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So you’re headed to Antwerp! Only have one weekend? Not to fear – even though Antwerp is such a gorgeous, amazing place and there is so much to do, you can certainly get to know this lovely city in a few days… here are a few fun ideas:
Cathedral of our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal Antwerpen)
A Roman Catholic Cathedral built in Gothic style, this structure’s final stage of construction was completed in 1521, though it nevertheless remains considered “incomplete.” Beautiful from all angles and at all times of day, it is not only extremely photogenic, but offers a convenient central reference point to any confused tourists wandering too far astray. For a small fee, visitors may enter the cathedral and see works by notable painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Otto Van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.
Grote Markt (Great Market Square)
Situated at the heart of the old city quarter, Grote Markt must inevitably be any visitor’s priority (or perhaps even base) on their visit to Antwerp. Home to various shows, exhibits and demonstrations throughout the year, and even a Christmas Market and ice rink in December, Grote Markt is one of the most popular convening spots for locals and tourists alike (indeed one of the most heavily-peopled areas of the city, though still a must-see.)
Stadhuis van Antwerpen (Antwerp City Hall)
Standing on the western side of Grote Markt, the building incorporates both Flemish and Italian influences in its striking design. Erected between 1561 and 1565, it is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Curious about all of the flags? I was too – I discovered that in fact, throughout most of the year, 87 flags decorate the hall’s façade. The central flags on the bottom row represent Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium, Europe and the United Nations. The other flags represent countries that are member of the European Union and nations that have a consulate in Antwerp.
After taking photos of the market square and admiring Brabo, I wondered what the significance of his location/posture actually is; the statue in fact represents a mythical Roman solider, Silvius Brabo, who is said to have killed a giant- as the story goes, the giant always asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt, and cut off the hands of those who would not pay. Because of this, Brabo also cut off the hand of the giant and threw it into the river (hence the design of the statue, if you look closely!)
St. Andrew’s Church is one to walk through, for its gorgeous large stained glass windows, depicting (as per usual) various biblical scenes… and not to be missed on your visit is a rather uniquely-clad Virgin Mary, complete with sequins, feathers (yes, feathers) – and I will let you decide for yourself about baby Jesus.
MAS (Museum aan de Stroom)
This artsy structure, composed of wiggly glass and lego-like red brick, is nestled amongst bits of land near the port, north of Schipperskwartier (area). Enjoy permanent exhibits covering topics like the importance of shipping to Antwerp’s relationship with the world, food in the city, and even an examination of life and death across several different cultures. Once you are done perusing these, enjoy a panoramic view of the city and sea from the open-air viewing deck on the 10th floor! Just across the small bridge from MAS is a glumly-industrial shipping area, turned up and coming by the presence of various hipster culinary establishments, from burger joints to espresso cafés to “The Shack,” exclusively serving designer bagels and coffee. This makes even a hung-over museum day a happy one.
Take a stroll through Ruben’s House if you have about one hour to spare, or perhaps if the weather is not to die for, as you will spend most of your time indoors. The former home of artist Peter Paul Rubens, Rubenshuis is now a museum, still housing many works by Rubens and his contemporaries, as well as his personal collections.
A hidden (tiny) alleyway along Oude Koornmarkt, which has all manner of restaurants and bars for any occasion, food type and time of day. Escape briefly from the friendly chaos of this major street for some quiet reprieve along Vlaeykensgang while enjoying adorable flower boxes of red geraniums in whitewashed windows, or perhaps even choosing a more intimate dinner location at one of the restaurants towards the end of the path.
A baby version of London’s Oxford Street in Antwerp! If you walk straight into the city center from the central train station, you will walk onto this street, which is one of, if not the major shopping street of Antwerp, complemented by sophisticated cafés and eateries, and walled on both sides by tall buildings- look up, the architecture (and angels!) is beautiful.
Bourla Schowburg (Bourla Theater)
The theater, completed in 1834, seats 900 people. The building is designed in a neoclassical style on the site of the former Tapissierspand tapestry market, within short walking distance of several boutique shops and restaurants.
Antwerp City Hostel is perfect for budget travel or a quick weekend getaway for last-minute planners. Situated directly on Grote Markt, guests have immediate access to the Cathedral and market, and all restaurants, cafés, and bars surrounding this central area. One night from 30 euros.
Aplace Antwerp (Vrijdagmarkt 1; aplace.be) has four lovely, recently renovated rooms — two suites, two apartments — on a quiet square in the city center. The friendly innkeeper, Karin, gives guests insider tips about the city (and sometimes brings by cupcakes, too). Suites from 125 euros.
The Hotel O Kathedral (Handschoenmarkt 3; hotelhotelo.com) is as central as it gets — right across the square from the cathedral. Under the hotel’s white stepped-gable roof, there are 23 minimalist rooms, some with peek-a-boo showers, as well as a downstairs bar and bookshop. Doubles from 99 euros.
Waffle Factory: You need this in your life, that is all I will say. Unless you think you can handle ice cream as well, then get it too.
Elfde Gebod: (11th commandment) – enjoy a delicious cauldron full of steamed mussels in either garlic, belgian beer or other flavors (this is a must-eat when in Belgium of course) at an outdoor patio along a cobblestone street with a view of the Cathedral- at night, everything lights up for extra charm.
The Shack: Bagels & coffee (across the river, past the MAS) – again, there are many attractive eateries and cafés out in this area, you won’t want to miss grabbing a snack before or after your trip to MAS!
Grote Markt is a good starting point for restaurants, as there are many places to eat around the main square. Oude Koornmarkt street is also a great place for restaurants, and you won’t have far to look- this street is more lively and fun.
Go on – enjoy this amazing city and comment below about your own adventures!!! 🙂