Amazing Antwerp: An Insider's Guide
When travelers think of Belgium, they often think of only Brussels but a short distance away is the beautiful coastal city of Antwerp on the river Scheldt. The diamond capital, beer hub and waffle haven of the world, Antwerp has so much to offer from shopping to food to architecture and art!
So if you are ever in or passing by Belgium, trust me, this is a place not to be missed!
Getting there: It takes around an hour to get to Antwerp from Brussels by car or by train. There are direct trains to Antwerp from other major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Paris.
Central Station: I strongly recommend taking a train to Antwerp as you arrive in an artistic railway cathedral that is voted Europe’s most romantic and the world’s ‘most beautiful’ train station. The station, incorporating various architectural styles and designs with its stone terminals and iconic dome, is a popular tourist attraction.
Diamond District: Being in the diamond capital of the world, you must take a DiamondLAnd’s tour of a ‘diamond business’. You can also shop the perfect diamond with the world’s highest quality cut, ‘Antwerp Cut’ at one of the thousand (literally) reputed shops.
Meir & Stadfeestzaal: Located walking distance from the station, past the diamond district, is Antwerp’s main shopping street. Here you can find all kinds of shops from local boutiques to big brands and departmental stores. Midway on the Meir is a historic heritage, the Stadfeestzaal. The architecture of this banquet hall was burned in a fire and then beautifully restored.
On the Meir, you will also come across a giant stone hand, Hand op de Meir, which symbolizes the hand of the giant from the city’s legends. This is a popular tourist photo-op spot!
By the way, Antwerp is known as a ‘‘triomfelycke coopstad‘, which means a triumphant shopping city because of the ‘Antwerp Six’, a group of famous fashion designers from Antwerp that made this place important in the international fashion scene. Other shopping districts include the area of Nationale Straat that houses the fashion institute and museum and areas around the Grote Markt and Groenplaats (more for souvenirs) where you will find the Grand Bazaar Shopping Centre (50+ shops).
Paleis op de Meir: The charming Palace on the Meir was the Antwerp residence of Belgium royal family after Belgium got its independence. But its history dates back to when Napoleon bought the palace in 1811 for its favorable location. But he never actually lived in it. Though this royal residence has been renovated, it has preserved its original palatial furnishings.
RubenHuis: Further down the Meir is Rubenshouse, the house where the famous artist Peter Paul Rubens lived with his wife, Isabella Brant. The house turned museum is decorated by the painter himself, taking inspiration from the Classical Antiquity.
MAS Museum: Still further down along the quay, you will find the MAS. The building itself showcasing exemplary architecture. Apart from being a spectacular museum, the MAS offers free access to its rooftop that has panoramic views of Antwerp. The neighborhood is laidback yet stunningly folksy with old loading docks, worn down warehouses, abandoned hangars and cobblestone roads
Grote Markt: Also called the ‘town square’ or ‘old town’ is filled with lovely medieval-looking guild houses. The square has an array of cafes and restaurants and is great for relaxing or people-watching.
Stadhuis: located in the old town, is this beautiful 15th century Renaissance and Baroque UNESCO World Heritage Site. In front is the famous Brabo Fountain, with a bronze statue of the city’s hero as per historical legend. The fountain reflects how Captain Brabo cut off the hand of an invading giant into the river. The city gets its name from this legend, Antwerpen is a composition of Dutch words “(h)ant” meaning hand and “werpen” meaning to throw.
Cathedral of Antwerp: The city’s tallest building, the Cathedral is a gigantic gothic work of art that took 169 years to finish and is now listed as a World Heritage Site! Inside, you can see paintings by Antwerp’s beloved painter, Rubens.
Antwerp has something for everyone- kids, young adults, and senior citizens. Trampoline Park, Indoor Rock Climbing, Mini Golf, and Golf Driving Range, Comedy Shows are just a handful of activities that the city offers.
Antwerp Zoo: Also close to the station, is the country’s oldest animal park. With over 7000+ animals, it is definitely worth a visit!
Botanische Tuin: The 200-year-old Botanical Garden, near Leopoldstraat, is home to rare trees, shrubs, plants, and herbs. It is absolutely beautiful during spring.
Scheldt River: The left bank of the river, Linkeroever, flowing through Belgium, Netherlands, and France, has some great spots for a quiet, relaxing evening. One such spot is Boeienweide, a lush green decorated field that offers great views of Antwerp’s skyline.
Park Spoor Noord: This vast green park is a favorite spot during summertime. Ideal for walks and cycling, picnics and family time, the area boasts numerous play area, a skate bowl, two water fountains and a summer terrace. This beautiful landscape hosts many cultural and sports events.
Besides architecture, the bustling port of Antwerp is also known for its amazing food!
Waffles: There’s no such thing as a ‘Belgian Waffle’ in Belgium since its an American concept. Belgium offers a variety of waffles but the two most common are Liège Waffles and Brussels Waffle. Creme de la Creme (near the Old Town) and Desire de Lille (near the Meir) are favorite waffle spots for locals.
Fries: Belgian fries are simply delicious. While most frituurs have good fries, a favorite for locals is Frituur Number One.
Beer: Belgium is world famous for its beers! Bier Central (near Central Station) is a pub that has over 100 types of Belgian beers on its menu. City Brewery tour is a tour of the city’s oldest brewery with a glimpse into its brewing chambers and tasting of its signature beer. A pub crawl is another great option for any beer enthusiast. Make sure to sample De Koninck, the beer of Antwerp!
Murni is a healthy restaurant with extensive plant-based, vegan and gluten-free dishes. The location in a beautiful garden and stunning interiors make it a lively brunch spot.
Del Rey is the most popular chocolatier in town. While their chocolates and pastries are to die for, their lunch and high tea menus are pretty amazing too! Try the goat's cheese salad! (Closed for dinner).
Rachel’s or Benny’s falafel are fast food falafel joints that should not be missed. A majority of Antwerp’s population is Jewish and it would be a mistake to skip their local cuisine.
Renaissance is an Italian restaurant that is located within a high-end luxury boutique. Great food and lively ambiance make it great for dinner!
Pazzo is an exquisite all-truffle restaurant (Closed on weekends).
Antwerp has a long list of Michelin-star restaurants such as The Jane and Nuance. Time and budget permitting, it is definitely a dinner worth experiencing.
Other restaurants include: Grand Duca (Italian Rooftop Terrace), Takumi Ramen, Otomat (Chocolate Pizzas), Esco*bar (Variety of Burgers), Tropicos (Mexican), Danieli (Italian Garden), Civilta (Best Pizzas in town), Hayashi (Teppanyaki Fine Dine)
Cafes: Mooy is an all pink cafe with beautiful Pinterest worthy interiors. It even has a pink colored coffee! Het Gebaar, located in the gardens, is another great spot for tea. Close to the high-end luxury shopping with beautiful gardens view, this cafe has some beautifully created desserts.
Bars: Avini is a wine bar with an overwhelming list of world-class wines. Dogma is a speakeasy bar known for its offbeat cocktails. Dirty Rabbit is a Latino restaurant bar, great for dancing and drinking. Lazy Jack and Bocadero are summer bars with relaxed upbeat vibes.
When to Visit: Summer is the best time to visit Antwerp. The weather is ideal for exploring and a lot more is happening in the city from summer bars to food festivals to music concerts. Zomer van Antwerpen festival and the renowned Tomorrowland music festival take place during this season!
Pro Tip: Avoid taking a taxi or a car. Taxis are too expensive and parking is not easy. It’s easy to walk or bike or take the bus, tram or ‘Bird’ (electronic scooter). You can also hire a car, ‘Poppy’ to get around certain areas of the city.
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