Antwerp (‘Antwerpen’ in Dutch/Flemish, ‘Anvers’ in French) is the second largest city in Belgium and is well known for its port, its diamond business and for being the home city of the famous artist Peter Paul Rubens. We have been to this city a few times already and would like to share how to spend a day in Antwerp, what you can see and do there if you have a few hours or a day.
Although most tourists go to Bruges and Brussels when visiting Belgium, I think Antwerp is undeservedly overlooked as a popular tourist destination in Belgium. Antwerp is only one hour away (by car or train) from Brussels and would make a perfect day trip from Brussels if you’re staying there.
Antwerp also has a direct connection with Dutch city of Rotterdam – one hour by train – that makes it a perfect one day trip destination from the Netherlands too. We now live in Utrecht, which is just under 2 hours away by car, and visited Antwerp a few times. Arriving in the morning, spending the day in the city and leaving in the late afternoon is just a perfect amount of time for a short visit and a good overview of the city of Antwerp.
Antwerp Central Train Station
Antwerp is well connected by trains with the rest of Belgium and with the Netherlands and so the chances are that you arrive by train and won’t miss one of the most beautiful Europe’s train stations.
Even if you arrive by car, park it outside the center and explore the city by foot starting with the central train station. Ensure you go inside and check the interior architecture of the train station building too.
Chocolate Nation museum
Belgium is famous for its chocolates and Antwerp is not an exception. You will find there many shops selling all kinds of chocolates – from milk to very dark, from plain chocolate to some really odd flavored chocolate and from simple chocolate bars to beautifully decorated and wrapped chocolates making it a perfect gift from Belgium.
To saturate your chocolate experience in Belgium even more, why not visit Chocolate Nation – the largest chocolate museum in Belgium – located right next to the central train station.
Like they mention on the website “A genuine Valhalla for chocolate lovers: A museum for an experience that will literally make you drool.”
I personally am very glad I’m not living in Belgium – otherwise I would find it very hard to resist all the chocolates and fresh waffles around! 🙂 Not even mentioning diamonds 😉
Right outside of the central train station is the famous Antwerp Diamond Quarter (or district). According to Wikipedia “about 84% of the world’s rough diamonds passed through the district, making it the largest diamond district in the world with a turnover of 54 billion dollars”. I think it’s pretty impressive.
Even if you’re not going to buy diamonds while visiting Antwerp, why not just do a little window shopping on your way to the city center? 🙂
Also, if you are interested in learning more about diamonds and gemstones, visit DIVA museum – a museum with diamond, other gemstones, silver and gold jewellery and art pieces located at Suikerrui street (check their website for more info)
Walk on the main shopping street in Antwerp – Meir street. It’s a pedestrian street and it’s not just shopping you can do there, but admire some historical buildings and architecture.
If you walk from the train station, at the Teniersplaats you will pass the statue of David Teniers – a famous Flemish artist. Then past two richly decorated buildings on the Leysstraat and towards the statue of another famous Flemish artist – Antoon Van Dyck.
Don’t miss the Stadsfeestzaal – a luxury shopping mall in a beautiful building, with interior decorated in marble, mosaics and sculptures.
Another building on Meir street you won’t want to miss is Paleis op de Meir (or Koninklijk Paleis) – the former king’s palace of Antwerp. You can enter the inner yard and there is also a chocolate shop with nice installations made out of chocolate and a good selection of chocolates.
The Rubens House
From Meir street turn left to the Wapper street to get to The Rubens House – former house of the famous artist Peter Paul Rubens.
Peter Paul Rubens was a seventeenth-century Flemish artist, who was born, lived and worked in the city of Antwerp. The Rubens House is the place where the artist lived (he designed the home by himself) and had a studio. Now it’s a museum, which you can visit to see the house and garden, Rubens paintings as well as paintings of other artists he worked with.
Visit the website to check opening times, prices and other details.
St. James’ Church
Take a small detour from the Meir street to see St. James’ Church (Sint-Jacobskerk). A very old Gothic church, where Rubens married his second wife, and where many noble citizens of Antwerp were buried. Among which is the grave of Peter Paul Rubens himself.
So far, our walk would look like this:
Saint Carolus Borromeus Church
If you keep walking toward the old town, you will get to Saint Carolus Borromeus Church – the 17th century catholic church featuring an altar with a mechanism to rotate four altar paintings – one for each season.
The church has paintings by Rubens and other Flemish painters.
Groenplaats and Pieter Paul Rubens statue
Make a stop at Groenplaats – big open square with a statue of Pieter Paul Rubens and a view of the tall tower of Cathedral of Our Lady. You can relax there in one of the cafes, or simply on one of the benches on the square.
First time we visited Antwerp it was in winter and it was a skate rink in the middle of Groenplaats surrounded by stalls of hot food and wine.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp
Beautiful gothic cathedral in the middle of the old town of Antwerp is a part of UNESCO World Heritage. Cathedral of Our Lady was built in the sixteenth century and contains paintings by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings by other artists.
In front of the cathedral on Handschoenmarkt you will find Nello & Patrache Statue. The statue is dedicated to the novel ‘A Dog of Flanders’. Events in the novel are happening in Antwerp and the main heroes – Nello and the dog – visit the cathedral, where the boy admires the paintings by Rubens.
Grote Markt (or the Grand Place) is an old town square with cafes, city hall and the iconic Standbeeld van Brabo fountain featured in many postcards and souvenirs of Antwerp.
Grand building of the Antwerp City Hall (Stadhuis van Antwerpen), 16th century guild houses, beautiful monument and fountains in the middle, and also restaurants and cafés around the Grote Markt makes it a nice and popular place in the city center.
Old town walk:
Scheldt River banks
After walking in the old town go to the river front of Scheldt river.
There is an underground tunnel (or would it be more precise to call it an underriver tunnel? :)) that goes to the other bank of the river – Sint-Annatunnel. You can walk the 500 meters long tunnel and get out on the other side of the river where you will find a green area and a playground.
Alternatively, you can stay on the city center’s side and take a walk along the river. Get up to the Cruise terminal to get the view to the river, and then continue walking towards Het Steen – a medieval fortress, which was unfortunately closed when we visited last time (but it’s going to be reopen in 2020 after the renovation). Nevertheless, it’s the oldest building in Antwerp and can be admired even just from the outside.
The St. Paul’s Church (Sint-Pauluskerk)
Walking past the Het Steen, turn towards the city and visit another historic landmark and a church – St. Paul’s Church (Sint-Pauluskerk). Inside it holds paintings by Antwerp’s artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Outside the church there is an old and beautiful Calvary garden (Calvarietuin) with 18th century sculptures created by Antwerp Baroque sculptors.
Museum aan de Stroom
Walk to see the modern building of Museum aan de Stroom at the Hanzestedenplaats. The museum holds exhibitions about the city of Antwerp.
Access to the top of the museum is free, so you can get up there and enjoy the views of the city from the tenth floor.
Scheldt River bank walk:
More things to see in Antwerp
If you feel like doing more walking, continue past Museum aan de Stroom all the way to Red Star Line Museum – a museum dedicated to people immigrated from Europe to America on the Red Star shipping line.
Next go see the second largest seaport in Europe – Port of Antwerp – and its eye-catching The Port Authority Building (Havenhuis Antwerpen).
On the way back to the train station (or to a car park if you arrived by car), visit Béguinage of Antwerp – a medieval place with small houses and a garden dated back to the 16th century.
If you have more time to spend in Antwerp (and especially if you are visiting with kids) make sure to visit Antwerp Zoo located next to the Central Train Station. Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest zoo parks in the world.
To have some outdoor time or, if travelling with kids, to let the children play in a park, visit a nice city park Stadspark. It’s located not far from the train station, and has a green area around a small lake, and a playground for kids to play.
As you can see, there are lots of things to see and do in Antwerp even just within the city center. In fact, after writing this post I’m thinking of going there again for a weekend some time soon. How about you? Already planning a trip to Antwerp? 😉