Nicknamed “Belgium’s capital of cool” by Conde Nast Traveler, Antwerp certainly lives up to its lofty label. Whether you spend your time exploring the captivating historic city center, hopping between alluring art galleries, shopping at the countless high-end boutiques, or enjoying the green spaces on the city’s outskirts, you’ll never get bored in Antwerp!
For foodies, there’s a staggering number of Michelin-starred restaurants and drool-worthy artisan chocolate stores to choose from. There’s even a whole museum dedicated to just chocolate! And if you’re in need of a little retail therapy, you’ll be spoiled for choice with a number of major shopping streets boasting stores filled with everything from diamonds to vinyl records and designer clothes.
Antwerp is such a gorgeous and beguiling city that you could spend a day just wandering around its streets and never get bored. In fact, the place is so beautiful that its Central Station is considered to be a big tourist attraction simply because of how it looks!
With so many amazing things to see, do, and eat, it can be tricky to know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the absolute best things to do in Antwerp. Add these activities and attractions to your Antwerp bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time exploring Belgium’s capital of cool.
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Antwerp
1. Indulge at the World’s Largest Belgian Chocolate Museum
You may have enjoyed Belgian chocolate plenty of times before – if not, Antwerp is a great place to start! Do you know why chocolate became so important in this country and why it’s loved so much around the world? Find out at the Chocolate Nation, one of the best Antwerp attractions for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Chocolate Nation guides you through the complete chocolate production process, from bean to bar. The exhibition is spread out through 14 themed rooms that follow the cacao bean from its origins in far-off plantations and its arrival in Antwerp’s storage port until it reaches its final destination – in the mouth of chocolate lovers!
There are plenty of tasting opportunities here, too. You can try more than 10 different types of chocolate and even make your own chocolate treats if you’re feeling creative. Don’t forget to stop by the shop before you leave. There’s so much deliciousness on offer that you’ll definitely take something home with you.
2. Shop in Style at the Stadsfeestzaal Shopping Centre
The Stadsfeestzaal Shopping Centre is one of the most magnificent shopping centers in Europe, where over 6.5 million people go each year for a truly unique shopping experience. One of the top things to do in Antwerp if you need a break from traditional sightseeing, this shopping mall is nestled in the center of the Meir and boasts more than 40 stores and dining spots.
Here you can pick up everything, from designer fashion and pop culture merchandise to luxury bathroom products and creative sushi. They’ve even got a one-of-a-kind store that takes all the colors in your iris and turns them into a work of art in minutes!
The Stadsfeestzaal Shopping Centre first opened in 1908 and was listed as a National Heritage Building in 1983. It was almost completely devastated by a fire in 2000. Only the monumental staircases, steel roof structure, and historic façade survived. Because it was such an important building, it was restored back to its former glory and now looks identical to how it was when it first opened.
3. Check Out the Oldest Printing Presses in the World
One of the most unique things to do in Antwerp is to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum and check out the oldest printing presses in the world. This captivating museum highlights the creations of 16th-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg of their day!
The museum is set inside what was once Officina Platiniana, the publishing house that Plantin and Moretus used to work in. Some of the rooms have been kept as intact as possible, so you can wander around, see the tools the duo once used, and get a feel for what it was like when the office was full of life more than 400 years ago.
The very first museum to earn the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Plantin-Moretus Museum is bursting with fascinating things to see. Original wallpaper, cordovan leather, paintings, and sculptures can all be found inside. There’s even a series of portraits that Plantin and Moretus commissioned Peter Paul Reubens to paint.
4. Discover Your Love of Art at the MAS
Even if you wouldn’t call yourself an art lover, visiting the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) is one of the best things to do in Antwerp. This eye-catching museum is located along the River Scheldt and features a unique design made from red sandstone and tall, narrow windows.
The museum is staggeringly large and features 10 individual levels, each of which is dedicated to a different historical, social, or cultural theme. There are loads of permanent exhibitions to explore, such as photo displays that dive into Antwerp’s heritage, exhibitions that look at how festivals are celebrated throughout the world, and display cases full of ancient art from Pre-Columbian America.
A great place to visit with kids, MAS makes art and history fun. The museum is full of bright colors, interesting display methods, and fascinating facts that make browsing through the 500,000 museum pieces a treat for the senses.
Don’t forget to spend some time at the very top of the museum. From up here, you can enjoy wonderful panoramic views of Antwerp that stretch on for miles.
5. Treat Yourself to Belgian Mussels and Fries
If you like seafood, you’ve got to try Belgian mussels and fries. This simple yet delicious combination dates back to 1875 and is loved just as much today as it was when it was first created!
Because the dish is so popular, you’ll find it all over the place – from cafes and restaurants to festivals and fairgrounds. The Belgian way of cooking mussels involves gently steaming them in a mixture of butter, white wine, onion, parsley, and celery. Pair them with the wonderfully crispy double-fried Belgian fries, and you’ve got a dish you’ll never get tired of, no matter how many times you have it.
Fish a’Gogo is one of the best places in Antwerp for mussels and fries. This casual restaurant dishes up a tempting array of seafood, including amazing mussels cooked in white wine and garlic, as well as the best Belgian fries with creamy mayonnaise.
6. Wander Around the Rubens House
For some of the best things to see in Antwerp, take a trip to the Rubens House. The genuine home in which the artist Peter Paul Rubens lived for 30 years in the early 17th century, the building (now known as Rubenshuis) is also where he painted some of his most famous masterpieces.
After the artist bought the building, he extensively renovated the house and studio to make it more personal to him. Today, the property, including its charming courtyard, looks like a grandiose Italian palazzo structure. Inside the home, you’ll find a great number of his own works of art, as well as several pieces by his students and contemporaries, including Anthony van Dyck, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and Jacob Jordaens.
Rubens’ house has gone through many changes over the years. It was even a prison for some time following the French Revolution. In the 20th century, the City of Antwerp took over the building and restored it, making it look as close to the original as it could possibly be.
7. Party at Linkerwoofer
If you’re planning on visiting Antwerp in the summer, it’s definitely worth checking out Linkerwoofer. This family-friendly festival takes place over two days in July or August and is a great place to relax and enjoy the more laid-back side of the city.
Boasting a gorgeous riverside location on the city’s left bank, Linkerwoofer features a fantastic lineup that’s designed for everyone to enjoy. The late nights see up-and-coming Belgian artists, bands, and DJs take to the stage, so adults can let their hair down and party. Saturday afternoon is often reserved for kids, with a host of children’s entertainment to keep the little ones happy.
As well as everything happening on the stage, Linkerwoofer also attracts many different street food vans and kiosks. Here you can fuel up on everything from Belgian fries to Japanese sushi and Mexican tacos to keep you going until the end of the festival.
8. Go Window-Shopping in the Diamond District
One of the coolest things to do in Antwerp is to check out all of the luxury gemstone stores in the Diamond District. The city has been considered the diamond capital of the world since the 15th century when Lodewyk van Bercken created a brand new type of tool to polish gemstones. Since then, Antwerp’s streets have been almost taken over by glitzy stores selling diamonds in all shapes and forms.
You’ll find the Diamond District just to the west of the Central Station. Take a leisurely walk around, and you’ll stumble upon hundreds of diamond workshops and stores creating and selling a host of rough diamonds, polished diamonds, and diamond jewelry.
Some craftspeople sit in the front of their workshops, so you can watch them polish diamonds and make stunning jewelry through the window. It’s definitely worth stopping for! Even if you have absolutely no intention of buying anything, the Diamond District is still a fun place to explore for the one-of-a-kind experience and atmosphere.
9. Take a Walk Down Meir Pedestrian Street
When you need a break from all the Antwerp sightseeing, take a walk around Meir street. One of the biggest and best shopping streets in the city, this area has been entirely pedestrianized and is overflowing with stunning architecture.
Many of the magnificent Rococo buildings here house major European chain stores, such as Primark, H&M, and Zara. Inno is definitely worth checking out, too. Antwerp’s equivalent of Paris’ Galeries Lafayette, this multi-level mall features fashion for men, women, and children, as well as stunning household items. There are so many beautiful things here that you could easily spend a whole morning just browsing.
While Meir street is a bustling hotspot for fashion lovers, there are other things you can do here besides shop. The avenue’s 18th- and 19th-century buildings also host coffee shops with outdoor terraces.
Here you can sip on a delicious coffee while watching the world go by. Because it’s such a popular part of the city, Meir is almost always busy and bustling, giving you plenty of people to watch whenever you visit.
10. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with Belgian Waffles
Starting your day off with some light and fluffy Belgian waffles is one of the most fun things to do in Antwerp. Unlike the waffles you’re probably used to, Belgian waffles are leavened and made from a batter of flour, yeast, butter, milk, eggs, and pearl sugar.
They’re cooked in a regular waffle iron that gives them the classic honeycomb shape. But instead of being smothered in butter and maple syrup, Belgian waffles are usually stuffed with jam or melted chocolate and served with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
Wafelhuis Van Hecke is one of the best places in Antwerp to indulge in Belgian waffles. The batter here is all mixed by hand, and it really does make a difference. You can keep things simple and have your waffles with just powdered sugar, or go crazy and add all kinds of delicious toppings, like strawberries, ice cream, and chocolate flakes.
11. Visit a Historic Zoo
If you’re traveling as a family, one of the must-do things in Antwerp is to visit the Antwerp Zoo. It was built way back in 1843, making it the oldest zoo in Belgium and one of the oldest on the planet. It was officially declared a monument in 1983 and is definitely worth checking out.
The huge zoo covers 10 hectares in the city center and is just a short walk from the Antwerp Central Station, making it really easy to get to.
What really makes this zoo stand out is its excellent breeding program. It’s responsible for the birth of many spectacled owls, aardvarks, jaguars, and king penguins, among a number of other species.
One of our favorite things about this family-friendly attraction is the themed enclosures. The giraffes and elephants live in an Egyptian temple, the koalas reside in a thatched cottage, and the hippos spend their time in a pink villa.
There are more than 7,000 animals from over 950 different species to check out here. You’ll definitely need a full day if you want to see it all.
12. Attend Tomorrowland – the Biggest Music Festival in the World
Partying at Tomorrowland is one of the coolest things to do in Antwerp if you’re planning on visiting in the summer. The biggest dance music festival the world has ever seen, Tomorrowland always boasts spectacular DJs from countries across the world who descend on Antwerp to bring the city to life with dance music.
If you’re into house, EDM, hardstyle, or techno, you’re guaranteed to have an incredible time here. Not only is the music phenomenal, but the shows the DJs put on are almost too astounding to believe.
Combine pounding bass lines with dramatic smoke machines, colorful laser lights, a sea of people waving flags, and astonishing fireworks displays, and you’ve got a unique experience you’ll never forget.
Tickets for Tomorrowland always sell out fast. So as soon as you book your flights, it’s a good idea to check the official website and snap up some tickets while you still can.
13. Be Left Speechless By the Central Station
Some of the best sights in Antwerp can be found in the most unlikely places, such as the Antwerp Central Station! So much more than just a place to catch a train, the station (also known as the Middenstatie) is one of the city’s most cherished landmarks.
The stunning station is a dramatic feat of marble, steel, and glass that dates back to 1895. It took a staggering 10 years to replace the original wooden terminus with the beautiful station you can see today. But as soon as you lay eyes on it, you’ll know it was time well spent.
Because it incorporates a number of architectural designs, it’s tricky to find the right words to describe Antwerp’s Central Station. The façade features Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau styles, making it both striking and unique.
While the station is fascinating to look at from the outside, you need to step inside to really get a feel for the place. The interior boasts a grand entrance hall, an impressive staircase, and an ornate station clock. If you look carefully at the 31- meter tall ceiling, you can see a dent from the WW2 bombings.
14. Explore the Oldest Building in Antwerp
When you feel like getting out of the lively city, spend a day at Steen Castle, also known as Het Steen. The oldest building in Antwerp, this beautiful castle may not look that big now, but it was a considerably larger fortress centuries ago.
The castle you can see today dates back to the early 13th century. But there has been some type of fortress on this site as far back as 645. Like a lot of Belgium’s castles, Steen Castle was used as a prison for some time when it wasn’t needed as a fortress.
There’s loads to check out in the castle, making it one of the best Antwerp activities to enjoy when the weather is bad. There’s an innovative exhibition that tells you all about the city, guided tours that show you the most interesting parts of the castle and surrounding areas, and an impressive rooftop area where you can soak up 360-degree views of Antwerp and the river.
15. Sip Elixir d’Anvers
After you’ve crossed off all the things to do in Antwerp off your list, it’s time to relax with a glass of Elixir d’Anvers. A special liqueur first produced in Belgium in 1863, this drink is created by blending together 32 individual plants and herbs with pure alcohol and water.
The flavor-packed concoction is then mixed with sugar and aged in oak barrels for up to five months. This allows the sugar to subtly sweeten the drink and gives the herbs and plants time to fully infuse.
Elixir d’Anvers is usually enjoyed on its own before or after dinner. But you’ll find a lot of bars and restaurants using it as a cocktail base, too. An Elixir d’Anvers mojito is the perfect way to cool down in summer, while a hot Elixir d’Anvers appletini will warm you right up in winter.
You won’t have to go far to find Elixir d’Anvers. The popular liqueur is available in pretty much every cafe, restaurant, bar, and liquor store. If you buy a bottle, try adding some to a mug of coffee for an extra kick!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Antwerp. What’s your favorite thing to do in the capital of cool?
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