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10 unmissable highlights of Antwerp

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Discover 10 top highlights of Antwerp

Antwerp is such a wonderful city to visit! We describe in this blog the 10 highlights of Antwerp that you definitely shouldn’t miss. In less than an hour from the border crossing you are in the historic port city on the Scheldt. The highlights of Antwerp are lined up in the beautiful city centre. Antwerp is ideal for a city trip of 2 or 3 days or a nice weekend getaway.

History of Antwerp

Although a few finds have been made in the Scheldt area that indicate habitation in prehistoric times, not much is known about this period. The first clear indications of the city of Antwerp arose during the Roman Empire. At that time, Roman Antwerp had a great influence in the region.

The city flourished in the Middle Ages. Antwerp became the largest trading city in the region. Foreign spices, sheets and German metal products were traded. In that period Antwerp also became the world’ s most important place for the diamond trade. Today, much of this can still be seen in the city’s Jewish quarter. Antwerp is still the centre of the diamond trade in the world today. Many of Antwerp’s 10 highlights date from this period.

Besides the positive economic development of the city, Antwerp became more and more important as a cultural centre. Major painters from that period are Rubens, Jordaens and Teniers. Works by these painters can be admired in the many museums of the city.

Finally, Antwerp’s location on the Scheldt has brought a lot of wealth. In the past centuries, the port grew into the second largest European port (after Rotterdam). In the past mainly sheets from England came to the city, later general cargo, nowadays Antwerp is especially important as a container port.

The 10 highlights of Antwerp

We think you should not miss these 10 highlights of Antwerp during your weekend getaway. In addition, the city has a lot of other beautiful sights to offer, so you won’t get bored during your city trip!

Grote Markt and Our Lady’s Cathedral

The beating heart of Antwerp is this central square with the most beautiful facades on the historic guild houses. If you stand in this square, you can see that the city went through an enormous boom around the 16th century. The eye-catcher is the City Hall, which was built in 1565. It is not only the beautiful facade on the outside that is special, but also the interior is amazing. The many frescoes and paintings revive the city’s history. The iconic Brabofontein is located centrally on the Grote Markt. It portrays the city hero Brabo who sways the hand of giant Antigoon in the Scheldt.

Near the Grote Markt stands the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady. It took almost two centuries to build this church. Walk in through the beautiful cathedral door and be overwhelmed by the size of this church. In the interior you’ll find numerous paintings and bronze statues. You can admire three of Rubens’ masterpieces.

Vleeshuis

During the guild era, the butcher’s guild was one of the most powerful guilds in the city. This guild had a monopoly on the meat trade until the French Revolution. The Vleeshuis symbolises the position the guild had at that time. The building is beautiful and is one of the city’s most striking structures, with its slender towers and distinctive architectural style. It is said that with the alternating use of materials, the architect wanted the building to resemble bacon.

Inside the Vleeshuis you will find many wood carvings and old musical instruments. The museum takes you into the history of music and dance in the city during the past 6 centuries. In addition, it is wonderful to enjoy the beautiful interior of the Vleeshuis.

Cogels-Osylei and the Dageraadplaats in Zurenborg

The Zurenborg district is completely unknown to most visitors to the city. And yet you can see the most beautiful architecture there. The most beautiful buildings in Art Nouveau can be found in this part of Antwerp. The Cogels-Osylei is called the most beautiful street of the city. About 50 years ago they wanted to demolish this neighbourhood and turn it into an office district. Fortunately, those plans were not implemented and you can still enjoy the impressive Art Nouveau facades in the district.

After a walk you can relax at the Dageraadplaats. This is one of the nicest squares in Antwerp. Here you can eat your fill at one of the many cosy cafes and restaurants. In the evening you can always sit here under a beautiful starry sky, even when the weather is cloudy. In the meantime, you can enjoy the local colour in this special part of the city. If you want to visit the Zurenborg district, take tram 11.

Rubenshuis

The artist Peter Paul Rubens has left an important mark on Antwerp. From his beautiful home he has produced many masterpieces in Antwerp. At the height of his fame, he was so busy that various artists supported him in carrying out all his commissions.

After Rubens’ death, the building had many uses. It even served as a prison for a time. When the local council purchased the building in 1937, little was left of the grandeur that the house used to have. After a thorough restoration it now serves as a museum. You get a good picture of how the painter lived; you can see the dining room and the bedroom. However, the most beautiful thing is of course Rubens’ artistic work and the art he collected. You can see that in the art room. Naturally, you will also visit the studio. It is suspected that he made about 2500 paintings here.

Royal Museum of Fine Arts

In this museum you can see the largest and most impressive art collection of the city. The museum provides an impression of art objects from the Middle Ages to modern times. All famous Belgian artists can be found in this museum. The absolute masterpieces are by Jan van Eyck, Peter Paul Rubens and Rik Wouters.

The museum is housed in a beautiful neo-classical building from 1994. The facade of the museum is particularly impressive. On top of the large columns are statues of female charioteers.

The museum is currently closed due to a renovation. It is expected to reopen in the second quarter of 2020.

Red Star Line museum

Between 1873 and 1935 some two million poor people left the city of Antwerp in search of happiness in America. With the ships of the Red Star Line they left Europe in the hope of finding a better future in the land of unlimited possibilities.

The museum tells their story. This makes it an atypical museum. You won’t find showcases with objects here. It’s all about the explorers’ testimonies. You hear and see their stories and get a glimpse into their lives, their poverty and their hope for better times in America.

From the watchtower that protrudes above the shed, you have a beautiful view over the Scheldt, the city and the nearby harbour district Het Eilandje. That district is definitely worth a visit. There you can enjoy the beautiful piece of architecture of the harbour house and the building of the museum MAS.

Vlaeykensgang in the Old Town

It’s lovely strolling through the beautiful streets in the old town of Antwerp. The narrow streets between the cathedral and the Grote Markt are all equally special. Yet one of them really stands out according to us. That’s the Vlaeykensgang. You really feel like you’re back in the Middle Ages when you walk through it. The street dates from 1591 and connects the Hoogstraat, the Oude Koornmarkt and the Pelgrimstraat.

In earlier times the poorest people of the city lived here. Next to that lived the people who had to sound the cathedral’s alarm bell. It is often a place of rest, away from the tourists, and a wonderful place to listen to the carillon concerts. Furthermore, you will find nice shops and an exclusive restaurant.

Nottebohmzaal in the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience

The Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library is located in a beautiful building. It is the place where the cultural heritage of Flanders is preserved. The collection is enormous and contains many important works. At the start in 1481 the library started with only 41 books. These were also lost in a fire. It was not until 1805 that the public was allowed to become acquainted with the collection.

The Nottebohm Room is located in the oldest part of the library. This room, with the name of an Antwerp benefactor, was furnished as a show room in 1936. A visit to this room is an experience; it is truly a hidden treasure of Antwerp. Here you will find the first 150,000 books of the library. They are kept in a beautiful room. The Nottebohm hall is only accessible during exhibitions or lectures. If the occasion arises, grab this opportunity with both hands and you’ll enjoy it to the fullest.

Het Steen

This is the oldest preserved building in Antwerp. It is one of the three gatehouses of the castle, which arose on the banks of the Scheldt in the 12th century. In the 16th century Charles V had it thoroughly rebuilt. This is still striking today because of the difference in colour that you can see in the facade of the building.

The stone served as a prison until 1823. After that it was used for various purposes, of which for the longest time it was used as a museum. Currently, the Stone is not accessible because it is being converted into a tourist experience centre. In addition, the cruise terminal of Antwerp will be built here. However, you can stroll around the building and take beautiful pictures of this historic place on the Scheldt.

Centraal Station in Antwerp

In our opinion one of the most beautiful station buildings in Europe is Antwerp-Central. After a large-scale renovation in which the historic station was converted from a head-end to a train station with through tracks, a building has been created that has become an architectural masterpiece. The mix of an imposing stone station building with an enormous glass dome and new modern platforms on different levels, make Antwerp Central a sight in itself.

10 highlights of Antwerp to visit: practical matters

  • Antwerp is easily accessible by rail. The advantage is that you can then immediately enjoy one of the most beautiful buildings in the city: the station building.
  • If you come by car, you can easily park for free at one of the nine P+R sites on the outskirts of the city. By public transport you’ll be in the city centre in no time.
  • With the Antwerp City Card, you can use public transport in the city for free. In addition, you get free admission to a number of museums and attractions. Finally, you can get discounts at various attractions or tours. This way you’ll have a quick return on the card, which is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours.
  • The city has a lot of accommodation in all price ranges. Here you will find an overview of hotels in Antwerp.

Map of Antwerp with all the sights