A very trendy and fashionable place, Antwerp is full of chic boutiques, intimate art galleries, and fine dining establishments. It’s also the diamond capital of the world! Add in lots of fantastic cocktail bars and a thriving nightlife scene, which has all kinds of music venues and clubs on offer, and it is easy to see why this is such a popular tourist destination.
The second-largest city in Belgium, Antwerp is home to one of the busiest ports in Europe, as well as a gorgeous historic center. Here, you’ll find lots of wonderful historic buildings and interesting museums tucked away amid its picturesque cobbled streets and centuries-old squares.
With so many different things to do in Antwerp, it is well worth checking out with lots of tourist attractions for you to enjoy, whether you’re into history and culture or fashion and entertainment.
12. Red Star Line Museum
Located on the banks of the Scheldt river, with waterways and docks all around it, this delightful museum provides a fascinating look at the history of the Red Star Line. Between 1873 and 1934, millions of passengers sailed on their ships from Antwerp, destined for a new life in America. The museum is set in the very building from which they embarked.
Through personal belongings, photo exhibitions, model ships, and artworks, you learn about some of the emigrants’ stories, why they chose to depart for the New World, and what the crossing was like. Only opened in 2013, the museum is very interactive and engaging. From its observation tower, which is shaped like a ship’s funnel, you can enjoy brilliant views out over the docks and river.
11. Antwerp Zoo
One of the oldest zoos in the world, Antwerp Zoo was opened all the way back in 1843 and can be found right next to Antwerpen-Centraal train station. Renowned internationally for its preservation and breeding programs, the zoo’s spacious and well-looked-after enclosures are home to more than 4,000 animals, reptiles, and birds. You can see everything from Siberian tigers and lowland gorillas to spectacled bears, lions, and jaguars with tapirs, snakes, and penguins also on show.
Although it is very modern, the zoo still exhibits lots of lovely 19th-century architecture. Its Moorish and Egyptian temples, as well as the beautiful entranceway that beckons you in, are just a couple of its main highlights. A fun and educational day out for all the family, Antwerp Zoo is definitely worth checking out if you have time.
10. Diamond District
Long famed for the sparkling gems and shiny stones that flow through its streets, Antwerp has been the diamond capital of the world since the 15th century. This was when Lodewyk van Berken invented a new kind of tool and technique to polish the precious gemstones, attracting both artisans to the city.
Lying just to the west of the train station, Antwerp’s Diamond District is where you’ll find hundreds of shops and workshops that sell all kinds of jewelry and both rough and polished diamonds.
Largely run by the city’s Jewish residents, roughly 80% of the world’s uncut diamonds are said to pass through Antwerp’s streets, although in recent years, both Indian and American businesspeople have muscled in on the lucrative trade. Lots of fun to explore, Diamond District’s streets upon streets of glittering displays make it unlike anywhere else on Earth.
9. Steen Castle
Built all the way back in the 11th century, Steen Castle was erected on the banks of the river Scheldt to protect Antwerp and its port from Viking raids. Once part of a much larger set of fortifications, the small yet photogenic castle is the oldest building in the city. Its name in English literally means ‘stone castle.’ Used as a prison for over 500 years, the castle has a fabulous entrance bridge and gateway for you to take photos in front of.
Many of its features date to the 16th century when Charles V rebuilt and refurbished much of it. In addition to this, there is also a magnificent statue of a large giant and two small humans on show before the castle, with the former said to have terrorized the city of Antwerp in the Middle Ages.
Although you can’t currently enter as it is undergoing renovations, the castle is well worth stopping off at. It lies near to a couple of great museums, as well as a picturesque walk you can do along the riverside.
8. Meir Shopping Street
The main shopping street in Antwerp, Meir runs from near Antwerpen-Centraal station right to the Cathedral of Our Lady in the historic center. It is the place to go if you are at all interested in fashion or want to shop the day away. Lined by high-end fashion outlets, upmarket boutiques, and flagship stores from Antwerp designers, there are hundreds of different establishments for you to peruse.
The gorgeous and glittering Stadsfeestzaal is home to yet more enticing shops. One of the most expensive places to go shopping in the Benelux, Meir certainly looks the part, with magnificent old buildings and stunning architecture lining the pedestrian street. With loads of cafes, restaurants, and fast food outlets also found along the way, Meir is very lively at almost any time of the day.
7. De Koninck Antwerp City Brewery
As Belgium is famed around the world for its beers, a trip to De Koninck Antwerp City Brewery is a must if you want to learn more about the city’s – and indeed country’s – rich brewing history, heritage, and culture. Very well-presented and laid out, its interesting and interactive exhibitions teach you how beer is produced through a series of engaging audiovisual displays and themed rooms.
This fun tour of the city brewery is very well done; at the end, you can even try one of De Koninck’s iconic ‘Bolleke’ beers for yourself.
6. Museum Plantin-Moretus
Set in a delightful medieval building with a beautiful courtyard lying at its heart, Museum Plantin-Moretus boasts the two oldest remaining printing presses in the world. Once one of Europe’s leading printing companies in the 1600s, its presses have been wonderfully preserved, alongside some of the old manuscripts and books they used to produce.
Fascinating to wander around, the widely-acclaimed museum also has a lovely centuries-old library and bookshop for you to explore, as well as some great paintings and drawings by Rubens.
Once the home and studio of the world-renowned painter Pieter Paul Rubens, this charming townhouse was actually renovated and enlarged following his own designs. While its exterior, with its marvelous brickwork, ornate façade, and splendid statues, certainly makes for a fine sight, it is the interior of the house that is the main attraction.
Besides showcasing a dozen or so of his paintings – such as his famous Self-portrait and Adam and Eve – fabulous artworks by some of his contemporaries are also on display alongside period furniture. Opened to the public in 1946, Rubenshuis offers a captivating look at the life and works of one of the greatest Flemish artists.
4. Cathedral of Our Lady
Towering over the historic center, the Cathedral of our Lady is one of Antwerp’s most recognizable sights and is visible from almost anywhere in the city. The tallest church tower in the Benlux, its majestic spire reaches a height of 123 meters. Both Charles V and Napoleon commented favorably on its magnificent design and Gothic features.
Built between 1352 and 1521, the cathedral’s cavernous interior is particularly worthwhile visiting for its sumptuous stained glass windows and the fantastic collection of Ruben’s paintings that it proudly displays. Not to be missed out on when in Antwerp, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedrael (as it is known in Dutch) is one of the most important and impressive monuments in the whole of the city.
3. MAS (Museum aan de Stroom)
Boasting an incredible collection of artifacts and artworks that highlight Antwerp’s rich heritage and its connection to the larger world, MAS is well worth visiting if you are interested in history and culture. Only opened in 2011, the Museum by the River – to give it its English title – is the largest museum in the city. It is located in a very distinctive-looking modern building that lies right next to the Scheldt river surrounded by docks.
Spread out over ten floors are video installations, photo exhibitions, and interactive displays for you to peruse, with old maritime objects also on show alongside spectacular paintings and sculptures. The museum looks at various themes, with art, history, and cultures from around the world merging seamlessly before your eyes. Besides its many treasures, you can enjoy a brilliant view of the docks from the top of the building.
One of the most beautiful train stations you will ever set eyes on, Antwerpen-Centraal looks astounding, and visiting it is a must when in the city. Designed by the Belgian architect Louis Delacenserie, the station was built in 1905 and exhibits an exquisite neo-Gothic facade with a huge dome perched atop of it.
While its exterior looks phenomenal, the inside is perhaps even more impressive. Its cavernous main hall is decked in marble, with elegant columns and a marvelous central staircase presided over by a lovely clock face.
Set over three levels, the rest of the station’s platforms and facilities are strikingly modern in comparison. All in all, Antwerpen-Centraal certainly makes for a memorable start or end to any trip to the city.
1. Grote Markt
Lined by gorgeous medieval guild houses and townhouses, the Grote Markt is the most important and impressive square in Antwerp and lies right in the heart of the historic center. While one side is dominated by the majestic Renaissance architecture of Antwerp City Hall, many of the other historic buildings are now home to restaurants, cafes, and bars.
The undoubted highlight, however, is its splendid Brabo Fountain depicting Brabo – a famous giant-slayer – chucking a giant’s hand into the air. It is from this legend that the name Antwerp came about: ‘hand werpen’ in Dutch means ‘to throw a hand.’ The Baroque bronze sculpture makes for some great photos and looks even more breathtaking with the towering spire of the Cathedral of Our Lady in the background.
With so much beauty, art, history, and architecture to discover, no visit to Antwerp can ever be complete with stopping by the Grote Markt.