19 best things to do in Antwerp (2023 insider guide)

Nestled in the heart of Belgium, Antwerp is a captivating destination that beckons travelers from far and wide to immerse themselves in its rich tapestry of history, culture, and gastronomy. As you step foot on its cobbled streets, you'll find yourself drawn into a captivating journey that spans centuries of art, trade, and architectural marvels.

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Antwerp boasts a legacy that stretches back to the Middle Ages when it was one of Europe’s most prominent port cities. Throughout the ages, it has thrived as a bustling hub of commerce, earning its reputation as the “City of Diamonds” and a fashion capital. Yet, beneath its contemporary sheen, the city proudly preserves its historical treasures, with age-old cathedrals, palaces, and museums standing as testament to its illustrious past.

From marveling at masterpieces by Flemish masters like Rubens to savoring delectable Belgian chocolates, from perusing trendy fashion boutiques to cycling along picturesque canals, Antwerp caters to every desire. Whether you have a weekend or a week to spare, this blog will serve as your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Antwerp.

The best tours in Antwerp

If you’re short on time and want to see the best of Antwerp, it’s a good idea to join a tour with a local. Here are some of the best rated tours:

🍺 Go on a brewery tour

🚲 Go on a group bike tour of the city

🍻 Go on a half-day beer walk/pub crawl

🎫 Go on a private tour of the city

Historical Sights in Antwerp

1. Explore Antwerp Central Station

Antwerp Central Station is on of the most beautiful in the world. It has a truly impressive exterior and interior, with a stunning main hall.

A masterpiece of railway architecture, this impressive building is a testament to the city’s grandeur. Take a moment to marvel at its stunning domed ceiling, intricate ironwork, and lavish interior that exude elegance from a bygone era.

There are daily trains from Bruges to here, and hourly trains from Brussels. It’s also directly connected to Brussels International Airport and only takes 30 minutes to get there. 

2. Cathedral of Our Lady

Next on our historical journey is the awe-inspiring Cathedral of Our Lady, a majestic Gothic structure that dominates Antwerp’s skyline. Adorned with countless artistic treasures, including Peter Paul Rubens’ famous paintings, this cathedral is a must-visit for art and history enthusiasts.

You can join a guided tour of the Cathedral or just explore at your own pace. There’s an 8 EUR entry fee for adults.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can climb the 500+ stairs to the top of the spire, giving a great viewpoint of the city. 

3. Plantin – Mortus Museum

This is the only museum on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and the only remaining printing workshop and publishing house in the world. The buildings are beautiful, and the interior decoration amazing to see. You’ll learn a lot about the world of book printing.

Antwerp central station
Antwerp central station

Cultural Experiences in Antwerp

4. Visit an Art Gallery

Art lovers will find themselves in paradise at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, boasting an impressive collection of paintings from the Flemish and Dutch masters. For a taste of contemporary art, head to the Museum of Contemporary Art (M HKA), where thought-provoking exhibitions showcase the city’s modern artistic spirit.

5. Fashion and Design

Antwerp is synonymous with cutting-edge fashion, and no visit would be complete without exploring its fashion district.

The beating heart of the district is the “ModeNatie,” a creative hub that houses the Fashion Museum (ModeMuseum), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and the Flanders Fashion Institute. It’s a melting pot of talent, nurturing the next generation of fashion visionaries who push the boundaries of style.

Antwerp’s fashion district is renowned for its “Antwerp Six” – a group of influential fashion designers who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s. Their innovative designs shook up the fashion world, putting Antwerp on the international fashion map. Today, their legacy lives on, and their avant-garde spirit continues to inspire the city’s emerging talents.

6. Explore the Diamond District

Antwerp is known as the diamond capital of the world, and it’s Diamond District is right next to Central Station. This is where diamonds are traded, and there are tons of shops selling diamond jewlry. 

Most shops are in 3 main streets: De Keyserlei, Pelikaanstraat, and Vestingstraat. They should be open every day except Saturday.

If you’re going to buy diamonds, you need to make sure to bargain! Although this is normally seen as rude, it’s expected in the diamond stores here.

Jeweller Wim Meeussen's shop is located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building in Wijngaardstraat, in the heart of Antwerp.
Jeweller Wim Meeussen's shop is located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building in Wijngaardstraat, in the heart of Antwerp.

7. Visit Grote Markt

Grote Markt is the main square in Antwerp and is beautiful. The 16th century City Hall is the main building here, and is surrounded by guild houses.

In the center is Brabo Fountain, which depicts the story of how the city got it’s name (Antwerpen means to throw a hand, and the story is about Brabo cutting off a giant’s hand who was tormenting the city).

Grote Markt is always busy, buzzing with tourists and locals and there’s often events taking place. You’ll find a lot of cafes and restaurants here to enjoy.

In Winter, this becomes the center of the Antwerp Christmas Markets featuring stalls and a huge Christmas tree.

8. Go to the Port House

The Port House is a new addition to Antwerp’s skyline, opened in 2016 and designed by famous architect Zaha Hadid. It’s a truly stunning building, and if you’re interested in architecture it’s a must see. You can visit inside but it’s a bit tricky, and at the moment only group reservations are possible. However, we recommend just going to see it from the outside, in the day or when it’s lit up at night.

Antwerp Port House by Zaha Hadid Architects, Antwerp, Belgium
Antwerp Port House by Zaha Hadid Architects, Antwerp, Belgium

Try Local Food

9. Flemish Cuisine

No trip to Antwerp is complete without indulging in the delectable delights of Flemish cuisine. Sample hearty stews like “stoofvlees” and “waterzooi,” and satisfy your sweet tooth with heavenly Belgian waffles and chocolates. The city is home to numerous restaurants and cafes that offer traditional Belgian fare, providing a feast for your taste buds.

10. Food Markets

Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of Antwerp’s food markets, where you can explore a diverse array of flavors. Head to the Antwerpse Vrijdagmarkt for a taste of local produce or visit the Exotic Market for an international culinary journey.

11.Go to a brewery

If you love beer, or want to know more about the brewing process, Antwerp has no shortage of breweries to visit. One fantastic one is De Konnick brewery in Berchem, which is a short tram ride from Antwerp Central Station. They make Antwerp’s most famous beer – Bolleke.

They make the learning experience really fun and engaging, and you get a beer to enjoy as you learn.

After, you can visit their bar and sample more beers, and they also have their own BBQ restaurant upstairs – Black Smoke.

Unique Things to do in Antwerp

12. Bike Through Antwerp

Rent a bike and explore the city like a local. Antwerp is renowned for being a bike-friendly city, with an extensive network of dedicated cycling lanes that wind their way through the charming streets, picturesque parks, and along the serene Scheldt River.

Renting a bike is easy, with various rental options available throughout the city.

13. River Cruises

Embark on a leisurely river cruise along the Scheldt River, offering panoramic views of Antwerp’s skyline and waterfront. The serene cruise allows you to appreciate the city’s beauty from a unique perspective.

14. Visit Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp Zoo is the oldest zoo in Belgium, and actually one of the oldest in the world. It’s right in the center of the city, next to Antwerp Central Station. It’s open year round, and all kinds of activities and shows to enjoy. 

We’d recommend visiting here if you’re visiting the city for a few days and have a spare couple of hours – it’s well worth a visit but maybe not a priority!

15. Explore City Park

If you need to escape the busy city, Antwerp City Park is a nice place to visit. It’s quite small but it’s central, and easy to check out in between the station and the old town. 

16. Go on a Sewer Tour

For a truly unique thing to do in Antwerp, head down to the Du Ruien sewer tour. These are the sewers underneath the city, and you’ll actually learn a lot about Antwerp’s history. It’s a bizarre tour, but super interesting and worth exploring.

You’ll get a guide who will stop at various points, and you’ll watch videos on an iPad.

You get given a paper suit and boots to protect you from the damp, but be warned, the tour gets very dark at points and there are rats and spiders down there. It’s not for everyone!

Meerkat at Antwerp Zoo
Meerkat at Antwerp Zoo

Shopping and Souvenirs

17. Meir Street

Shopaholics will be in paradise at Meir Street, Antwerp’s bustling main shopping district. Here, you’ll find everything from high-end fashion boutiques to popular international brands, making it the perfect destination for a shopping spree.

The street surrounds the area from the Cathedral to Central Station. 

18. Antiques and Vintage

For those seeking one-of-a-kind treasures, explore the charming boutiques and antique shops in the Kloosterstraat district. Unearth vintage gems and unique souvenirs that will make your trip truly memorable.

19. Boutique Shopping

If you want to do some luxury shopping, head to Schutterschofstraat and Huidevettersstraat. You’ll find stores like Chanel and Louis Vuitton, as well as some really good Belgian cholate shops. This will be much better quality than the stuff you find at souvenir shops. 

Things to do in Antwerp FAQ

Absolutely, Antwerp is definitely worth visiting! As one of Belgium’s most captivating cities, Antwerp offers a diverse range of attractions and experiences that cater to all kinds of travelers.

Antwerp is best known for its rich cultural heritage, stunning architecture, and vibrant fashion scene. As Belgium’s second-largest city, it has a reputation as the “City of Diamonds,” a major global hub for the diamond trade. The city’s historical significance is evident in its awe-inspiring landmarks, such as the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Antwerp Central Station. Additionally, Antwerp’s contributions to the art world are legendary, with Flemish masters like Peter Paul Rubens hailing from the city. Fashion enthusiasts flock to Antwerp’s fashion district, where avant-garde designs and renowned designers have earned it recognition as a global fashion capital.

People visit Antwerp for its captivating blend of history, culture, and modernity. The city’s rich cultural heritage and historical landmarks, including the Cathedral of Our Lady and the iconic Antwerp Central Station, attract history enthusiasts and architecture lovers alike. Art aficionados explore renowned museums like the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, while fashion enthusiasts flock to the city’s fashion district, renowned for its avant-garde designs and talented designers. Antwerp’s reputation as the “City of Diamonds” also lures visitors interested in the diamond trade. Additionally, the city’s delightful gastronomy, vibrant nightlife, and friendly locals make it an irresistible destination for travelers seeking a well-rounded and memorable experience.

Both Brussels and Antwerp offer unique experiences worth exploring in Belgium. Brussels, the capital city, boasts historical landmarks like the Grand Place and Atomium, along with a diverse and international atmosphere. It’s perfect for those interested in politics and gastronomy with its chocolates, waffles, and beer. On the other hand, Antwerp, known as the “City of Diamonds,” captivates visitors with its cultural heritage, fashion scene, and art legacy, including the Cathedral of Our Lady and renowned artists like Rubens. Choose based on your preferences, whether it’s Brussels’ historical charm or Antwerp’s artistic allure.

Things to do in Antwerp Map

Map created with Wanderlog, a road trip planner app on iOS and Android

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