A day in Belgium: 8 places to visit in Antwerp

When I was on my second to the last day in Europe, I was torn between visiting other cities in The Netherlands and adding one more country to my Project 25 list. I was staying with my friend in The Hague and I realized that going to Belgium was as easy and convenient as going to other Dutch cities.

I didn’t have to pass by any border controls. It would only take me one ride to get there. And my expenses would be the same.

So I decided to go to Antwerp, the nearest Belgian city from Netherlands’ southern border, for a walkabout. The cheapest way to go to Antwerp from The Hague, I found out, is to take a bus. My roundtrip bus ticket cost me only €10.

Not everything, however, worked out according to plan. I missed the bus ride going to Antwerp and had to book a train the last minute. My one-way ticket to the city cost me €20 but it took me faster to get there. Bus rides usually take 2 hours but the train ride only took less than an hour.

One of the sides of Grote Markt in the city's old quarter.
One of the sides of Grote Markt in the city’s old quarter.

I arrived in Antwerp on a rainy Wednesday morning. I had around 9 hours to see the “world’s leading diamond city” and experience life in Belgium so I didn’t waste any time.

Like many cities in Europe, Antwerp is a very walkable and bike-friendly city. Though it was drizzling when I went there, I was still able to go to all the destinations I listed in less the time I planned.

Here are the 8 places I visited in Antwerp that you might find interesting.

1) Antwerp Central Station

Fee: Free

Schedule: Open 24/7

By far, the best train station I’ve seen in all my travels. I was immediately amazed at the beautiful clock facade insides when I arrived in Antwerp Central Station. The main entrance hall was huge and looked like something straight out of fairy tail books.

The main clock facade inside Antwerp Central Station.
The main clock facade inside Antwerp Central Station.

Trains pass by in the 4 levels of this station every minute. In the ground floor are souvenir shops and cafes where passengers can kill time while waiting for their ride. From the outside, the station looks like a palace because of its masterfully-designed infrastructure.

I later found out that this station is actually ranked as the most beautiful railway station in the world in 2014 by Mashable. One thing I observed though, the security was already tight when I was there in early March – 2 weeks before the bombings in Brussels.

2) The Rubens House

Fee: €6

Schedule: 10 AM to 5 PM everyday except Mondays

A few minutes away from Central Station was The Rubens House or Rubenshuis. This museum used to be the home of Peter Paul Rubens, a famous Flemish baroque painter who was known for his Counter-Reformation artworks.

The museum now houses many of Rubens’ works and original furniture. This mini-palace also served as Rubens’ studio for his students so some of their best works are also displayed there.

Some of the most prominent, must-see paintings include “The Picture Gallery of Cornelis Van Der Geest” (1628) by William Van Hecht – Cornelis van der Geest (1555-1638) was a friend of Rubens and one of the most prominent art collectors in Antwerp during the time – and Rubens’ self-portrait.

“The Picture Gallery of Cornelis Van Der Geest” (1628) by William Van Hecht inside The Rubens House.
“The Picture Gallery of Cornelis Van Der Geest” (1628) by William Van Hecht inside The Rubens House.

The courtyard is also an amazing place to relax and be taken back to a time when this palazzo was a buzzing art hub in Antwerp.

3) Museum Mayer van den Bergh

Fee: €8

Schedule: 10 AM to 5 PM everyday except Mondays

Fritz Mayer van den Bergh was another prominent art collector from Antwerp during the 1900s. At the time of his death in 1902, his collection numbered to around 3,000 art pieces. When he died an untimely death at 43, his family converted his house into a museum. Hence, the museum is more than a hundred years old, having opened its doors for the first time in 1904.

Museum Mayer van den Bergh (left) is only a few hundred meters away from Rubenshuis.
Museum Mayer van den Bergh (left) is only a few hundred meters away from Rubenshuis.

Most of the museum’s collections revolve around religious art. There are a lot of wood carvings depicting famous scenes from the Bible and the life of Jesus. There are also a lot of portraits from the Spanish elite at that time.

When in this museum, make sure you stop by van den Bergh’s portrait by Jozef Jansenns (1901) and pay respect to this patron of art! You also need to check out “Mad Meg” (1562) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder to get a feel of Flemish folklore.

4) Cathedral of Our Lady

This church has been dominating Antwerp's skyline since 1521.
This church has been dominating Antwerp’s skyline since 1521.

Fee: €6

Schedule: Everyday

Simply known as Antwerp Cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady is one of Antwerp’s iconic landmarks.

It took 169 years (1352-521) for the cathedral to finish and looking at its towering infrastructure and masterpiece of lace work in stone, it’s not so hard to understand why. The church’s 123-meter spire is the largest in Benelux and the largest bell requires 16 ringers.

The church also serves as a museum because it houses major art works by artists like Rubens. The interior is a must-see because of its wide central nave. Aside from being a center of Belgian spirituality, this church is truly a masterpiece on its own!

5) Grote Markt/ Antwerp City Hall

Fee: Free

Schedule: Everyday

This is the first thing you see if you’re researching about Antwerp in any travel guide or website. Grote Markt or Great Market Square is the heart of the old city quarter. This square is surrounded by centuries-old buildings, amazing restaurants, and various Belgian shops.

The world-famous Brabo statue in front of Antwerp City Hall.
The world-famous Brabo statue in front of Antwerp City Hall.

At its center is the Antwerp City Hall or Stadhuis. This 1564 building has been the center of Antwerp politics and culture for the past centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage for its Renaissance façade, magnificent halls, and several artworks.

Standing in front of the city hall is the famous statue of Silvius Brabo, a mythical Roman soldier who is said to have killed a giant who threw people’s hands at the river when they couldn’t pay him. This statue is an icon of Antwerp and you need to have a photo taken here when visiting this Belgian city.

6) Het Steen

Fee: Free

Schedule: Everyday

It’s impossible to see this infrastructure when walking along the thoroughfare of Steenplein. Het Steen or Steen Castle is a medieval fortress in the old city’s port. Built in the 9th century, this castle is considered Antwerp’s oldest building.

Het Steen is a silent witness to the city's colorful, centuries-old history.
Het Steen is a silent witness to the city’s colorful, centuries-old history.

It was fortified with stone during the late 12th century, earning its current name. But it was only in the early 16th century that Het Steen was extensively rebuilt by Charles V. It was used as a prison until 1823 and then as a museum from 1862 to 2008, when its collections were transferred to Museum aan de Stroom.

The castle stone walls are beautiful but it’s not that big inside. There’s a courtyard in the middle which is now used as a workshop area for children. On top of the castle is also a good spot to sit down, drink hot chocolate and admire the river Scheldt.

7) Museum aan de Stroom

Fee: €10

Schedule: 10 AM to 5 PM everyday except Mondays

You cannot visit Antwerp and not go to this place. Museum aan de Stroom, or simply MAS, is where the city and the port, Europe’s second biggest, meet. 

Museum aan de Stroom recently opened in 2011 and is currently the biggest museum in Antwerp.
Museum aan de Stroom recently opened in 2011 and is currently the biggest museum in Antwerp.

The museum’s 8 floors tell the long history of Antwerp as a major international port. It explores themes specific to Belgian life and themes that are central to human experience like Metropolis, Power, Life and Death, and Religion.

MAS has 470,000 collections from around the world. Its exhibits are also very interactive and utilizes a lot of new media to inform guests.

On top of MAS is an amazing view of the river Scheldt and the port city. Though it was drizzling when I went up, the view of Antwerp was definitely worth it!

8) Meir

A rainy afternoon in Meir.
A rainy afternoon in Meir.

A visit to Antwerp is incomplete if you don’t shop – whether it be the city’s famous jewelry, Belgian chocolates and souvenirs, or clothes.

This boulevard is the main shopping street in Antwerp. The beautiful buildings lined up in Meir house major European and international brands, making it a wonderland for shopaholics.

Meir actually connects the city hall and Antwerp station so I had to pass by this area on my way back. Being one of the most expensive streets in Benelux, this area has the highest rent in any street in Belgium.

There are many restaurants and coffee shops here that serve good food and drinks. I didn’t find eating here as expensive as I expected so I think it’s a nice place to relax and eat up after a day of touring around.

When in Antwerp

I'd go back to this country if only to eat this kind of breakfast again.
I’d go back to this country if only to eat this kind of breakfast again.

Belgium is known for its amazing chocolates and cheese, and delicious beer. This, I discovered, was true!

I had the best hot chocolate of my life in Antwerp station and I really enjoyed the Belgian beer I had for lunch. The chocolates I brought home were also of top quality and I’d definitely go back to this country if only to buy more.

The pastry in the city was also mouthwatering. Hands down, the best croissant I ate during my Euro trip. Make sure you try these out when visiting Antwerp!

The best part about this trip? I only spent under €100 for all tickets and food, including my €20-train ride. I was even able to buy chocolates and souvenirs to bring back home.

A view of Antwerp's port from the roof deck of MAS.
A view of Antwerp’s port from the roof deck of MAS.

I walked back to Antwerp Central Station to wait for my bus back to The Hague. This time, I was an hour earlier so I wouldn’t miss my trip. Despite my earlier blunder, it was a really good decision to push through with my day trip to Belgium. In one day, I was able to appreciate and immerse in Belgian culture, history, and art.

I can’t wait to visit this country again and explore its other cities!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s