Despite received wisdom on Belgium, Antwerp is one of the best places for a city break in the continent. Located in the region of Flanders and a historical centre of international commerce due to the city’s port, which remains one of the world’s largest, Antwerp has attractions, history and culture which very few locations can match.

Originating from Gallo-Roman roots dating roughly to the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the legend states that the city name derived from the defeat of the giant Antigoon, who exacted a toll for crossing the adjacent river Scheldt, by Brabo, cutting off one of the giant’s hands and throwing it into the river (Antwerp being translated as ‘hand-throwing’). Taken by the Holy Roman Empire in the aftermath of Rome’s collapse, it was only in the 16th century that Antwerp rose to prominence, connected to the decline of Bruges. The influx of foreign trade made Antwerp the heart of the international economy and one of Europe’s largest cities by 1560, while also inaugurating a period of cultural prosperity. This continued until the 1648 Treaty of Munster closed the Scheldt for navigation, marking decline in favour of Amsterdam which would only be arrested some two centuries later when the river was reopened.

The city’s 20th century history has again revolved around the port, restoring Antwerp’s prestige and surviving Nazi bombing during the World War II occupation. It is this heritage, coupled with many other fabulous attractions, that makes Antwerp a European tourist centre.


Although the port dominates Antwerp’s history, most of the city’s finest architecture is religious in character, the main example being the Cathedral Of Our Lady. Started in 1351 but never truly completed, the Cathedral was designed by the Appelmans brothers with a beautiful Gothic façade. However, perhaps more importantly, the Cathedral houses three masterpieces by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.

Constructed between 1491 and 1656, Saint James’ Church’s connection to the upper middle class, merchants and aristocracy of Antwerp explains the lavish decorations and façade which make the building a must-see monument. Nevertheless, the Church is chiefly known as the home of the tomb of Rubens, found behind the main altar in the Chapel of Our Lady.

One of the oldest fortresses in Europe, originally built around the 10th century, Antwerp Castle was also one of the first to be made from stone (hence its popular name, ‘The Stone’) and was the home of Rubens during his later years. Although remarkable in its own right, the Castle is known as the site of the Belgian National Maritime Museum.

Found in Antwerp’s Grote Markt, the City Hall was completed in the 1560s in Renaissance style and embellished with statutes of Justice, Prudence and the Virgin Mary as well as numerous coats of arms. Also situated in the Grote Markt is the charming fountain, depicting the aforementioned legend of Brabo.

A stroll through the Zurenborg district is also recommended due to the plethora of beautiful houses in Art Deco and Jugendstil style.

The main family attraction is Antwerp Zoo. Founded in 1843, the Zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium and remains hugely popular, with some 1.3 million people visiting the roughly 5,000 animals each year.

Culture is the watchword of Antwerp, with an incredible number of museums and galleries. Perhaps the most remarkable is the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Devoted to the famous 16th century printers Christoffel Plantijn and Jan Moretus, the Museum is classified a UNESCO World Heritage site, being located in the former Plain Press establishment. As well as a truly incredible library, the Museum houses the oldest printing presses in the world. Other less conventional museums in Antwerp include the Provincial Diamantmuseum (covering the history of the diamond trade) and the ModeMuseum (surveying modern and historic clothing).

However, if you’re looking for more conventional fine art, try Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Art (containing works by such Masters as Van Dyck, Rubens and Titian as well as a special collection on 17th century Dutch art) the MUKHA gallery of contemporary art or the Rubens Museum.

Antwerp hosts a number of events and festivals during the year such as the Antwerp Book Fair, held in November at the Antwerp Expo, and the newly founded Fashion Week during late January.

Football dominates sport in Antwerp, with the main local team being KFC Germinal Beerschot, who play their games in the Jupiler League at the Olympisch Stadion. Royal Antwerp FC also reside in the city, playing in the Belgian Second Division at the Bosuilstadion.


The central shopping district in Antwerp is Meir, renowned as one of the major spots in the country.

Alternatively, the Nationalestraat, the Kammenstraat and St. Antoniusstraat specialise in high-street fashion and the Wiegstraat is filled with vendors for local produce.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Antwerp’s local cuisine is extremely diverse due to its history but is generally characterised as a mixture of French and Flemish. Local specialities include moules frites and herring, along with sweets like apple dumplings, hand-made pralines and Antwerpse handjes (sand cookies). Of the many places to eat in the city, La Lune in Italiëlei, ‘t Fornuis in Reynderstraat and Restaurant Euterpia in Gen. Capiaumontstraat are particularly impressive.

International alternatives are available such as Chinese in Van Wesenbekestraat, known as Antwerp’s Chinatown.

Antwerp has a vibrant nightlife with pubs and bars all around the Grote Markt and ‘t Zuid vicinities. Be sure to try out some of the locally brewed beers like De Koninck and liqueurs like Elixir d’Anvers.

You can find plenty of nightclubs such as the extremely popular Café d’Anvers in Verversui and Bar Tabac in Waalsekaai. The red light district of Schipperskwartier is also packed with places for drinking and dancing.

Tourist Information


Antwerp is served by Deurne International Airport, some 2 km from the centre.

International and domestic connecting flights are available regularly but only to limited destinations within the continent.

VLM Airlines (London-City and Manchester) use Deurne Airport to and from British destinations.