According to All City Codes, Antwerp is the capital of the Belgian province of the same name. Antwerp is very popular among Dutch tourists. This is partly due to its location fairly close to the Dutch-Belgian border. Geographical location is not enough to make a destination a success. Above all, Antwerp is a very nice city with a lot to see and do. You won’t be bored here for a moment. Dutch and Belgians mainly come to Antwerp to shop and enjoy life. Because Antwerp has been known for centuries for its excellent nightlife. Some typical Belgian pubs date from the time when boats and horses were still moving along and over the slates.
The historic city center is the biggest attraction. You can fully enjoy a delicious Belgian pint on ancient squares such as the Grote Markt. Shopping enthusiasts can go wild in the many shopping areas in Antwerp. It is not without reason that Antwerp is considered the shopping city of the Benelux. The month of December is the busiest in Antwerp. The annual Christmas market then provides extra crowds. In terms of weather, December is not the best travel month for a visit to Antwerp, but the combination of dark days ensures that the many lights and decorations make the city extra cozy.
Antwerp has of course much more to offer than shops and restaurants. The city has plenty of historic sites, fun neighborhoods and fascinating museums that are well worth exploring. In addition to being an interesting city for tourists, Antwerp is of course also a real student city and a place on the Scheldt where many port activities have been taking place since the Middle Ages. Most logistics processes have been moved to the new port on the north side of Antwerp. The harbor elements in the old harbor are preserved for later generations mainly because of historical awareness.
Antwerp ‘s Top 10 Attractions
#1. Historical centre
The historic city center of Antwerp is actually a large open-air museum. This is the beating heart of the city, where the most important administrative and commercial activities have been taking place for many years. The medieval blueprint is visible in many ways, for example in the street pattern. Wider streets that used to consist of waterways alternate with narrow streets and alleys. The Vlaeykensgang is a good example of this. This secret alley has been connecting Pelgrimstraat, Hoogstraat and Oude Koornmarkt since 1591. Fortunately, this unique part of Antwerp has been preserved.
The most famous part of historic Antwerp is without a doubt the Grote Markt. If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t seen Antwerp. The monumental guild houses and the imposing town hall are the main eye-catchers of Antwerp’s most famous square. A not-to-be-missed object on the Grote Markt is the Brabo Fountain. It is especially the imposing bronze statue of Silvius Brabo that attracts attention.
#2. The Island
Various parts of Antwerp have undergone a major transformation in recent years. A good example of this is Het Eilandje. This used to be the place where mainly sailors walked around, whether or not drunk from the many beers that were tapped here. The reputation of Het Eilandje was not very good. At the beginning of this century, a huge urban renewal project started that has turned Het Eilandje into one of the nicest and hippest neighborhoods in all of Antwerp. Partly due to an eye-catcher such as the MAS and the large-scale opening of restaurants, Het Eilandje has grown from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
Het Eilandje has two of the most beautiful museums in Antwerp in the Museum aan de Stroom ( MAS ) and the Red Star Line Museum. The modern designed MAS is a special museum. Here collections from various previous museums are packed together in an attractive whole. The main subjects are the city of Antwerp, the Port of Antwerp and the different peoples that live on the earth. From the freely accessible roof terrace you have a great panoramic view of Het Eilandje and a reasonable part of Antwerp. This panoramic terrace is a must-visit if you are in this part of the city.
The Red Star Line Museum is located in a historic pavilion in the former Antwerp harbour. The museum is about the history of the Red Star Line. This Belgian shipping company maintained a service between Antwerp and New York. Over nearly sixty years, Red Star Line brought some two million emigrants from Europe to America.
Other sights within Het Eilandje that are worth mentioning are the Bonapartedok, the Willemdok, the Droogdokkenpark and the Waagnatie. This is an event complex where all kinds of fun things can be experienced. In the summer you can enjoy the largest terrace in Antwerp: Bocadero. Our tip: enjoy the beautiful sunset over the bend of the Scheldt here.
#3. Rubens House
Peter Paul Rubens is the most famous Antwerp painter and draftsman. At the beginning of the 16th century, Rubens worked from his city residence, which is located at the Wapper 9-11. The monumental building has been expanded by Rubens into a home with a studio that was inspired by the Italian Renaissance palaces from that time. After the city of Antwerp acquired the Rubens House in 1937, it could be transformed into a museum. Since its opening in 1946, the Rubens House has grown into one of the leading and most visited museums in Antwerp. It not only offers a glimpse into Rubens’ work, but also his living and working environment.
The Scheldt is the reason that Antwerp has been able to grow into a large and prosperous city. This river provides a connection to the North Sea, which is logistically ideal for trading activities. In earlier times Antwerp also earned a lot from the tolls that skippers had to pay. The harbor used to be the beating heart of the city. It was not for nothing that it was located right next to the historic center, to which it was connected via the ruien. The port has since been moved northwards. There are still several sights and nice places to be found on the Scheldt. Think of the antique harbor cranes that are on the bank, the Sint Annastrand on the Left Bank and the particularly designed Havenhuis. Designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, this building is an architectural masterpiece. A sleek, modern designed part has been installed on a former fire station, reminiscent of a sailing ship. This Havenhuis, completed in 2016, is an eye-catcher that is clearly visible from the highway.
Markets have been held in Antwerp since time immemorial. Some of these markets are known beyond the national borders and are even a reason to come to Antwerp especially for them. The first weekly market worth mentioning is the Vogeltjesmarkt. This market is held every Sunday (including holidays) on and around the Theaterplein. The time when mainly birds and poultry were sold here has almost disappeared. There is still a single stall where birds and poultry are sold. For the rest, it is mainly an atmospheric market that receives thousands of visitors every Sunday. On Saturdays, another market is held on the Theaterplein: the Exotic Market, which is also known locally as the Aliens Market. This is the perfect time to buy all kinds of exotic ingredients, snacks and drinks. On Friday it is time for the Vrijdagmarkt. This takes place on the Vrijdagmarkt. You can participate in an auction of old household effects here from 9 am to 1 pm.
Two annual markets should not be forgotten in these top 10 attractions in Antwerp: the Rubensmarkt and the Antwerp Christmas Market. The Rubensmarkt takes place every year on August 15. This date is a national holiday in Belgium (Ascension Mary). The Rubensmarkt is an annual market in medieval style. You can buy various regional products from the time of Peter Paul Rubens on and around the Grote Markt.
The Antwerp Christmas Market turns the historic city center of Antwerp into a festive area where you can buy typical winter products, Christmas products and all kinds of delicacies. During the cooler days, mulled wine and schnapps are in great demand in the cosily decorated stalls.
#6. fashion district
Antwerp has a good reputation in the field of fashion. Antwerp fashion designers are among the European top. They are known for their refreshing take on fashion and the way they express this in their designs. If you visit the famous Fashion District of Antwerp, you can shop in the nicest boutiques. It’s not just about haute couture here. Streetwear and more accessible fashion have also found their place here. The Fashion District is concentrated around the northern part of the Nationalestraat and some side streets such as Steenhouwersvest, Lombardenvest and Kloosterstraat.
What we consider a must-visit in the Fashion District? That is the Fashion Museum Antwerp. In the MoMu you can especially enjoy fantastic changing exhibitions. Two temporary exhibitions will be shown within a year. Each exhibition lasts about five months. The weeks in between are used to break down and build up the exhibits. The leading Antwerp Fashion Academy is linked to the Fashion Museum. Graduation projects of students of this study program are visible within MoMu.
#7. The Koninck Brewery
Belgium and beer make a great combination. The Belgians are known for their delicious specialty beers and excellent types of pilsner such as Stella Artois and Jupiler. Antwerp also has a long history of beer breweries. Many of the city’s breweries have disappeared over time. Some beer brands returned after years. Think of Seef, which has been brewed again in the new brewery of the Antwerpse Brouw Compagnie since 2017. De Koninck is a beer producer that has been active non-stop in Antwerp since 1833. The most famous beer of De Koninck is Bolleke. Until 2019, this amber-colored beer was called De Koninck (after the brewery) and the nickname bolleke was used. This is based on the spherical glass in which this beer is served.
A tour of the De Koninck brewery is a popular excursion within Antwerp. It is an interactive tour that tells you everything about the brewery and its beers. During your visit to the De Koninck city brewery, you will come across various themed rooms. During the walk you can see a small piece of the real production process. At the end of the brewery visit you will arrive at the places where you can taste the beers of De Koninck and Duvel-Moortgat. You can try the different beers here for a fee. In our opinion, the perfect end to a brewery visit.
#8. Cathedral of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady is a landmark building in the historic center of Antwerp. This cathedral, dedicated to Mary, dates from the late Middle Ages and has therefore been an icon of Antwerp for more than 500 years. It is a Gothic cruciform church with a striking element: the south tower is lower than the north tower. This was not so planned. This tower had to be financed from sponsorship money. The money flowed in less quickly than people would like, so that this church tower has become lower than planned.
The Iconoclasm has ensured that little of the original interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady has been preserved. Fortunately, the current interior of the cathedral is still more than worth seeing. This is partly due to the beautiful paintings that can be admired here, including four paintings by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens.
#9. Belle Epoque neighborhood
The area between Berchem train station and the Dageraad district is called the Belle Epoque district by Antwerp residents. This has everything to do with the architecture, which shows clear elements from the belle époque (late 19th century to the beginning of the First World War). For example, you can see well-preserved Art Nouveau style elements on various facades. Especially on the Cogels-Osylei you can see many impressive buildings. This area is worth walking or cycling through, without specific buildings that stand out. The whole atmosphere that this district evokes is different from the rest of Antwerp and is discovered by few tourists. End the walking tour with a beer at the Dageraadplaats. This square can be counted among the most Antwerp squares. Here locals and visitors come together in a casual, cozy atmosphere. The Dageraadplaats is also known as the heart of Zurenborg.
#10. Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp is blessed with what we believe to be one of the most beautiful station buildings in Europe. Thanks to a lengthy renovation, Antwerp Central has been converted from a terminus station to a train station with through tracks. Logistically, that was a huge operation. What you will experience as a visitor is that this building, dating from 1905, has become an architectural masterpiece due to the renovation. Almost all authentic elements have been preserved, including the imposing station hall, the impressive facade and the enormous roof constructed of steel and glass. A modern interior has been built around the tracks that perfectly matches the classic elements of this special station building. For photographers is Antwerp Central train station a source of inspiration.