.
General admission: € 6
For more information: Dekathedraal.be
3. Wander around the Grote Markt (Great Market Square)
The Grote Markt of Antwerp (map) is situated in the heart of the old city. It is a compact main square in front of the magnificent sixteenth-century city hall and surrounded by many guildhalls.
The architecture alone makes this area worth checking out but around the market square you also find many cozy restaurants and cafes, perfect for taking a break from sightseeing.
In winter Grote Markt houses a Christmas market and an ice rink.
4. Fit in some shopping
Depending on what type of shops you are looking for there are three main areas worth visiting:
- Meir (map) & Keyserlei (map): for all your mainstream shops including many international chains such as Mango, Timberland, Zara, etc.
- Hopland (map): if you are looking for more upmarket boutiques you should definitely check out this area.
- Klooserstraat (map): This is the must visit street when you are looking for antiques in Antwerp
But even if you don’t feel like shopping, walking around these central areas is fun just to people watch and admire some incredible architecture.
5. Belgian Fries, waffles, chocolate and beer
Belgium is famous for its fries (called “frites” here), waffles, Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer.
There is no city in Belgium where you can’t find good fries, waffles, chocolate and beer. These are the best places in Antwerp to try the Belgian favorites:
- Belgian fries: the most famous place to get your Belgian fries in Antwerp and a spot loved by locals is Frituur No.1 on Hoogstraat 1 (map)
- Belgian waffles: The Smallest Waffle Shop in the World on Meirbrug 1 (map) is without a doubt the cutest waffle shop I have ever seen and the most famous waffle shop in town.
- Belgian chocolate: there are many great chocolate shops in Antwerp so in 24 hours you will surely pass a few. But, if you only have time to visit one then make it the Chocolate Line at Paleis op de Meir 50 (map)
- Belgian beer: any bar you go to in Antwerp will have a good selection of Belgian beer. One of the more classical options is Den Engel, on Grote Markt 3 (map). This historic building dates back to the fourteenth century and the cafe has a great atmosphere and good selection of beers.
6. Have lunch at Mercado
This trendy new food market on Groenplaats 43 (map) is open every day but Tuesday and offers a nice spot for lunch or a drink. The concept is based on popular food markets such as the London Food Hall and Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel. With around 15 food stands it is not a big hall but the setting is great and the atmosphere warm and welcoming.
For more information: Super-mercado.be (unfortunately not available in English yet)
7. Get your culture fix at the MAS museum
Antwerp has many good museums but if you only have time for one, visit MAS – Museum aan de Stroom (map).
Antwerp is a city on a river with a port, that has provided exotic encounters and exchanges for centuries. The MAS collects traces of those exchanges and tells new stories with them. Stories about the city, the river and the port. Stories about Antwerp’s alliance with the world. Become acquainted with Antwerp in the world and with the world in Antwerp.
Additionally MAS has a great rooftop offering you a beautiful 360° panoramic view of Antwerp.
MAS is closed on Mondays
General admission: depends on exhibitions, maximum €10
For more information: Mas.be
One final tip: SKIP the diamond district!
Antwerp used to be famous for its diamond industry but, judging from the once popular diamond district (map), it has passed its heyday. Many diamond shops are now empty or have long been taken over by general stores.
The area looks a bit run down so unless you are interested in getting a good deal on some diamonds from one of the few remaining diamond stores, this area really isn’t worth visiting anymore, unfortunately.
Discover more of Antwerp
Of course there is much more to see and do in Antwerp and if you really want to get a good feel of the city I would recommend spending at least three days in this beautiful city. For tips on what to do when you have more time in Antwerp, where to stay, where to eat, etc check out the Antwerp section on Arrivalguides.com
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