The Perfect 1, 2 or 3 Days in Antwerp Itinerary

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by Lizzie Fitzgerald


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With so much to see and do, you can easily spend 1, 2 or 3 days in Antwerp exploring its trendy neighbourhoods and charming historical centre. This Antwerp itinerary includes everything from amazing museums and architectural gems to glittering jewels, the Grote Markt and its gorgeous central train station.

Home to Europe’s second-largest port, the cosmopolitan city is also famed for its fashion scene and fun nightlife. Although oft-overlooked in favour of Bruges, the ‘Diamond Capital of the World’ is certainly one of the best places to visit in Belgium.

How Many Days in Antwerp?

As the Flemish city has so much going for it, it can be hard to know how many days to spend in Antwerp. While a weekend is probably the perfect amount of time, you can see many of its main sights in just a day. Add an extra one and you can even fit in some fun day trips too!

1 day in Antwerp is just enough for you to see the historic centre, its giant Gothic cathedral and castle. Aside from admiring all its incredible architecture, you could also stop by a museum and experience some pounding nightlife.

With 2 days or a weekend in Antwerp, you can really get a grasp of its different sides by exploring its diamond district, fashion mile and fantastic food options. You can also fit in another museum, some more bars or check out its famous zoo if you fancy it!

As Belgium is quite small and easy to travel about, most people with 3 days head to either Brussels, Ghent or Bruges on their third day. All great options, each city has its own look, feel and identity for you to delve into.

Antwerp's Grote Markt
Antwerp’s Grote Markt

Getting To & Around Antwerp

Located in the north of Belgium, not far from the Dutch border, Antwerp is well connected to the rest of the country and Europe as a whole. Once you arrive, you can walk almost everywhere or cycle and get the bus or tram if you need to.

While its small airport mainly caters to business travellers, a direct train whisks you to Brussels Airport in just half an hour. Set on the outskirts of the capital, it has daily flights to the rest of the EU as well as Africa, Asia and the USA. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is another major transport hub that lies two hours away by train.

Besides being absolutely beautiful, Antwerp Central Station has hourly trains to Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. While the first two take around 45 minutes to an hour to reach, the latter lies almost two hours away. You can view train schedules here.

Other popular day trip options or arrival points by train include Amsterdam and Rotterdam across the border in the Netherlands. These respectively take roughly two hours and one hour to arrive at.

Although most of Antwerp’s main sites are within easy walking distance of one another, you can always hop on a bus or tram if you need to. For these, you can either buy tickets from vending machines at certain stops or in supermarkets and newsagents.

There is also an app you can use on your phone with contactless payments onboard also working if you don’t want to download it.

Another fun option is to rent a bike for the day or for a couple of hours and merrily cycle about its quaint old streets and historic centre!

Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp Central Station

1, 2 or 3-Day in Antwerp Itinerary

Day 1 – Top Attractions in Antwerp

On the first day of your trip to Antwerp, you’ll see most of its main sites and sample some of its exciting bars and nightlife! To learn more about the city, you can take a walking tour or this bike tour with a guide.

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station

If you arrive in Antwerp by train then you’re straight away in for an architectural treat. If not, then you definitely have to find the time to visit its spectacular station at some point! One of the most beautiful in the world, it exhibits an astounding mix of neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau styles.

After ogling at its elegant entrance hall and fetching facade, make your way slowly to the Grote Markt, some twenty minutes’ walk away.

The Grote Markt

The city’s central square, the Grote Markt is located right in its historic heart. Lined by sixteenth-century guildhalls with exquisite facades, it also contains Antwerp’s ravishing Renaissance Town Hall.

In its centre is the 1887 Brabo Fountain which depicts the local legend after which the city is possibly named. In any case, its bronze sculpture of Brabo tossing a giant’s hand into the River Scheldt certainly makes for some fabulous photos.

The Cathedral of Our Lady

Towering above the square is the ginormous Gothic-style spire of the Antwerp Cathedral – known as the Cathedral of Our Lady.

The tallest church in the Low Countries, it stands 123 metres in height but has never actually been ‘completed’. Built between 1352 and 1521, its enormous interior hosts a lot of noteworthy tombs and impressive religious artworks.

To see yet more statues and icons, head to the atmospheric Elfde Gebod bar right next to it. It has a great selection of beers, a cool inside and lovely views of the cathedral from its terrace outside.

Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp
Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp

Het Steen

After your beer break, head down to the riverfront to see Het Steen; the oldest building in all of Antwerp. Lying alongside the Scheldt, the small but sturdy thirteenth-century fortress contains a visitor centre and interactive exhibits on the city’s age-old past.

Very well-preserved, it lies at the start of a scenic riverwalk which takes you down to our next site: the amazing MAS museum.

The MAS Museum

In contrast to the castle, MAS is an arresting feat of modern architecture. Instantly recognisable from its remarkable red sandstone and glass panel exterior, it towers sixty metres over the river and harbour below.

Dedicated to Antwerp and its connection to the world, the museum’s exhibits cover everything from international shipping and trade to art, culture and history around Europe and even further afield. From its observation deck, you can enjoy some of the best views of the city stretching away before you.

Enjoy Antwerp’s Nightlife

As Antwerp is known for its nightlife and has a youthful, dynamic population, and if you have only 24 hours in Antwerp, make sure to hit up some bars or clubs once the sun starts to set.

Two classics are Den Engel and Paters Vaetje as they both boast charming old-style interiors, and have lots of beers to try and lie alongside the Grote Markt. De Vagant is another great option if you want to sip some strong Belgian jenevers.

After a couple of drinks and some live music at De Muze, you can dance the night away at notorious clubs like Ampere and IKON. If you only have this one day in Antwerp, you’ve certainly packed a lot of different things in!

Grote Mark at twilight
Grote Mark at twilight

Day 2 – The Diamond District, Museums & Antwerp Zoo

If you have 2 days in Antwerp, you’ll have the time to explore a couple more neighbourhoods, stop by some more museums and maybe visit the zoo if you feel like it! If you’re planning on spending more time than just Antwerp in a day, then you’re sure to love all of these activities on the second day!

The Diamond District

Set right next to the train station are the countless jewellery shops and sparkling windows of the Diamond District. Incredibly enough, 85% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through this area each and every year.

Hundreds of workshops and brokers operate here with the lavish industry mainly being dominated by the city’s Jewish, Jain, Armenian and Lebanese communities.

Aside from gazing at glittering gems and admiring intricately crafted necklaces, rings and earrings, you can take tours to learn more about how diamonds are cut, polished and valued.

Meir

One of the most famous shopping streets in all Belgium, Meir stretches all the way from the train station to the town hall. Besides being bordered by tons of chic shops and brand stores, it takes you past some interesting historic sights with plenty of beautiful old buildings lining the route.

An absolute must for fashionistas, its big brands encompass everyone from Nike and Ralph Lauren to Dior and Zara. You can always head inside the Stadsfeestzaal for yet more upscale shops in an opulent old building or to some of the nearby streets which house Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

Meir Street
Meir

Rubenshuis

Midway along Meir is the quaint old Rubenshuis (Rubens House); the former home and workshop of the famous Flemish master. Now open as a museum, it displays numerous paintings by Peter Paul Rubens as well as some sculptures, tapestries and period furniture too.

The look of the 1610 Italian-style villa, courtyard and gardens is almost as impressive as all the arresting artworks themselves. Its well-done exhibits also explain more about his life, times and the country’s rich artistic heritage.

Red Star Line Museum

Another museum that is well worth checking out if you have the time and energy is the Red Star Line Museum. Located near MAS, it shines a light on the more than three million people who passed through Antwerp on their way to new lives in the US.

Through displays, photos and videos, it presents the history of the Belgian shipping company in an enthralling manner.

Antwerpen-Noord

If you want to see a different side of the city entirely, then head to the area directly north of the station. Amazingly diverse, it has everything from Afghan restaurants and Afro-Caribbean stores to Turkish kebab shops, Tibetan cafes and even a small Chinatown.

A fun place to explore, the multicultural neighbourhood is often overlooked, even by visitors who have more than a day or two on their visit to Antwerp.

Unlike the Diamond District and Meir, it is very down-to-earth with each little local Indian, Iraqi or Vietnamese restaurant appearing even more appealing than the last!

Antwerp Zoo

Also located right next to the train station is the historic Antwerp Zoo which is impressively one of the oldest in the world. Visiting this zoo is one of the best things to do in Antwerp.

Founded back in 1843, its spacious enclosures now house over 6,000 animals of more than 1,160 different species. While ambling about, you can therefore see lions and jaguars alongside elephants, giraffes and gorillas.

Its elaborate Art Nouveau buildings also contain an aquarium and restaurant while penguin feeding sessions and sea lion shows are put on daily.

If you want to see as much as possible of Antwerp in 2 days, it is well worth including the zoo on your list of things to do.

Antwerp Zoo
Antwerp Zoo

Day 3 – Day Trip to Bruges, Brussels or Ghent

As most travellers usually feel they’ve seen enough after spending 2 days during their trip to Antwerp, the third is usually spent exploring some of the enticing destinations nearby.

While Mechelen, Lier and Aalst are all attractive options, the larger and more famous cities of Ghent, Bruges and Brussels have much more to see and do. Some people also like to hop across the nearby border to see Rotterdam’s amazing modern architecture.

Bruges

Although it takes a bit longer to reach than the other day trip options, Bruges is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in Belgium. After arriving at its station from Antwerp via Ghent, just follow the crowds towards its historic centre, some fifteen minutes’ walk away.

Visible for countless kilometres around, the enormous Belfry of Bruges rises dramatically above the Grote Markt at its foot. Aside from snapping some photos of the 83-metre-tall tower, you can also clamber up it for some lovely views over the city’s rooftops down below.

Other than checking out the pretty townhouses and lively restaurants lining its main square, you can make your way to the Basilica of the Holy Blood nearby. Besides exhibiting some exquisite architecture, it boasts a very important relic that is said to contain the blood of Jesus Christ.

In addition to wandering about its picturesque cobbled streets and canals, many visitors stop by the excellent Groeninge Museum for its many artistic treasures by Flemish masters. Thanks to its arresting aesthetic and ambience, the ‘Venice of the North’ definitely makes for a memorable day trip if you have the time.

Canals of Bruges
Canals of Bruges

Ghent

Another popular place people fit into their visit to Antwerp is Ghent; a gorgeous university city that has a small but scenic centre. Thanks to its sizeable student population, it also has a much livelier feel with some great nightlife being on offer.

At its heart are three centuries-old towers that are all lined up in a row one after the other. From St. Michael’s Bridge, you can enjoy the best view of their soaring spires rising up before you. The Belfry of Ghent and St. Bavo’s Cathedral also offer epic panoramas over the city from up high.

The latter also houses the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – an incredible 1432 altarpiece made by Jan van Eyck. More statues and religious artworks can be seen in the cavernous Saint Nicholas’ Church right next to it.

Just a stone’s throw from its three prominent landmarks are the charming Graslei and Korenlei quays down by the canal. As well as admiring the fine old buildings along beside them, you can sit at a cafe’s patio for a coffee or beer or take a romantic boat trip along the river.

These lead to the hulking great Gravensteen Castle which has protected the city since the tenth century.

After all the sightseeing and days spent exploring Antwerp, you can relax with a strong Belgian beer at the Dulle Griet. The traditional bar has more than 500 local brews for you to get through in a cosy setting before heading on to some other fun nightlife spots nearby.

Gravensteen Castle
Gravensteen Castle

Brussels

The capital of the country, Brussels is an increasingly attractive city to explore that only lies forty minutes from Antwerp by train. Perhaps most known for housing the European institutions, the multicultural metropolis also has some awesome attractions and neighbourhoods to check out.

Its standout site is without doubt the Grand Place – the absolutely spellbinding square right at its heart. Hemmed in on all sides by gold-clad guild houses, its old cobbles lie just a short walk from another iconic attraction. Known as Manneken Pis, the somewhat unusual yet endearing statue depicts a small boy peeing.

After grabbing a waffle, you can amble around the oldest part of Brussels, Les Marolles, and the chic, expensive Sablon. Located right next to one another, they contain countless antique shops and some impressive old churches. A fun flea market also takes place every day at the former.

Also within walking distance is the regal Royal Palace of Brussels. Here you can take some pics of its fantastic facade and wander around the pretty park in front of it. A couple of superb art and music museums also lie alongside it as does the magnificent Mont des Arts viewpoint.

To finish the day off, head down the hill to the world-famous Delirium Cafe. Always packed with locals and tourists, it remarkably has over 2,000 beers for you to try. An absolute must, its lively ambience is sure to entice you back to Brussels, Antwerp and Belgium again!

The Grand Place in Brussels
The Grand Place in Brussels

Where to Stay in Antwerp

Citybox Antwerp – Mid-range travellers visiting the city of Antwerp will love this centrally-located 3-star hotel. They have a number of lovely rooms to choose from and an excellent location for exploring all this Belgian city has to offer.

Hotel Rubens-Grote Markt – If you’re travelling on a bit of a higher budget, then you’re sure to love this luxury hotel in the centre of Antwerp city. There are countless plush rooms on offer along with a number of great amenities to ensure guests want for nothing during their stay.

Yust Antwerp – This hostel is a great choice for budget travellers or for those looking for a great social atmosphere. Highly-rated and centrally-located, they offer both private rooms and dorm beds along with a lot of other perks to ensure you have a great time in this Belgian city!

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Antwerp hotels!

So there you have it. Antwerp in 3 days (and a couple of other cities too!). Loads of fun to explore, the cool city has something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a fashionista or diamond trader, history lover or hardcore clubber, Antwerp certainly won’t disappoint!

Are you planning to visit Antwerp? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Lizzie is a writer for The World Was Here First. She loves travelling and discovering new places but also often finds herself returning to her favourite destinations. She has a particular affinity for Greece where she has visited countless islands and destinations on the mainland.

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