A Weekend in Antwerp

Antwerp is the beating heart of Flemish Belgium and deserves at least a weekend of exploration. Here is great food, fascinating history, stunning architecture, and a bit of quirky fun.

Vrijdagmarkt 22-23, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
I’ll be the first to admit, a museum of printing didn’t sound terribly exciting to me, at first. Antwerp Belgium’s Plantin-Moretus Museum certainly changed my mind. This is the only museum on the UNESCO World Heritage list and the recognition is well deserved. The museum is housed in the 16th century home of Antwerp’s first printing company. The house itself is stunning, and the ancient printing presses (some are the oldest still in working order) are fascinating. The star of the museum’s collection, however, is the family’s personal collection of books and archives. The library includes an early Gutenberg Bible, the first Dutch dictionary, one of the world’s first atlases, and many other treasures. If you are a book lover, interested in social history, art, design or architecture, don’t pass up the Plantin-Moretus museum. More Info: http://cheeseweb.eu/2011/05/plantinmoretus-printing-museum-antwerp/
Komedieplaats 18, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Even if you aren’t hungry, it’s worth stopping for a drink at the stunningly beautiful De Foyer cafe in Antwerp. You’ll feel like royalty under the magnificent dome of the the 19th century Bourla Theater . The stained-glass, rich velvet curtains and ceiling frescos all add to the atmosphere. Come watch Antwerp’s trendy fashionistas and tourists alike, while you enjoy a Belgian beer or a cappuccino, or fill-up at their extensive Sunday brunch.
Koningin Astridplein 20-26, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium
With its super-convenient location, right beside Antwerp’s central train station, there’s no excuse not to visit the Antwerp Zoo. The zoo is very well maintained despite its age (circa 1853) and city-centre location. The animal habitats are constantly being updated and many are interactive and unusual, such as the Nocturama, an exhibit of nocturnal animals, and a cage-less bird exhibit. The Antwerp Zoo has all of the usual favourites: Big cats, monkeys, penguins, even a herd of okapis. The Zoo also maintains the Plankendael Animal Park, located outside the city, in Mechelen. Here you can find a personable herd of elephants including the playful baby in the photo above.
Cogels-Osylei, 2600 Antwerpen, Belgium
Just a few minutes walk from Antwerp, Belgium’s Berchem train station, is one of the city’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, the Zurenbourg. A handful of streets form the ‘Golden Triangle’ an area famous for its Art Nouveau and rival architecture. It’s a hodge-podge of styles: Gothic Revival, Neo-Renaissance, Greek Revival, Neoclassical, and British Tudorbethan; striking in their differences. A walk through the area is a lovely way to pass a few hours. The main streets of interest are: Cogels Osylei, Waterloostraat and Transvaalstraat. Be sure to look up so you don’t miss the stunning mosaic work that decorates many of the houses.
Kammenstraat 81, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Imagine listening to classical music while surrounded by the art and architecture of a former Augustine monastery. At the AMUZ concert hall in Antwerp, Belgium, you can do just that. AMUZ is home to the Laus Polyphoniea concert series each summer. Throughout the festival, classical music lovers can enjoy concerts by composers and musicians from around the globe. The festival also includes a themed festival menu to enjoy before the show. Meals are served in the beautiful Winter Chapel, pictured here.
Koningin Astridplein 27, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium
Traveling by train can be a wonderful way to explore Belgium. A few of the country’s train stations are destinations in and of themselves. Antwerp’s Centraal (or Central) Station is one of the prettiest. Renovations and expansion have restored the station to its former glory and made it accessible to international trains. The main hall, pictured here, is often home to impromptu performances, concerts and flash mobs. When I took this photo, a tango competition was taking place.
Korte Nieuwstraat 24, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Located in a pair of centuries-old Flemish townhouses in the center of town, Hotel Julien epitomizes Antwerp today: traditional on the outside, cutting-edge modern on the inside. Antwerp has the chic feeling of a mini Paris. Korte Nieuwstraat 24, 32/(0) 3-229-0600. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
Meir, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Antwerp, like the rest of Belgium, is full of friteries or frituurs. One of the best in this Flemish city is Frituur No. 1, located at #1 Hoogstraat, which is just a short walk from the main square.
Appelmansstraat 5, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium
Rumour has it that there are over 10,000 chocolate shops in Belgium, and that it would take a full 6 months to tour all of them. To this I say: challenge accepted. (Remind me to pack my stretchy pants) Eating chocolate is undoubtedly one of the most iconic things to do in Belgium, and Antwerp is the perfect place for that. Between the beautiful architecture of the train station, the history of diamonds, the Jewish quarter and the ancient squares, Antwerp doesn’t disappoint. And if somehow it does, make your way to DelRey, my favorite chocolate shop in the city. I visited several, and the owner of this particular one was extremely enthusiastic about his products, and more than willing to give me a free sample. That may or may not have biased my judgement. I will never tell.
Keizerstraat 16, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Three 17th-century gabled homes were connected to create Antwerp’s quirkiest hotel, De Witte Lelie. Owners Ann and Bart Busschop stocked 11 rooms with such personal touches as paintings by the hotel’s night receptionist. Grab a drink at the diminutive Bronze Bar, or sink into a leopard-print couch in the lobby near the chess set. The hotel arranges tours with Tanguy Ottomer, the city’s most prominent personal shopper. From $307. 32/(0) 3-226-1966. This appeared in the October 2013 issue.
Antwerp, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium
During Contemporary Fashion Days, in April and October, bargain fever takes over the city as designers slash prices on garments from the previous season. Let the event’s app guide you to the studios of such Belgian design pioneers as Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, two of the Antwerp Six, who helped put the city on the world style map. 32/(0) 3-226-1447. This appeared in the October 2013 issue.
Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
The Museum aan de Stroom showcases the art and history of the city. The ultramodern exterior features glass and red sandstone bricks stacked like Tetris tiles near the Scheldt River. The exhibit “Happy Birthday Dear Academie” honors the 350-year legacy of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts with works by alumni artists, including Peter Paul Rubens. Hanzestedenplaats 1, 32/(0) 3-338-4434. This appeared in the October 2013 issue.
3 Montevideostraat
A lowly warehouse in Antwerp may not seem like a life-changing sort of place. However, this was the start of a completely new life for over 2 million emigrants and a lifesaver for many of them. The brand new Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp tells the story of these emigrants, who bravely travelled from Eastern Europe to North America, leaving everything they knew behind. Although the Red Star Line Museum primarily focuses on the immigrants who travelled on board RSL ships, there is also a modern side to the story. On the ground floor, the exhibit ‘Always on the Move’ deals with the current state of migration around the world. Coupled with temporary photography exhibits, this modern section of the museum reminds us that, even today, emigration isn’t always a choice for the migrants. The Red Star Line Museum tells a powerful and important story in a beautiful and moving way. It should be on the ‘must visit’ list for all expats and descendants of immigrants, so we never forget the struggle our ancestors made on our behalf. More Information: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/10/red-star-line-immigration-museum-antwerp-belgium/
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