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Antwerp is one of my favorite Belgian cities. As I live nearby, I regularly visit Antwerp just for the sake of it, so this post is a compilation of my favorite things to do in Antwerp, some cafes/restaurants, and beer cafes that you’ll want to stop off at.
Included in this guide list of things to do in Antwerpen + where to stay
- Antwerpen Centraal
- Diamond District
- Breakfast at a popular cafe in Antwerp
- Meir shopping
- Belgian waffles
- Plantin-Moretus Museum
- Rebens House
- Secret street: Vlaaikensgang
- Grote Markt
- Elfde Gebod
- Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
- Het Steen
- MAS views
- Dinner at an Antwerp hotspot
- Belgian beers in Antwerp
*Map at the very bottom.*
Where to stay in Antwerp
I’ve visited a couple times and always paid out of pocket for myself, however the best place that I’ve stayed in Antwerp was Catharina at Friday hands down. This cozy apartment with two bedrooms and amazing views is footsteps from the Plantin Moretus House and walking distance from everything you need: cafes, beer bars, museums, and Grote Markt.
For somewhere unique, consider staying in a former cathedral or a modern boutique hotel with a special touch. For those on a budget, there’s a nice hostel right by Grote Markt with a lovely cafe.
Check hotel and hostel prices in Antwerp now!
Start off your day at Antwerp Centraal
The train system in Belgium is actually really great–and I’ve often just taken the train to/from Antwerp. One of the highlights of visiting Antwerp is the moment that you step into the stunning main hall of Antwerpen Centraal, the train station. In case you needed a reminder: European trains are amazing. The train station dates back to the late 1800s and the grand building is considered to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.
Glimpse into the Diamond District
As soon as you leave Antwerp Centraal, you’ll pass through the Diamond District. This district of Antwerp is one of the largest diamond districts in the world although it’s actually quite small (one square mile).
Majority of the world’s diamonds pass through this area at some point as a Belgian was the one who developed one of the best tools to cut diamonds with. If you’re thinking of buying, make sure that your diamond comes from a conflict-free area.
Breakfast in Antwerpen
Esco*Bar is one of the top brunch places in Antwerp. This cozy coffee bar with a healthy breakfast is right on your way from the station to the city center. Be warned: it’s cash only.
In case you forgot something, Meir is one of the main shopping streets in Antwerp. After my shoes ended up bothering me, I picked up a new pair here!
Stop off at the restaurant Desire de Lille for a delicious Belgian waffle. Although many associate Brussels with waffles, Antwerp has fantastic waffles too! Be sure to sit down to enjoy this delicious delicacy, so save a little room at breakfast…
Plantin – Moretus Museum
Depending on which museum you’re more into, be sure to visit one of Antwerp’s fantastic museums. As a literature and history geek, I’m very partial to the Plantin-Moretus Museum. This museum with a stunning courtyard is a UNESCO recognized world heritage site for its role in creating early literature using print presses. It’s really cool seeing the original presses in their original environment. The actual museum is fairly large and a delight to walk around.
If you only have one day in Antwerp, you need to decide which museum you’re visiting. Many people also really enjoy visiting the Rubenshuis, the former home of Belgian painter Peter Paul Rubens. He lived in a sprawling palazzo with a stunning courtyard. Inside, you can view a paintings from the era and imagine his life spent in the house. Personally, I prefer the Plantin-Moretus Museum, but most people I know prefer the Rubenhuis.
Although most people head to Brussels for chocolate, Antwerp has great chocolate too. Be sure to step into Sjokolat, a cozy little chocolate shop just around the corner from Vlaaikensgang.
What is a city without some secrets? Be sure to visit the Vlaaikensgang, a medieval alleyway dating back to 1591. This beautiful secret street, which is accessed via a door (Oude Koornmarkt 16) that does not stand out so much, is a quiet hidden place that many tourists don’t know about.
People still live here, so it’s paramount to be considerate. Be sure to admire the locks, some of which were designed to make it easier to fit the key in after a lot of Belgian beer…
If you’re interested in trying some Belgian specialities at a nicer lunch, head to Het Nieuwe Palinghuis for Belgian seafood and fish. The speciality is here is smoked eel, which is surprisingly delicious, although you can’t go wrong with mussels.
For a vegan friendly meal, head to Greenway Antwerpen for a delicious veggie burger at a reasonable price.
How can you miss the Grote Markt in Antwerpen? The buildings, including 16th century guildhouses, are extremely extravagant. The house with the horse on top dates back to 1580 and is called Het Pand van Spanje although the exterior refers to St. George. Even if you stop here just for a few moments, admire the town hall, which dates back to the 1560s.
Het Elfde Gebod
…When was the last time you were at church? You might be ready for the confessional or a delicious honey beer after stepping into Elfde Gebod, one of the most unique cafes that I’ve visited. Their housemade beers, especially the Elfde Gebod Honing/Honey, are good. We had snacks, including frites and trappist bitterballen here, which were delicious.
Elfde Gebod was first recommended to me by a friend who considers this one of his favorite places to get a beer in Antwerp. I usually tell friends who are visiting Antwerp for the first time that you just need to go in–to believe it. The cafe is full of religious statues and crazy religious art and it’s an experience sitting down for a beer. Arrive early as it’s popular.
Cathedral of Our Lady
It’s very hard to miss the main cathedral of Antwerpen as it’s one of the best things to see in Antwerp. Cathedral of our Lady stands out amidst the skyline of Antwerp and dates back to 1521. Constructing this beautiful building took over 160 years, however one might say that it was worth it. The belfry of the church is listed among the UNESCO recognized belfries of Belgium. It costs six euros to visit although you can admire it for free from outside.
Walk by Het Steen. This castle dates back to the early medieval period and it was intended to protect the city from invasions. The castle served as the city port and prison for many years. We were told to skip touring it, however it makes a great photo op!
Views over Antwerp from MAS
MAS is one of Antwerp’s main museums, however there’s a secret at the top. At the top of MAS, you’ll find a free viewpoint over Antwerpen that you’ll want to check out. I liked it as the walk to MAS involved seeing a neighborhood outside of the city center with a lot of cool cafes and restaurants.
For delicious dinner, head to Otomat for great beers and great pizzas (including vegan pizzas!). They stock quite a few local craft beers for all my beer lovers.
One of the perks of staying in Antwerp is that you can properly experience its amazing nightlife and Belgian beer culture without having to worry about your train back.
Billie’s Bier Kafetaria
For a more modern beer experience, head to Billie’s Beer Kafetaria for a great section of beers, knowledgable bartenders, great music, and all you could want in a Belgian beer bar. Their sampler (shown above) is a steal and on our recent trip to Antwerp, we spent the entire night until closing.
A bit outside of the city center of Antwerp, you’ll find my favorite beer bar, Cafe Kulminator. It’s far from the typical bar experience, however this Belgian beer cafe has been named the best beer cafe in the world and their selection is unparalleled.
Expect classical music, a thick book full of beers, a charming couple that owns it (and knows every beer), and a sublime experience for any beer lovers. I encourage you to arrive early as they don’t like to go down to the basement when it’s past a certain hour.
Have you been to Antwerpen? Let me know your favorite thing to do!
More posts about Belgium
- Four days in Belgium
- Doel, an abandoned day trip from Antwerp
- Seafood in Zeeland, the Netherlands (short drive!)
- Brussels chocolate tour