Wondering what to do in Antwerp? Here are five tips to enjoy your time in Antwerp, chosen by blogger Vanessa McCulloch.
Want to discover more about Antwerp? I do. So I asked Vanessa McCulloch, creator of her excellent Nessascityblog, to describe her five favourite places in the city. They are so compelling that I want to jump on a train and head up there to check them out. I reckon you might soon feel the same. Over to you Vanessa …
Favourite Antwerp Museum
Antwerp has a number of excellent museums and galleries. Although it’s touted as a weekend break destination, you would actually need longer if you were a keen museum visitor and wanted to see a few (or all) of them.
As someone who lives here, there’s one museum that draws me back for repeated visits. This is the Red Star Line, which opened in 2013. It tells the stories of those who left Europe via the Port of Antwerp and the Red Star Line to seek new lives in the US and Canada. If, like me, you too are an immigrant, you may feel a connection with those who have travelled to make lives in countries beyond the borders of their native land.
The journey across the Atlantic is presented to the museum visitor here as a sequential experience. From arriving in Antwerp, being propelled through the bureaucracy of gaining tickets and papers permitting travel, to the experience of being on the Red Star Line ship itself. Individual stories are presented against a backdrop of the wider history of emigration and immigration. Bigger questions are asked about why individuals and communities journey to other regions with the hope of settling there. The objects, sights, sounds — and even smells — are fascinating and often very moving.
Favourite Shopping Centre
The Stadsfeestzaal on Meir must be one of the grandest places I have shopped. It opened in 2007 but the history of the building and its restoration goes back much further. It was once an event and exhibition hall and survived neglect and fire before its present palatial incarnation.
It’s a fun place to shop because despite its grand appearance, not all of the shops in Stadsfeestzaal are high-end. There are more affordable outlets like Urban Outfitters and COS. The location is great. Go out the front and find yourself on Meir (Antwerp’s main shopping street, offering familiar high-street brands). Or out the back onto Hopland for high-end shopping leading on to Schuttershofstraat. Alternatively, take a stroll towards Theaterplein where the market (see below) is held on Saturday and Sunday.
Favourite Weekend Activity
Antwerp Market is held on Saturday and Sunday. I like to go on Saturday best (aka the exotic market) as it is on for longer (8 am to 4 pm) and the food is better and more varied. As well as being a regular fruit and vegetable style market, there are many stands which sell more exotic foods. For example, tapas, nuts, spices, hummus, olives … Produce from Morocco, Greece and Italy are displayed alongside local cheeses, breads and patisserie.
It’s not just a case of getting your groceries in. Antwerp market is increasingly social with Cava stands, seafood and snack vendors. Or coffee vendors offering food and drink to be consumed at tables on the market. Plus there are numerous bars and cafes around the square where the market is held (Theaterplein). The construction of a transparent roof above the square means that rain no longer prevents the market from being an enjoyable place to visit any weekend.
Favourite Family Hangout
Park Spoor Noord is a go-to place for us during summer. There is an extensive green area for kids to run about on. Near Bar Noord is a sandy play area for kids with slides and climbing equipment. There are also fountains where it is safe for children to play when it gets really warm. Their parents have a choice of hanging out and ordering at the bar, or of bringing a picnic. So it is a handy location however you want to organise your afternoon.
Bring towels, a ball, sand toys and waterproof footwear for the kids. The Park Loods building just beyond the bridge frequently hosts flea markets, sports and other local events.
Favourite Local Bar in Antwerp
De Kroon van Hopland is within staggering distance of where I live. It’s mainly frequented by locals, although a fortunate tourist or visitor occasionally stumbles upon it. It’s a small bar, unaffected and unpretentious with wooden tables and the odd aging picture of a 1960s rock legend or two. Sitting outside on the pavement of a summer night is one of our pleasures during warmer months. (We don’t even mind moving our chairs and table if a particularly large vehicle has to negotiate the corner of the narrow Antwerp streets where de Kroon is located).
If you ask nicely, you can eat there too. The owner also runs the Mexican/Brazilian restaurant opposite and will take an order over to the pub. It’s a short walk yet a thousand miles away from the tourist bars on the Keyserlei in front of Central Station.
More on Vanessa’s blog
Thanks Vanessa! That’s given me plenty of ideas for a day out in Antwerp. In the meantime, why don’t you check out Nessascityblog? It’s an excellent resource for anyone living in Antwerp. Its main purpose is to provide up-to-date information about what is going on in Antwerp City. Vanessa posts on Thursday mornings with information in English and links about what’s on for the coming weekend, in or around the centre of Antwerp. Just click the photo:
Here’s a pin for you Pinterest fans:
And here’s a recommended book to discover more about Antwerp (and other cities, just click to buy):