Visiting Antwerp – A City Guide
Belgium’s second city is stylish and confident. The country’s largest port, Antwerp became wealthy through trade, and it remains a cutting-edge fashion hub. It effortlessly blends stunning medieval architecture with vibrant 21st-century nightlife. It’s also a major diamond centre – over half the world’s rough and cut stones are traded here.
Antwerp: city layout
Central Antwerp radiates in a semicircle from the east bank of the Schelde River, with the Cathedral of our Lady and majestic Grote Markt square its unmissable focal points. The Meir shopping boulevard heads east from there to the spectacular Antwerp Central station, worth visiting in its own right. The northern part of the city remains a working port, but the docklands just north of the city centre have been transformed into an up-and-coming area packed with museums and restaurants. South of the centre are prosperous residential neighbourhoods and relaxing parks such as Middelheim, which doubles as an open-air sculpture museum.
What to see in Antwerp
Start your tour by admiring the magnificent Renaissance architecture of the Grote Markt. Ringed by sumptuous guild houses, and with the 16th-century city hall as its centrepiece, it’s one of Europe’s grandest city squares.
You can’t fail to miss the soaring 123-metre tower of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady). This ornate Gothic structure is technically incomplete – there was supposed to be a second tower. You’ll want to make time to explore the interior, as the treasures inside, which include paintings by Rubens, are the equal of the building itself.
The concierge recommends…
Hotels in Antwerp
Antwerp has a huge range of accommodation to suit every pocket and taste, from luxury retreats in elegant townhouses to ultra-modern and business-friendly hotels. The highest concentration is in the city centre, but an excellent network of buses and trams will keep you in touch no matter where you stay.
Staying in the city centre puts you within easy reach of the main sights and close to hundreds of shops, bars and restaurants.
Staying north of the centre places you near the rejuvenated former docklands area, a trendy district with an increasing number of nightlife options. This location’s also handy for the Museum aan de Stroom and Red Star Line Museum.
The more residential southern suburbs have plenty of dining options. You’ll have quick access to this district from outside the city, and there are fast public transport links connecting you to the centre.
Eating Out in Antwerp
Antwerp enjoys an excellent culinary reputation, from street snacks to fine dining. The former include Belgian frietjes (incorrectly called ‘French’ fries in English), usually smothered in mayonnaise and served from popular stalls. Also popular are wafelen (Belgian waffles), and chocolate praline, a silky smooth treat that melts on your tongue.
The city centre is packed with restaurants to suit every taste, from refined French to simple café fare. Come with an empty stomach, because café portions can be very large.
You’ll find loads of cafés and restaurants of all classes in the streets around Grote Markt, particularly to the south. There’s also a dense cluster of more budget-minded places west of Antwerp Central station.
Tuck into some Asian cuisine north of the station, in the city’s Chinatown district. New cafés and restaurants are popping up all the time in the former docklands area.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Antwerp
Antwerp gained a reputation as a fashion capital in the 1980s when the ‘Antwerp Six’ designers emerged, and several of them – including Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten – still have flagship stores here. If their price tags are a little daunting, you’ll also find everything from department stores to markets.
Antwerp’s main shopping street is Meir, the boulevard linking Antwerp Central station with the river. You’ll find familiar brands here and along the adjacent streets.
For high-end fashion, pottery and jewellery under one roof, try Graanmarkt 13. For everyday items try the Grand Bazar shopping centre.
Even if you’re not shopping, you should still check out the Stadsfeestzaal. This former exhibition hall was rebuilt following a devastating fire and is now an elegant warren of around 40 designer stores.
If diamonds are your best friend, you’ll want to visit the Diamond Quarter, beside the station.
Top souvenirs from Antwerp
Culture & Nightlife in Antwerp
Antwerp has a thriving cultural scene, with a wide range of museums and art galleries to keep you entertained by day. In the evening, activity centres around the city’s hundreds of bars and cafés, some of which play loud music into the early hours, effectively becoming free-to-enter clubs.
Most museums and cultural distractions are in the city centre. There’s another concentration of galleries south of the centre, near the Schelde River, and more museums in the docklands district north of the centre. You’ll also find an increasing number of bars and clubs in this fast-developing area.
Between the docks and the centre is a more-established clubbing area. Here you’ll find Café d’Anvers, centre of the dance scene for three decades and still host to local and international DJs. Many of Antwerp’s finest beer bars and pubs are found around the Grote Markt.
Top museums in Antwerp
Visiting Antwerp with a Family
From zoos and aquariums to educational museums and leafy parks, Antwerp has a wide range of attractions to keep younger visitors amused. Like all cities in Belgium, children are welcome in most bars and cafés as well as restaurants, and many have games available to keep everyone entertained.
Your kids can’t fail to be awed by the sheer scale of Antwerp’s elegant cathedral, and you’ll find plenty of other historical sights in this area. In the Vleeshuis museum you can hear a unique collection of instruments created when a medieval law forbade anyone but soldiers from playing drums or trumpets.
Burn some energy in Middelheim park, south of the centre. If you fancy an adventure with a difference, walk through St. Anna Tunnel, a cyclist and pedestrian passageway beneath the River Schelde. The views from the western exit make the journey worthwhile.
Best family attractions in Antwerp