When travelers think of Belgium, many automatically think of Brussels. However, there is so much more to see in the land of beer and chocolate. When I lived in Brussels, I used to make quite a bit of day trips to Flanders as I had friends who lived in the northern provinces. One of the cities that captured my heart was Antwerp. The city brings together the old and new: the classic Flemish architecture of the Centraal Station against the modern architecture of Zaha Hadid’s Port House building at the Port of Antwerp. I recently spent two days in Antwerp and can attest I am still in love.
If you have an extended trip to Amsterdam or Brussels, I highly recommend you add two days in Antwerp to your itinerary. There are direct trains from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and Brussels Zaventem Airport that will get you there in under two hours. If you choose to drive, there are plenty of reasonably priced overnight parking garages (we paid 24 EUR per 24 hours). Note that there’s a lot of traffic around the Antwerp ring (highway) during morning and evening rush hour.
What To Do
Make sure to make extra space in your luggage for shopping. Anyone who lives in Belgium will tell you that Antwerp is the place to shop. The city center is filled with Belgian designer boutiques such as Essentiel with unique quirky pieces. I also love Galleria Inno, an upscale Belgian department store. Their baby clothes collection is ridiculously adorable! Don’t forget to shop for chocolates! One of my favorite shops, Pierre Marcolini has a small shop near the city center. Dining Traveler Tip: Belgian sales occur in January and July, prepare yourself for some great sales. I picked up a pair of boots at one of my favorite Belgian shops, Cecil for 75% off!
The city is very walkable and with two days in Antwerp, onee of the things we enjoyed the most was walking around the city and taking in the details of the classic Flemish buildings, entering the small shops, walking into an anonymous café and sipping on a Chimay Blue (my favorite Belgian beer). We walked from the city center to the MAS Museum on a rainy Sunday morning. We encountered a small antique market with booths sparsely stocked with old China, fur coats, and art work. I bet that with a bit of patience you can encounter a gem to bring back home.
Our wandering took us to the Schipperstraat “sailor street”. As the Dutchman and I walked into the street, pushing the stroller with piccola, we realized something was off… Lots of men walking around looking suspicious. It just hit us that we walked right into the red light district where scantily clad women display themselves on the window for potential customers. Thanks, Google maps! Needless to say that it may not be a street you may want to take with young children!
See & Do
Two days in Antwerp is not enough to see all the attractions, so I will give you a shortlist of what I find special. We really enjoyed the MAS Museum. This modern art museum is an experience even before entering. Its cube like structure reminds me of an unfinished game of Jenga. The multi-level museum has a diverse range of collections. We enjoyed an exhibition on food ranging from the history of food to sustainable agriculture to how to combat food waste. Start your visit at the top floor with
If you love architecture, there are plenty of treasures in this city. I recommend you head to the Port of Antwerp to see Zaha Hadid’s building. The futuristic design is a friendly contrast to the old Flemish architecture of the city center. Another architectural gem is Antwerp Centraal Train Station. In my opinion, it’s one of the prettiest in Northern Europe. The classic facades, the touches of gold, the intricate vaulted ceilings are a sight to be seen.
You may think I’m being biased, but Belgium has some of the best food in Europe. When I first moved to Belgium 11 years ago, I was surprised how many times other Europeans would tell me: “oh you live in Belgium? The food is amazing there”. Antwerp is home to several Michelin-starred restaurants and once you’re there, you know why! Two days in Antwerp is not enough to savor it all, but you can try! I’ve drawn from my experience and some other local sources for a list of must-go places:
The Jane: This Michelin-starred restaurant is one of the favorites of my good friend Maria who wrote our Dining Traveler Foodie Guide to Antwerp. The innovative dishes are a once in a lifetime experience. Make sure to book well ahead of time.
Mercado: This new food hall in Antwerp is the perfect place to go with a group of friends with diverse palates. Indulge in French and Dutch oysters, stay warm with a savory laksa soup, or kick back a few Duvels at their bar. We loved the hip, relaxed atmosphere.
The Square: The restaurant at the Radisson Blu near Antwerp Central Station serves a creative menu of refined Flemish classics at a great price. For 35 Euros, savor a three-course meal. My highlight: the trio of chocolate that young Chef Jorn creates.
Brasserie t’Parkhuis: Our friend who grew up in Antwerp treated us to dinner at t’Parkhuis. This brewery features their own beers paired with hearty Belgian dishes such as Waterzooi, Carbonade, and vol au vent. I never had seafood vol au vent before and I loved it! The crispy pastry topped with a creamy, savory seafood sauce is the perfect indulgence.
The MAS Museum Storm Café: On my foodie wish list is dining at the Michelin-starred ‘t Zilte restaurant at the top of the MAS Museum. However, on this trip I settled with drinks at the Storm Café downstairs. Loved the relaxed vibe of the space and the selection of local beers of Antwerp such as De Konick.
Check out our Dining Traveler Foodie Guide to Antwerp for more picks!
Where to Stay
Local Charm: We stayed at Hotel Les Nuits, a small, local-owned Boutique hotel nestled in the heart of Antwerp shopping district. Their complimentary breakfast buffet with smoothies and a selection of homemade granolas is an added bonus. Full review here.
Modern Business: If traveling on business, the Radisson Blu Astrid is a great choice with its modern vibe and great restaurant. The hotel is just steps from Antwerp Central station, making it very accessible to public transportation and the city center.
Boutique Hotel: The laid back yet stylish Queen A is a short walk from the Antwerp Central Station and Antwerp Zoo (yes, Antwerp has a zoo in the City Center!). Love the trendy design of their lobby.
Two Days in Antwerp: The Verdict
As I previously mentioned, two days in Antwerp is not enough. If you’re a lover of great design and delicious food, this is the perfect destination for you. Dining Traveler Tip: Head to the Antwerp Tourism Office, for more info, loved their tourism information materials. Buy City Card for attraction discounts and inclusive public transportation with purchase of the card.