ANTWERP HAS MUCH TO OFFER VISITORS – IT WOULD BE A MISTAKE NOT TO ALLOW TIME HERE:
Antwerp is a city that’s famous for its brilliant diamonds, Rubens, medieval and maritime history. But as far as tourism is concerned, Belgium’s second largest city seems to be overshadowed by Brussels and Bruges. Yet Antwerp sparkles, in every sense of the word, with its abundance of diamond shops, and it is a source of cutting-edge fashion in Europe. Its medieval heritage and magnificent churches are just as impressive as Belgium’s other famous cities, not to mention the attraction of seeing the art of its Flemish Baroque master Rubens.
Antwerp is a perfect city to visit from Brussels. Just 46 km north of the Belgian capital, Antwerp has the reputation as the second busiest port in Europe after Rotherdam. But more than its credential as a bustling port city, Antwerp has much to offer visitors, not least of which is that it is home town of Rubens.
If you’re only here for a short stay, some of the must-see sights in Antwerp include:
- The Grote Markt
Antwerp’s Grote Markt is not huge, but there are several attractions in the market square. Some of the more dominant structures here include its magnificent Stadhuis (Town Hall), some beautiful guildhouses and the Brabo Fountain which tells a story of how Antwerp possibly got its name, that is if you believe in legends!
- Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal
From the Grote Markt, amble over to the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady) – one of the most impressive medieval churches to be found anywhere in Belgium. The cathedral contains a number of significant works by Rubens and other artists. The church’s opening time is 10 am but we were told that whenever there is an event on they would open later. A general observation we made in Antwerp’s historical centre was that most businesses don’t wake up till after 10 am. If you find yourself having to wait for the cathedral to open, Abbey No. 8 is an interesting beer bottleshop across from the church.
Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal dates back to the 15th century. Jan and Pieter Appelmans were the architects of the Cathedral and to the right of the building you’ll see a sculpture of the men who worked on the Cathedral. Above the cathedral door are exquisite carvings of the “Last Judgement”.
- The square next to the Cathedral is Groenplaats, where you’ll see a statue of Rubens. The Hilton Hotel is on this square and it would be a convenient place to stay in Antwerp. There are cafes in this square and we enjoyed a nice and peaceful coffee break at the Cafe ‘t Klokske. If you intend doing one of those tourist train rides, the Antwerp sightseeing train sets off from here.
- Artlovers will not want to miss Rubenhuis, where the master lived and worked for the last 29 years of his life.
- There are many museums in the centre of Antwerp and museum lovers will enjoy the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (home to Antwerp’s largest fine art collection), Museum aan de Stroom (the MAS contains a wealth of Antwerp’s history including how trade and shipping made Antwerp a world port), Rockoxhuis Museum, ModeMuseum (a museum dedicated to fashion) and the Plantin-Moretus Museum.
- Antwerp’s Central Station is a palatial building that is worth a visit. Nearby is the Diamond Museum where the Antwerp’s connection with this precious stone is documented.
Antwerp prides itself as a shopping city and you’ll find shops in pedestrian malls, historic buildings as well as bustling shopping centres. There are shops in the historic city centre, around the Central Station, the Meir, Quartier Latin and Zuid district.
- Diamond shoppers will want to head for the area around the Central Station where Antwerp’s unique square kilometre diamond district is home to some 1,800 diamond shops. The ‘Antwerp Cut’ is a mark of brilliance and quality in diamonds and there are enough of precious stones here to dazzle anyone.
- If you’re interested in fashion, the Modenatie, on the corner of Nationale and Drukkerijstraat, is the centre of Antwerp’s fashion district. Antwerp’s hottest fashion names can be found in the area around Kammenstraat and Lombardenvest.
Eating Out in Antwerp
Like Brussels, there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes in Antwerp – however it is significantly cheaper to eat in this town.
Most Antwerp restaurants tend to follow French cuisine, with the occasional addition of a few fine Belgian touches or the use of typical Belgian ingredients. But being a port city, Antwerp is quite cosmopolitan and you’ll find a whole range of European and various ethnic cuisines. The greatest concentration of places to eat is in the areas around the historic city centre, the Central Station and the South quarter of the city.
If you’re planning an overnight stay in Antwerp, there is a good range of good hotels in central Antwerp which charge less than you’ll expect to pay in Brussels.
- The Hilton Hotel is conveniently located on Groenplaats Square in the historical centre. It is next to De Meir shopping street and many of Antwerp’s attractions are within walking distance. The Groenplaats tram stop is only 150 metres away and it connects to the Antwerp Train Station (3 stops).
- A hotel with a somewhat tempting name is the Hotel Diamonds and Pearls Logies. This hotel is only 2 minutes walk from the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Groenplaats tram stop is 200 metres from the hotel.
- Just off Grote Markt is the Hotel Rubens-Grote Markt. The hotel is within easy walking distance to many of Antwerp’s attractions in the historical centre.
- If you need an apartment, the Maximiliaan Apartment is just a few steps from Grote Markt. This two-bedroom apartment sleeps 6 people and its kitchen is equipped to allow guests to prepare meals in the apartment.
- Diamond shoppers may prefer to be closer to the diamond district where there are many hotels. The luxurious Radisson BLU Astrid Plaza is in the heart of the diamond area, as is the Hyllit Hotel.
- For more Antwerp hotels, see Here.
How to get to Antwerp
The two closest airports to Antwerp are Zaventem (30 minutes by car) and Deurne Airport (15 minutes drive).
Antwerp is a little over half an hour from the very heart of Brussels by train and is a perfect day trip from the Belgian capital. All international and intercity trains stop at Antwerpen-Centraal and Antwerpen-Berchem. For further information see www.belgianrail.be
Antwerp’s coach stop is at Quay 19, a 10-minute walk from the historic centre.
If arriving by ship, Antwerp’s cruise terminal is a 5-minute walk from the historic centre.