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 best-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.
Plan your 2-days in Antwerp in advance
TOP PICKS FOR ACCOMMODATIONS
- 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. This can be done online by sending the text “DL” to the number 4884 (ticket valid for 60 minutes).
- ANTWERP CITY PASS: The Antwerp City Pass gives access to many of the tourist attractions in Antwerp and allows you to travel free on public transportation. Available n a 24, 48, and 72-hour formula. Find more info and point of sales.
- ANTWERP VISITORS CENTRE: The city has two visitors centers on in the Central Station (Mon-Sun 09.00 am – 05.00 pm) and one in the Steen (Mon-Sun 10.00 am – 06.00 pm)
- READ MORE: Antwerp is but one of the many day trips from Brussels by train. Find more inspiration.
Is Antwerp worth visiting?
Antwerp is most definitely worth visiting and has been for the last 500+ years. During the 15th century, Antwerp was one of the most prosperous and influential cities in Europe. Evidence of which can be found all over town in the form of beautifully preserved gabled houses, rivaling the likes of famous Bruges.
Modern-day Antwerp home to one of the largest ports in Europe, it is the fashion capital of the country and the place to be if you are looking to purchase diamonds. The city is vibrant, cosmopolitan and staunchly Flemish.
What I love about Antwerp is the wonderful entrepreneurial spirit. Many international trends will find their way to Belgium via Antwerp. There is plenty to do in Antwerp from art galleries to swanky cocktail bars, put on your best pair of shoes and be prepared to be enthralled.
13 things to do in Antwerp in two days
What is there to do in Antwerp? The answer is, plenty! Antwerp’s history as a trading town has ensured medieval cobblestone streets and ultra-modernist architecture make up the urban fabric of the city.
My mother, proudly heralding from the city, transferred her love for Antwerp to her children. As such, I have been visiting Antwerp for over 30 years. In this time the city has reinvented itself multiple times. The Old Port, Het Eilandje as it is now known, previously one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Antwerp today boasts a buzzing nightlife and premium apartments.
The fashional south Antwerp or “Zuid” is unrecognizable, it is the place to be for a night on the town, the beautiful photography museum and a lot of high-quality restaurants. While closer to Berchem Station, old warehouses have been converted into a hub for sustainable startups, vegan restaurants and upscale hipster coffee in Pakt.
There are an abundance of places to see in Antwerp, museums to explore and fusion cuisine to try. In the interest of readability – and feasibility for that matter – I made a small selection, mixing in the main tourist attractions in Antwerp with many lesser-known locations.
Antwerp Itinerary: Day One
READ | Vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Antwerp
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
Not into beer? Why not check out the prolific cocktail scene in Antwerp instead.
TIP FOR BEER LOVERS | The Antwerp City Brewery De Konick, responsible for brewing the famous local beer can be visited on a guided tour. The visit is super fun, and interactive and you get to try tapping your own beer at the end. Includes two tastings.
3. 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!
TIP FOR CULTURE LOVERS | There are plenty of hidden nooks and corners scattered throughout Antwerp. As the city is pretty large, I highly recommend getting yourself some wheels. Consider taking a guided bike tour through the city or rent a bike (starts at €15/day).
4. Learn about the legend of 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, the giant exerted excessive tolls on any seafarers wanting to cross the river Schelde.
Refusal of payment meant the giant cut off your hands and threw them in the river. One faithful day, Silvius Brabo refused to pay the toll. In the ensuing fight, 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).
Little remnants of the legend can e found 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.
FOODIE TIP | 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!
GET THE INSIDE SCOOP | Learn about the medieval legends that did not make it into any traditional Antwerp guide, stroll by the red light district of Antwerp and many “hidden gems” in this evening tour of Antwerp.
5. 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).
6. 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.
7. 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
8. Visit one of the many museums – Perfect if it rains during your weekend in Antwerp
TICKET | Have a look at the Antwerp City Pass. Some of the museums are included, while others receive a heavy discount.
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.
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: Day Two
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 while catching the sunset from the very best view in all of Antwerp.
9. Grab a bite to eat on the local markt – Vogeltjesmarkt
ADDRESS | Oudevaartplaats, 2000 Antwerpen; OPENING HOURS | Sunday 08.00 AM – 13.00 PM
Start the second day of your Antwerp trip bright 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!
ALTERNATIVE FOR FOODIES | Looking to learn more about local beers & the various traditional bars in Antwerp? This 3-hour beerwalk might be just what you are looking for.
10. 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.
11. 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 now a hub for sustainable local eateries and little stores).
12. 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 sunset over the Antwerp skyline.
13. Go vintage design 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 Sundays, though most of them open only after lunchtime (around 13.00). Happen to arrive early? No problem, sit down for a drink at the cozy bar Take 5 Minutes in Paris (head for their garden) or pop into the very hip Dansing Chocola.
Where to stay for a weekend in Antwerp
LUXURY SUSTAINABLE ($$$):
The Botanic Sanctuary is located in a 15th-century historical monastery right off the Antwerp Botanical gardens. A 10-minute walk will take you to the Grote Markt. The hotel has an on-site spa and pool as well as a mouthwatering fine dining restaurant.
UNIQUE DESIGN ($$):
The Antwerp City Hostel is located smack in the middle of Antwerp (5-min walk from the Central Station), yet manages to be a tranquil oasis. Includes a spacious green backyard, lush interior and comfy beds!
BOUTIQUE B&B ($$):
B IN ANTWERP
This very stylish B&B is located in the center of town near the buzzing Antwerpen Zuid, filled with hip bars & restaurants. Rooms are spacious and the hotel comes with a shared backyard.
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.
Things to do in Antwerp at night
Antwerp is positively buzzing at night. The city has a seemingly endless supply of cool bars and hip restaurants. Every time I visit, a plethora of new hotspots have opened!
De Dageraadplaats in the bustling Zurenborg neighborhood is surrounded by tons of restaurants & bars out of which locals spill out into the street until the wee hours of the morning. Grab dinner at HUMM before sauntering over to the local bar Zeezicht.
The Leopold de Waelplaatst in the heart of the hippest neighborhood of Antwerp, ‘t Zuid, is another worthy contender for a great night out. In and around this little square you will find a smattering of bars including Chatleroi (for a chilled-out beer) and the swanky Bar Burbure (an upscale cocktail bar)
Want to find something a little closer to the historical center in Antwerp? If you are into quirky bars be sure to pop into Het Elfde Gebode, filled to the rafters with quirky religious statues. Grab dinner at the recently renovated spectacular Handelsbeurs (Bourse of Antwerp) at the Fiera restaurant.
YOU COULD ALSO DO | Explore the city by night with a local Antwerp guide, stroll by the red light district of Antwerp and discover various “hidden gems” in this evening tour of Antwerp.
What to do in Antwerp on a Monday
If you are spending a long weekend in Antwerp, you might need to take into account that most of the museums, attractions and even restaurants are closed on Monday. Fear not, however, there are still plenty of things to do in the city to keep you more than entertained.
- Visit the UNESCO-classified town hall on a guided tour
- Go church hopping. The five main churches of Antwerp (described above) are all open on Monday.
- Learn about the history & highlights of Antwerp in a private walking tour
- Explore the oldest building in Antwerp: Het Steen
- Take in some culture at the recently renovated Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) which exhibits works by Rubens, Ensor, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and many more.
Places to see around Antwerp
If it is not your first time visiting Antwerp, you might be interested in exploring some places around the city. All three of the chosen locations are reachable via public transportation, though might require a combination of train/bus to get there.
MIDDELHEIM PARK/MUSEUM: A 15-minute bike ride from the city center lies a large green oasis known as Middelheim Park. This 30-hectare patch of nature is dotted with sculptures, a small castle and a small pavilion where people-watching while nipping coffee is an absolute must.
DE SCHORRE, BOOM: Located 30 km (18 mi) from Antwerp lies De Schorre Domain. While the name might not ring a bell at first, the fact Tomorrowland is organized here might pique your interest. A great place throughout the year for walks, and to spot one of the seven giant wooden trolls dotted around.
KALMTHOUTSE HEIDE: Located 65 km (40 mi) from the city lies one of my favorite places to see around Antwerp. This 60 km2 national has 25 signposted hiking trails ranging from 1.7 km to 24 km. Every year in August the heather (Heide) starts to bloom carpeting the underground in a purple carpet.
Antwerp vs. Brussels
READ | A local’s guide to Brussels
It surprised me how many visitors planning a trip to Belgium were debating on a visit to Antwerp or Brussels. Having worked and lived in both cities, I highly recommend you do both! The reason for this is startlingly simple: It will ensure you have a better grasp of Belgian culture and the wide diversity between regions.
Antwerp is located in northern Belgium. This part of the country is more affluent, better organized and cleaner. It has the second largest port in Europe, a world-renowned fashion school and there are few places in Belgium where the shopping is this good (or the people as well dressed)! It is a great place to visit if you are looking to get a feel for Flemish culture.
Brussels on the other hand is the capital of Europe and as such a true cosmopolitan city. It has an unrivaled culinary scene, the most opulent Grand Place (central square) in Europe and is the birthplace of Art Nouveau. Culture wise it is a true mixture of Flemish and Walloon traditions, with a sprinkling of various elements borrowed from the many international communities in the city.
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 or head to the Kalmthoutse Heide for half a day.
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
24 Beautiful places in Belgium for your bucket list
A local’s guide to spending a weekend in Mechelen
Where to go for a delicious lunch in Mechelen
Best pizza in Brussels
Spend the perfect 2-days in Brussels
A local’s overview of the various areas in Brussels to stay, and which ones to avoid