Antwerp is a Belgian city in the region of Flanders, about 40 kilometres north of the capital city Brussels. With a population of about 520’000, it is the most populous city proper in Belgium. Furthermore, its port is the second largest in Europe. Antwerp is renowned for its fashion industry and for being the world’s leading diamond city (more than 70% of all diamonds are actually traded there).
Starting point of visiting Antwerp is in general the train station, as the main public transport coming from Brussels stops there. And the majestic building of the Centraal Station is already an impressive attraction of Antwerp. As the city is rather compact, it can easily be explored on foot. Still, I also recommend to discover the city by bike. For short excursions you can use the red public bicycles which you find at various locations throughout the city.
The historic centre of Antwerp is characterized by its picturesque, winding streets and centuries-old façades. The hearth of the old city is the Grote Markt, a large market square surrounded by some beautifully restored 16th and 17th-century buildings and also its City Hall. Close-by you will also see Antwerp’s most famous landmark, the Cathedral of Our Lady. Inside the cathedral there are four masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, a famous painter considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition.
Another beautiful church I highly recommend to visit is the Sint-Carolis Borromeuskerk (St.Charles Borromeo Church), also located in the old city centre. It is a perfect example of Baroque architecture, built between 1614 and 1621. The decoration of the facade, the top of the tower and many paintings inside the church are also the work of Rubens.
And if you want to enjoy a magnificent view of Antwerp’s city centre skyline, you will need to cross the Scheldt river. The best way to do that is to use the Sint-Annatunnel (St. Anna’s Tunnel), an underwater pedestrian tunnel to a depth of around 30 metres. The original wooden escalators from 1933 are also an interesting architectural heritage to admire.
In Antwerp you will also have the opportunity to visit many great museums. I’m particularly interested in art museums and therefore I visited the M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (a leading museum of contemporary visual arts, film and sculptures), as well the Museum De Reede (a new museum dedicated to three masters of graphic arts Francisco Goya, Félicien Rops and Edvard Munch).
My favorite museum visit was the MAS – Museum aan de Stroom, located in the old dockside neighbourhood. Besides its exhibition, the museum building is also an architectural highlight of the city. You can take a free escalator to the panoramic roof on the 10th floor to enjoy breathtaking views across the city and its port.
About 1 kilometre further on, you will spot Antwerp’s newest landmark called Havenhuis. The port house is a former fire station that was expanded upon by famous Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, creating a building shaped like a ship, with its glass walls reflecting light and water like a diamond. Another architectural highlight is the Parkbrug, a bicycle bridge connecting the port district with the panoramic green park Park Spoor Noord.
I also visited two further locations called Lier and Mechelen. Both towns are located in the province of Antwerp and can be reached by train (each time about 30min ride). In Lier you can see an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Béguinage of Lier founded in 1258. It’s an architectural complex where an enclosed community of religious widows and unmarried women have lived during Middle Age. In Mechelen I recommend you to visit the St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, built in the 13th century. The inside of the cathedral is very impressive and you can also climp up the stairs of the 97-metre tall cathedral tower to enjoy an amazing view on Mechelen.