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What to do in Antwerp: 5 Top Tips

Discover Antwerp Belgium

Want to discover more about Antwerp? Here are five favourite places in the city that are well worth exploring, by local expert Vanessa McCulloch.

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.

A museum that draws me back for repeated visits 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.

Red Star Line museum in Antwerp

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.

What to do in Antwerp: the Meir Stadsfeestzaal

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.

Antwerp market

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 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.

park spoor noord_1280x750
© Dave Van Laere, Visit Antwerp

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 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 a great pleasure 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).

Kroon can Hopland in What to do in Antwerp

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.


18 thoughts on “What to do in Antwerp: 5 Top Tips”

  1. Antwerp seems to be a wonderful place to visit. The Exotic Market reminds me of the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, a place I’ve loved since I was a teenager. Food and merchandise from all over the world and interesting people to talk to.

    1. Despite more online shopping, these kinds of markets still seem to be highly popular don’t they Sharon? Hopefully they will remain so.

      1. I hope so too. I like the interaction with other shoppers and the store clerks. I like looking, feeling fabric and materials, seeing the construction of things. If it’s food, I have to hold it in my hands – that tells a lot about freshness and taste. Can’t get that gut sense from a tiny photo.

    1. Yes Anabel those are the museums I like best: a trip into the past with relevance to the present, and future.

  2. Definitely recommend the Red Star Line Museum, been there few weeks ago, a top museum! Great blogpost, as usual:)

    1. Thanks for your recommendation and kind comments. Red Star Line certainly seems to be scoring highly amongst my readers.

  3. It’s been great to be able to share these places with you on Discovering Belgium.
    So nice to read these positive comments, and I hope that Discovering Belgium readers will visit Antwerp (and too of course) 🙂 x

  4. I hear you about jumping on a train (or plane), Denzil, to check out Vanessa’s picks in Antwerp. They all sound appealing. What a great choice! That city has so much more to offer than I ever thought. Too bad the Red Star Line museum is closed this summer (they could have picked another, less touristy season to do this!), since I might have wanted to visit it.

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