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Grote Markt of Antwerp at twilight

Things to do in  Antwerp

Europe’s unexpected capital of cool

Just like the precious stone it’s associated with, Antwerp sparkles and shines. As well as boasting two pretty impressive titles—the diamond capital of the world and the second-largest port in Europe—the quirky city is also hailed as one of Europe’s artistic epicenters and Belgium’s capital of cool, thanks to its world-class museums, large student population, thriving fashion scene, and plenty of things to do. And behind the chic modernity, Antwerp’s historic heritage sits pretty—cobbled lanes, medieval architecture, and a waterfront fortress transport you back in time.

Top 15 attractions in Antwerp

Grand Market Place (Grote Markt van Antwerpen)

The historical and cultural heart of Antwerp, Grand Market Place (Grote Markt van Antwerpen) is surrounded by lavish 16th-century guild houses and the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal). Although many of the buildings burned down in the 16th century, they were rebuilt in the same style and showcase Flemish architecture.More

Central Station

Antwerp’s main railway station, nicknamedSpoorwegkathedraal (Railway Cathedral) by locals, features glass-and-iron vaulted ceilings, an ornate central dome, and hundreds of gilded flourishes. An extensive restoration of the station was completed in 2009, when a shopping mall and two further platforms were added to the complex.More

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)

Spearheading the rejuvenation of the Willemdok harbor area, Museum aan de Stroom (which translates as “Museum on the River”) is acclaimed equally for its stellar architecture by Neutelings Riedijk and its well-curated exhibitions about the history and culture of Antwerp. Towering 60 meters (197 feet) above the harbor, the building comprises layers of bright-red sandstone bricks held together with glass and steel.More

Rubens House (Rubenshuis)

Forming the backbone of Antwerp’s artistic heritage, Rubens House (Rubenshuis) is a top draw for travelers. The former home of Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp for most of his life, is decorated with marble Roman busts and antique furniture that reflect the sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by Antwerp’s most illustrious son.More

Diamond District

About 85 percent of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp’s Diamond District, a compact commercial enclave jammed with diamond dealers, cutters, polishers, and showrooms. It's a fascinating place to see Belgium’s centuries-old diamond trade in action, browse jewelry displays, or pick up an engagement ring or other sparkly bauble.More

Brabo Fountain

Reigning supreme over Antwerp’s medieval Grote Markt, the photogenic Brabo Fountain—which was created by famous Flemish sculptor Jef Lambeux—depicts a man holding a severed hand, from the base of which water spurts. The fountain relates to Antwerp’s origin story, where a Roman soldier cut off the hand of a Russian giant who once guarded the city gates.More

Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis)

A candy-striped confection of white sandstone and red brick, the 14th-century Gothic Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis) originally served as a meat market but now fulfills the more refined role of music museum. Today, you can admire exquisite antique musical instruments such as Delftware mandolins at Museum Vleeshuis.More

Plantin-Moretus Museum

In the 16th century Antwerp – along with Paris – was one of the leading lights of the Northern Renaissance; among the brightest stars on the city’s stage at that time was Christophe Plantin, who established a printing workshop in his imposing townhouse in 1555. As well as contributing one of the most popular fonts still in use today, Plantin developed one of the busiest and most advanced publishing houses in northern Europe, now a UNESCO World Heritage-listed museum of print and early book publishing.After Plantin’s death in 1589, his son-in-law Jan Moretus took over the printing empire and it remained active until 1867. Today the museum is laid out as if the compositors had just downed tools; the period workshops and rooms showcase printing presses dating back to the 16th century, graphic anatomical drawings featuring dissections, a vast collection of prints by Antwerp masters dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, and a library of 30,000 rare volumes. The artist Peter Paul Rubens, another local boy made good, illustrated many of the books published by the Plantin workshop and painted some of the family portraits displayed in the museum but the masterpiece of the collection is undoubtedly the priceless 36-line Gutenberg Bible dating from 1455.More

Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA)

Famous for one of the world’s largest collections of work by Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp(KMSKA) showcases art by Flemish masters such as van Dyck and Jordaens. The acclaimed gallery, which opened in 1890, exhibits 15th-century masterpieces beside more-modern works by Titian, Modigliani, and Rodin.Please note: The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for 2020.However, most of the art can still be viewed at different venues throughout the city.More

Antwerp Zoo (Dierentuin)

Tucked behind Antwerp’s grandiose railway station, Antwerp Zoo (Dierentuin is one of the oldest zoos in the world. Creative enclosures—which include a hieroglyphic-covered Egyptian temple for the elephants—harbor more than 5,000 animals across 950 species, while the zoo runs several conservation programs.More

Red Star Line Museum

Between the late 19th century and World War II, the historic Red Star Line carried more than two million passengers across the Atlantic Ocean to start new lives in the United States, and this compelling museum was opened in September 2013 to tell the story of the migrants and showcase the backstory of the shipping company. Housed in the red-brick former company sheds, washrooms and waiting rooms in Eilandje, north of the city center, the museum buildings themselves are protected monuments. Here medical examinations took place, luggage was disinfected and would-be emigrants were assessed for suitability to enter the US. The museum’s permanent collections include a touching number of letters, faded photos and multimedia presentations of personal interviews, all displayed cleverly against a colorful, well-curated selection of posters, model ships and Red Star Line souvenirs; individuals seeking out family histories can do so in the Warehouse, where the shipping line’s records are computerized and available to all. The newly built lookout tower replaced an earlier chimney that was pulled down in 1936; it haspanoramic views across the waters of the River Scheldt and surrounding quays.More

Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)

Opened in 1987 in the now-fashionable Zuid neighborhood, the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)contributed to the rejuvenation of the formerly dilapidated district. Transformed into a cutting-edge gallery by architect Michel Grandsard, the museum exhibits more than 4,750 multimedia works by some of Flanders’ foremost contemporary artists.More

FoMu (FotoMuseum)

Housed in a former waterside warehouse in the hipster district of Zuid, Antwerp’s FoMu (FotoMuseum) has earned its status as one of the most important photography collections in Europe. Its clean, white lines are perfect for presenting a rotating exhibition of cameras, equipment, and photos by internationally renowned photographers, which changes every four months.More

ModeMuseum (MoMu)

Ever since the now-iconic ‘Antwerp Six’ (Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela) took the international catwalks by storm back in the 1980s, the city of Antwerp has firmly cemented its place on the global fashion radar. Since then, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Hogeschool) has become one of the world’s leading design schools and the city has become synonymous with cutting-edge fashion.It’s fitting then, that Antwerp’s hugely popular Mode Museum (MoMu) should put the spotlight on the fashion industry, showcasing a vast permanent collection of over 25,000 fashion-related items. The clothing, fabrics and textiles include pieces from as far back as the 16th century, intricate lacework and embroidery, tools for artisan textile processing and ethnic costumes, alongside a library of over 15,000 fashion books, catalogue and magazines. Even the museum’s location is on-trend, housed in the same building as the Flanders Fashion Institute, the Brasserie National and the Hogeschool’s fashion department.Please note: The ModeMuseum (MoMu) is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for fall 2020.More

Het Zuid

Radically transformed by the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp in 1987, the former industrial zone of Het Zuid is now fashionable, replete with independent boutiques, cozy cafés, and craft-beer breweries. Its location a short walk along the river from Grand Market Place makes it easily accessible from central Antwerp.More

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All about Antwerp

When to visit

Though temperatures can plummet in winter, Antwerp is wonderful to explore in the holiday season, when its sprawling Christmas market takes over several historic squares, including Grote Markt, Suikerrui, and Handschoenmarkt. If you’re a beer lover, visit in June for Beer Passion weekend, or relish the richness of Antwerp’s culture in July and Aug., when its citywide summer festival, Zomer van Antwerpen, runs.

Getting around

Antwerp’s conveniently small size makes it easy to explore on foot. From Antwerp Central Station to the banks of the Scheldt River, via the grand Green Square and the main shopping street of Meir, it’s a 30-minute walk. You can also take the tram between city center stops and all the way out to the suburbs—if you’re planning on traveling a lot, it's worth buying an Antwerp City Pass.

Traveler tips

Once you’ve worked up a sweat checking out Antwerp’s top attractions, cool off at Zwemvijver Boekenberg—a natural swimming pool in Boekenbergpark that’s the ideal place to visit in spring and summer. In winter, get off the beaten path and dig deeper into Antwerp’s history with a prebooked reservation at Felix Archive, a former warehouse where more than 24 kilometers (15 miles) of shelves present maps, memorabilia, and photographs that trace Antwerp’s rich history.

People Also Ask

What is Antwerp known for?

The Belgian city of Antwerp is famous for being one of the world’s largest ports and the main hub of the world’s diamond trade. It’s also famous for its grand and Gothic architecture (Antwerp Central Station and Grote Markt), and for being the home of German painter Peter Paul Rubens.

Is Antwerp worth visiting?

If you’re a lover of art, history, and diamonds, Antwerp is worth visiting. Often overlooked in favor of Bruges and Brussels, the diamond capital is a hidden gem that boasts charming cobbled streets, world-class art and photography museums, stunning architecture, and one of Europe’s best selections of beer.

How many days should I spend in Antwerp?

Antwerp’s small size and compact historical center makes it easy to explore in just a few days—48 hours is plenty of time to see top historical attractions such as the 14th-century Cathedral of Our Lady and Butcher’s Hall, plus famous museums like MAS.

Is Antwerp or Brussels better?

That depends on what you’re after—Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the European Union and is a large, modern city home to a mix of grand art nouveau architecture and sleek bureaucratic buildings. Antwerp offers a more relaxed, hipster vibe and has a thriving art scene.

What are the top three attractions in Antwerp?

Nicknamed the Railway Cathedral, the 19th-century Antwerp Central station is one of the city’s most-visited attractions and an architectural symbol, thanks to its ornate central dome and vaulted ceilings. In second place is the grand Grote Markt square, closely followed by the 16th century printing museum, Museum Plantin-Moretus.

How should you spend one day in Antwerp?

With only 24 hours in Antwerp, start by wandering around Grand Market Place, home to a series of 16th-century buildings, before heading inside the art-filled Cathedral of Our Lady. Explore the diamond district in the afternoon before embarking on a tour of Belgian beer and moules-frites, or mussels and fries.


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