City Breaks

Things to see and do in Antwerp

Antwerp is full of surprises, with a lot to see and do. Read our guide to help you plan your next trip.

Antwerp, a busy pocket-sized metropolis, has something for everyone. The city is an inspiring source of culture thanks to its impressive architecture and magnificent museums and churches. Fashionistas can explore the stores of Antwerp's designers, whose stylish creations are revered all over the world, while foodies will enjoy the warm welcome of Antwerp's cafés and restaurants.

Driving from Calais to Antwerp

To reach Antwerp from Calais by car takes around 2 and a half hours using the A16 and E40. This is the most direct route, but the beauty of taking your own car is that you can discover new places along the way and set your own pace.

Something important to note: the city of Antwerp excludes the most polluting vehicles from the city and the city centre is a low emission zone. If you are planning to visit Antwerp from January 2020, there are some restrictions and conditions you must adhere to. This includes registering a vehicle if it doesn’t have a Belgian or Dutch number plate.

If your car doesn’t meet conditions for the Low Emission Zone, you can still enter the city centre, but must purchase a pass that can only be granted eight times a year. To register your vehicle and learn more about the Low Emission Zone, click here.

History & culture

Museums, architectural delights and places to visit just like a local – Antwerp is just the place. Plan a trip around these cultural hotspots to make the most of a day, weekend, or longer.

Museum aan de Stroom

The impressive Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)

Standing an impressive sixty metres high, the MAS affords a breathtaking 360° view of the city of Antwerp, its river and its port. It has a long history of trade and cultural exchange between the city and the rest of the world, with exhibits and interactive displays. You can discover the history of the city through exhibitions on food, costume, celebration, or even fashion, there’s something new to discover each time you visit. Under 12s go free, with deals available for groups. Prices for exhibitions differ depending on whether they are permanent or temporary but will rarely set you back more than € 10.

Cathedral of Our Lady

It took 169 years (from the years 1352-1521) of labour to raise the 123m heavenward-reaching steeple of the Cathedral, the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries. The Cathedral is an iconic treasury, with an impressive collection of major art works, including a series of paintings by Rubens. Now, after twenty years, the seven-naved church has been restored to its former architectural glory. Fascinating features include Rubens' ‘Elevation of the Cross' and his 'Descent from the Cross'. Any visit to Antwerp remains incomplete without a visit of the Cathedral of Our Lady, and what’s more, admission is only €5 for adults with children under 12 going free.

The Rubens House

The house of famous painter Peter Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was a world-renowned painter who lived almost his entire life in Antwerp and is also buried in the city. Even more than 400 years after his death, the presence of this world-famous painter can still be felt in many places around Antwerp. He lived in this palazzo, now museum with his family, painting regularly with his colleagues and assistants. He created many of his paintings in this house and the museum shows how he lived and worked too.

Thousands of visitors come to this city on the River Scheldt just because of Rubens. In the lively city centre, you can see a number of his most celebrated works, with some of them still in the original location he intended when he created them!

Grote Markt

Grote Markt is a forum or square just outside the medieval residential quarter of Antwerp. In 1220 Duke Henry I of Brabant donated this community space to the city and today it comes alive with an annual Christmas market and an ice rink through winter. The square is home to Antwerp’s extravagant city hall, elaborate 16th century guildhalls, and some lovely restaurants and cafés. From here you can also walk to the banks of the Scheldt river.

Red Star Line Museum

The Red Star Line was an ocean passenger line founded in 1871. Two million passengers travelled from Antwerp, the Red Star Line's main European port, to North America on board its ships. Today you can visit this museum to hear their stories. You travel back in time and in the footsteps of the emigrants, getting acquainted with the passengers and seeing how the journey panned out for them through exhibits and interactive displays.

Brabo Fountain

The Brabo Fountain can be found in the Grote Markt, in front of the Town Hall. It’s an interesting landmark not simply because it is beautiful, but because of the legend behind it.

It is said that the giant Druon Antigoon cut off the hands of any ship captain who moored in the area and refused to pay a toll, throwing the hands into the Scheldt. In return, the captain of the Roman army Brabo cut off the giant's hand and the fountain captures this moment. With this legend in mind, the etymology of the name of the city Antwerp is a composition of the Dutch words "(h)ant" (hand) and "werpen" (launch), but many historians dispute this!

The diamond district

Antwerp's diamond district, also known as the Diamond Quarter (Diamantkwartier), and dubbed the Square Mile, is an area where over $16 billion in polished diamonds pass through each year. There are 380 workshops that serve 1,500 companies and around 3,500 brokers, merchants and diamond cutters. Spend an afternoon browsing (or if you’re feeling fancy, buying) the sparkling windows, full of beautiful jewellery. Many of the workshops also offer tours which can reveal some of the history of the area too.

Eating and drinking in Antwerp

Locals love eating and drinking. In summertime café terraces are popular until the later hours and the city plays host to culinary events year-round. Fries and beer are an integral part of Belgian gastronomy and local specialities such as Antwerpse Handjes, Bolleke beer and the liqueur Elixir d’Anvers, are all not to be missed. Regional treats are complemented by an extensive multicultural cuisine, thanks to the city’s port.

Restaurant Brasserie Appelmans

Located in a 19th century building next to the Cathedral of Our Lady this trendy restaurant serves a Belgian cuisine with an Asian touch. Try the outdoor terrace for people watching as you sip speciality beers in the summer months. The average price for a main dish is around €15.

Grand Café De Rooden Hoed

Antwerp's oldest restaurant built in 1750 near the cathedral of Our Lady.

Café De Rooden Hoed owes its name to its striking red roof tiles with famous painter Quinten Matsijs (1466-1530) once living here too (the ironwork above the well in front of the cathedral was wrought by him). This is a stylish romantic restaurant that serves a typical Belgian cuisine with daily fresh ingredients. You’ll also find an oyster bar upstairs. The average price for a main dish is around €22.

low view of the cathedrals tower soaring into the sky

‘t Zilte – Diner with a view

This restaurant sits on the top floor of the MAS and gives you a stunning 360° panoramic view as you dine. You can see it all: the river, the port, the cathedral, the Boerentoren, the Sportpaleis and many other outstanding landmarks, which at night are sometimes even more impressive. Enjoy a delicious meal as you take it all in, what’s not to like?

Black Smoke Steakhouse – On the brewery rooftop

Located on the 3rd floor of the old De Koninck brewery warehouses, this is a carnivore's heaven, although don’t worry they serve lovely vegetarian dishes as well. The menu reads a little tongue-in-cheek with names such as 'where's the beef?' and if you’re feeling generous, you can even order 'a round of beers for the chefs'.

Things to do with kids in Antwerp

If you’re travelling with children, Antwerp has some great places to visit. Many of the museums let under 12s go free too, so check before you book tickets.

Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp Zoo is a little piece of history in itself, as it is one of the oldest in the world, being founded in 1843, which makes this the oldest animal park in Belgium too. You’ll find it right in the city centre next to the railway station and it’s a wonderful place to spend a morning, afternoon, or the whole day. Highlights include the butterfly garden and marine-life area.

Antwerp harbour boat trip

The port in Antwerp is not only a busy and exciting place, but full of history. You can book a boat tour that allows you to see the full city skyline and hear stories from its past. A 90-minute tour aboard the Jan Plezier shows you the old quays and how the harbour has changed and grown, as well as different views of the city’s landmarks.

Aerial view of a marina harbour with boats docked and buildings lining the port

Antwerp sewers – De Ruien

Even though sewers don’t sound all that appealing, this tour is a fascinating insight into the underground history of Antwerp. Otherwise known as De Ruien, the sewers, streams, and fortifications have been under the city since the Middle Ages and provided a network of both natural and man-made waterways to provide the city with water. There’s even a harbour down there – book a boat or walking tour to discover this unique place.

Start your journey to Antwerp with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

It’s clear that Antwerp is the place for families, solo adventurers, and culture vultures alike. Why not plan your next trip with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle and get to Calais from Folkestone in just 35 minutes?

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