Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city. It’s a major port and is the centre of life and culture in the Flanders region.
The city is well known for its contrasting mix of old and new, being one of the most historic destinations in Belgium, and also being one of the most modern metropolises in the country.
16th-century buildings stand in the shadow of skyscrapers, creating an eclectic fusion that represents much of the character of Flanders today.
With great transport links, Antwerp makes for an excellent hub to explore northern Belgium and to even branch off into neighbouring Holland, and there are plenty of exciting day trips to be made from the city.
This ultimate travel guide to Antwerp will show you all the most beautiful places in Antwerp, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Antwerp and things to do in Antwerp which will help you in planning a trip to Antwerp.
It’s a great city to visit, and to inspire your visit to Flanders, here’s our ultimate guide to Antwerp.
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How to get to Antwerp
Antwerp is found in northern Belgium, on the border with the Netherlands. The city is located on the River Scheldt, which flows into the North Sea and which gave rise to the importance of Antwerp’s harbour over the centuries. It’s one of the largest ports in Europe, but these days, you’re more likely to be arriving overland, or by air, rather than on the water.
Antwerp’s small airport is located on the outskirts of the city, but only offers flights to a few European destinations, such as London, due to the fact that Brussels Airport is just 45 minutes away to the south. There are regular buses to the centre of Antwerp, and regular trains direct from Brussels Airport to Antwerp Central Station.
In fact, Antwerp Central Station is used enough by travellers flying into other airports that it has an airport code, allowing you to book tickets on the rail line as part of your flight ticket, and allowing for seamless transfers. There are direct trains from Amsterdam Schipol Airport, which is one and a half hours away, and even further afield to Paris.
There are great rail connections, and bus connections too, across the rest of Belgium and to most of Western Europe as well.
What to expect in Antwerp
As the largest city in Flanders, Antwerp is the centre of the Flemish community in Belgium. For travellers, that means that the primary language spoken by residents is the Flemish dialect of Dutch. Belgium is a multilingual country though and you’ll find that many locals also speak French and that these days, the majority of the population also speak English to a high level.
As part of the European Union, Belgium adopted the Euro as their currency, and you’ll find that there are plenty of money changers and ATMs around Antwerp where you can get hold of cash. You’ll also find that credit and debit cards are accepted everywhere.
How to get around Antwerp
Antwerp is a large city, with a population reaching to well over 500,000, and there are countless different districts and suburbs within the metropolitan area. Many of the best attractions are found within the historic city centre, between the river and Antwerp central station, but many are also found further south, in Antwerp Zuid.
It’s very safe to walk through Antwerp, however, for longer journeys, you may want to make use of the local public transport. There are buses and trams which run set routes across the city, and which offer great fares. If you are using lots of public transport, you can purchase multiple tickets to use at your leisure.
If you are also visiting lots of different tourist attractions though, then you may want to consider purchasing an Antwerp City Card. For a one-off cost, the card includes entrance to many museums and attractions, as well as giving you unlimited access to public transport. The cards can be valid for a period of 24, 48 or 72 hours, depending on the length of your stay.
The best time to visit Antwerp
Antwerp is very much a city break destination, and for that reason, you can really visit any time of the year. The busiest times of the year are generally the summer season, between June, July and August, or the winter season, over the Christmas holidays.
Summer brings great weather to Antwerp, with long days and lots of sunshine, and the city comes alive, with parks overflowing with people and bars and restaurants spilling out onto the streets.
Winter, but in particular, the festive period, sees the Christmas markets opening up for business and people travel to Antwerp specifically to shop, eat and drink over the holidays. It’s a wonderful time of the year to be in the city, but just remember to wrap up warm.
The shoulder seasons – spring and autumn – can be quieter times to explore the city, and you’ll find there are fewer tourists around. The weather can be unpredictable, however, and at times dreary, but considering many of Antwerp’s best attractions are found inside, this may not be too much of an issue.
Things to do in Antwerp
Any Antwerp travel guide will tell you to start your tour through the city at the Grote Markt, or the market square. This is the centre of the historic Old Town, and it’s a marvellous place to get acquainted with Antwerp.
At the Grote Markt, you can find many of the most iconic buildings in the city, including the grand city hall which dates back to the 16th century. Some of the coolest restaurants in Antwerp are found around the square, as are some of the best cafes and bars too.
Peter Paul Rubens’ House
Peter Paul Rubens is one of the most influential Flemish artists to have ever lived. He was prominent during the 16th century and operated from a studio in the city of Antwerp. The house where he lived is now a museum, combining both history and art to give visitors an insight into local culture.
The MoMu, or Mode Museum, is an intriguing museum that focuses on the fashion scene in Antwerp. The city has a huge legacy when it comes to contemporary fashion, with many famous local designers such as Dries van Noten propelling Belgian fashion onto the international scene in the past few decades. You can learn all about it at the Mode Museum.
Red Star Line Museum
Antwerp has one of the largest ports on the continent, and during the era of transatlantic passenger ships, the city was a major embarkation point for European emigrants heading to the United States. One of the most iconic passenger liners in operation from the port was the Red Star Line, which transported several million people across the Atlantic in search of new lives in the USA.
The Red Star Line Museum is a moving tribute to the ships and the people that travelled from Antwerp, across the Atlantic, from the 1870s until the early 1930s. It’s an insight into emigration, and why so many people left Europe for the Americas.
Cathedral of our Lady
The Cathedral of our Lady is the most iconic church in Antwerp and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as part of the extensive Belfries of Belgium and France submission, which protects 56 churches across the two countries.
Construction of the medieval church began far back in the 14th century, although there had been a place of worship in the same location for hundreds of years prior to this too. The interior is beautiful to see, and the spires stretch to over one hundred metres in height, ensuring that the cathedral has long been a permanent fixture on the Antwerp skyline.
The MAS Museum, or Museum aan de Strom, is one of the newest, and largest museums in the city. The distinctive building is found looking over the water, and its aim is to promote the history and culture of the city of Antwerp. The museum focuses on the harbour and the connection of the people to the oceans.
The Plantin-Moretus Museum takes visitors on a journey through the world of print and through the historic printing presses pioneered in Antwerp by locals Plantin and Moretus in the 16th century.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most intriguing museums in the city, and you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for the power of the printed word.
What to eat in Antwerp
Any Antwerp food guide will advise you to try the local Flemish dishes when you are in the city, and you should begin your culinary journey by enjoying a hearty Flemish stew, complete with slow-cooked meat and vegetables.
Many of the best restaurants in Antwerp Old Town will serve up great traditional dishes, and as well as the stew you should indulge in a plate of mussels, garnished with the ubiquitous Belgian fries and mayo, and finished off with a bowl of Flemish mousse for dessert.
Where to stay in Antwerp
Antwerp, as a modern city and popular tourist destination, has a wide range of accommodation for travellers. Many of the most upmarket establishments are found in the Old Town, and there are some lovely boutique hotel options on offer amongst the historic streets. One of the best boutique options is the Hotel de Witte Lelie, which dates back to the 17th century.
The centre tends to be pricier, however, and if you are looking for budget hotels or for hostels, then the area outside of the Old Town, towards the central station, has some great value accommodation.
Tours to do in Antwerp
Hop On Hop Off Tour Bus
Buying a ticket for the Antwerp Hop On Hop Off Tour Bus can be a great way to see the city, particularly if you are pressed for time, and are only on a short getaway.
The tour bus has designated stops at the most popular and important tourist attractions in Antwerp, allowing you to easily travel between all the highlights without getting lost, and while being provided with intriguing information about the city and its history.
There are few things more European than cycling through the city, and Antwerp is perfectly composed for a bike tour. This is a great way to experience the city, while at the same time enjoying the crisp Flanders air and getting a bit of exercise.
You’ll be cycling through the streets of Antwerp, led by a local guide, and stopping off at points of interest both well known and off the beaten track.
Belgium is well known for its excellent beers, and if you are into your brews then why not join a beer tour when you are visiting Antwerp? Learn about the city’s long history as you walk from one location to the next, sampling some of Antwerp’s best beer at each stop.
Beer walks in Antwerp are part drinking and part storytelling, and you’ll learn from the local guides about the city’s relationship with beer, the future for beer and the history of beer. It’s a unique way to see the city and enjoy a few beverages at the same time.
Day trips from Antwerp
Belgium is a small country, and you’re never too far away from other major cities when you stay in Antwerp. The capital, Brussels, is less than one hour away on the train and makes for a great day trip.
Visit the royal palaces, explore the European Parliament, wander through marvellous art galleries and enjoy some great tasting beer and food.
The historic, medieval streets of Ghent are also just an hour away by train from Antwerp and offer you the chance to explore one of the most historic cities in Belgium.
Quite simply, Ghent is stunning. This is historic European architecture at its best, in a supreme riverside location. There are castles, cathedrals, spires and towers, and the city really is straight out of a fairy tale.
Mechelen is a small city that sees few tourists in comparison to Belgium’s other major tourist destinations, but this under visited location boasts one of the finest cathedrals in the country.
Just a twenty-minute train ride from Antwerp, and you can spend the day exploring historic sights and, like everywhere in Belgium, trying the local beers!
Recommend tours in Antwerp
- 3-Hour Private Highlights with Non-Classic Stories Tour in Antwerp
- 3-Hour Antwerp Bike Tour
- Private Beer Tasting Tour with a Local in Antwerp
- 1 Hour Antwerp Citytour Hop On Hop Off
- Walking Tour: Historic Antwerp
- Legends of Antwerp – Private Tour
- 3-Hour Private Tour with Highlights in Antwerp
- 2 Hour Segway City Tours Antwerp Belgium