City Guide to Antwerp, Belgium | Must See Attractions
If you’re in Belgium we highly recommend taking at least a day trip to Antwerp! Getting around Belgium by train is simple and visiting Antwerp is a must. Read on for our map of must see attractions and a sightseeing itinerary.
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We explored several cities in Belgium (Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels!) from top to bottom and couldn’t fit it all in just one article. Be sure to read the rest of our Belgium City Guides!
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Sightseeing in Antwerp, Belgium
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.
In preparation for visiting Antwerp and wanting to make the absolute most of day trip, we created a comprehensive sightseeing itinerary, researching all the destinations we could find. So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Antwerp (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.
We encourage you to explore the map below, copy it to your Google account, and make the map your own. It’s a fantastic resource to have on hand when touring the city!
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personal sightseeing adventures, because of that some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated.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 Antwerp, Belgium.
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A Day Trip to Antwerp: Must See Attractions
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. Definitely have your camera handy because the grandiosity and beauty of this train station is worth capturing for the scrapbook! 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 of Shopping Stadsfeestzaal, you’ll find St. James’ Church.
Before construction on the church began 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
just 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. Sadly, much of the church that was built by Jesuits between 1615 and 1621, was destroyed in 1718 when it was struck by lightning. And 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 the church is the original mechanism used to change the paintings above the altar. Suprisingly, it's still in working order!
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.
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Continue west towards the Scheldt River and visit Grote Markt, a historical city ‘square’.
Grote Markt is pedestrian friendly, making it a great place to take some time to explore.
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 of Grote Markt 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 very 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)
From Anna’s Tunnel, take a walk along the water and admire the views of the river and the city!
As you walk you’ll see Steen Castle (Het Steen) com into view and it’s the classic image of a castle!
Steen Castle is a fortress located on the Scheldt River and is Antwerp’s oldest building. Previously known as Antwerpen Burcht, the castle once 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. While visiting be sure to take in the church and its large housing of artwork: over 200 sculptures and over 50 paintings!
Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)
After visiting Sint-Pauluskerk, 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 and has been 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.
More Must See Attractions to Add to Your Personalized Antwerp Sightseeing Itinerary
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, the 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 and 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. Plus, 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.