An hour and a half’s drive from the port of Zeebrugge brings you to Antwerp, the most expansive city in Belgium. Bursting with sophistication, style and Flemish heritage, it’s home to some of country’s best architecture, fashion outlets and food. For those on a flying visit, we’ve put together a list of must-see sights to ensure you make the most out of a day trip to Antwerp.
As you arrive in this wonderful city, take a few moments to admire the magnificence of the Central Station. With its soaring glass ceiling, triple layered train platforms and marble hall, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. Time to grab a bite to eat, and the many nearby waffle shops make a fine way to make your first dip into Belgian culture. Don’t be afraid to indulge in a traditional chocolate sauce topping! After breakfast, spend the rest of your morning exploring one of the world’s oldest zoos, just a five-minute walk away. Established in 1843, this animal kingdom is home to 950 species, including crowd pleasers like King penguins, Siberian tigers and Asian elephants.
A Spot of Shopping
Before heading into the centre, grab a freshly brewed coffee and explore Antwerp’s famous Diamond Quarter on Pelikaanstraat. With 85 per cent of the world’s diamonds coming through the city, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the sparkling brilliance of these gemstones while window shopping. Next, head down De Keyserlei towards the Meir, Antwerp’s biggest shopping street. Whilst easily walkable, why not hop onto one of the city’s Velo bikes – free for the first half hour of use – for the journey? Well known for its fashion credentials, the mostly pedestrianised Meir is home to the Stadsfeestzaal (City Festival Hall). Originally constructed in 1906, the grand building suffered extensive fire damage in 2000, but has since been beautifully restored. Now featuring a sweeping marble staircase and mosaic floor under the cover of a huge glass dome, it houses everything from chain stores to alternative shopping destinations.
Tired out from all the shopping? Before heading to the next sightseeing spot, indulge in a delicacy the Belgians claim to have invented before their French neighbours, the potato frite. Served on their own with lashings of mayonnaise or alongside a steaming pot of fresh mussels, you’ll find them the perfect way to refuel after a busy morning. After lunching, continue to the end of the Meir to gaze in awe at the brilliance of the Cathedral of Our Lady. This remarkable feat of Gothic architecture has a 123-metre tower that rises proudly over the city and houses some of the most monumental works by Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens – ‘The Raising of the Cross’ and ‘The Deposition’ – each characterised by extravagant colours, movement and sensuality.
The Magic Hour
To round off a busy day, make a trip to the old quarter and the Grote Markt. The town square contains the City Hall, guildhalls and Brabo fountain – some of the city’s greatest landmarks. There is no better way to see the sun go down than cycling along the bank of the Scheldt, so pick up another bike from the numerous stations scattered across Antwerp to enjoy this relaxing ride. Just be sure to keep an eye out for a great riverside restaurant to enjoy a spot of supper at the end of your trip.
If this has inspired you, check out our adventure page for more great ideas.