A vibrant port city with a rich history, Antwerp, Belgium is full of interesting attractions and things to see. From fashion and artwork to a 600-year-old diamond district and standout museums, visitors are never at a loss for ways to keep busy. We’ve been to the city several times and always find something new to love. Here’s a look at some of our favorite things to do in Antwerp.
- Explore the Central Station
- Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady
- See the works of a master at Ruben House
- Walk through history at Plantin-Moretus Museum
- Explore the Diamond District
- Hang out in Grote Markt
- See Het Steen Castle
- Take a break in Groenplaats
- Visit MAS Museum
- Browse Meir Shopping Street
- Sample flavors at The Chocolate Line
- See the art at St. Paul’s Church
- Try genever at De Vagant Bar
- Visit Red Star Line Museum
- See the activity at the Port of Antwerp
- Descend in Saint Anna’s Tunnel
- Marvel at the Art Nouveau buildings
- See the exhibits at Museum Vleeshuis
- Grab a bite at the Saturday Exotic Market
- Enjoy the Botanical Garden
- Step inside St. Andrew’s Church
- Listen to music at De Muze Jazz Cafe
Explore the Central Station
Among one of the most spectacular places to see in Antwerp is the central railway station, Antwerp Central (Antwerpen-Centraal). The train station is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. It’s striking from the outside, but to truly appreciate the station, you’ll have to explore the inside.
The building’s interior incorporates iron, steel, and glass in intricate designs that make it truly remarkable. The central station has a main hall located on the entrance side of Koningin Astridplein and a clock that’s the center of attention. It’s a perfectly beautiful welcome and a great place to start an Antwerp visit.
Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal is a Gothic holy building in the city’s historic center. Thanks to its 123-meter-high north tower, the building is visible from most places around Antwerp.
Completed in 1521, the architectural wonder was under construction for 169 years. Its belltower is included along with other remarkable towers in Belgium–like the belfrys in Bruges and Ghent–as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The cathedral houses outstanding artworks, including paintings by Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. Visitors can either explore the cathedral on their own or opt for a guided tour to see the paintings, incredible stained glass, and other features.
See the works of a master at Ruben House
Even if you’re not an art lover, a visit to Ruben House Museum (Rubenshuis) in one of the top things to do in Antwerp based on its 400-year history and preservation. The home of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens is now packed with his masterpieces and works of contemporaries.
Rubens purchased the house in 1610 and later extended and renovated it, making it into his perfect space for living and creating. Here, the renowned artist produced most of his famous paintings that gained global recognition. From the embossed leather wall coverings to the spaces where every inch is covered with art, it’s impossible not to feel the creative energy here.
Walk through history at Plantin-Moretus Museum
Another great attraction in Antwerp worth visiting is the Plantin-Moretus Museum. The only UNESCO-listed museum, Plantin-Moretus offers visitors a close look at the importance and history of printing through artifacts stretching back to the 1500s.
Visitors get to explore the old buildings that housed the printing presses as well as the Plantin and Moretus families over the centuries. The rich library features many notable historical books, including the Biblia Polyglotta (1568-1573), a Bible written in five languages. Over three centuries, the printing house was among the top in Europe, distributing scientific discoveries, philosophical theories, and art like Rubens’s portraits around the continent.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see the world’s oldest printing presses, which were built around 1600.
Explore the Diamond District
The famous Diamond District right next to the Central Station is one of the more intriguing places to visit in Antwerp. Dating from 1447, it is considered the diamond capital of the world, and over 80% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through the area. Visitors can visit the numerous jewelry shops selling diamonds. However, the diamond trading markets are usually out of bounds.
If you’re interested in getting a deeper appreciation of the diamond world from history to craftsmanship to design, head to nearby DIVA, the diamond museum. Through multimedia and interactive exhibits, guests get immersed in the glittering world of precious jewels.
Hang out in Grote Markt
The Grote Markt, the main square, is among the most beautiful town squares in Europe. With the 16th-century city hall and gleaming guildhouses, you can’t ask for a better backdrop to enjoy.
Grote Markt is a great place for people watching on summer afternoons. On weekends or during certain seasons, it fills with local markets, most notably the famous Antwerp Christmas market. After you’ve had your fill of shopping or simply taking in the views, head to one of the many cafes and restaurants just a few steps away.
See Het Steen Castle
Het Steen Castle, established in the early 13th century, once served as the city’s fortress in its prime location right on the river. It’s the oldest building still standing in the city and is a favorite of photographers for the castle itself and for the curious statue just outside.
Over the centuries, “the Steen” has served lots of different purposes from a prison to a museum. It’s now a visitors center with a panoramic rooftop and is home to The Antwerp Story. The exhibit introduces people to the history of the city and provides an overview of its neighborhoods, its people, and what makes Antwerp unique.
Take a break in Groenplaats
Groenplaats, or Green Square, is another of Antwerp’s welcoming squares right in the heart of the city. Ringed with bars and cafes, it’s a fun place to stop for a coffee or to enjoy lunch while watching the activity. There is also a daily flower market to peruse.
Visit MAS Museum
A distinctive modern building along the river Scheldt, the MAS Museum is the largest museum in Antwerp. It has a vast and varied collection of over 500,000 items that are featured in permanent and temporary exhibitions with themes relating to Antwerp’s contact with the world. Visitors will find everything from eating utensils to maritime artifacts that chronicle international trade and shipping.
The iconic building is 10 stories high, and its rooftop provides panoramic views of the city, so it’s a great place to visit when the weather is nice.
Browse Meir Shopping Street
One of the top places for shopping in Belgium, Meir Shopping Street runs from the Cathedral of Our Lady to the central railway station. It is lined with major European chains and luxury shops, making the street a draw for tourists and locals. One of the best places to shop along the street is the exclusive shopping center known as Stadsfeestzaal in the restored city festival hall.
Beyond the shops they house, the buildings along Meir are also worth a look. The Rococo facades date from the 18th and 19th centuries and are gorgeous to look at.
Sample flavors at The Chocolate Line
Any visit to Belgium must include chocolate. The Chocolate Line is a fantastic place to visit in Antwerp, especially if you’re a great fan of chocolate. Located in the city center, it is in a historical building on Meir.
Chocolatier Dominique Persoone is known for innovation and developing unusual flavor combinations, so be prepared to find uncommon offerings, including chocolate lipstick. The Chocolate Line offers everything from raspberry and salted caramel to fried onions, beetroot, and even grass. The shop is accented with plenty of larger-than-life chocolate sculptures.
See the art at St. Paul’s Church
St. Paul’s Church is a work of art. Built in 1639 as a Dominican monastery church, the Gothic building is ornate inside and outside.
The church has some remarkable Baroque altars and 50 paintings by renowned artists, including Rubens, Van Dyck, and Van Balen. Outside, the Calvary Garden includes 63 life-sized statues made by a group of Belgian sculptors dating back to the 1700s. It’s definitely worth stopping in when you visit Antwerp, especially if you’re an art lover.
Try genever at De Vagant Bar
One of Antwerp’s most famous bars, De Vagant specializes in genever, a clear spirit that tastes a lot like gin. The welcoming bar has over 400 kinds of genever and related liqueurs and cocktails, including the eponymous orange De Vagant cocktail.
Visit Red Star Line Museum
From 1873 to 1935, the Red Star Line transported people from Antwerp to New York and Philadelphia in search of a new start and prosperity in North America. The Red Star Line Museum tells the story of these courageous individuals, looking at why they left and what happened on their journey.
In total, more than 2 million people made the transatlantic trip that began in the very buildings where the museum is now. From photographs and luggage to letters and personal testimonials, the museum brings their stories to life.
See the activity at the Port of Antwerp
The second largest seaport in Europe, there’s always something moving through the Port of Antwerp whether it’s container ships in the distance, cruise ships docking, or the frequent water buses that traverse the river Scheldt. Originally constructed in 1811, the port remains a vital part of the city economy.
Visitors can take a walk along the waterfront or rent a bicycle to explore one of the four cycling routes. A free map shows the routes and what can be seen along the way. There are also boat tours of the harbor if you have time to spare, or you can take a water bus to St. Anna on the opposite side of the river.
Descend in Saint Anna’s Tunnel
If you don’t want to wait on the ferry to St. Anna or are simply curious about the passage, take a ride on the escalator in St. Anna’s Tunnel (called the Underpass by locals). As the name indicates, it was designed to connect the new part of town with the historic center.
The unique escalators were made in the 1930s. They were a novelty then and still are (we’ve only seen them at Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan), and they take users on a ride deep below the river to cross to the other side. On the way down, you’ll see pictures showing the history of the tunnel and its construction.
Marvel at the Art Nouveau buildings
Antwerp’s Zurenborg neighborhood has numerous stunning examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Characterized by bright exterior paintings, mosaics, large windows, and ornate details, the style evolved in the late 19th century and took hold in cities around Belgium (they’re some of many beautiful places to see in Brussels).
Zurenborg’s Golden Triangle–the area between Transvaal, Waterloo, and Cogels-Osylei streets is a particularly rich place to find examples of the fanciful style. Lovers of architecture and photography will want to spend some time wandering the streets here to see all the different features
See the exhibits at Museum Vleeshuis
The Museum Vleeshuis is a former guildhall that has been transformed into a museum. At over 500 years old, the building itself is notably historic, but its displays are what command much of the attention today.
The exhibits at Museum Vleeshuis chronicle six centuries of dance, sound, and music in the city of Antwerp. There are lots of rare instruments and musical manuscripts as well as stories about many notable musicians and the importance of music as part of the fabric of the city.
Grab a bite at the Saturday Exotic Market
The Saturday Exotic Market at Theaterplein is a perfect stop for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. The food runs the gamut from Turkish and North African specialties to quiche, oysters, and champagne.
There are lots of ingredients and prepared items to take home and plenty to eat at the market with lots of tables available. Not only is the food delicious, but the market is full of locals out shopping and enjoying a social occasion, so the whole atmosphere is fun. Bring your appetite!
Enjoy the Botanical Garden
With over 2000 plants, the Botanical Garden (Dek Botaniek) provides a green oasis in the city. This world-class garden has a wide variety of shrubs, trees, herbs, and exotic plants that make it a paradise for plant enthusiasts.
The Botanical Garden was originally established nearly 200 years ago to grow medicinal plants to supply St Elisabeth hospital. The city started managing the garden in 1926, and it has since become an indispensable part of Antwerp’s landscape. It is free to visit and open year-round, so it functions much like a city park.
Step inside St. Andrew’s Church
From the moment you step into St. Andrew’s Church, it’s hard to look away from the stunning high altar. Made in the early 1700s, it has soaring marble columns and more than 20 figures adorn the sides. But it is only one of many brilliant sculptures and paintings visitors will find in the impressive church.
Built by Augustinian friars, St. Andrew’s Church was consecrated in 1529. The church is predominantly late Gothic in style, but the steeple and upper tiers are characteristic of the late-Baroque era. If you find it open, it’s worth a peek inside to see the sculptures and the beautiful pulpit.
Listen to music at De Muze Jazz Cafe
Initially opened in 1964, the De Muze Jazz Café is among the top places for jazz in the city. For decades, it has attracted jazz greats from around the world to play on its stage. With a healthy selection of cocktails and beers and some of the best music around, the cafe draws regulars and visitors to hear live music every night after 10pm.