This detailed visitor’s guide covers all the top things to do in Antwerp. From stunning landmarks, to must-see museums.
Situated in the northern area of the country, Antwerp is one of the largest cities in Belgium by population and area size. It has a vibrant history regarding trade and emigration and it’s even known as the diamond capital of the world. It’s home to the prettiest train station in the world, impressive historic buildings, and some genuinely excellent museums, and all of those attractions are included in this list of the best things to do in Antwerp!
Traveling to Antwerp and you’re not sure what to do there? This guide to the top things to do in Antwerp is the only one you need to read!
Red Star Line Museum
The Red Star Line was a shipping company that operated in the 19th and 20th centuries. It connected Antwerp with New York in the United States, and some 3 million people emigrated to America on the company’s ships.
The Red Star Line Museum explores the history of migration through the personal stories of migrants and their families. The museum exhibit mostly consists of photographs and stories of people who traveled with this company, as well as model replicas of Red Star Line’s various ships.
Visitors can also see various memorabilia preserved from the ships and their passengers, including ancient suitcases, cabin furniture, and even ship parts. Albert Einstein was one of Red Star Line’s passengers, and the museum has a few of his letters on exhibit.
Stroll Along Meir Shopping Street
Meir is Antwerp’s main shopping street with dozens of high-street fashion stores. If you need to buy new clothes or you just want to check out brands that you might not have at home, this is the place to be in Antwerp.
I have been shopping in the Meir every time I visit family in Belgium for 20 years. It is the perfect day out in Antwerp as it is right down town, and I always get everything I need in one trip.
The street is in the city center and you can easily reach it by public transport. It’s a rather long street, and it would take you about 10 minutes to just walk from one end of Meir to the other, and that’s without popping into any of the shops or fast food joints along the way.
The stores at Meir are mostly affordable high-street and sports brands, including
- Bershka and more
Meir also has a few places where shoppers can take a break from browsing the stores and grab a bite, but these are mostly just fast food restaurants like Burger King and McDonald’s.
In my experience, the best eating is in the back streets away from the crowds, like in any other city.
Cathedral of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady is to Antwerp what Sagrada Familia is to Barcelona – an iconic historic cathedral under construction for centuries. It’s situated in the city’s historic center, with metro, bus, and tram stops just minutes away from the cathedral.
The church is open every day of the year except for a few holidays, so you should be able to visit it whenever you’re in town. There’s an entrance fee of 12 Euros for adults, and it’s worth it. The Gothic church is best known for the many Baroque artworks by Rubens that adorn its walls, the mesmerizing stained glass windows, and the imposing organ you can witness in action.
It’s worth noting that churchgoers can attend the Sunday mass as early as 11 AM, and this might be the best way to visit the cathedral if you’d rather not pay the entrance fee.
MAS Museum (Museum aan de Stroom) is the largest museum in Antwerp. It opened in 2011, and its collection was created by pooling the collections of several other museums (Maritime Museum, Ethnographic Museum, etc.) in Antwerp, which permanently closed their doors following the opening of the MAS Museum.
The focus of the museum’s collection is the city of Antwerp, Belgium, and its connections to other places throughout the world. Everything about this museum is special, from the unique architecture of the building to the diverse collection of objects that tell stories of Antwerp throughout history.
Museum aan de Stroom is a huge museum spanning ten stories of exhibits. The total amount of objects in the museum’s collection is nearly half a million, although most of them are kept in storage. It will take you at least 2 hours to explore the bulk of the museum’s exhibits, and you can easily spend even more time here if you pay close attention to all the different objects and the stories behind them.
The tickets for the MAS Museum are 12 Euros for adults, and the observation deck on the 9th floor can be visited for free by anyone.
Grote Markt is Antwerp’s largest city square. It’s lined by some of the prettiest buildings (called guild houses) in the city, most of which were reconstructed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Antwerp City Hall is the most prominent building at Grote Markt, but it’s certainly not the only interesting sight.
The square is lined with cafes and restaurants, so feel free to sit down for a cup of coffee and do some people-watching. Take in all the details of the intricate facades, from the ornate balconies to the stunning statues.
If you visit Antwerp in December, this is where you will find the city’s Christmas Market. The square hosts the primary market events every year, plus it features an open-air ice skating rink. It’s one of the best things to do at night in the winter because all the decorations on these historic buildings look absolutely incredible.
Antwerp is known as the diamond capital of the world, so if you’re on the prowl for some unique gems, there’s no better place to buy them. Head to the city’s Diamond Quartier, where you will find dozens of jewelry stores.
The district is just a short walk away from Antwerp’s central station, so it’s very easily accessible by public transport. This is certainly not a shopping experience for everyone, but more so, one of the unique things to do in the Belgian city. Even if you can’t afford to purchase an actual diamond, it’s worth visiting the Diamond District just to get a sense of the importance of the industry for the city.
Antwerp’s history with diamonds draws roots from the 15th century, and more than 80% of the world’s rough diamonds eventually pass through this district.
Antwerp Central Station
Antwerpen Centraal Station is one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. It was constructed between 1895 and 1905, replacing the original station made from wood that stood in its place. The station building was designed by Louis Delacenserie, one of Belgium’s most prominent architects.
The first time I entered the station after getting off the train from Sint Niklass, I could not believe I was in a station in the center of such a big city. The building is worth its own museum and is stunning to experience, both inside and out.
The architecture of the station is phenomenal and there’s lots to admire. The vast dome above the station’s waiting hall earned it the nickname Railroad Cathedral. The main train hall is adorned with a lot of iron and glass, many columns, and detailed floor tiles.
In addition to the impressive architecture, the train station is also a good place to do some shopping and people-watching. The four levels of the station’s atrium are home to many stores and cafes, where you can find anything from groceries to jewelry.
The Antwerp Zoo
Visiting the zoo isn’t for everyone but if you love animals or travel with kids it’s one of the top places to visit in every new city. The entrance to the zoo is right next to the Central Station, so it’s one of the easiest Antwerp attractions to find.
Tickets to the Antwerp Zoo are costly at 32 Euros for adults, so if you decide to visit it plan to spend at least half a day here and thoroughly explore the place to get your money’s worth. My inlaws said they only went once as a kid, so it seems prices have not improved much over the years either!
If you’re an animal lover, you’ll find that the tickets are almost worth it since you can see some rare and exotic species at this zoo, including koalas, flamingos, penguins, kangaroos, and many others.
This top Belgian zoo also boasts an aquarium, a reptile house, interesting architectural elements throughout the grounds, and some beautifully landscaped parks.
Het Steen Castle
Het Steen Castle is the oldest building in Antwerp, so it’s a special place worth visiting while you’re in the city. The waterfront medieval castle was built in the early 13th century and it’s one of the best attractions in the city for people who want to get acquainted adequately with Antwerp and its history.
The castle is open every day from 10 AM to 6 PM except for a couple of holidays, and the entrance fee is just 7 Euros. That’s pretty affordable compared to other attractions in Antwerp, so if you’re trying to do the Belgian city on a budget, this is still an attraction you could fit into your itinerary.
Het Steen Castle features a visitor’s center where you can buy some unique souvenirs, a museum exhibit on Antwerp through the decades, and a roof terrace with one of the best 360° views of the city.
Belgian chocolate is known around the world for its premium quality and delicious taste, so why not visit a museum that will walk you through the history of Belgian chocolate? It’s one of the best things to do on a Sunday, mostly because chocolate tastings are included in the price of museum tickets.
Tickets for adults are approximately 20 Euros and there are discounts for everyone under the age of 25. It’s a pricey museum ticket, but it’s worth it if you genuinely want to learn about how chocolate is manufactured and try some delicious treats.
The museum spans 14 different rooms, each of which tells a part of the story of how chocolate comes to be, from the equator plantations to the counters of chocolate shops. The story of manufacturing chocolate from cacao plant to finished product is covered in a multimedia exhibit, while the rest of the museum’s collection includes products used in the manufacturing process like molds for truffles and pralines, but also some impressive chocolate sculptures.
There’s a replica bank vault entirely made out of chocolate, a chocolate train, a giant chocolate bar, and so much more at Chocolate Nation Antwerp!
Rubenshuis is a popular museum in Antwerp, but once upon a time, it was the home and workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. The famous artist purchased the house in 1610 and then had it extended and renovated according to his designs. The townhouse has been preserved incredibly well, and many of his original designs are present to this day.
Everything about the house is impressive – the vast courtyard with the beautiful garden, the impressive statues that adorn the facade, and most of all the many artworks created by Rubens himself centuries ago.
The Rubens House Museum is being renovated and expanded in 2023, so it is temporarily closed to visitors. It’s expected that the new museum building, which is supposed to be twice as large as the original one, will be open for visitors in 2024. A renovated original Rubens House should be incorporated into the museum eventually, but it won’t be open for visitors until at least 2027.
Note: As of the time of writing (early 2023) the Rubenhuis is closed and undergoing extensive renovation and it is planned to be reopened in early 2024.
Park Spoor Noord
Park Spoor Noord is situated in the northern part of Antwerp and it’s a great place to visit when you just want to relax and unwind for a little while. Maybe you’ve just been to the Museum aan de Stroom and you need a few moments to take in all the impressions and collect your thoughts – the park is just a 15-minute walk from the museum.
The park was created on former railway grounds and you can still see the remnants of terminals and railway tracks. Now it boasts a vast open area perfect for picnics and lounging, an artificial lake that locals use to cool down on hot summer days, and a skate park. There are also a few cafes on the park grounds if you’d rather sit in a chair than on the grass.
This Antwerp park also boasts a terrace used for concerts and a dedicated playground for kids. It’s one of the best attractions in the city, and definitely worth a visit if you need a break from the crowds of the city center.
Museum Plantin-Moretus is hands down one of the best museums in Antwerp if not the best museum in the entire city. If you can visit only one museum while you’re in town, I would recommend you choose this one because it’s incredibly special.
The museum is situated inside a mansion which is actually the office containing the world’s oldest printing press that belonged to the Plantin-Moretus family. The museum and its grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there’s a 12 Euro fee for anyone who wants to visit the museum. I’m of the opinion that it’s the best 12 Euros you’ll spend in Antwerp.
The museum collection consists of objects related to printing that are hundreds of years old. It also includes many authentic old documents, which are available for consultation in the museum’s dedicated reading room. This museum also has online exhibitions that showcase a part of its vast collection to all visitors on their website.
Groenplaats is a large city square in the heart of historic Antwerp. This square is one of the central areas of Antwerp, and you can often see many locals and tourists just hanging out and taking in the views. Groenplaats is lined with many cafes and restaurants, which are pricier than in other parts of the city, thanks to the fabulous views of historic Antwerp.
The Cathedral of Our Lady is visible from the city square, and it’s one of the top sights here. A statue of Peter Paul Rubens sits at the center of Groenplaats, and it’s perhaps the defining landmark of the area. This is one of those parts of the city that you will inevitably visit even if you’re just walking around and taking in the sights, and it’s one of the prettiest parts of historic Antwerp without a doubt.
Eat Belgian Waffles
Does it count that you were in Belgium if you didn’t eat at least a pound of authentic Belgian waffles during your stay? I’m afraid not, so be sure to consume as many waffles as you can to really make your trip count!
Jokes aside, Belgian waffles are a specialty known all over the world, but they taste the best right at the source. You’ll find dozens of shops and restaurants in Antwerp that serve delicious waffles hot and fresh, and you’ll never want to have them any other way once you’ve had them the Belgian way.
Wafelhuis Van Hecke has some of the best waffles in Antwerp, according to reviewers on TripAdvisor and Google Maps. It has the highest number of 5-star reviews with a total rating of more than 4.5, and people are raving about their delicious waffles. Quetzal is a close second, but it’s worth noting that they don’t have quite as much variety as Waflehuis Van Hecke. Or you can just grab one from a food truck vendor on the side of the Meir, it’s up to you!
Map Of Things To Do In Antwerp
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a visit to Antwerp worthwhile?
Yes, it’s worth it to visit Antwerp. It’s one of the largest cities in Belgium both by area size and population, and it has an incredibly rich history. The architecture, the museums, the food, and the shopping opportunities are all amazing, so visiting Antwerp is an absolute must if you’re planning a trip through Belgium.
How much time should I allocate for a trip to Antwerp?
Aim to spend 3-4 days in Antwerp if you want to explore the city thoroughly and discover all of its best spots. You can see most of the top sights in about two days, but having more time in Antwerp would allow you to really discover the city without rushing from one tourist attraction to the other.