How to spend one day in Antwerp, Belgium
One day itinerary for Antwerp
While Belgium is a relatively small country, it’s great rail connections make its major cities very explorable for the weekend warrior. Antwerp is a very cool city. Bordering The Netherlands, it has a strong mix of Belgian and Dutch influences; a great dining culture, quirky architecture and excellent cycling paths.
1. Exotic Food Market
If you are in Antwerp on a Saturday you’re in luck; this is the only day the Exotic Food Market opens. Running from 8am to 4pm, this market is stocked with local vendors selling the best Antwerp has to offer. Of course there are the typical flower and fruit stalls, but what I loved were the fresh seafood and champagne pop-ups and waffles cooked fresh and sold by the bag. I had some lobster croquettes and prosecco to start our day in Antwerp and it really set the scene for an amazing weekend away. The bag of waffles also kept me going through the rest of the day (read: next thirty minutes). My favourites were the white chocolate and the pineapple flavours.
2. Antwerp Bike Tours
Typically leaving my planning to the last minute, it was only on the train to Antwerp that I looked into walking tours. I quickly realised this wasn’t going to be the best way to see the city. Antwerp Bike Tours was highly rated and with the sun shining through the windows I booked a spot on the afternoon tour online. The guides were so friendly, catering to all levels of experience, and the route took us right across the city past all the major sites. On the three hour tours, we ventured through the suburbs with interesting points of architecture pointed out by our guide, and then under the river through the bike tunnel that runs to Antwerp’s west bank (Antwerp doesn’t have any bridges, just tunnels!). We took a break at the museum precinct to the North, which gave us time to explore the museum (a must-see in its own right).
3. MAS Museum
Museum aan de Stroom, or MAS museum, is a striking building housing modern art exhibitions usually related to the city’s heritage in some way. It’s free to enter and make your way through the building to the rooftop, with most exhibitions requiring an entry fee. However, there are works displayed in the corridors as you walk to the rooftop, so even if you don’t have the cash to spare it is definitely worth a look – if not for the art, then for the view of the city from the top. The precinct around the museum is also lovely – some would call it ‘hipster’ – with modern coffee shops, bars and restaurants all around.
4. Belgium Beer Tasting
When in Belgium, do as the Belgians do – drink some beer! There are, of course, many places to try some traditional beer so you can really take your pick. After my healthy bike ride I wasn’t in the mood for a huge session so chose a quirky bar called Elfde Gebod to sample some of the local brews. I had been recommended anything made by monks from a friend so I went in that direction, and while I can’t remember exactly what it was called, it was delicious. I don’t think you can go wrong to be honest.
5. Grote Markt & Riverside
At the end of your day in Antwerp, head to Grote Markt (market square) and take a stroll through the old town and through to the riverside. I managed to reach the river right on sunset so it was an absolutely lovely walk. The old town area is full of restaurants, so if you stay in Antwerp for dinner you can really take your pick of cuisine and ambience. It can get busy in peak summertime season so if you have your heart set on anything in particular you should book in advance.
Transport in Antwerp
The best way to get to Antwerp from London and probably most European cities is via train, connecting via Brussels. I’m a big advocate for the Eurostar, even if it’s a little more pricey than flights it is so comfortable and easy dropping you right in the city center in either direction of travel. Antwerps Central Train Station is also absolutely beautiful, so a great place to kick off your exploration of the city.
Once there, Antwerp has great cycling and walking paths so it is very easy to get around and see the city while you do it.
How much I spent in a day in Antwerp
Eurostar return from London: £105
Brunch at Exotic Food Markets: £20
Three hour cycling tour: £21
One day total: £151
Make a weekend of it
I booked my accommodation on the day (as I said earlier, I was typically well organised for this trip!) at Hotel Banks, which turned out to be a great choice. It was in a good location between the tourist hot spots I explored on day one to the North, and the local hidden secrets I discovered on day two to the South. They also offered a complimentary snack bar with free beer and wine for happy hour – what more can I say, a big tick in my book!
On day two I headed down to Zuid for breakfast at Charlie’s, it was the only real place I could find the type of big ‘brunch’ style breakfast I was craving but it was worth the search as it really hit the spot. Afterwards I walked back towards the river and market square along Kloosterstraat, where there is a cluster of antique stores, vintage shops and art galleries that open onto the streets on a Sunday. It’s busy, but has great vibes and is a nice way to finish your weekend. Another plus of train travel is no baggage limits, which means you can pick up a few souvenirs!
How much I spent in a weekend in Antwerp
Day one: £151
Dinner in Grote Markt: £30
Accommodation at Hotel Banks: £85 (double room)
Day two: £20 for breakfast
Weekend total: £286
My trip highlights
The biggest highlight of Antwerp for me was the ambience of the city, which sounds weird I know, but it just had such a great general vibe to it. The cafes, restaurants, pathways and people all came together to give the city such a liveable feel.
Another highlight, obviously, is the chocolate. It is everywhere, so make sure you buy some. I opted for the Antwerp hand shaped pack to take back to my work colleagues. The hand of Antwerp is embedded in the cities history, with a myth around a soldier and a giant said to be the story behind Antwerp getting its name. ‘Antwerpen’ comes from the Dutch word ‘hand-werpen’ or hand throwing. To find out how hand-throwing and a giant come together, you’ll just have to head to the city yourself!
This trip was also my first discovery of the fanfare street band. When we were searching for a spot for dinner, we came across a group of guys with brass instruments doing their take on a mix of classics and modern tunes. I’ve since seen these types of bands across central Europe. Check ‘fanfare street band’ out on YouTube. So much fun to see live!
If you have the time to make the trip, I can highly recommend Antwerp in Belgium. Possibly one that might be overlooked in favour of bustling Brussels or picturesque Bruges, you won’t regret cruising to the sights, sounds and bags of waffles Antwerp has to offer.