In Belgium, those who live in Antwerp are not exactly known for being humble. The fact that Antwerpians famously use phrases like ‘Antwerp is the city, and everything else is parking’, probably does not help their case. Yet looking at the beautiful city that Antwerp is, can you blame its citizens for being proud?
The historical centre has a gorgeous cathedral named Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) which is surrounded by several bars where you can taste the beer that Belgium is so famous for. If you want to order beer like a local, you can do so by simply holding up your pinky finger. Just like that, you’ll receive the beer that’s on tap!
After you’ve had your beer with a view (of the cathedral), head to the Grote Markt. At this lively square, you’ll find more bars (naturally), the city hall and a curious fountain of a young man throwing away a giant’s severed hand, standing on its dead body. This is a depiction of Antwerp’s most famous story: the legend of Brabo. The Roman captain defeated Antigoon, a giant who used to ask people to pay to cross Antwerp’s river Scheldt. If they couldn’t, Antigoon chopped off their hand. One day, Brabo decided to end this and killed Antigoon. He chopped off his hand and threw it into the river. Legend has it, that this explains the city’s Dutch name: Antwerpen being a derivative of ‘handwerpen’ (hand throwing). Antwerpians love the story and due to this it’s easy to spot hand-shaped cookies in bakeries all over the city and beyond.
If the story hasn’t made you nauseous, it’s time to get some French fries or frietjes! Contrary to the English name, French fries are one of Belgium’s national dishes. Grab some from one of the many friteries and stroll to the riverside. If the sun is out, you will see many young people relaxing by the water and you can either choose to sit on one of the benches, or join the Antwerpians sitting by the edge of the river.
After you’ve had your frietjes, take a 15-minute stroll towards Het Eilandje, an up and coming neighbourhood. You will pass Het Steen, a medieval castle, and walk right up to the MAS, a museum that not only houses an immense art collection, but also offers a spectacular view over the city.
After having enjoyed the view, it’s time for another beer. Walk 15 minutes towards Ossenmarkt, a square close to the Antwerp University and for this reason there are plenty of lively bars. From there it’s only a short walk to Antwerp’s famous Central Station. Go in to marvel at the architecture, then head down to the metro station below the building to take tram 15 for the De Koninck Brewery, an interactive brewery museum!
Antwerp’s central station
Afterwards, you’ll have worked up an appetite for dinner. Luckily, the neighbourhood surrounding the brewery has many great restaurants to choose from! For example, The Jane, owned by one of Belgium’s most famous chefs, is only a 10-minute walk away. End your day by visiting Dageraadplaats, a well-located square with plenty of bars – some of them don’t even close until 3am on weekdays!
If you still have a couple of days left in Antwerp, you can spend a day shopping in the city where famous fashion designer Dries Van Noten was born and raised. You’ll find his shop not far from the Meir, the city’s main shopping street. Make sure you pop into the Stadsfeestzaal as well, a beautifully renovated shopping centre.
Looking for more activities? Spend the morning in the Red Star Line museum, a museum dedicated to the 3 million who migrated to America using the Red Star Line shipping line. Afterwards, hop on the train from Antwerp central station to Brussels (only 35 mins away), Ghent (only 1 hour away) or Bruges (1.5 hrs away) and enjoy an afternoon in one of the other beautiful cities Belgium has to offer.
So, to sum up: Antwerp might be a small city but it has a lot of activities to offer, most of which are in walking distance of each other! We would recommend going there in the summer when the grass is green and the pints are pretty.