Cobbled lanes, 16th-century architecture, modern skyscrapers, and all the beer: if you’re looking for a vibrant destination in Western Europe that’s easy to reach by train or plane, then consider a visit to Anvers, otherwise known as Antwerpen or Antwerp. Here’s the best of Antwerp in one day; an Antwerp itinerary to make the most of 24 hours in the city and discover the best things to do in Antwerp…
Why you must Visit Antwerp on your next Belgian Adventure
The bustling and busy port city of Antwerp can be found on the Northern coast of Belgium, a tiny country sandwiched between France to the West The Netherlands to the East, and Germany to the South. As the birthplace of Paul Rubens, Antwerp has its fair share of cultural destinations and museums worth visiting.
And that’s not all. Fries come from Belgium, as does some of the best chocolate and beer in the world! Another of the best reasons to visit Antwerp is its geographical location; perfect for day trips and cheaper than Brussels, Antwerpen makes the perfect base from which to explore the wider area. Ghent, Breda, and Bruges are all easy to reach.
Things to do in Antwerp in the morning
Arrive at Antwerpen Centraal
Often said to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, if you make it your mission to do just one thing during your day in Antwerp, be sure to at least arrive or depart from Antwerp central train station. Constructed between 1895 and 1905, highlights of this sprawling terminus include an impressively large clock and Art Nouveau ceiling.
Explore the historic city centre
Situated in the Old City Quarter of Antwerp, the market square of Anvers is characterised by its countless 16th-century guildhalls. Must-sees in the square include Antwerp City Hall and the Brabo Fountain. Inaugurated in 1887, the fountain depicts Antwerp’s founding legend.
Come wintertime, an ice rink is erected in the Grote Markt, transforming the area into a glittering winter wonderland. If you’re looking for further information on Antwerp, then it’s worth noting that the Tourist Information Office is also located a little off the Grote Markt.
Cathedral of our Lady
If you’re looking to enjoy the best of Antwerp in a day, then you simply need to add the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady) to your itinerary. Located in the very heart of the city, close to the Grote Markt, this ecclesiastical building was consecrated in the 16th-century.
Though only one tower exists today, the original plans for the cathedral included two towers of equal height. Over time, various complications (including a fire!) delayed the completion of the second tower, meaning that it was never realised. Today, you can visit the inside of the cathedral for a fee. Works of note inside include artworks by Rubens, Marten de Vos, and more!
Though ‘Groenplaats’ is quite literally translated into English as ‘Green Place,’ the lively square is far from your typical city centre park. Instead, Groenplaats is a paved convergence of many streets. Highlights of this area of Antwerp include a statue dedicated to Paul Rubens and a magnificent view of the Cathedral.
What you may not know is that where Groenplaats now stands was actually where Antwerp’s main cemetery stood, right up until the 18th-century. At that time, cemeteries were abolished within the city walls. Now, the square is home to an array of shops and eateries.
Where to eat in Antwerp
During our time in Antwerp, we were lucky to try a number of dishes, and I was especially happy to discover that there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options at various eateries throughout the city. Some of the best places to eat in Antwerp include:
Konditori (Schermersstraat 8): By far the best bakery in town, Konditori is open from Tuesday through to Saturday. Well-reviewed, the quality of their breads and pastries is pretty much unrivalled!
Frituur n°1 (Hoogstraat 1): If there’s one food you should try when in Beligum (if only just one fry!) it’s the fries. The chips at Frituur n°1 are fast to get and so good that we ended up going twice! You can easily find somewhere nearby to sit and munch on your fast-food. When ordering, be sure to get the Fritessaus- you won’t regret it!
The Jane (Paradeplein 1): For a taste of luxury with a side of Belgian cuisine thrown in, check out The Jane. One of the best restaurants in Antwerp, this eatery has two michelin stars.
Graanmarkt 13: If you’re travelling with a veggie in tow, then be sure to check out Graanmarkt 13. Although this restaurant still serves meat and fish, there’s a selection of veggie tapas on the menu.
Satay (Wijngaardbrug 8): During our three days in Antwerp, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Satay. There are veggie options on the menu in the form of tofu-infused delights and I couldn’t recommend the noodles more!
How to spend an afternoon in Antwerp
Visit the best of Antwerp Museums
By far my favourite museum in Antwerp, you could easily spend hours strolling around the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Part art museum, part history of the printing press, this sprawling complex of buildings easily needs 2-3 hours to fully explore.
If you’re planning to come to Antwerp in order to enjoy the art scene, then you simply must head inside the Rubenshuis (Ruben’s House). However, I must warn you that the house museum is more of a gallery of sorts, and little of Rubens original furniture survives to this day. Instead, though the furniture is all antique, the things found within the Rubenshuis have been sourced elsewhere.
Explore the hidden gems of Antwerp
Visit Pauluskerk Antwerpen
There’s a place in the city where you’ll find gems such as a location where a Caravaggio was once stolen and a Calvary Mountain complete with dozens of life-sized statues in their own hidden courtyard. Sint-Pauluskerk Antwerpen is easily the most beautiful church in Antwerp.
Free to visit, once there you’ll soon discover breathtaking paintings and a walk-around guidebook to help you discover the treasury and adjacent cloisters. Another highlight of the St Paul’s Church is the mechanised altar which allows for different paintings to be displayed at different times.
Enjoy the view from MAS Museum
Though the MAS museum is located a little way out of the historic city centre, the cultural space is still easy to reach via a gentle walk alongside the River Scheldt. En route, be sure to discover Steen Castle, an ancient fortification dating back to the 11th-century.
The MAS Museum (Museum Aan de Stroom) itself is housed within a strikingly modern building. And while you’ll have to pay if you want to enjoy the exhibitions, the very top of the structure boasts a panoramic rooftop offering a bird’s eye view across the city.
How to spend an evening in Antwerp: Things to do in Antwerp at night
Have a beer at Het Elfde Gebod
The most unusual bar in the city by far has got to be Het Elfde Gebod. Lying in the shadows of Antwerp’s Cathedral, the bar’s name is quite literally translated into English as the ’11th Commandment’. Once inside, you’ll soon discover an array of pulpits, church murals, angels and more.
The works have been collected over the span of our decades and are truly a sight to see. Between stone carvings and ornate crosses, you never know what you’ll spy next, nevermind where you should be looking! The café serves a wide array of traditional Belgian beers, making it the perfect place to stop for a drink and one of the best hidden gems of Antwerp.
Enjoy the city lit up by night
Twinkling and beautiful, there’s nothing like seeing Antwerpen by night, particularly the Grote Markt. Highly rated bars in the area include Den Engel (Grote Markt 3), The Irish Times Pub (Grote Markt 38), and Den Brabander Antwerpen (Grote Markt 36).
Day trips from Antwerp
If you have a little more time to explore the city, then there are plenty of things to do in Belgium outside of Antwerp. From the city, it couldn’t be easier to hop on a train (and though I don’t recommend it, you could also rent a car!) and take a day trip to a nearby city.
The capital of Belgium has plenty of things to do and even more to see. Filled with stunning architecture, the best attraction of Belgium has to be its Grand Palace. Dating back well over three hundred years, nearby there are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants at which to sit and watch the world go by.
You may well have heard of Bruges before thanks to its craft-making industry, with particular regards to lace-making. Located in the North-West of Belgium, Bruges is the capital of the West Flanders region. Highlights of Bruges include several spire-topped churches and taking a boat along one of the city’s many canals.
Breda, The Netherlands
Pretty and a little off the beaten tourist path, the city of Breda is in the South of the Netherlands and is under an hour’s train ride from Antwerp. Highlights of this Dutch settlement include a historic old town complete with countless eateries, as well as a castle in the very heart of the city.
For one of the top fairytale day trips from Antwerp, be sure to head to Ghent. Filled with picture-perfect houses and meandering rivers, Ghent is the ultimate place to visit in Belgium if you’re looking for a romantic getaway. Top attractions in Ghent include a 10th-century castle and admiring plenty of medieval architecture!
Where to stay in Antwerp
Budget accommodation in Antwerp
The ASH Antwerp: Located close to a tram station, this hostel offers dorm rooms with shared bathrooms and private rooms with their own en-suites. Amenities include Free Wi-Fi while some rooms have fridges. Check prices and availability here.
Kabas Hostel: This well-reviewed hostel offers dorm rooms, as well as private rooms with shared or private bathrooms. Amenities include free Wi-Fi and complimentary tea, coffee, and breakfast. Check prices and availability here.
Mid-range accommodation in Antwerp
Astoria Hotel Antwerp: Close to several parks and near the Diamond District of Antwerp, this mid-range hotel offers free Wi-Fi. Upgraded rooms have their own terraces. Check prices and availability here.
Hyllit Hotel: Close to Antwerp’s central station, the Hyllit Hotel features contemporary rooms with features like a minibar, free Wi-Fi and TVs. Check prices and availability here.
Luxury accommodation in Antwerp
Hotel Rubens-Grote Markt: Located in the heart of all the action, this four-star accommodation offers services such as flat-screen TVs, a complimentary breakfast, and free WiFi. Check prices and availability here.
Hotel Julien: Situated close to many of Antwerp’s main attractions, this luxurious place to stay in Antwerp even has a rooftop terrace with views onto the cathedral. For an extra fee, there’s also a spa that has a sauna. Check prices and availability here.
Tips for visiting Antwerp
If you want to avoid the crowds and prices of Brussels but are still looking to visit Belgium, then I highly recommend booking a visit to Antwerp. With that being said, there are still plenty of ways by which you can save money when visiting the city.
For example, if you’re taking public transportation, then purchase your tickets in advance at an official retailer (there are numerous newsagents and the like across the city). This way, you’ll save 20% as opposed to the full price if you were to buy your transport ticket from the driver.
If you want to get to know the city on a local level, from a resident’s perspective, then you might want to book a private walking tour. Lasting anything from 2-6 hours, this walk with a local guide will show you the best things Anvers has to offer. Check prices and availability here. If you’d prefer to experience Antwerp through its culinary scene, then book this 3-hour food tour instead.