Skyline antwerp with Big 3 by Kschotanus / CC-BY-3.0
Somewhere in the first week of January (when I begun writing this post) was the first time that I hosted a fellow CouchSurfer. Jacob comes from Alabama, USA and is currently studying in Birmingham, UK. During the Christmas holidays he wanted to visit mainland Europe a bit, and I offered to host him in Antwerp.
Of course, people don’t come over to just sit/sleep on your couch, they want to see things! That’s why I made a list of interesting things to see and do in the center of Antwerp. You’ll find the things on that list below with some added explanation and history for each item. It might also come in handy when an other CouchSurfer comes over.
This is just a list of places and explanations, not a path you can follow. Also, all prices listed here are the ones at the time of writing for adults without any sort of discount. Antwerp has special discounts for many of it’s museums if your age is either <26 or >65 or you’re in a group. (-26 is often € 1 entrance)
All the locations mentioned below are pinned on this map.
‘t MAS (Het Museum aan de Stroom)
Our newest museum. It’s a modern looking building which consists of a big staircase wrapped around a central column. The stairs are free to ascend and lead to the roof of ‘t MAS where you’ll have a good (but windy) view over the city. At every floor you’ll have the opportunity to enter the large central column which houses the museum’s collections. However, to be able to enter these rooms you’ll need an entrance pass which you can buy at the ground level.
The museum houses a permanent and a temporary collection.
The price to be able to enter both collections is € 10.
Address: Hanzestedenplaats 1
This museum, which lies outside the city limits and is partly an open-air museum, has a collection of modern and contemporary sculptures. In total there are 480 sculptures, 280 medals and 600 sketches and prints. A big part of the sculptures are spread out over a park of 25 hectares (62 acres) in size.
Entrance cost: Free
Address: Middelheimlaan 61
Without a doubt the most impressive and well known building in Antwerp. It’s the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries, built between 1352 and 1521. Beside the abundance of sculpted artwork on the exterior of the building you can also find various works of art by famous artists, one of which Rubens, inside.
A lot of tourists come to visit Antwerp because of the story “A Dog of Flanders” . In the square in front of a cathedral, de Handschoenmarkt, is a plaque dedicated to it. Also on de Handschoenmarkt is “Het Putje Van Quinten Massijs”, a well built in 1490.
Entrance cost: € 6
Address: Groenplaats 21
Museum of the Plantin and Moretus print shop. At it’s time (one of?) the biggest print shop of mainland Europe. Had 16 active printing presses at all times, for comparison, the largest print shop in France at that time had 4 presses. The museum contains the oldest printing presses on the earth (around 1600).
Entrance cost: € 8
Address: Vrijdagmarkt 22-23
Like the Rubenshuis, the Rockoxhuis is an excellent way to get an image of how the nobility lived around the end of the 16th, beginning of the 17th century here in Antwerp. Nicolaas Rockox had various roles in Antwerp. He was elected councilor 7 times and mayor of external affairs for 8 times. The house contains lots of paintings and authentic furniture.
Entrance is € 8.
Address: Keizerstraat 10-12
Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish painter known world wide had his home and atelier right here in the center of Antwerp. Of course a big part of the things to see in the house are paintings he made himself or paintings he acquired of other painters but even if you’re not a paintings fan it could still be an interesting visit. The house gives you a good view of how the nobility lived in the 16th-17th century, especially the inner court of the house is astonishing.
Entrance is € 8.
Address: Wapper 9
In the middle ages a lot of professions had guild houses, het Vleeshuis (the meat house) was one of them. In this case it was the guild house of the butchers.
The building was constructed 50 years after ‘t Steen in 1250 to sell slaughtered animals. Currently the building is used as a museum containing 600 years of history about music and dance.
Entrance costs € 5.
Address: Vleeshouwersstraat 38
Buildings & Places to see
Het Steen was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century, between 1200 and 1225. This makes it the oldest building in the city.
Unfortunately part of the building was deconstructed in the 19th century when de Schelde was widened to expand the harbor of Antwerp. Currently only the front of the stronghold is still standing.
For a very long time the building was used as a prison (1307-1827). From 1952 the building was used as a maritime history museum which later moved to the newer MAS museum.
At the beginning of the walkway to the castle there is a statue called “de Lange Wapper”. The statue depicts a giant from Antwerp folklore. De Lange Wapper can shapeshift and he uses this ability to trick people. A much used trick of his is to follow drunks home, constantly growing while following. Eventually when the drunk arrives home de Lange Wapper is so tall that he can peek through the top level windows of the drunk’s house.
Address: Suikerrui 7
A theater with an impressive front built in 1834. It is still used as a theater by 2 theater groups.
Every Sunday and national holiday an extensive brunch buffet is hosted in the Schouwburg.
Address: Komedieplaats 18
This station, a key stop between the Paris and Amsterdam, is considered one of the most beautiful train stations of the world. Interesting parts of the building to view are the front of the building, the entrance hall and the glass dome over the top level of rails.
If the NMBS/B-Rail is not on strike you might be able to ride the train somewhere too.
Address: Koningin Astridplein 27
Hendrik Conscience Plein & Carolus Borromeus kerk
On the square in front of the Carolus Borromeus kerk you’ll find a statue of the Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience, after whom the square was named when the statue was installed in 1880. The interior of the church exists of marble, wood sculptures and paintings.
Address: Hendrik Conscienceplein 6-12
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts)
Unfortunately the museum is closed for renovatuion until 2017. But it does organize expositions in other places in and around Antwerp. Where it hosts these you can see on it’s website.
South of the cathedral is the Groenplaats. It’s surrounded by a few protected buildings, among which the building that currently houses the Hilton hotel.
Like pretty much any larger European city Antwerp also has a Grote markt/Grand Place. It’s situated North West of the Cathedral. On de Grote Markt you will find Antwerp city hall, the statue of Brabo en Antigoon and surrounding the square, guild houses.
The statue is based on an old city legend.
There is a giant, Druon Antigoon, who demands toll of the people who want to cross de Schelde. If they couldn’t pay the toll he would cut of their hand. He was eventually slain by Silvius Brabo, supposedly the nephew of the roman emperor Julius Caesar. He gave him a taste of his own medicine and cut off his hand.
The statue depicts Silvius throwing away Antigoon’s severed hand. According to another myth this is also where Antwerp has it’s name from. Hand werpen (Hand throwing) => Handwerpen => Antwerpen.
Each of the houses along the square belonged to a guild. Some of the houses have statues on the top of their roof which is in some way connected to the guild to which the house belonged.
De Meir is the largest shopping street of Antwerp and possibly of entire Belgium (She’s competing for the title with the Nieuwstraat in Brussels). Even if you’re not interested in shopping you should still walk it’s distance to take a look at the decorated buildings that surround it. It also connects the old city center with the Rooseveltplaats (which is close to the central station) so you can easily go from one to another if you don’t mind a walk.
Stadsfeestzaal (City festivities hall)
At present this big hall with it’s decorated ceiling is being used as the central space of a shopping center.
Address: Hopland 31, Meir 78
De Vlaaikensgang is an alley which runs behind the backsides of some old medieval houses. At about halfway in the Pelgrimsstraat you will find a gate leading to this alley. Look closely! It’s not very obvious. Inside the Vlaaikensgang there are a few pittoresque spots.
Entrance point: Oude Koornmarkt 16
Antwerp is largely situated on the east bank (right side) of de Schelde. Across de Schelde the area is known as de Linkeroever. Boths sides are connected by a pedestrian tunnel which dates back from 1933. Is it still widely used today. The tunnel itself could be an interesting look because of it’s old wooden escalators and tiled interior. Even if that can’t pique your interest, you have a nice view of the other side, especially at night when the city is lighted.
Maybe not very special when compared to other zoos, but there are some older buildings inside which might be interesting to see. Pretty much anyone who has gone to school around Antwerp has visited the zoo multiple times on a school trip.
Entrance: €22 Address: Koningin Astridplein 26
This Neighborhood is situated around de Dageraadplaats, a square with lots of cozy cafes and restaurants surrounding it. A bit further, after passing the Railroads is the Cogels-Osylei which has a lot of old beautiful mansions.
Food & Drink (Delicacies)
Belgian Waffles are a worldwide known sweet snack but they are nothing compared to the other unhealthy goodnesses we have here. Most of them can be bought at stands on a so called Kermis or Foor (Carnival).
Unfortunately they travel around so it can be hard to know if there’s one close when you’re visiting Antwerp. Désiré de Lille is a snack restaurant / take out shop which has these snacks available all year round.
The original founder of the restaurant is also the inventor of the Lacquemant, a flat waffle with a syrup in it of which the recipe is a secret.
I highly recommend trying out the Laquemants and the Smoutebollen. Address: Schrijnwerkersstraat 14
Het Elfde gebod
This cafe is right next to the cathedral. It’s walls are completely decorated with statues of various sizes. It’s not necessarily a must-see, but it’s more of a unique thing you won’t quickly find somewhere else.
Address: Torfbrug 10
This was an old storage space for valuable goods which has now been transformed to a cozy cafe. Supposedly on weekends there is also a guide available at the entrance of the cafe who will guide you (for €3) through the house above the cellar which is decorated authentically.
Address: Pelgrimstraat 15
Jenever is the Dutch and Flemish vodka. We have them in all kinds of flavours and strengths. The ideal spot to try them is de Vagant, which offers more than 150 varieties of them.
Address: Reyndersstraat 25
I’m sure you’ve heard of our chocolate and beer, which are all widely available in Antwerp.
But have you tried our fries? Take this recommendation and go to a frituur once. Order a “puntzak” with (Belgian) mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise. If you’re from the US/Australia/..(?) I can assure you, our mayonnaise is a different sauce entirely. There is a good frituur cart near ‘t Steen.
From then on, start calling them Belgian fries instead of French fries please.
De Vrijdagmarkt, literally translated Friday market, is as the name says a market that is hosted every Friday (Vrijdag in Dutch) from 9:00-13:00 on the square called … Vrijdagmarkt.
On this market second hand goods ranging from clothing to furniture get sold. Often these goods are confiscated goods of people who defaulted on their bills.
Therefore there will most likely be an auctioneer yelling for bids. Below a video of the market in action.
Other suggestions found on the internet
Kassa 4: A student bar on de Ossemarkt.
Cafe de Muze: A jazzy bar on the Melkmarkt.
Caffénation: A coffee shop which offers all sorts of coffees created by all sorts of brewing methods.
Amadeus: A restaurant which offers an all you can eat menu for spare ribs.
‘t Waagstuk: Similar to De Vagant mentioned above, except it’s variety is in beer. It offers a few hundred kinds of beer.
De Koninck brewery: A well known brewery in Antwerp, they offer a tour through the brewery.
Of course you’ll want to get around at an acceptable pace. In the city center I recommend going by foot since everything is so close together anyway and otherwise you might miss out on the city life itself.
For longer distances (city to city) you can take the train, which is operated by B-rail (formerly NMBS).