Antwerp is one of the most underrated weekend destinations in Europe. Lonely Planet confirms this statement by saying “Antwerp is one of Europe’s best-kept secret.” Intrigued to see what made the city so unique, I decided to go and see it for myself. As I was planning my trip to Antwerp, I chose to travel in more Belgium cities so settled for Brussels and Ghent, having heard how pretty it was.
After two days wandering around the town and exploring the historic centre, I share with you my vision of the city. Follow the guide and explore the things to do in Antwerp in 24 hours!
- 1 24 Hours in Antwerp: Things to see
- 2 24 Hours in Antwerp: Things to do
- 2.1 Lunch at Hoogstraat
- 2.2 Window shopping
- 2.3 Sniff chocolate at the Chocolate Line
- 2.4 Stroll along the bank of the River Scheldt to Het Steen
- 2.5 Visit the iconic MAS and enjoy spectacular views of the city
- 2.6 Explore the second biggest port in Europe
- 2.7 Practical information
- 2.8 Moona’s secrets:
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24 Hours in Antwerp: Things to see
Arrive at Antwerp station and admire the magnificent train station
Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central) station is an excellent piece of architecture. As soon as you exit the train and follow the escalator to the top level, you are greeted by a grand hall. The train station that was once called “railroad cathedral” is impressive with its eclectic style and massive size. The station has two different design. The stone building was built by Louis Delacenserie and the steel platform viaduct by Jan Van Asperen. It has four levels and 14 tracks. Actuality, the station was voted “most beautiful station in the world” by Mashable! Whenever you travel to Antwerp by train or car, a stop by the station is recommended. Interestingly you see lots of groups of art students testing their skills at drawing the platform and hall of the station.
Marvel in front of….Antwerp’s medieval Grote Markt
Like every Flemish city, the heart of the town is within its square. Head over to the beautiful Grote Markt. The triangular square features the Renaissance-style Stadhuis (city hall), an imposing baroque Brabo Fountain and beautiful houses medieval of the Guilds. Brabo is the hero of a legend who fought a giant demanding payment for ships to enter the city via the river Scheldt. The statue portrays Brabo throwing the monster’s hand in the river.
Admire the grandiose Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
Wherever you are in Antwerp, there is one shape that you can’t miss. You notice it right away when looking up. The Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the skyline because the law forbids anyone to built a building higher than the cathedral’s tower. The Cathedral of Our Lady is impressive by its size but also with its Gothic architecture. Have a look inside the cathedral but skip the expensive visit to the tower, you can have a similar and cost-free view at MAS.
24 Hours in Antwerp: Things to do
Lunch at Hoogstraat
While going to Grote Markt, I came across a little cafe. I decided to try it out, and although only a couple were having their lunch when I entered, it quickly became busy with a queue forming outside the shop. Falafel Tof is a fast food shop ideal for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free eaters. The Tof falafel sandwich meal deal is an excellent choice however you can also get the Tof salad box or the Tof salad box light. The meal deal comes with fries and a drink. Once your order is ready, you get to help yourself with vegetables at the salad bar. With friendly service and lovely decor, Falafel Tof is the ideal place for a quick and delicious lunch! On a beautiful warm day, you can seat outside the cafe’s terrace and practice the art of people watching.
Hoogstraat 32, Antwerp
Meir is the most important shopping street in Antwerp and shoppers from all around Belgium come to grab the perfect piece of clothing in many high street chains. If you are after expensive items, head to the Nationalestraat, just a stone’s throw away from the Meir. There you have designer boutiques, concept stores and fashion museums. Both ModeMuseum (MOMU) and Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI) are located in the area. For vintage shopping head over to Kloosterstraat instead.
MoMu – Nationalestraat 28
FFI – Nationalestraat 28/2
Sniff chocolate at the Chocolate Line
On one of the streets of Meir is located the store of the most rock’n’roll and creative of the Belgian chocolatiers – Dominique Persoone. Belgium is known for its chocolate but what makes The Chocolate Line different is a little gadget called “chocolate shooter”. With this device created to enhance the chocolate taste perception, you can sniff cocoa powder! This innovative shop offers flavours like matcha green tea, curry or coconut. The unique aromas and tastes of the chocolate make this store a hit with the tourists.
Paleis op de Meir 50
Stroll along the bank of the River Scheldt to Het Steen
Learn more about Antwerp with a visit to Het Steen. You can get there by taking a little stroll through Steenplein. This small promenade is located on the roof of an old hangar and is nice enough for you to sit and relax with your travel companion. Towards the end of the promenade is Het Steen, a medieval fortress the oldest building in Antwerp – it was built between 1200 and 1255. The fort served to control access to the Scheldt. It has been a prison, an archaeology museum, shipping museum and finally a maritime museum.
Visit the iconic MAS and enjoy spectacular views of the city
Situated on the edge of the Scheldt river in Het Eilandje (little island), the Museum aan de Stroom (museum on the river) looks like an overlayed set of brick boxes and glass. The museum features the story of the city as well as the port, second biggest in Europe. I have to say that MAS is the place I spend the most time. I had fun discovering each floor with its own collection, each telling a different story. However, for me, the best part was the rooftop which gives a spectacular panoramic view over the city.
Explore the second biggest port in Europe
The port of Antwerp has played an essential role in the historical and economic development of the city. With 14,000 ha it is the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam (Netherlands). Take a walk to explore its docks and harbour buildings.
Antwerp is a great city to explore either on foot or by bike. If you are a fan of architecture, culture, fashion and food, then book your trip right now! Antwerp is lovely even on a cold and rainy day!
For some reading, Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2018” is a must.
How to get there
The train is the easiest way to get to Antwerp – from London it takes about two hours 55 minutes, changing in Brussels, and costs from £59, book through Eurostar. Alternatively, you can fly to Antwerp from London City. If you are in Paris, it takes only two hours with Thalys or just half an hour from Brussels. Antwerp station is about 15 minutes from the city centre.
Where to stay
Park Inn by Radisson Antwerp – My hotel was located just 3 minutes from the station which I was grateful for because I arrived in rainy Antwerp! Contemporary design is everywhere in Belgium and especially in Antwerp. This was no different, Park Inn is modern and well decorated with a minimalist look. All the rooms have the amenities you would expect including a Nespresso machine, Wi-Fi. Everything was clean, and the bed was very comfortable. (doubles from £69)
Coffeelabs – Trendy coffee shop located in a calm street close to Meir. Lange Klarenstraat 19, 2000 Antwerp
Kaffeenini – Spin-off of Barnini, this restaurant offers nice coffee, tasty bagels and excellent wifi. Nationalestraat 114a.
Lunch / dinner
Fiskebar – Ideal restaurant for seafood and fish lovers plus the restaurant offers a great atmosphere. Marnixplaats 11.
LOA – Small cafe offering street food style food, quick and tasty. Hoogstraat 77.
– Generally, in Flanders, if you don’t speak Flemish, speak English. I tried talking in French a few times and realised that it wasn’t the best idea. No one spoke French, and even if they did, they prefer not to express it.
– To avoid the language dilemma, speak English as soon as you enter a shop, cafe by saying “Hello.”
Have you been to Antwerp? What is your favourite thing to do? Let me know in the comments section.
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