There are many bus tours you can take to Antwerp but it’s quick to get there on the train from Brussels and is small and easy to navigate once you arrive, so if you want to go, a DIY itinerary is the best (and cheaper) option!
Must see and do
There are 2 viewpoints that I wanted to see (based on reading other people’s blogs and Google images). Unfortunately there was a lot of construction work happening during my visit and The Cathedral of our Lady in the main square was closed.
- 6 euro entry fee
- Open everyday 10am – 5pm
- Sat 10am – 3pm
- Sun 1pm – 4pm
The other viewpoint I missed out on seeing was Museum aan de Stroom which has 360 degree views from the panorama deck at the top of the building. I knew it was closed Mondays but I wanted good weather in Bruges so switched the days of my original itinerary around which meant I missed out this one.
If it’s open on the day of your visit, take the escalators to the roof terrace. From what I read online it’s free to visit the rooftop and you can go there without visiting the museum. It’s open 10 – 5pm daily (except Monday). Entry is free every last Wednesday of the month. To visit you’ll need to book a ticket for a specific timeslot in advance on their website.
There is a mix of pretty old buildings and some ultra modern buildings too. My favorite streets (most photogenic) were:
- Meir – this is the street where you’ll find most shops
- All of the cobblestone alleyways 1 and 2 streets back from the main square (where the Cathedral of Our Lady is) – including Hendrik Conscienceplein
- De Keyselei – this is the tree lined street from the train station into town
Finally some autumn colors! (This was the first week of October)
Other things to see and do
After visiting the main square, continue on towards the cruise terminal at the waterfront. There is a bridge which is a great photo spot looking back towards the Cathedral (enter Godin Minerva – it’s a statue on the bridge – in Google Maps).
A short walk from the harbour is Steeinplein Castle (enter Het Steen in Google Maps)… which was also covered in scaffolding. So much scaffolding only the roof was uncovered:
If you have time:
- Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience has an impressive interior. The building is tucked away near the Saint Carolus Borromeus Church
- The Red Star Line Museum was another attraction on my list but I wanted to see a few things in the afternoon in Brussels so skipped it. The Museum is about the millions who emigrated to America via the Red Star Line shipping company, departing from the very building the museum is located in. I’m normally not interested in Museums but I’ve read this one doesn’t just have artefacts but also stories of the passengers. It’s free entry on the last Wednesday of each month otherwise the cost varies depending on your age. A the time of writing this post (in 2020) the entry fee is 8 euro for 26 – 64 y.o.
- Head to the other side of the river for a good view looking back at Antwerp
If you like stationery, see this post for my favorite stationery shops in Belgium, including my favorite in Antwerp. There a really good bookstore I must’ve spent an hour in – plenty of planners and bullet journals to choose from, and brands I hadn’t seen anywhere else.
Note that most shops are closed on Sundays.
Where to Eat
Can’t have a day in Belgium without a hot chocolate. I didn’t want to go to one of the over-priced fancy cafes so instead Googled hot chocolate and found one with good reviews. I forgot to take a photo of it (it had a pink awning), I was sceptical since no one was there but that hot chocolate was soooo good. I tried looking it up on Google Maps but can’t find the name of the place – it was in one of the cobblestone alleys between the main square and Wolstraat near Saint Carolus Borromeus Church.
I always put the chocolate in the milk and then heat it in the microwave. This place did the reverse and heat the milk first. Definitely making hot chocolate in that order from now on.
There are numerous waffle places but a lot of them were closed so I opted for the ‘smallest waffle shop’ which is really just a pop up stand. While Australia just calls them waffles, Belgium had different types of waffles. After trying many waffles – research for this blog post 😉 My favorite was the Liege waffles (softer so easier to eat since they only give you a tiny fork and paper plate). The Brussels waffles were too hard/ crunchy.
How to get there
Taking the train yourself is much cheaper than an organized day trip (or half day trip) on a bus and you’ll be able to choose what you see, and how much time you spend at each place. The train takes only 40 minutes each way.
Take the train from Brussels Central Station to Antwerpen-Centraal Station. Not to be confused with Antwerpen-Berchem which is the station before it. I heard Antwerp announced on the train and thought we’d miss the station so scrambled to get off. When I checked my itinerary I was thinking why did I have a note to take a photo of the train station, this is a very basic train station with lots of bike parking. After walking for a few minutes something felt off so I double checked maps on my phone… it was the wrong Antwerp train station.
This is what the train station should look like!
Would I go back to Antwerp?
My visit to Antwerp was disappointing. Between the gloomy weather, both viewpoints were closed and the main buildings I wanted to see were covered in scaffolding, there wasn’t much to see. If I make my way back to Brussels for Christmas markets at some point I might try and get back to Antwerp (there was a great stationery shop there – see this post). If you’re trying to decide on a day trip from Brussels I preferred Bruges and Ghent (blog post on that coming soon).
See my best of Brussels in 2 days itinerary here.
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