The buzzing city of Antwerp is one of the most populous cities in the country. It is home to a very spectacular train station, is the second-largest port in Europe, holds the burial site of the painter Rubens and is the place to be if you are looking for a diamond or the country’s dressed hipsters. Time to spend a weekend in Antwerp!
Located in the northern part of Belgium lies the fashion capital of the country, Antwerp. Locals are proud, so much so the popular saying goes “Antwerp is the city, the rest of the country is just parking”. Heads are held high, outfits are on point and international trends are usually quicker to appear in Antwerp than in the rest of the country.
Intrigued yet? This 2-days in Antwerp guide will take you through the best of Antwerp: local markets, unbelievable sunset spots, mouth-watering veggie restaurants, a tunnel underneath the river, and even medieval hidden passages.
Not sure where to grab a bite to eat, check out these vegetarian restaurants in Antwerp.
Plan your 2-days in Antwerp in advance
Looking to get a headstart on your planning and don’t feel like scrolling through endless recommendations? Here are a few of my top tips for visiting Antwerp.
- PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The Antwerp public transport is run by Delijn (Trams & busses). Tickets are not available for purchase on the tram or bus themselves and need to be purchased in advance. Book any tickets for public transportation online.
- BIKING AROUND ANTWERP: While the city is great to walk around, you can cover a lot more ground on the bicycle. The city is super safe to bike around (more so than Brussels) even more so with a knowledgeable guide. Check affordable bike tours.
- BEST VALUE FOR MONEY TOUR: A private 2-hour walking tour with a local who delves into the history of Antwerp as well as shows you the main highlights of the city. Comes with an optional hotel pickup. Check rates
- RECOMMENDED SUSTAINABLE HOTEL: Lit d’Art Exclusive Boutique Hotel. This locally-run boutique hotel is located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building a mere 15 min walk from the city center. The rooms are beautifully designed and the breakfast is delicious. Check rates and availability.
Is it worth taking a tour when just staying 2-days in Antwerp?
Two days in the city can be easily filled with museums, shopping, and visiting monuments. With a little planning in advance, you can have a really great weekend without splurging for additional tours.
However, there are a few cool (affordable) tours out there that might be worth considering. They offer up a different perspective on the city, one that is not easy to experience without the help of a knowledgeable local.
Where to stay for a weekend in Antwerp
Aside from Lit d’Art there are a host of other sustainable hotels available in the city which range from budget-friendly to a downright splurge. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see the map of things to do in Antwerp, the hotels have been pinned on the map to show you where they are exactly.
BUDGET SUSTAINABLE ($):
ANTWERP CITY HOSTEL
The Antwerp City Hostel is the best value for money accommodation in Antwerpen. Located right on de Grote Markt in an old guild house. Female-only dorms are available.
LUXURY SUSTAINABLE ($$)
The Botanic Sanctuary is located in a 15th-century historical monastery right off the Antwerp Botanical gardens. A 10-minute walk will take you to the Grote Markt. The hotel has an on-site spa and pool as well as a mouthwatering fine dining restaurant.
STAY IN A CASTLE HOTEL
Kasteel van Ordingen in Belgium is a boutique castle hotel gushing in history. Spend the night in facilities that have a spa and a breakfast spread befitting of royalty.
48 hours in Antwerp Guide – 11 must-sees in Antwerp
The legend of Antwerp all starts with Silvius Brabo, a Roman soldier. This Roman is known because he killed the ill-tempered giant Druon Antigoon. Prior to his death, Druon Antigoon terrorized city dwellers, exerting excessive tolls on any seafarers wanting to cross the river Schelde. Refusal of payment would mean the giant cutting off your hands and throwing them in the river.
One faithful day, Silvius Brabo refused to pay the toll. This resulted in an epic fight where Silvius bravely killed the giant, cut off his hand, and threw it in de river Schelde, effectively giving the city her name. Hand Werpen translates to throwing of hands which was later shortened to Antwerpen (Antwerp).
There are little remnants of the legend all over the city ready for you to explore during your weekend in Antwerp. Silvius Brabo proudly stands in a fountain on the main square, throwing the hand of the giant. The Meir (the central shopping street) has a statue of a huge hand, and the largest museum of Antwerp (MAS) has little silver hands all over the outside of the building.
TIP: you can also taste the legend of Antwerp through their traditional biscuits: Antwerpse Handjes (Hand of Antwerp). A delicious flaky biscuit in the shape of a hand! If biscuits are not your jam, why not try some Belgian chocolate shaped in a hand instead!
Antwerp guide: Things to do on day 1
Day one of your 2-day in Antwerp guide centers around the must-sees in Antwerp: The historical center, the top museums, the prettiest churches, and the option to go shopping. The day ends with a lesser-known sunset spot at the MAS museum. Should you only happen to have one day in Antwerp then utilize the itinerary set out on day one to get the best out of your trip.
Take in the beautiful train station in Antwerp
The Antwerp Central Station dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. In true Belgian fashion, the train station is an eclectic mix of architectural styles. The original station consisted of an entrance hall, a ticket counter a small bar where travelers could grab a drink while waiting, and 5 train tracks.
After an extensive renovation in 2007, the station now has more than 24 tracks including one for the high-speed train that runs between London and Amsterdam, stopping in Antwerp.
Although the renovations have almost quadrupled the size of the station, much of the original character was preserved making it a truly iconic train station.
Wander around the gabled houses on the Grote Markt & drink een bolleke
The Grote Markt or main square is at the heart of Antwerpen. Surrounded by gabled 16th-century guild houses and the impressive town hall the square is quite simply stunning. In the middle of the square stands a statue of Bravo the giant slayer.
Most Antwerp travel guides will advise you to steer clear of any restaurants and bars on the Grote Markt as they are tourist traps. There is a ring of truth in that assessment, however, ordering a local beer (een bolleke) and gazing upon the medieval architecture is unparalleled anywhere else in the city. Worth the (slight) premium you may end up paying. Stick to a beer though, food is better elsewhere in the city.
Sneak into the Vlaeyckensgang
On the first day of your weekend in Antwerp while strolling around the historic center of town you might want to take a small peak at the famous Vlaeykensgang. It is one of the best examples of medieval mews in Antwerp.
Back in the 16th century, this part of the city was the home of the less wealthy. Ironically these days the alley is home to upscale art galleries and a high-end restaurant!
Address: Vllaeykensgang, 2000 Antwerp
Shop until either you or your credit card drop in Antwerp
Spending 2-days in Antwerp without a little bit of shopping would almost be akin to not eating pasta in Italy. Antwerp is known as one of the fashion capitals of the world thanks in large part to “the Antwerp Six ”, a group of influential fashion designers who graduated simultaneously from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art.
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).
Take in the most beautiful churches in Antwerp
There are plenty of churches to visit during your 2 days in Antwerp, setting out to visit all of them would take a lot more than 48 hours. To make things easy my suggestion would be to stick to the top 5 that have been classified for their historical heritages. They might not be as ornate as churches in Palermo (Sicily) but they are still very much worth a visit!
Dating back to the 16th century, these five churches are a little different to the traditional Gothic-style churches prevalent in that era. While keeping in with the times and building in the Gothic style, what sets these churches apart are the plentiful opulent and ornate baroque elements that were added inside as well as the plethora of beautiful Peter Paul Rubens paintings.
Opulence at this scale was possible thanks to the wealth flowing into Antwerp in the 16th century. Antwerp of the 16th century was one of the most important cultural and economic hubs of the Netherlands – The country to which Belgium pertained at the time.
The five churches in Antwerp you will want to visit are the following:
- Saint Paul’s church: Check opening hours
- Saint Carolus Boromeus’s church: Check opening hours
- Saint James’s Church: Check opening hours
- Saint Andrew’s Church: Check opening hours
- Cathedral of Our Lady (main cathedral of Antwerp): Check opening hours
Tip: Download the free Antwerp Museum App to get great offline tours for the churches mentioned above. They are completely free and choc-a-bloc with interesting information.
Stroll around the Botanical Gardens
Tucked away, out of sight and far away from the main tourist hotspots, you will find a rare Antwerp hidden gem: The botanical gardens of the city of Antwerp. This seemingly unassuming park houses over 2000 types of plants and trees. The gardens were built 200 years ago and originally served as a garden for medicinal plants, providing herbs to the nearby hospitals.
Address: Leopoldstraat 24, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Summer 08:00 AM – 20:00 PM; Winter 08:00 AM – 17:30 PM
Entrance fee: free of charge
Get cultural at one of the many museums in Antwerp – Perfect if it rains during your weekend in Antwerp
Spending 2 days in Antwerp is so much fun when the weather holds out! But fear not, even when it rains there are plenty of activities to partake in. Why not look into visiting one of the many museums the city has on offer.
The Antwerp Museum App touched upon in the section above also contains a free guided tour to some of the museums mentioned below.
Here are a few of my favorite museums in Antwerp:
This iconic red brick – slightly odd-shaped – building is the largest museum in Antwerp. It recounts the story of the city and the harbor in the permanent exhibition and has a rotating temporary exhibition.
Tip: Aside from a great wealth of knowledge, the museum also has some of the best views of the city. Make your way up to the 10th floor (the panoramic deck) and take in the view! The view can be accessed without paying the entrance fee to the museum.
Address: Hanzestedenplaats 1 2000 Antwerpen
Opening Hours & Exhibition: Official Website
Entrance Fee: Standard €10 ($11), €6 ($7) aged 18 to 25 years, free under 18
Red Star Line Museum
The Red Star Line Museum tells the story of the immigration between Antwerp and North America on the Red Star Line ships. The museum provides a wonderful insight into the life of both the ‘average joe’ and the city of Antwerp in the late 19th century.
Address: Montevideostraat 3 2000 Antwerp
Opening Hours & Exhibition: Official Website
Entrance Fee: Standard €10 ($11), €6 ($7) aged 18 to 25 years, free under 18
Antwerp has an undeniable creative vibe. It would be a pity to spend a weekend in Antwerp and not get a feel for this creativity. What better way than to spend a few hours in the Photo Museum. Exhibitions change on a regular basis so be sure to check out what’s on before going.
Address: Waalsekaai 47 2000 Antwerp
Opening Hours & Exhibition: Official Website
Entrance Fee: Adults €10.00 ($11), €6.00 ($7) -26 years, free -18 years
Antwerp travel guide: Things to do on day 2
Your second day in Antwerp is all about visiting many lesser-known spots. A local market, a whole neighborhood filled with Belle Epoque houses, colorful street art, and a spot of good old vintage shopping. Finishing off with a cold beer at the location to catch sunset over the Antwerp Skyline.
Grab a bite to eat on the local markt – Vogeltjesmarkt
Start the second day of your 48 hours in Antwerp bring and early by heading over to one of the oldest markets in the city De Volgeltjesmarkt. The market dates back to the 16th century when mainly birds (vogeltjes) were traded on this market. These days birds are no longer sold, but the name vogeltjes (bird) markt (market) stuck.
The market contains a variety of different items, unlike the Jeu de Balle market in Brussel this one focuses mainly on food: fresh fruit, waffles, Moroccan pancakes, noodles, and Vietnamese spring rolls. On a sunny day, the market is absolutely packed with locals. A great spot for some quality people watching!
Address: Oudevaartplaats, 2000 Antwerpen
Opening hours: Sunday 08.00 AM – 13.00 PM
Entrance fee: Free
Go house hunting in Zurenborg
No weekend in Antwerp is complete without a visit to the hip neighborhood of Zurenborg and its hup architecture. Make your way over to the Draakplaats, a 19th-century square surrounded by townhouses in Art Nouveau and fin-de-siècle architectural style.
Grab a coffee to go and stroll around the various little streets. Be sure to check out the following streets: Cogels-Osylei, Transvaalstraat, Velodroomstraat, Generaal van Merlenstraat.
The houses are are an eclectic mixture of different building styles, now and then though they tie in nicely together. Walk over to the Waterloosstraat and keep your eye out for the houses marked Ochtend (Morning), Dag (Day), Avond (Evening) and Nacht (Night). These houses represent the passage of time.
Getting there on foot: It’s an easy 30-minute walk from Antwerp Central Station
Getting there by tram: Tram 8 to Antwerpen Berchem from Antwerp Central Station.
Spot the coolest street art (also in Zurenborg)
Right around the corner from the famous Cogels-Osylei in Antwerp, you will find some of the city’s best graffiti. Walk over to the Krugerstraat and the Minkelerstraat and check out the wall art, it will make you feel like you are walking through a veritable open-air museum.
These walls have been designated by the city as “official” graffiti walls. Therefore the artwork tends to change on a regular basis as artists come here to practice their skills. Cities like Charleroi (with a large Graffiti and Street Art Community) and Brussels have similar projects to stimulate budding artists.
Tip: Hungry? There are two very good vegetarian restaurants in the Zurenborg area. HUMM on the Dageraadplaats or Racine on Lamorinierestraat 161 (the very hip PAKT area which was once an industrial site and is not a hub for sustainable local eateries and little stores).
Walk under the river Schelde to catch the best sunset spot in Antwerp
Antwerp is built on the two banks of the river Schelde. A lesser-known part of the city is located on the left bank (Linkeroever) and to get there you need to cross de river Schelde. Not to worry, this crossing of the river does not require a bathing suit!
The Sint Anna tunnel, or the underpass, was built in 1933 to allow the safe crossing over the river…by means of a tunnel under the river! The tunnel was dug out 33 meters under the ground and is 553 meters long and takes you safely from one side to the other.
Original elements of the building have been kept in fact: Old wooden escalators, the original entrance hall, and a few warning signs inside the tunnel. Make your way down the escalator, under the river towards Linkeroever. This part of the river offers the best views of the Antwerp skyline.
If you are spending 2 days in Antwerp and looking for a great spot to chill out and watch the sunset then Linkeroever is your best bet! Bring a nice cold beer (try the local beer “een bolleke”) and watch the sun set behind the Antwerp skyline.
Head back into town for vintage shopping in De Kloosterstraat
The Kloosterstraat in Antwerp is brimming with the coolest vintage (design) items, it reminds me ever so slightly of the Marolles in Brussels.
The area is one of the most interesting and bustling places to see in Antwerp on Sunday. It is a comfortable 10-minute walk from the Grote Markt, yet in those 10 minutes tourists seem to fade away completely and locals reclaim their ground. Expect to find vintage clothing, vintage design pieces, antique stores and art galleries sprinkled with a few design stores in between. This is a place where the cool kids in town go and do their shopping.
De Kloosterstraat is one of the few places in Antwerp where the stores are open on Sunday, though most of them open only after lunchtime (around 13.00)
Tip: Looking for a place to grab a drink. Pop into Take 5 Minutes in Paris (for the garden) or Dansing Chocola (general ambiance).
Map of things to do during a weekend in Antwerp
Check out this interactive Google Map which lists all the places mentioned in this two days in Antwerp guide. The hotels are the purple dots on the map, while the activities are bright red.
Antwerp city guide: Additional Information
How many days in Antwerp?
The city has a lot to offer visitors while spending two days in Antwerp is enough to get a feel of the city ideally you spend a solid 3 to 4 days. This will allow you to get acquainted with the historical center, Zurenborg but also venture out a little further and maybe take a trip out to Borrekens Castle
Best time to visit Antwerp for a weekend?
Undoubtedly the summer months of June, July, and August. The city comes alive with a ton of pop-up bars and festivals (Laundry day, Jazz Middelheim, Linkerwoofer) giving it a whole different vibe than a dreary winter’s day. Check out the various events going on in these months on the official website of the city.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING BELGIUM
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