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9 Things to do in Antwerp in 2023 (by an actual local)

Antwerp is one of those underrated gems of a city. So often travelers head straight to Brussels or Bruges on their visits to Belgium and skip over one of the best-hidden cities in Western Europe. 

View of Antwerp Cathedral from the restaurants below.
Photo Credit: Missy Cahill

Antwerp is Europe’s second-largest port city with an incredibly rich history. There are so many fantastic things to do in Antwerp that you’ll definitely need a repeat visit. Most visitors who come to Antwerp are immediately transfixed by not only the sheer beauty of the city but at how diverse and compact Belgium’s second-largest city is. 

Thanks to its proximity to the water, Antwerp grew in the Middle Ages and became a city of enlightenment. Not only did Antwerp become a publishing mecca, but it also produced world-class Renaissance painters such as Peter Paul Rubens & Jan van Eyck. 

Antwerp rivals other Belgian cities for its sheer quantity of excellent chocolatiers, beer cafes, and top-tier restaurants. You’ll find the city has 21 Michelin Star restaurants, so if you are a foodie, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been lucky enough to call Antwerp my home for the past 5 years, and it keeps getting better with each passing year. 

9 Things to do in Antwerp 

Considering Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium, it’s in fact rather small. With less than half a million people making Antwerp their home, the city is compact and very walkable. Which makes it great for short trips and exploration. Whether you’re visiting on a day trip or spending a couple of days in Antwerp you’ll be able to cover a lot of the sights in a short period of time.

However, do not underestimate how alluring Antwerp is. Once you start to explore the city, you’ll discover that you’re barely scratching the surface. With each turn around the city, you’ll uncover hidden gems in Antwerp that you didn’t get a chance to visit or see the first time. 

Antwerp is a city that keeps on giving, and most people who spend a brief period of time in the city, end up falling head over heels in love with her and the endless things to do in Antwerp.

Tamo in Zuid

1. Antwerp Central Station

Nowadays, Antwerp is home to the second-largest port in Europe. It is a buzzing and vibrant city with over 150 different nationalities represented. Arriving at Antwerp Central Station is the best way to start your experience when visiting the city. 

Antwerp Centraal Station at dawn
Photo Credit: Missy Cahill

Antwerp Central Station was built-in 1905, in an era when railway travel was definitely a lot more glamorous, visitors will be enthralled with its domed roof decorated in Belgian-Congo gold leaf.

In spectacular style, Antwerp Central Station has three floors of trains making arriving at this station unlike anywhere else. Aside from its dark period in Belgium’s colonial past, Antwerp Central Station is honestly majestic and awe-inspiring. 

With several daily trains from Bruges to Antwerp and twice hourly trains from Brussels to Antwerp, the city is well served. Antwerp is also connected directly by train to Brussels International Airport (BRU) and takes 30 minutes on the train.

Walking around Antwerp on foot is incredibly easy. Nowhere is more than a 20-minute walk away. And this being Belgium, you’re never too far away from Belgian beer or frites (fries to you and me).

From Antwerp Central Station, you can explore the Meir which is home to baroque-style buildings that now house the likes of Zara and H&M. The beer terraces in Antwerp are superb, no matter what kind of weather you are facing outside. 

2. Antwerp Cathedral

Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady {Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal} is truly one of the most beautiful and breathtaking cathedrals in Europe. Constructed in 1521, its tallest spire is 123m tall. It houses 4 paintings by Peter Paul Reubens in addition to other Renaissance painters. The Antwerp Cathedral was recently under construction for maintenance of its spires, but in 2023 it was finally completed. 

Admission to the church for visitors is €12 and is open daily except for January 1st.

Adventurous visitors to Antwerp Cathedral can climb the 500+ stairs to the very top of the spire in a gradually narrowing staircase until you reach the very top. For those who are nervous of small spaces or a fear of heights, this may not be the best activity for you. (I’m one of those types of people and would love nothing more than to see Antwerp from this viewpoint).

Antwerp Cathedral is my favorite building in the city, and since its unveiling at the end of 2022, I’ve fallen back in love with it again. It’s hard not to be wowed by how beautiful and resplendent she is. 

3. Antwerp Old Town

As you explore Antwerp old town, you’ll probably eventually bump into the Scheldt River. The river is an essential part of Antwerp and also plays into how Antwerp became, well, Antwerp. 

Legend has it that there was a soldier named Brabo, who defeated the giant Antigoon who was harassing people who wanted to cross the river Scheldt. Brabo cut off the giant’s hand and threw it away. In Dutch, handwerpen, means hand-throwing and that is supposedly how Antwerp got its name. 

The old town of Antwerp has two distinct areas, Groenplaats & Grote Markt. Groenplaats is a fairly average square with a statue of Peter Paul Rubens and a mix of restaurants and bars around the perimeter. 

Grote Markt is a beautiful large square where you’ll see former guild houses that have been converted into restaurants and some pubs. During the winter months, Grote Markt becomes the center of the Antwerp Christmas Markets with stalls and an enormous Christmas tree. 

Christmas Tree on Grote Markt

Antwerp’s old town is based around the cathedral and is incredibly quaint. With side streets full of fantastic eateries, you will find yourself hard-pressed to decide where you want to eat. 

There are a number of touristy restaurants that serve really basic food, but there are some hidden gems just off the Grote Markt & Groen Plaats. Stick to the side streets like Pelgrim Straat for great Spanish Tapas or Thai food. 

Where to eat in Antwerp Old Town:

  • Elde Gebod (Belgian)
  • Tapabar (Spanish)
  • Libanezza (Lebanese)
  • Mandraki (Greek)
  • Thuy Hanoi (Vietnamese)
  • Kartini (Indonesian)

For more restaurant recommendations in Antwerp, check out my guide to the best places to eat in the city here.

Because of Antwerp’s small size, you can easily walk from neighborhood to neighborhood. Pick up an Antwerp Velo (city bike) or one of the numerous electric scooters that can be found on every street. Once you have spent time in the old part of the city, exploring the Grote Markt, Cathedral and the Scheldt river, it’s time to start thinking about a museum visit. 

4. Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA)

After a long 10-year renovation, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) finally reopened in September 2022. Art lovers will appreciate the level of detail that has gone into the restoration, as well as some controversial methods of entertaining those with limited art history knowledge or appreciation (crooked pictures and a cat with glowing eyes in a cage). 

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp is an easy way to spend a couple of hours exploring the artwork displayed. The immersive room that closely examines the minutiae of some of the artwork is hugely impressive and a personal favorite. 

For more information about some of the stellar artwork to be seen at KMSKA, check out my blog post on the best museums in Antwerp not to miss. 

5. De Ruien

A walk in the sewers may not be on everyone’s bucket list when looking for things to do in Antwerp, but I can assure you that the De Ruien sewer tour is one of the weirdest things to do. 

Sewers of De Ruien Tour Antwerp

Head into the sewers that run underneath the city of Antwerp and learn about the history of the city from below. It’s a really bizarre tour and yes, very smelly, but it’s completely unique and worth exploring if you are curious about the city’s evolution. 

Rows of boots hanging up ready for the De Ruien Tour Antwerp

Talking part in the De Ruien tour means heading underground and exploring the sewers that once used to flow beneath Antwerp. The tour is led by a guide who will stop at various points along the walk through the sewers, and from there you will play a video on an iPad provided. 

De Ruien provides each visitor with a paper suit and boots that protects you from the elements found in the sewers. It’s very dark at points and there are rats and poisonous spiders (teeny-tiny ones), so it may not be everyone’s idea of a fun time. 

Sewers of De Ruien Tour Antwerp

If you are looking for something to do in Antwerp that is very different from visiting a museum or shopping, then I can highly recommend doing the De Ruien tour. 

6. Red Star Line Museum

With so many great museums in Antwerp, you will be hard-pressed to decide which one you want to spend your time in. I highly recommend the Red Star Line Museum in Eilandje which is very close to MAS, also known as Museum aan de Stroom. 

The Red Star Museum explores Antwerp’s past as a center of migration. Millions of people from all across Europe, traveled through this port to head to countries such as the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a fantastic experience and highly immersive. 

7. De Konnick Brewery

If you love beer, or have any interest in the beer brewing process then I highly recommend visiting the fantastic De Konnick Brewery in Berchem. 

It’s a short tram ride from either the Meir or Antwerp Central Station and an absolute must for any visitor looking for some of the best things to do in Antwerp. 

The De Konnick Brewery has done a fantastic job of making a learning experience hilariously fun and incredibly engaging. And you get to bring a beer around with you as your learn about Antwerp’s most famous beer. 

Afterward, make sure to visit the bar at De Konnick where you can sample more delicious beers. Before heading upstairs to one of the best BBQ restaurants in Belgium – Black Smoke

8. Shopping in Antwerp

The shopping in Antwerp is out of this world. No, seriously, if you have any interest in fashion, you are going to adore the small boutiques that around found around the city. Of course, you can find all the main brands on the Meir (a large shopping street), but if you are looking for a small designer, then you’ve come to one of Europe’s fashion capitals

And it’s not just exquisite clothing that you’ll find, but also furniture, chocolate, and antiques in just about every corner of the city. Also if you happen to need a new pair of fancy glasses, there is a huge number of eyewear stores (which is something that just dawned on me the other day). 

Antwerp being the diamond capital makes it one of the best places in the entire world to purchase affordable diamonds. The area located around Central Station is home to some of the best jewelers who can create a number of pieces in a short amount of time. My cousin flew from Ireland to purchase her engagement ring in Antwerp and had it picked out and created in under 24 hours. 

One of each please!

The best shopping areas in Antwerp:

  • Kloosterstraat (Antiques, Furniture)
  • Steenhouwersvest (Eyewear, Clothing)
  • Kammenstraat (Clothing)
  • Korte Gasthuisstraat (Clothing)
  • Schuttershofstraat (Luxury clothing brands)
  • Meir (High-street clothing brands)
  • Lange Koepoortstraat (Vintage clothing)
  • Vestingstraat (Diamonds)

 9. Walk around Antwerp

Antwerps’ quaint size makes it the perfect city to explore for the day and still leaves you hungry for more. The city is easy to navigate and is best explored on foot. Walking from Zuid (South) to Elindje in the north will take between 30 and 40 minutes. It’s really that compact the city. 

Walking around is one of my favorite things to do in Antwerp, it’s how I’ve discovered so many of my favorite cafes and restaurants.

Antwerp is also a great place to rent a city bike and has many cycle paths along the river Schelde as well as in the city. I’d definitely recommend a bike tour that combines all my favorite things, learning about Antwerp and cycling!

Explore one of the most beautiful areas that tourists rarely venture to – Berchem. It’s a residential area in Antwerp that has beautiful homes, parks, and quaint cafes. 

Discover the Beguinage (Begijnhof) a former religious cloister that once was the home of unmarried women. It’s now a small refuge in the university district of the city, and a small hidden gem in Antwerp.

Down at the Scheldt river, you’ll find St Anna’s tunnel which is home to the last wooden elevator in Europe. Still in operation to this day, it connects thousands of commuters each day who travel from across the river into the city. It’s a remarkable antiquity that still functions quite well. 

Favorite areas to walk around Antwerp:

  • Berchem
  • Elindje 
  • Historic Center
  • Zuid
  • Cogels Osylei (Street near Berchem Station with beautiful houses)

Antwerp is hard not to love, and most visitors who come for even a day find themselves falling in love with this incredible city. I’m very biased when it comes to the city, but I think it’s one of the top cities in Europe.

Missy Cahill

Travels with Missy will guide you on trips around the world with a book in each hand. With a focus on Mid-Range travel and budgets, discover suggestions for countries all around the world and excellent book recommendations.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Europe has such great architecture and historical churches, and it looks like Antwerp doesn’t disappoint in those areas either. I would love to explore the old town and the cathedral! Thanks for a great post!

  2. simplyjolayne

    I was hoping you got to do a little diamond shopping too! Wouldn’t that be cool. Never knew the history of the name Antwerp before. Thanks for the history lesson.

    1. Missy Cahill

      If only! I’m still waiting for my Antwerp Diamond! It’s been 3 years of living here and not a sign of it appearing! I need to leave stronger hints methinks.

  3. kmf

    Antwerp is stunning! And love this one-day visitor guide although I may want to stay longer!

  4. shafinah.jaafar

    wow Antwerps looks so much more mesmerizing than I pictured! 😍

  5. Get Lost

    Antwerp looks like such a pretty city! The architecture looks stunning! I’d love to see the Cathedral in person some day. Thanks for the great guide!

  6. nina2813

    Antwerp is so pretty! I’d love to visit and get that coffee

  7. maisha192

    I’ve missed Antwerp on my previous trips to Belgium. Would love to check it out one day, thanks for sharing.

  8. Krista

    I would love to plan a trip to Antwerp! I’ve been meaning to book a trip to Belgium for a while now, but can never find a good time for me to go. Thanks for the tips on what to do here!

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