City Guide to Belgium, Part 4: Sightseeing in Antwerp
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This is part four of a multiple part series on our City Guide to Belgium, where we visit Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels. Don't miss part one, two and three!
- City Guide to Belgium, Part 1: Trains, Public Transportation and Lodging
- City Guide to Belgium, Part 2: Sightseeing in Bruges
- City Guide to Belgium, Part 3: Sightseeing in Ghent
A City Guide to Sightseeing in Antwerp
Our home base, if you will, was in Brussels, Belgium. From there we took three, one-day-trips to cities outside of Brussels and then spent two days sightseeing in Brussels. All of the cities (Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp) were small enough that upon our arrival we didn’t need to take public transportation, although it was available if needed. Before arriving in Belgium, we did our homework and put together a personalized sightseeing itinerary. We started out by finding as much as possible on what there’s to do in each place and then narrowed it down to the must-see attractions, per our travel style and opinions. We take everything we want to see and put it on a Google map, adding layers for each city we'd visit in Belgium. We added hours, prices, and general notes on each attraction. We can pull this map up on our phone, allowing us to easily, and logically map out our itinerary for the day. We can also pull up walking directions and even public transportation directions as needed.
So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Belgium (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing). Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below. And finally, not every attraction is suitable for every visitor, but the copywriters and marketing departments for the destinations sure make it sound like it. How many times have you read “Great for kids and adults alike” and shown up at the venue to wonder why anyone over 20 years-old without kids would go out of their way to be there? Below we’ve included our itinerary with tips, impressions, and our takeaways on each place that, when combined with the official attraction information and website, may help you decide if it’s a destination for your travel adventure or not.
NOTE: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. All prices are shown in US dollars but are actually Euros (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Belgium.
Day 3: Day Trip to Antwerp
The Antwerp Central train station where we arrived by train, was our first stop on the days itinerary. After exiting that train, we made our way up the escalators, to where we could see the interior of the train station. Have your camera handy because the grandiosity and beauty of this train station is worth capturing on storage. Both the interior and the exterior of this building will leave an impression.
Exit the train station and make your way down the main road, De Keyserlei. It’s a busy, central road with shops on either side of you. Make your way west until you come to Shopping Stadsfeestzaal, in English ‘Festival Hall’. Built from 1905 to 1908, it was used as a place for gatherings, exhibitions, and fairs. It was restored in 2004 after a fire destroyed the building. However, it was built with all of the majestic details of the past. Enter to admire the glass dome, mosaic reliefs, and gold leafing, or to shop in the forty stores located in the center.
St. James’ Church
Just a few blocks north, you’ll find St. James’ Church. Before the church was constructed, starting in 1431, the chapel on this site was a stop on the route to Santiago de Compostela, known as the Camino de Santiago. Built in 1491, and not completed until 1656, St. James’ Church is still a stopping point for the Camino de Santiago, as well as a beautiful Gothic style church. Church hours can be found on the Visit Antwerpen website. As you explore Antwerp you may notice small shells on signs, walls, and tiles; the yellow shell on a blue background is the symbol that marks the path of the walk.
St. Carolus Borromeus Church
West of St. James’ Church you'll find St. Carolus Borromeus Church. The beautiful facade can be admired from the small square in front of the church. Built by Jesuits between 1615 and 1621, sadly much of the church was destroyed in 1718 when it was struck by lightning. Unfortunately, the Rubens ceiling paintings and much of the marble, were destroyed in the fire. Fortunately, the main altar’s apse (arch or dome above the altar), many of the sculptures, and Mary’s Chapel were unscathed, and provide a glimpse into the former beauty of the church. A unique feature that can be seen inside is the original mechanism that's in working order and used to change paintings above the altar. Church hours can be found on the Visit Antwerpen website.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp
The third church on our itinerary is the Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp. Built on the site of a 10th century chapel, construction started in 1352, but wasn’t completed until 1520. Along with a splendid interior, the chapel houses four Rubens’ altarpieces and Rombout’s Last Super stained glass. Visiting information can be found on the church’s website.
Continue west towards the Scheldt River and visit Grote Markt, a historical city ‘square’. It’s easy to get around and admire, as it’s been made pedestrian friendly. In a unique triangular design, Grote Markt is surrounded by the well-known Guild Houses and the 16th century City Hall. The Guild Houses were destroyed in a 1576 fire but were rebuilt, and revamped in the 19th century. In the center is the Brabo Fountain, built in 1887. You’ll notice that the statue is of a man throwing a large hand. Legend has it that a giant took a large toll for all ships that entered the city. If they refused to pay, he’d cut their hands off. Brabo became the hero of the story when he fought the giant and cut the giants hand and threw it into the river.
St. Anna’s Tunnel
A short detour south will take you to St. Anna’s Tunnel (Sint-Annatunnel). At just over a third of a mile long, this pedestrian pathway was built from 1931 to 1933 to connect the old city center with the left bank of the Scheldt River. It’s a short detour and interesting to see the original 1930’s wooden escalators that take you underground to the under-river passage way. If you’re short on time, you may want to forgo the crossing to the other side.
Steen Castle (Het Steen) is a fortress located on the Scheldt River. Along the walk from Anna’s Tunnel, you’ll be able to stroll along the water and take in the views of the river and city. The castle is Antwerp’s oldest building and was previously known as Antwerpen Burcht. The castle controlled access to the river and was also a prison for over 500 years (1303-1827). Today, while the castle has been altered throughout the years and parts of it destroyed during the development of the harbor, it’s a great place to visit. You’ll notice the large statue near the entry; it’s of the giant, Lange Wapper who, as story has it, terrorized the citizens of Antwerp during medieval times.
The final church on the itinerary is Sint-Pauluskerk. Unlike many of the Gothic churches we’ve admired, this church offers a Baroque style. Take in the church and its large housing of artwork, over 200 sculptures, and over 50 paintings. The church’s website isn’t in English, but you can use Google Chrome’s translation feature to find pertinent information. For church hours, we recommend going to the Visit Antwerpen website.
Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)
Enjoy the walk along the water and make your way to the Willemdok and Bonapartedok Marinas. Set between the two marinas, you’ll find Museum aan de Stroom (MAS). On a clear day, the marina and the square in front of MAS will likely be crowded with locals and tourists alike. The museum is the largest in Antwerp, open to the public since 2011. It showcases exhibits that focus on Antwerp through themes of Metropolis, Power, Life and Death, as well as Antwerp’s history as a major international shipping port. The museum sets itself apart by teaching visitors about Antwerp through stories that incorporate the aforementioned themes. Visiting the museum is optional; however, you don’t want to miss the view from the top. Entrance tickets for the museum are at a cost, but going to the roof for the 360 degree panoramic view is free. When you enter the lobby, the escalators to the top floor are straight ahead, at the end and to your right.
Our Antwerp city guide takes you around city center and is a window into Antwerp. It can be done completely by foot. However, if you’re up to taking public transportation, or have a vehicle or bike of your own, we have a few more recommendations of things to do in Antwerp.
Antwerp Zoo - Located just behind the central train station is the Antwerp Zoo. Hours and ticket prices can be found on the zoo’s website.
Botanical Garden - Dating back over 200 years, this botanical garden, Botanische Tuin, Plantentuin, originally only grew medicinal plants that were used at the nearby hospital, Sint-Elisabeth. Since 1926 the garden has been managed by the city. Today you can find 2,000 different types of herbs, a greenhouse of tropical and subtropical plants, many types of trees, shrubs and flowers, and several works of art. There are plenty of places to sit, relax, and enjoy this green oasis. The entrances can be found on Leopoldstraat.
Cogels-Osylei - For a stroll, on what some say is the most beautiful street in Antwerp, take a walk down Cogels Osylei, where you’ll see beautiful and historic period homes.
Middelheim Museum - Said to be the oldest open-air museum in the world, this sculpture park is worth the journey to get to it. Set on 30-acres of land, the museum aims to give an overview of over 100 years in sculpture. Including both temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection, this free museum is a great experience of landscape art. The Middleheim website has information on planning your visit.
Stay Tuned for More Sightseeing Adventures and Itineraries
This is only the fourth part of our City Guide to Belgium. Stay tuned for our next post with our adventures and sightseeing itinerary for Brussels. Soon to come is our experience tasting Belgium chocolate and waffles in Brussels!