Here’s a list of the 15 best things to do in Antwerpen (Belgium) along with famous landmarks, museums, and other points of interest.
Antwerp (Dutch/Flemish: Antwerpen) is one of the largest cities in Belgium, located north of Brussels in the Flemish region. It’s a historic city, famous for its diamond industry and port, which is one of the biggest ports in the world.
In this article, I’m sharing some of my favorite activities and landmarks in Antwerpen that you shouldn’t miss while visiting.
Antwerp Central Station is often mentioned as one of the world’s most beautiful train stations featuring several architectural styles with beautiful details all over the place.
It is the main train station in the city and has been operating since 1905. In the late 19th century, Clement Van Bogaert and Louis Delascenserie transformed the station into what we can see today.
Antwerpen-Centraal connects the city with Brussels as well as other European capitals, such as Amsterdam, where the train even passes the Schiphol Airport, making this train station just one flight and train-ride away from several destinations around the world.
Antwerpen is one of the world’s major hubs when it comes to diamonds, and some 85% of all uncut diamonds will arrive here, which has made the so-called diamond district one of the most important industries, giving jobs to roughly 30,000 people.
Trading diamonds has long been a flourishing business associated with Belgium and Antwerpen. The city is also home to the largest diamond museum in the world, where you can learn more about diamonds.
At DiamondLand, there is also the possibility of seeing diamond cutters at work as well as goldsmiths, who go about on their daily chores.
Meir shopping street
Meir is a famous shopping street that connects Grote Markt with the Central station. It is known for its impressive architecture and highly decorated buildings, which are housing lavish boutiques.
In addition to shopping, one can also view buildings such as the Galeria Inno, Paleis op de Meir, and Stadsfeestzaal, which are all worth taking a closer look at while strolling along Meir street.
Grote Markt dates back to the 16th Century and is a beautiful example of architecture from this period. Nearby, the street of Hofstraat is where the old stock exchange was located until the 16th century.
If you want to experience the daily life of Antwerpen and admire some of the city’s most beautiful buildings, Grote Mark is a splendid place to go. There is always something happening here and lots of history that have taken place here as well.
The Brabo fountain stands at the center of the main square and tells the story of a giant named Druon Antigoon supposedly cut off the hands of any captain who dared to dock without paying toll fees.
The fountain is an iconic landmark in Antwerpen that portrays Captain Brabo who freed the city from the terrifying giant, by cutting off his hand and throw it into the river.
Het Steen as it’s known in Dutch/Flemish is not only the first building that was made from stone in the city but also the oldest building in Antwerpen. During medieval times, it functioned as the city center, and the castle itself dates back to the 13th century.
Its primary use was to defend the city and control access to the river Scheldt. But it has also been used as a prison. The entrance is free, and I can warmly recommend visiting Steen Castle since it’s one of the most beautiful castles in Belgium.
Nicolas Rockox is one of the most famous persons from Antwerp. He held the title as lord Mayor of Antwerpen and he lived in the 17th century. The architecture of Rockoxhuis is very typical for the period when it was built.
His house has been preserved and is now open up to public visitors, who can stroll through the garden and courtyard, as well as view the private collection of Rockox.
Rubenshuis is almost always mentioned as one of the best attractions in Antwerpen, and for a good reason. The house used to the private studio and home Rubens, a famous painter.
Thanks to a carefully made restoration, the building can now be seen and enjoyed almost in the same state as when Rubens lived and worked here. Along with Ruben’s artworks, visitors can also see furniture in the house from his lifetime.
Antwerpen was a city of literature during the Renaissance, and this museum holds an extensive collection of old printing archives from that time period and onwards. The Plantin-Moretus Museum also has two of the oldest printing presses worldwide that are still intact.
The site has been home to a museum since 1876 and has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2005. Visitors can also see a 17th Century library, and a collection of valuable artworks.
Cathedral of Our Lady
At 123 meters high, the Cathedral of Our Lady is the tallest church in Benelux and its spire is visible from many areas of the city. The cathedral took 169 years to build, from 1352 to 1521.
The interior is a blend of Baroque decor and Rubens’ artwork. The light coming through the large stained-glass windows gives a surreal dimension to the place.
Located in the old district of Antwerpen, this charming little café is one of the best places in the city for tasting Belgian beers. Yet it’s not some ordinary cafe, in fact, they have more than 100 different brands of beer.
If you enjoy drinking beer, I can warmly recommend going to this lovely little cafe, which is located across the famous cathedral. Paters Vaetje has all kinds of beers, including dark, blonde, amber, etc. No matter if you enjoy bitter, sweet, or sour, they will have a beer for every acquired taste.
What makes it even better is the fact that it’s not a touristy place, and the beers are served in the correct glass for each type. In addition to beers, you can also order snacks if you get hungry.
Vleeshuis is a former butcher hall with late-gothic style, built sometime in the early 1500s. It was conveniently placed on this site, to allow blood from slaughtered animals to drain into the Scheldt river.
Nowadays, Vleeshuis tells a much less gruesome story as it functions as a museum. Some of its exhibitions include artifacts from Egypt, Ancient Rome, and Merovingian objects.
Moreover, it’s also famous for having an impressive collection of instruments, which includes a harpsichord.
St Paul’s Church
St. Paul’s Church (Sint-Pauluskerk), a Baroque-style church with a grand size that features more than 50 paintings and 200 statues, made by various Flemish artists, including Rubens himself.
The construction began already in 1517 but was not completed until 1639. The Baroque clock tower dates from 1680. If you enjoy visiting religious buildings, then St Paul’s Church is one of the best places to visit in Antwerpen.
In 1968, a fire badly damaged the church and only the spirited efforts of local people helped prevent the loss of valuable interior furnishings. Every year in December, visitors can also see the annual nativity scene on display.
Chocolate Nation is a dream for anyone who loves chocolate. In fact, it’s the largest museum of Belgian Chocolate in the entire world. Visitors can follow along through the process of making chocolate, starting from the cocoa beans.
As you may know, Chocolate is very much a part of Belgian culture and identity. Making chocolate is a tradition that goes back several generations, and if you want to try to make some yourself, I recommend joining the chocolate workshop.
If you love chocolate as much as I do, then making a tour here is one of the best things to do in Antwerpen.
Red Star Line Museum
Opened in 2013, after over two decades of planning, the Red Star Line Museum tells the story of migrants who departed to North America via the Red Star Line ships in the 19th and 20th centuries.
These ships transported emigrants from Belgium and surrounding European countries between 1883 and 1934, bringing them across the Atlantic ocean to Canada and the United States. When you’re walking around inside the museum, you can view personal belongings and actual photos taken of real passengers.
Most of the passengers used to embark the boats from the same building that you can visit today. Before you leave, make sure to visit the observation tower, which has a pretty nice view of the city and nearby area.
Museum aan de Stroom
Antwerpen’s story as a maritime city is showcased at Museum aan de Stroom, which opened up in 2011. The building has a total of 10 floors where you can easily spend a few hours to uncover the history of Europe’s second-largest seaport.
An average visit lasts 90 minutes, and there’s a possibility to book fixed time tickets. Every last Wednesday of the month, the entrance is free, although you would still have to book a ticket to reserve your time slot.
Want more recommendations on things to do in Antwerpen, Belgium? Leave a comment below!