City guide: what to do in Antwerp

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp, Belgium

After spending one month in Rotterdam, we jetted off (via a quick and easy train ride) to spend the weekend in Antwerp, Belgium. Antwerp has it all: beautiful buildings and squares, great museums, delicious restaurants, and – like any good city in Belgium – cool places to get the best beer. This was our second visit to the city, and think we got a good feel for the place. Of course, there’s always more to explore, but we’re confident we’ve put together at least a good starter guide of what to do in Antwerp.

A little about Antwerp

Antwerp is in the Flanders region of Belgium. Being up North in the country, it’s quite close to the Netherlands. Dutch is the main language, though French is acceptable. Being the second largest city in Belgium (after Brussels), there are a lot of things to do in Antwerp. Luckily, a lot of the attractions are central, and the main tourist areas are pretty awesome.

Appreciate the Antwerp Central Train Station

You’ll most likely arrive in Antwerp by train. Good thing Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central Train Station) is the most beautiful train station in Europe (at least, we think so!). And if you visit in the winter, there’s even a skating rink under the festive Christmas tree.

Antwerp Central Train Station / Antwerpen-Centraal, Belgium

Antwerp Central Train Station / Antwerpen-Centraal, Belgium

Marvel at the beautiful Grote Markt

The most famous square in Antwerp is the Grote Markt. In typical Belgian style, it’s flanked on all sides by ornately decorated buildings. Many of them represent the guilds of the city.

Grote Markt, Antwerp, Belgium

Grote Markt, Antwerp, Belgium

The largest building in the Grote Markt is the Stadthuis, or City Hall. The building is covered in flags, which makes for a pretty cool scene and is a great place to test your flag knowledge (or is that something only we do?).

Stadhuis, City Hall, Antwerp, Belgium

And in the middle, is a fountain with a sculpture of a mythical Roman soldier, Brabo. According to legend, Brabo defeated a giant who was tormenting the citizens of the city. He cut off the giant’s hand and threw it into the river. The city was thus named after this act of hand throwing – “hand werpen” – according to legend.

Brabo’s Monument, Grote Markt, Antwerp, Belgium

Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady

The church just off the Grote Markt – Cathedral of Our Lady – is a beautiful, grand European cathedral. You’ll can see it basking in the gorgeous afternoon light in the photo above. The inside is beautiful as well.

Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium

Hunt for Madonna sculptures

On the corners of many buildings in Antwerp are statues of the Madonna. Apparently this has something to do with taxes (or so we read), but whatever the reason, they add character to the city and make for some fun Madonna spotting.

Madonna statue, Antwerp, Belgium

Madonna statue, Antwerp, Belgium

Go to the Meat House

One of the famous buildings in Antwerp is the Vleeshuis – or “Meat House.” It was the Butcher’s Hall, and the brick was also laid in such a way that it looks like layers of bacon. It is a cool thing to see.

Vleeshuis, Meat House, Butchers’ Hall, Antwerp, Belgium

Enjoy more architecture

Antwerp has a ton of great architecture throughout the city so wander around and enjoy the varied buildings.

Antwerp, Belgium

Umbrella store, Antwerp, Belgium

Explore the waterfront and Hetsteen

If you walk West from the Grote Markt, you’ll hit the Sheldt River. It’s nice to walk along the river, and you can visit Hetsteen, a small, old castle that is cool (and free) to walk through. Although, it now mainly has events and fun things for children. When we were there at the beginning of June, there was also a massive food truck festival along the water.

Get a great view of the city from the MAS

The Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) is a relatively new museum in Antwerp, having opened in 2011. MAS is a really cool place to visit for a few reasons. The building itself has a great design, both inside and out.

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp, Belgium

The highlight is its (free!) rooftop, from which you can see incredible views of the city. To get up to it, take a series of escalators, which go through the entire building. There are small exhibits throughout, workspaces for students, and cool curvy windows.

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp, Belgium

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp, Belgium

Once you get up to the roof, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Antwerp. There are even some cutouts in the protective glass that you can stick your camera through to get unobstructed shots. Watch out for the wind up there though!

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp, Belgium

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp, Belgium

MAS is located in an up-and-coming part of Antwerp – the Eilandje district. It’s surrounded by water because it’s in the middle of a small harbor. It’s yet another lovely place to walk around and explore in the city.

Port, Eilandje district, Antwerp, Belgium

Pilotage Building, Antwerp, Belgium

Visit Rubens House

If you like the artist Rubens or if you like old, well-restored Belgian palazzos, you should visit Rubens House (Rubenshuis). It’s a great place to spend a couple hours.

Learn about printing at the Plantin-Moretus Museum

We really enjoyed visiting the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp. We learned about printing in the 16th century and wandered through the beautiful old building where the company and printing press were.

Typesetting letters, Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium

The rooms inside and collection were great (including one copy of the Gutenberg Bible), but our favorite part was the inner courtyard. There, a beautiful garden is surround by traditional buildings with crow-stepped gables and archways.

Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium

Right outside the museum is Vrijdagmarkt, a small, peaceful square with a few places to get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. Which, of course, we did.

Go shopping in Antwerp

Antwerp is a great shopping city and is known for its innovative fashion design. We particularly enjoyed walking and window shopping on the streets around the Mode Museum (MoMu), the fashion museum. The larger chains are more centrally located, but these smaller shops are more unique and worth a visit.

Since we were in Antwerp on a weekend, we also made a trip to the weekly outdoor market, Vogelenmarkt. It’s located a couple blocks behind Rubenshuis and contains all sorts of things to buy and food to eat. It also supposedly has a whole bunch of birds (thus its name), but we actually didn’t see them.

Special guests in Antwerp

We were excited to meet Sarah’s mom and her partner John in Antwerp! They had just spent time exploring some of France and hopped a train to Bruges before meeting us. It was our second time in Antwerp, but their first, so we had fun showing them places we’d discovered eight years ago and finding new spots. It’s such an easy city to get around and there’s so much within such a small area, it really was perfect.

Sarah and mom, Antwerp, Belgium

Eating and drinking in Antwerp

There are a lot of really great restaurants in Antwerp, and luckily you don’t have to assume that the ones in the main tourist center are bad. Here are our recommendations for restaurants in the center of Antwerp and a little further afield. And, of course, our picks to drink the best Belgian beer.

Enjoying Belgian beer, Antwerp, Belgium
Thanks to John for capturing this shot of us eyeing all the Belgian beers we ordered!

Grand Café De Rooden Hoed

Grand Café De Rooden Hoed is right across from the Cathedral of our Lady. They have a humongous menu but everything looked great. The mussels were especially delicious (and plentiful), and Sarah found a new type of beer by her the maker of her favorite beer, Kasteel.

Grand Café De Rooden Hoed, Antwerp, Belgium

Kasteel Barista Chocolate Quad
This was delicious but definitely more of a dessert beer (or just dessert!).

De Zeven Schaken

We first ate at De Zeven Schaken eight years ago, and returned this visit as well. It’s located on one corner of the Grote Markt. The highlight of their menu is their selection of traditional Flemish stews.

Fiskebar

Fiskebar is a bit outside the center, but not too far – it took about 25 minutes to walk there. Even if you can’t speak the language, you can probably guess it’s a fish restaurant. And it was really really great. Highly recommended – plus it is always nice to get more into neighborhoods where people actually live.

Dinner, Fiskebar, Antwerp, Belgium

Dinner, Fiskebar, Antwerp, Belgium

Paters Vaetje

The best beer bar in the center of the city is Paters Vaetje. The cozy space has a lot of character and the beer list is exhaustive.

Paters Vaetje, Antwerp, Belgium

Mom and John, Antwerp, Belgium

Beer list, Paters Vaetje, Antwerp, Belgium
Mom got this great picture of us perusing the ever so long beer list at Paters Vaetje. It took a while to make a choice.

Billie’s Bier Kafétaria

Just a few blocks away is Billie’s Bier Kafétaria. They had some different, interesting things on tap and on their (slightly smaller) beer list. The space is pretty small, so get there early if you want a table. They also serve food, although we only went for a pre-dinner drink.

Billie's Bier Kafétaria, Antwerp, Belgium

Günther Watté chocolate shop

There are a lot of chocolate shops in Antwerp. We restrained ourselves and only went to one: Günther Watté. The truffles were, as expected, delicious.

Günther Watté chocolate shop, Antwerp, Belgium
Can you think of a better way to end a post than with chocolate?  

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What to do, see, and eat in Antwerp, Belgium

City guide: what to do in Antwerp, Belgium

28 Replies to “City guide: what to do in Antwerp”

  1. Eileen Hofstetter says: Reply

    Love this one Sarah – feel like I know what there is to know about Antwerp!!

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      That was the goal – so yay!

  2. I really like Belgium and yet I’ve not yet been to Antwerp! Your post really makes me think it’s time for a visit. I love the architecture in particular, and there seems to be plenty to see there. Plus the food and beer, of course!

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      If you like gorgeous buildings, great food, and an unbelievably large selection of delicious beer, then yes – it’s definitely time for a visit!

  3. Antwerp looks like such a beautiful city with lots to do! That train station is one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen, and that printing museum looks really cool. And mmmmm the food – OMG those mussels and that chocolate! Looks like i’ll have to check it out sometime.

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      If you like mussels and chocolate, you should definitely go to Belgium!

  4. aww… this made me sorry we skipped antwerp on our way to Belgium! Great details, I’ll make sure to drop by Antwerp next time we’re around 🙂

  5. Great post! Loved it 😊

  6. Great post! You have me kicking myself got not booking a train to Belgium when I travel next month! You’ve definitely added to my bucket list!

  7. oh my god Antwerp looks AMAZING! I’m planning on visiting Belgium this month and now Antwerp is at the top of my list. Thank you for all these great tips! Definitely saving for later 🙂

  8. Antwerp looks like such a pretty city, I love the architecture. You pictures turned out great. Pinning for when I finally make it there.

  9. Love your pictures! I’ve never been but would love to one day.

  10. Belgium is so yummy! And the beer! 😉

  11. Such incredible architecture! That train station is amazing!

  12. This was a really fun read for me! Next month I’m going to Belgium for the first time. I think we may skip Antwerp but we’ll see how much time we have. The architecture looks so stunning. And the chocolate…I’m so excited!

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      You’ll find gorgeous architecture and delicious chocolate in most Belgian cities (at least the ones I’ve been to!). Enjoy!

  13. Nice recommendations. I’ve not been to Belgium yet but it’s on the list. So I’d be sure to spend at least a day in Antwerp. That chocolate beer looks yummy!

  14. Love Belgium! Haven’t made it here yet, but will definitely keep it in mind for my next trip! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Beautiful photos! I love that Brabo fountain 🙂 Antwerp definitely looks worth a visit

  16. I haven’t been to this wonderful town in over 20 years, but dream of going back one day! I love your list and tips, def have to hit up some of these places when I do go back!

  17. The architecture in Antwerp looks absolutely incredible. I’ve never thought much about heading to Belgium but it’s definitely moving up my bucket list – the truffles from Günther Watté sound amazing!

  18. Oh I love this city – I lived there for almost a year and I go there now about once a week – it’s in the top cities in Belgium for me! I loved your photos you really captured the feel of the city. I also think it’s great that the central station is top of your list because it’s literally award-winning and incredible to look at.

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      I’m so glad you liked it – and that you think my photos captured the city well! That’s the best compliment I could get 🙂

  19. crazytravelista says: Reply

    Antwerp seems like such a cool city, I gotta make it back to Belgium. Oh, and the food looks so yumm!

  20. Great post, thank you! I always wanted to go but this has bumped Antwerp higher on my list. Definitely doing a bunch of these things 🙂

  21. I am in love with European cities – the mix of old & new. And those mussels have my mouth watering!

  22. This is a really comprehensive post! I love that building with the flags – I would totally stand there trying to guess what each one is 😀 I haven’t been to Antwerp, but it looks really charming in your pictures.

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      Thank you! Lucky for me (Sarah), Justin knows ALL the flags! Or unlucky for me maybe… haha! It is a great city – and yes, quite charming. Go if you have the chance!

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