The ultimate three day guide to Antwerpen
Antwerp is a buzzing city of about 520K people, and one of the most populous cities in the country. It’s located by the river Schelde in the North of Belgium, an easy 40-minute train ride from Brussels.
The city is home to the most beautiful train station in the world, the second largest port in Europe, the painter Rubens’ burial site, 80% of the world’s rough diamonds and more hipsters than you can count.
It also has world famous architecture, fantastic food and world class shopping. In short, you could spend a week here and still not have seen everything.
So, how do you spend three days in Antwerp? The answer – easily! To make it easier for you, I compiled a list of my favourite known and lesser well-known spots. Enjoy!
Day One – Exploring downtown and the best spot for sunset
The most beautiful part of the city is the old part, lined with gilded houses and plenty of hidden squares and churches.
Spend the morning stepping back into the 16th century. Explore downtown and make sure to hit up the following spots: the beguinage, the garden of the Sint Paulus church, the Vlaeykensgang, Plantin Moretus museum and, my personal favourite, the Sint Carolus Boromeus church.
When you get to the Sint Carolus Boromeus church, located on the Hendrik Conscionsce plein, stop for tea at one of the many tearooms that line the square. The streets surrounding this square are great to wander and get lost in and also hold a surprising array of restaurants and cocktail bars. (If you are thirsty, pop into Dogma Cocktailbar – you will not regret it).
Another iconic museum is the MAS museum. Yep, this is the oddly shaped red building that you have probably seen on the internet before. If I am honest, I never quite made it in the museum to see the exhibitions, but I recently discovered this place has a great view of the city. Go in (no need to pay), and make your way to the to the 10th floor. From there you will have a stunning view. After that, stop and have a drink on the square. It is guaranteed to tick all your boxes when it comes to people watching.
Tip: If you are big into museums, be sure to buy a combination ticket for Red Star Line Museum and the Mas museum, it should not set you back more than 10€.
Next, walk from the MAS to the Sint Anna Pedestrian Tunnel. You will encounter some famous sights like ‘t Steen and het Vleeshuis on your walk.
Finish off the day by taking the Sint Anna Pedestrian tunnel to the other side of the river for some more fantastic views of the city. Buy a bottle of wine/beer and watch the sunset over the city.
Day Two – Culture, Nature and some Retail Therapy
If you happen to be in town on Saturday, make sure to stop by the Vogelmarkt (Oudevaartplaats, 2000 Antwerpen). I suggest you do not eat breakfast beforehand because there is food galore to be had here: fresh fruit, waffles, Moroccan pancakes, noodles, and Vietnamese springrolls. Good coffee can be had at the coffee cart at the far end of the market, and they also serve Matcha (be aware it is strong!).
After the market, head over the botanical garden in the Leopoldstraat. During the weekends, you can visit the greenhouse which houses an impressive array of exotic flowers and cacti.
Next, walk on to the Britse Lei and have a look at the fantastic building of the former National Bank. Currently not in use, but rumoured to be in the running to become a 5-star hotel.
Loop back and make your way over to the Bourla Schouwburg. Here you can grab a drink or a small snack. Make sure to pop into the building, it’s absolutely stunning – think plush red seats and gold plated ceilings.
Tip: These guys also do a nice brunch on Saturday and Sunday morning, you do have to make a reservation though.
Be sure to keep at least half a day for some shopping. Antwerp is known as one of the fashion capitals of the world. This is largely thanks to “the Antwerp Six ” who graduated from the fashion academy. This same fashion academy attracts students from all over the world to this day. It is no wonder that the city offers many independent boutiques and local design stores – a shopaholic’s paradise. Don’t miss the following streets: Nationalestraat, Kammestraat, Lombardenvest, Lombardenstraat, Korte Gasthuisstraat, Schuttershofstraat (high-end shopping).
If you happen to be on the Meir (the main shopping street), you might be lucky enough to spot an iconic sight – a young man playing his piano in the middle of the street. The pianist goes by the artist name of Toby Jacobs and is good fun to sit and listen to.
Day Three – Architecture, graffiti and vintage shops
We start off today in Antwerp’s trendy neighbourhood of Zurenborg. It’s an easy 30-minute walk from Antwerp central station or you can take the tram no. 8 to Antwerpen Berchem from Antwerp Central Station. Be sure to pop into the Central Station before you head over to Zurenborg!
Make your way over to the Draakplaats, a 19th century square surrounded by 19th century townhouses in Art Nouveau and fin-de-siècle architectural style. I recently discovered this neighbourhood and thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the neighbourhood. If you are into architecture and funky doors, this is the place for you. Sometimes the houses are co-ordinated together, like the five houses in the Waterloostraat which each represent a time of day: Ochtend (Morning), Dag (Day), Avond (Evening) and Nacht (Night). My favourite, however, is the corner of Waterloostraat and Generaal Merlenstraat, which depict the four seasons of the year.
When wandering through the neighbourhood, make sure to include the following streets: Cogels-Osylei, Transvaalstraat, Velodroomstraat, Generaal van Merlenstraat.
Once you are done with the stunning architecture, it’s time to step into the 21st century and spot the city’s best graffiti. Walk over to the Krugerstraat and the Minkelerstraat, a veritable open air museum.
Next up is one of the snuggest streets of the city, Kloosterstraat. The street is known for its antique stores, galleries and interior design stores.
Added bonus: the stores are open on Sunday!
When your feet invariably get tired from all the walking, pop into the bar with the best garden: Take 5 Minutes in Paris. Address: Kloosterstraat 50, 2000 Antwerpen. Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday 11.30-20.00. Be aware, you can only pay in cash.
This neighbourhood offers some great dining and cocktail opportunities to finish off the day with.
You can have dinner at De broers van Julienne – A vegetarian restaurant which has been around since the nineties. They offer a great variety of homemade food, made with locally sourced ingredients.
And if you are up for a nightcap, head over to Bar Burbure for fantastic cocktails in one of the cities hippest neighbourhoods. Added bonus, limitless refills of chips and you get one warm tapas every hour.
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