Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
I don’t know why I really wanted to visit Antwerp. When I first started researching places to visit on my trip, I thought Antwerp sounded like a place worth seeing. There aren’t any major sights or specific reasons to go (though the train station alone is pretty incredible), but since I had the time I figured I would visit for a few days.
And, despite a few unpleasant hiccups (like getting sick from too much wine and too much heat), I did really like Antwerp. More on that below.
It’s a cool city, with a bit of an avant-garde vibe. It felt more like a real city than some of the other places I visited in Belgium like Ghent or Bruges. It’s a bit funky, a bit artsy, and not quite as touristy (though it has its moments). It is definitely worth a night or two on a trip to Belgium just to see something a bit different.
Getting There: Take the train (I came from Rotterdam but Brussels is also an option) and marvel at the beautiful train station. Spend a few minutes to look around (but beware of pickpockets). When you exit the station, it is a very gross area. Get out of there as soon as you can!
Where to Stay: Don’t stay near the train station (as it is gross area). Recommend staying in ‘t Zuid, this area has lots of nice cafes and restaurants, and is close to museums and shops. I really liked this area a lot and it’s easy to get to center of town. The center of town is very touristy and busy, suggest also Old Town and Sint Andries.
I didn’t follow my own advice and stayed at The Ash, a hostel not far from the train station. I did not like this place. There was a ton of construction going on just across the street in front of the hotel so it was a pain to get around, also very noisy in the morning because of the construction. No AC and the rooms were very hot (I was there during the heat wave and really could have used a fan or two), and the kitchen area was gross as people did not keep it clean. Breakfast was terrible. Maybe a good spot for young student travelers, but not for me. I definitely felt like I had outgrown this lifestyle!
What to Do:
- Antwerp is a very walkable city. Nothing is that far so I didn’t use any public transit here.
- Museum aan der Stroom (MAS) – This is such a cool museum. It’s located north of the center near the port in a very modern building. It’s a museum about Antwerp, but it also has a lot of other special exhibits that are not just limited to Antwerp. I really enjoyed this place and highly recommend visiting. There is a panorama on the roof (free) with 360 views of the city. There are some nice cafes around here for eating before/after the museum. Probably spend about 2-3 hours here.
- M HKA – This is the modern art museum in Antwerp, a bit funky for my taste but had some interesting exhibits. I like the area around here as well (‘t Zuid).
- Royal Arts Museum – In ‘t Zuid area. Unfortunately under renovation when I was in town
- Market Square – A bunch of things under construction here, I wasn’t totally impressed. Lots of touristy restaurants take away from the charm.
Eating & Drinking:
- There are some good cafes/bars near the center that are not super touristy. It’s nice to find these spots and just hang out, people watch, read a book. This is basically how I spent my day in Antwerp (it was super hot and I didn’t want to do much!)
- Witzli Poetzli – Cute little cafe next to the cathedral with lots of space outside to sit. Perfect spot for hanging out in the afternoon.
- Marnixplaats – Good area for cafes/restaurants. Lots of people just hanging out in the afternoon. I stopped at Cafe Baron for a drink because I liked the vibe of the crowd there, but I don’t think you could really go wrong.
- Lombardenvest and nearby streets also good for restaurants
- Try the De Konnick, the local beer of Antwerp
- Barbette – Wine bar near the cathedral which was not very busy. They don’t have a proper food menu, but offer some snack plates. I had some rose and a cheese/meat plate. Very friendly service. (19 euro)
- Check out some live jazz, there are a few clubs known for this in Antwerp (DeMuze, Hopper). I was happy to have seen some jazz at DeMuze, even though I was sweating the whole time (see above re: heat)
Note: There is an Institute of Tropical Medicine located in Antwerp. If you happen to find yourself needing a vaccine for an upcoming trip (like I did), it’s quite easy to make an appointment here online. And the vaccines are much cheaper than those offered in the US!