Located in the North of Belgium, not far from the border with The Netherlands, Antwerp (known locally as ‘Antwerpen’ and in French as ‘Anvers’) is a university city known for its amazing craft beers and beautiful architecture. Here’s a guide to the best hidden gems and secret spots in Antwerp you should know about:
- Best hidden gems of Antwerp
- Map of the best secret spots in Antwerp
- Things to know before visiting Antwerp
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In the very heart of the city centre, behind an unsuspecting doorway which is barely a metre in width, you’ll find one of the best hidden gems of Antwerp. A maze of little passageways and courtyards dating back to the 16th-century, this Belgian destination narrowly avoided becoming a parking lot in the 1960s.
Built by shoemakers in 1591, today, Vlaeykensgang is an oasis of calm and its ivy-clad houses make for one of the best photo spots in the city. Elsewhere in this pedestrianised area, the chic restaurant, Restaurant ‘t hofke, makes for a perfectly romantic spot for dinner and is a must see, even if you only have one day in Antwerp.
Often, Antwerp hidden gems are in the most obvious of places, and Elfde Gebod is one such example. 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. Of course, most visitors to the venue opt to sample Belgium’s most famous drink, beer! For more information about the iconic tipple, be sure to check out our guide to beer in Belgium.
Antwerp University Campus
Given the chance, be sure to take a peek inside the university campus. All ivy-clad brickwork and beautiful façades, a wander around truly feels like a step back in time.
Although the University of Antwerp has several campuses dotted around the city, be sure to see the Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen campus for the most historical ambience. Nearby, head to the Ossenmarkt square for some of the best student bars in town (at student prices to match!)
Béguinage of Antwerp
Not far from the Prinsstraat University Campus, the béguinage is a true oasis of calm in the centre of the city. The 16th-century garden of the Beguinage is free to visit and wander around.
Surrounded by brick almshouses, there’s also a small chapel here dedicated to St Catherine. When visiting the begijnhof, be sure to be quiet as people still live there to this day!
The organ of Café Beveren
Close to the riverside, there’s a café which many venture past but fewer wander into. From its exterior, Café Beveren seems like any other coffee establishment in the city. However, once inside, another story quickly becomes apparent. After all, it is here where an iconic Decap Dance organ is housed, one of the last remaining in Belgium today.
MAS Museum Rooftop
For those who are first arriving in the city, I highly recommend gleaning a bird’s eye view by heading into the MAS museum. This fantastically modern museum is located on numerous floors, with each floor housing a different exhibition.
While you have to pay to visit the museum itself, the panoramic view on the rooftop terrace is completely free to visit and is easily one of the best viewpoints in all of Antwerp. Just be sure to bring your camera along!
While everyone visiting Antwerp will spy the impressive tower of the Grote Kerk almost as soon as they step off the train, fewer spot the equally stunning Sint-Carolus Kerk.
Featuring an entire chapel designed by Rubens (here’s how to follow in the footstep of Paul Rubens here), as well as a bust of Saint Justus, the church is free to visit and is well worth your time.
Poppins Bloemen en Verbeelding
Steps away from the St Paul’s Church, Poppins flower shop now lies where a former restaurant was once located. Now, with its floral displays and trinkets on offer, this store is easily one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city. And with a vintage vibe and plenty of gifts to purchase, Poppins is easily one of the best secret spots in Antwerp.
For fans of comic books, TinTin likely needs no introduction. The comic originated in Belgium, but what you may not know is that the rest of the country also features a large number of comic book shops. Mekanik Strip is one such store and can be found at Sint-Jacobsmarkt 73.
Though not so much of a hidden gem as some of the other things to do in Antwerp, the Plantin-Moretus Museum is a must-see nonetheless. Boasting Rubens and Van Dyck works among its collections, other highlights of the Antwerp cultural institution include the two oldest printing presses in the world, as well as an original copy of a Gutenberg Bible.
A quirky tunnel which passes under the river can be found in the form of St Anna’s Tunnel, a way for cyclists and pedestrians alike to traverse under the Scheldt. With wooden escalators going down, and a history dating back to the early 1930s, this 572-metre long tunnel is truly a piece of living history in the heart of the city.
Take a day trip to Mechelen
While many of the best day trips from Antwerp are to well known cities and towns such as Bruges or Brussels, there is also the opportunity to visit more off the beaten path places such as Mechelen.
The city of around 86,000 residents boasts highlights such as a 13th-century cathedral and a free-to-visit Botanical Garden and is only a 17-18 minute train ride away from Antwerp (depending on which train you hop on), making it the perfect excursion from the city for an hour or two.
Map of the best secret spots in Antwerp
Things to know before visiting Antwerp
If you’re looking for a Western European city with a bustling port, plenty of great eateries, and some stunning locations, then you simply must book a visit to Antwerp.
Close to the border with the Netherlands and less well-known than somewhere like Brussels, you could easily spend a long weekend in the city, getting to know its many secrets spots and cobbled lanes. Alternatively, you could visit Antwerp as a day trip from Brussels.
For those who wish to get to know the city on a local level, a walking tour with a local is an absolute must. This private walking tour is by a local, while this historic old town tour will show you all the best foodie spots!
Though not as busy as other Belgian destinations such as Brugges or Ghent, the best places to stay in Antwerp are booked pretty quickly, especially so during special events and in the summer. Check the best accommodation prices in Antwerp here.