Antwerp city breaks
Move over, Bruges… it's Antwerp's time to shine
Your ultimate guide to Antwerp holidays and city breaks
If you're keen to see a new side to Belgium, make a break for Antwerp. There’s nothing twee or chocolate box about this vibrant, unpretentious city on the Scheldt. With a growing reputation as a fashion centre, it's a must for shoppers, while art and architecture aficionados can stroll among baroque masterpieces and Belle Époque mansions. And don't forget the diamonds. Antwerp is the centre of the gem's trade in Europe, so if you're planning to pop the question, where better?
It's easy to travel with Eurostar to Antwerp. Simply book an Any Belgian Station ticket, then switch to a local train when you arrive at Brussels Midi/Zuid.
Things to do in Antwerp
From iconic architecture to tip-top shopping, excellent museums to friendly bars and bistros, Belgium’s second city is buzzing with things to see and do. Don't just take our word for it though. Dodge the crowds in Brussels and Bruges and book a short break in Antwerp to explore for yourself.
Antwerp's ancient market place is a stunning example of a typical Flemish town square: a cobblestone plaza lined with medieval step-roofed houses.
Don't miss the fountain in the middle, which depicts a local legend showing Brabo, a Roman soldier, throwing the severed hand of a giant, called Antigoon, into the river.
It's said the name Antwerp is derived from the Dutch ‘hand werpen’ (throw a hand) and you'll spot the hand motif everywhere, even down to chocolates and biscuits.
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerpen
Leopold de Waelplaats 2, 2000
After more than ten years of renovation, the KMSKA is back – bigger, brighter and even more beautiful.
If you can take your eyes off the architecture, there are seven centuries of art to explore, from Rubens and van Eyck, to the largest collection of James Ensor and Rik Wouters in the world.
Make sure you save time for a stroll through the new garden, too. Dotted with sculptures, it's a little haven of calm.
Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000
Housed in a strikingly modern building in the hip Eilandje docklands area, the Museum aan de Stroom is dedicated to the history of Antwerp.
MAS has a huge collection of exhibits across its ten floors, so there’s plenty to see. Another major draw is the roof terrace with its spectacular views of the city and the port.
Picnicking on the roof or in the glass ‘boulevard’ that winds its way up through the building is actively encouraged, so bring some snacks and borrow a free rug from reception.
Home to Cogels-Osylei, the city's most beautiful street, this pretty district is an art nouveau-lover's dream.
Hop on a tram to Berchem and pick up a walking guide at the station, then take your time strolling among Antwerp's lovingly preserved Belle Époque buildings.
For a pit-stop, drop in at one of the friendly restaurants or bars dotted around the edge of Dageraadplaats. Our favourite is laidback Café ZeeZicht.
Shop till you drop
Boasting both local and international names, Nationalestraat is the city’s most stylish street, while neighbouring Kammenstraat has an edgier feel, with its denim, skate and sneaker stores.
For antique-seekers, Kloosterstraat is lined with fascinating shops selling everything from 70s ceramics to art deco chandeliers, via vintage postcards and classic vinyl.
Foodies should make a beeline for Wilde Zee to dip in and out of excellent delis, chocolatiers and bakeries like Philip's Biscuits. Make time too for a light, crunchy lacquemant – the addictive, syrupy sister of the traditional Belgian waffle.
Best insider tips for Antwerp
Sip a seefbier – following a revival in 2012, this pale, 19th-century beer is booming again in Antwerp. Independent Antwerpse Brouw Compagnie is a great place to have a quick snifter, along with a guided tour of the brewery.
Shop on a Saturday – shops in Antwerp are shut on all but the first Sunday of the month, so if you're only in town for a weekend, make sure you get your retail fix on the Saturday.
Buy tram tickets in advance – paying as you board costs more, so get your tickets beforehand at a supermarket, newsagent or the vending machine at the stop.
Best restaurants in Antwerp
Whether you're into fine dining or traditional dishes, tasty cakes and coffee, or Asian food and incredible cocktails, the city's not short of places to eat. If you're wondering where to eat in Antwerp, we've picked a few of our favourites to whet your appetite.
Volkstraat 11, 2000
At the northern end of Volkstraat, this small but charismatic café punches well above its weight.
A giant coffee machine hums on the white-tiled counter, producing brews with beans from local micro coffee roasters, Andy.
All-day breakfasts include herby shakshuka, waffles and pain perdu; lunch brings leafy salads and superior sandwiches (the honey-glazed chicken is a favourite).
Scheldestraat 79, 2000
Everyone loves this tiny café-slash-bookstore, squirrelled away on a side-street, from literary types and local families to snap-happy Instagrammers.
Inside, its trailing plants and tranquil nooks couldn’t be more inviting, while its shelves are stocked with classic reads, kids’ books and graphic novels.
Turn a few pages over coffee and the pastry of the day, or drop by for a simple but tasty breakfast or lunch.
Volkstraat 43, 2000
Bún’s original outpost focused on Vietnamese street food and phở, but its sleek Volkstraat follow-up is all about fine dining.
Kick off with cocktails in the bar – try a lemongrass-infused Qui Nhon Mule – then share a succession of deliciously inventive dishes.
Ingredients are sourced from the best local producers; think smoked pork rib with cucumber and daikon salad, or Zeeland oysters with lime and chilli.
Ernest Van Dijckkaai 37, 2000
For lunch or dinner with a view, riverside Ras is hard to beat.
With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Scheldt and a small but perfectly formed menu, it's a great place to soak up the city's maritime vibe.
On warm days, the outdoor terrace is a must, accompanied by a sundowner and a rich bowl of lobster linguine or Iberico pork with bacon and an indulgent port-based gravy.
Van Schoonbekestraat 186, 2018
Traditional Belgian food is a hearty affair, but it's served with a light touch to delicious effect at this friendly neighbourhood bistro.
Think stoofvlees (beef stew) with chicory salad and crisp, melt-in-the-mouth cheese and shrimp croquettes, all washed down with a golden glass of Belgian beer.
The pretty park across the road is an ideal spot for a post-lunch stroll, or to work up an appetite en route to the restaurant.
Frequently asked questions about taking a city break in Antwerp
If you want to discover a less-touristy side to Belgium than Bruges and Brussels can offer, Antwerp is the city for you.
With its cobbled square, traditional architecture, abundance of chocolate shops and beer-sampling spots, it ticks a lot of the Belgian boxes, without drawing the big crowds of the other cities.
36 hours in Antwerp will allow you to see the city's main sights, but why not set aside time for a more leisurely visit?
Yes – you'll find everything from club nights to cocktails with jazz, and everything in between.
Head under the railway tracks for Belgium’s first ‘eco-club’, Ampère, for techno nights and top Belgian DJs.
Fresh, unexpected ingredients (think aloe vera, hoisin or chipotle) grace the libations at Dogma Cocktails, a classy, 1920s-style speakeasy with lounge-worthy Chesterfields.
Hot and happening since 1964, three-floor brown bar De Muze is soundtracked by regular jazz and blues acts.
And what better way to fuel the wander home than with a stop at Frituur No 1, the old town’s favourite late-night frites spot? Top yours with curry sauce, pickles or just a dollop of mayo. Delicious.
Antwerp has for centuries been the centre of the diamond trade in Europe, but in recent years and thanks to the 'Antwerp Six' it's built a reputation as a fashion hot spot.
It's now home to several designers and their boutiques, along with all the mainstream labels and international brands you'd expect.
Absolutely. Antwerp is pretty compact and most of its sights are in the centre, so walking is probably your number one option.
If you want to go further afield or the weather isn’t great, trams and buses are a cheap and easy alternative.
You can buy one-, three- or five-day passes, or opt for an Antwerp City Card for free use of public transport and discounts at most museums and monuments.
Thalys is becoming Eurostar, so from now on, you’ll be able to take our trains to Antwerp directly from Paris (and connect from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Paris via high-speed trains).
Address: Koningin Astridplein 27
Finding your way: See the map to orientate yourself when you arrive.
Phone number: +32 (0) 2 528 28 28
Facilities: Car park, bike park, luggage lockers
Lost and found: If you’ve lost something on your journey please see the advice here.
Public transport: On Eurostar’s trains across Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany you can buy your ticket for public transport at the Eurostar Café, at the same price as buying a single ticket at the ticket desk. Search for details of your onward journey using public transport
Connecting trains: Check timetables in real time for your connecting trains
Airport connections: Antwerp International Airport
Book a taxi & pick-up service: My Driver
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London to Antwerp trains
Antwerp is an eclectic mix of high fashion and old-world charm. It’s also a world centre for the diamond trade if you’re ring shopping, or just feeling flush.