A Weekend in Antwerp | The perfect Antwerp city break itinerary for first time visitors
Do you want to know how to spend the perfect weekend in Antwerp? Well look no further, here you find a guide on what to do, see and eat lots of Belgian chocolate on a city break to Antwerp.
I’m going, to be honest, Antwerp was not on the list of cities to visit this year guys. But hearing that Buju Banton, (for those that don’t know he is a big reggae artist - just Google him), was on the leg of his European tour and performing for one night only in Antwerp! I knew by hook or by crook I am going to see him perform.
I grew up listening to him, seeing him on TV and his music is legendary darlings. But I had never seen him live, and my Jamaican ass had to see this reggae legend in action.
Long story short he was epic - doing a 2-hour set filled with hit, after hit, after hit and had the 30,000 strong crowds at Reggae Geel Antwerp dancing and chanting his name.
It was good vibrations all around.
Anyway, I had a chance to wander around the city of Antwerp for two days. The ideal city break.
And boy was I impressed with this compact city. I’ve created an Antwerp itinerary of all the cool things you can do in Antwerp in two days.
Antwerp is a real hidden gem of Europe. And not just because it’s the diamond trade capital of the world. But if you genuinely want to see how Europe from the 1600s meets a modern version of itself, spend a weekend in Antwerp. It blends a lovingly preserved history with a vibrant, trendy nightlife and entertainment scene, as well as top-class shopping and fashion.
This makes an Antwerp city break a fantastic option for a quick European weekend getaway. Let’s explore all the best options available when enjoying a weekend in Belgium’s best city (sorry, Brussels).
Feel free to skip to specific sections using the links below.
TABLE OF CONTENT
Weekend in Antwerp | My 2 Days in Antwerp itinerary
Brief History of Antwerp
This fantastic city is found north of Belgium, in a region called Flanders. It was traditionally accessed through the Scheldt River and Antwerp Harbour. Which is marked by the Newport House of Antwerp, an unmistakably unique architectural marvel.
The Newport House reminds me of a ship from the Star Trek Enterprise, and I just wanted to yell ‘beam me up, Scotty’. When I saw it. OK, I watched waaay too much TV when I was a kid, and this was one of my favourite shows.
The story goes that the city is named after a myth about a monster who demanded a toll for anyone crossing the River Schelde, which cuts through the city. His punishment for those who refused was to cut off their hand and toss it into the river (well he sounds like a treat to me).
Thankfully, I didn't need to slay any monsters to get to Antwerp, just some killer looks while wandering around the city and the festival.
How many days do you need in Antwerp?
While many people will do a day trip to Antwerp from London, seeing only the main attractions in the city centre. To really get a better feel of the city and going beyond the touristy things. I recommend spending two days in Antwerp, it’s the ideal amount of time to see all that this little city has to offer.
How to get to Antwerp from London
You can get to Antwerp by plane, which was my initial plan but me being the fantastic travel blogger that I am. I forget my passport at home!
I only realised once I was at the airport. Like really what the hell - I end up having to take a Flixbus (which was like slaying two monsters) and 8 laborious hours later I arrived in Antwerp.
I was determined to get to Antwerp to see Buju Banton guys!
There are direct flights from London to Antwerp International Airport. Which is a 30-minute drive from the Antwerp City Centre. Skyscanner has cheap flights from London to Antwerp.
Most international travellers get to Antwerp through Zaventem Airport in Brussels. You may also consider using the Brussels South Charleroi Airport. This is usually cheaper because some budget airlines make use of this route. Both Brussels airports offer direct shuttles, or you can opt for the train.
The best and most comfortable way to travel through Belgium is by taking the train. The Eurostar is a relaxing 40-minutes from Brussels, arriving at Antwerp Central Station, which was voted the most beautiful railway station in the World in 2014 by Mashable.
What better arrival experience could you possibly want? The station is gorgeous
The not the most convenient option, but you can get to Antwerp from London by Bus. I used Flixbus on this trip and flew back to London.
There is an express bus from Brussels Airport. It leaves from the airport and drops you in the city centre for roughly £10.
Lots of major European motorways make this city very accessible by car in theory. But it’s worth noting that these motorways - especially the Antwerp ring - are often quite busy.
There’s also a significant road construction project on the go until 2022, which may cause traffic disruptions at any time. If you are arriving by car, follow the A12 from Brussels and Eindhoven, or the E19 from Paris and Amsterdam.
Transport in Antwerp
Bicycles are popular in Belgium. The city’s extensive bike lanes reflect Antwerp’s two-wheel culture, so see the city and enjoy some fresh air and exercise while you’re at it.
You can rent a bicycle quite easily around town, just lookout for a docking station and app to rent the bike set up on your phone. I used the Velo Antwerpen app to rent my bike. A day pass is €4, and a week is €10. Each first 30 minutes of bicycle use is free.
You can also rent ‘Birdies’, which are electric scooters and you’ll see plenty of people whizzing through the city on these things.
You’ll find these next to the bike docking stations.
Antwerp is also the perfect city for walking. Most attractions are within walking distance if you’re staying in a central location. Driving around the city isn’t recommended. Much of the Old Town is off-limits to cars, and many cobbled streets are too narrow for cars anyway.
If you’re planning to venture beyond the city centre, there are few public transport options. Bus and tram systems are efficient and offer various ticket options, from one-hour passes up to five-day passes.
Tip: Try to avoid buying a ticket from the bus driver. It’s cheaper to buy tickets from an outlet in advance if you can or try the SMS pass on your mobile.
Book here | Antwerp highlight 2 hours bike tour
Where to Stay in Antwerp
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to a place to stay on short breaks to Antwerp. It’s a city known for its awesome hospitality industry. And you won’t have to break the bank either.
Depending on what sort of mood you’re after on your weekend break, you should consider what some of the different districts have to offer.
Here are some of the best options available to you, depending on your budget:
Cabosse, Suites & Spa - Splash out on this centrally-located boutique hotel. It’s a refurbished mansion, which was first built in 1864. It has a reputation for exceptional service to go with its breathtaking decor and interior. Enjoy the bamboo spa, extra-long comfy beds, and a fabulous nature pool. Click here for latest prices.
Hotel Quartier Latin - This mid-budget hotel is about 10 minutes from Groenplaats and the Cathedral of Our Lady, two of Antwerp’s most popular landmarks. Some rooms have a terrace for an added sense of luxury. It’s got all the basics done right. Click here for the latest prices.
Beaux ARTS - The Beaux is in the southern section of Antwerp, located directly opposite the Museum of Fine Arts. Take advantage of their arrangement to enjoy breakfast at the stylish Den Artist brasserie next door. Click here for the latest prices.
Airbnb offers really affordable options in Antwerp, many under £60. We found this gorgeous studio apartment in Old Town for £45 per night - a real bargain. Click here for the latest prices.
Day 1 in Antwerp Itinerary
An Antwerp itinerary is all about walking, sights, and tastes. Put your walking shoes on and let’s head out to the streets.
Antwerp Central Station (Antwerpen Centraal)
In 2009 Antwerp Central Station was voted as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world. You only need to visit to see that the title was well deserved.
The station is widely celebrated as the finest example of railway architecture in Belgium, the station is so beautiful that the locals call it the Spoorwegkathedraal, meaning “Railway Cathedral”.
But don’t forget to look up towards the dome ceiling - an impressive feature, much like the stone station building.
So whether you arrive by train or not, Antwerpen-Centraal is a must-see and an attraction.
Antwerpen-Centraal is conveniently located in the city centre and connects Antwerp with European cities like Amsterdam (including the Schiphol Airport), Paris and Brussels.
There’s no better place to start an Antwerp weekend break than in the centre of the Old Town at the Grote Markt, a traditional town square.
A statue commemorating the slaying of the monster from our founding myth stands there. It’s also right next to City Hall. If you like old buildings, then this is where to go first. Plus if you visit on a Sunday, you’ll be greeted with a small market in the square with locals selling everything from second-hand books to old cutlery.
Book Here | A 2 hours walking tour of historic Antwerp
After visiting the Grote Markt, it’s time to find the secret Vlaeykensgang Alley.
This historic Vlaeykensgang alley dates back to 1591 connecting Hoogstraat, Oude Koornmarkt Pelgrimstraat with one another.
The entrance to this alley is at the gate of 16 Oude Koornmarkt, stepping through the gates is like stepping back into time.
The alley was originally a home for shoemakers and some of the poorest in the city.
The alley has a range quaint cafes, antiques, including exclusive restaurant Sir Anthony Van Dyck others, and even a few apartments. But the trick is to find it.
Some of the entrances to the alley are barely doors. As famous streets in Europe go, this is one of the cutest.
Cathedral of Our Lady and Elfde Gebod
You can take the alley east and turn left to discover the famous Roman Catholic Cathedral, which has been there in one form or another since 1352.
The 123-meter heavenward-reaching steeple of the Cathedral and the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries.
The Cathedral also houses an impressive collection of artworks and paintings include Rubens’ ‘Elevation of the Cross’ and his ‘Descent from the Cross’.
Attached to the cathedral is a beautiful restaurant called Elfde Gebod (Eleventh Prayer) that has a unique medieval feel.
It serves variations of some traditional Belgian dishes like rabbit stew and mussels. Try the delicious vol-au-vent and one of the house-owned beers - but not too much!
The interior decor is like a grand diorama of angels and other Catholic-inspired symbols, sometimes in funny situations.
Saint Anna Tunnel
This is undoubtedly one of the more unusual places to visit in Antwerp. Burn off your meal with a westward walk or cycle under the river, through the 572 metre St Anna Tunnel.
Take the wooden escalators down into the tunnel and make your way to the Westside like a local - it’s the easiest and the cheapest way to get across the river. The escalators were made in the 1930s and were a novelty then and still are now.
The beautiful woodwork is remarkably well preserved.
You won’t find many similar attractions in other cities, and you get to see a view of the main city from the opposite bank.
Well, in the tunnel just be alert for cyclist and runners, as it is highly used by locals. There is also a lift, but that tends to get filled with cyclist and their bikes.
Maritime Open Air Museum Antwerp
While you’re on the West bank, you may want to check out the Open Air Maritime Museum. It’s a small display of buoys and beacons, and maybe a cannon or two. At the very least, it’s a place to take a break from your walk or ride, before making your way back to the East bank where all the action is.
MAS - Museum aan de Stroom
Back on the East side of the river, and it’s time to visit the biggest museum in all of Antwerp. The MAS - Museum Ann de Storm located in the hip Eilandje district, an old dockside neighbourhood.
This is the neighbourhood I stayed in a while spending my two days in Antwerp.
This unique-looking building looks so appealing from the outside - a bit like one of those plastic construction blocks you probably played with as a kid.
Each level of the museum shows different collections that are fascinating in themselves. From power politics, world ports, food to exploring death. The MAS uniquely covered them all seamlessly through each floor.
But even better is that every floor offers a view of the city in a different direction, because of its unique design.
Right at the top is a terrace that offers 360-degree views of the city. If you time your day right, you can be here for the sunset hour, which is quite romantic. And a different perspective over the city.
Day 2 in Antwerp Itinerary
There’s a lot more history and culture to get into today - this is Europe, after all. But it’s all worth it once you get to taste the best chocolate in the world, and be mesmerised by the glitter of diamonds, diamonds and more diamonds!
Now what girls doesn’t love diamonds. Whether it's from your first or fifth husband just give a girl diamonds! You guys know I’m a bit dramatic
This museum commemorates Christophe Plantin, who was the first industrial printer in history. His work allowed works to be printed en masse to be enjoyed by anyone who could read.
The site was his home from around 1550 and is now a museum. It has the distinction of being home to the oldest printing presses in the world and is the only remaining printing workshop and publishing house in the world, dating back to 1555.
The Museum Plantin-Moretus was the first museum ever in the world to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 2005), in recognition of its unique collection, in art and the printing house.
The first floor, of the museum, examines the history of the printing house with which Plantin and his successors used to put Antwerp firmly on the map.
If you aren’t overwhelmed by the massive library of replica books, you can dress up in clothing from Plantin’s time in Room 7.
Head to this pretty public plaza for a snack or just to take a break. It’s not as hectic as Grote Platz, but there are plenty of bars and cafes for chilling out.
A handsome statue of the painter Peter Paul Rubens sits in the middle of the square.
The Rubens House (Rubenshuis)
Peter Paul Rubens’ house is now a museum that can be visited. It’s a grand historical site because the master painted many of his famous works here.
Today, there’s a permanent collection as well as some displays and activities showing how he lived and worked. Occasionally Rubenshuis also hosts travelling exhibitions.
Meir Street Shopping
Antwerp’s main shopping street is for pedestrians only, so it’s all about taking your time browsing the international fashion and brands on offer here.
It’s a very commercial street to wander along if you’re in the shopping mood.
The Shopping Stadsfeestzaal centre is a highlight, and you’ll want to spend a few hours on this street to see as much as you can. If your feet start to ache, there’s always the option of taking a break in Wapper Square.
The Chocolate Line
You can’t come to Belgium and not taste the chocolate. And you’ll never be able to say you tasted chocolate in Napoleon’s kitchen unless you visit The Chocolate Line in Antwerp. The famous Chocolate Line’s Antwerp Branch is located in the old Palace on the Meir, in a beautifully restored setting that takes you back 200 years.
The Chocolate Line’s novelty chocs, shooters, lipsticks, and chocolate pills are internationally known. They’re regarded by many as the best chocolate in the world. Just try it and see for yourself.
The Antwerp Diamond District
If you’re walking around the Hoveniersstraat area, and you suddenly feel like you’re being watched, you’re not necessarily being paranoid. This is the Diamond District where most of the world’s diamonds get traded, polished, cut and whatever else you do to diamonds.
It’s a good idea to do a guided tour of this area. A good local guide will be able to offer a lot more info than you can possibly absorb all by yourself. Book tickets here.
Best Restaurants in Antwerp
Antwerp has several Michelin Star restaurants, which might officially be the best in the city. But most of us can’t afford to eat at Michelin Star restaurants every night so here are some budget-friendly restaurants you should try on your Antwerp weekend city break.
Here’s where to eat in Antwerp, whatever your budget.
Enjoy a self-service style food bar close to the Grote Markt where you can select your own toppings and sides. The Lebanese and Mediterranean flavours are a welcome change from the usual regional fare.
Fish a’ Gogo
Don’t be fooled by the hilarious name. The seafood here is absolutely delicious. They serve everything from prawns to octopus and razor clams. This is without a doubt the best seafood you’ll find in the city.
Meat eaters should try this grill, which has an outstanding rating on several public rating platforms. The mixed grill is a great value, offering five different types of meat for especially hungry travellers.
Bij Lam & Yin
For Asian food, head to Bij Lam & Yin. This one has a Michelin Star, so it’s among the best of its kind. If you can splash out, the gourmet Cantonese cuisine on offer here is beyond description.
For breakfast, try the banana bread or the oaty banana pancakes. Supplement it with a coffee, and you’re good to go.
As European cities go, Antwerp is a beautiful mix of culture, history, architecture, remarkable food and drink, as well as having a vibrant atmosphere. Follow this itinerary for your weekend in Antwerp, and you’re guaranteed to come away with some great experiences and memories to talk about.
IF YOU LIKE PIN IT!
Some of the links on this post are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using these links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. By using these affiliate links, you're helping to support Hues of Delahaye discover new cities, produce content to help you travel plan your next city break and with the running costs of this site. My cat and I really appreciate your support.