A city that alludes beauty in its classic historical buildings, and fascinates visitors with its mixture of history, art and fashion– Antwerp. Belgium’s second largest city is located on the river Scheldt towards the north of Belgium, and is known as the diamond central for its role in the diamond trade. With buildings to admire, museums to explore and shopping opportunities; this city is perfect for a weekend getaway, but can also be admired in a couple of hours.
Half Day in Antwerp
I was in Antwerp for 4 days for the Tomorrowland music festival in summer; but unfortunately only had the chance to explore the city for about half a day.
Antwerp is a compact city, so it was easy to get from one place to another. With the limited time I had, I decided to stroll along the old buildings, admire the sights along the way and then sit by the river with coffee and frites. I had a great time– so if you only have a couple of hours in the city, here’s my itinerary and suggestions on how you can make the most of your time:-
Antwerp’s Central Station
Antwerp’s Central Station is a marvel of its own. The architecture dates back to the 1900’s and gives the station an aura of beauty and splendour. I arrived in Antwerp by train, and walking into the station felt like a step into the past. It is such a brilliant way to welcome visitors to the city– a grand introduction to Antwerp.
The Grote Markt
The half an hour walk from Antwerp’s Central Station towards the Great Market Square passes by old historical buildings and the Carolus Borromeuskerk church. This main square sits right in the center of the city’s historical quarter and is surround by guildhalls, as well as the City Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After admiring the architecture and taking countless pictures, I made a stop at the Tourist Centre at the corner of the square.
The Brabo Fountain
This fountain in the center of the Grote Markt has an interesting legend. It tells the origins of the name “Antwerp”, which locals believe to be derived from the phrase “throwing a hand”. According to the myth– a long long time ago, a greedy troll guarded the bridge over the river Scheldt. He killed those who cross without paying the toll. One day, a brave young soldier named Brabo slayed the troll, chopped off his hand and threw it into the river. And thus, the name of the city. Brabo’s statue above the fountain is a tribute to the myth. I find the story absolutely fascinating.
Cathedral of Our Lady
Just off the main square, this Roman Catholic church is not to be missed. It is one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in Europe and the largest one in Belgium. It’s got a pretty interesting history too– the cathedral was initially designed to have two towers, but only ended up with one. The interior is majestic, with stained glass windows and the most beautiful paintings; but I preferred admiring it from the outside. To enter, its €5 for adults.
The River Scheldt
This 350km long river flows through France, Belgium and the Netherlands; and into the North Sea. Just a quick stroll from the cathedral; the promenade offers breathtaking views of the Scheldt, and the cruise terminal provides boat trips along the river. I had a good time relaxing here. Coffee and frites in my hands, sun in my face, wind in my hair… I sat by the bank and watched locals jogging pass on their evening run. There was hardly anyone around.
When translated, it means Stone Castle. It is the oldest building in the city, built in the medieval times on the banks of the Scheldt as a fortress. It was also used as a prison for more than 500 years, and also as a museum in recent times. There’s nothing much to see in the building now, but I entered anyway because admission is free. If you have time, roam around… the view from the deck is lovely.
The Alleys Near the Cathedral
After exploring the riverfront, I walked back to the cathedral to explore the beautiful alleys around it– especially the Vlaeykensgang Alley. It is lined with authentic historical buildings that will take you back to centuries gone by. Some of the buildings here now house cafes and restaurants. It was lovely just walking around, peeking through the doors and admiring the pretty terraces. I had dinner in the area.
This is another square in the old quarters of Antwerp, just beside the Cathedral of Our Lady. There is a statue of the famous local painter Rubens in the middle of the square, with many cafes and restaurants around it. I didn’t take much time to explore, at this point I was more interested in getting to the Meir!
A short walk from the square pass the Grand Bazaar, is the Meir, Antwerp’s main shopping street. It runs the entire length from the Town Hall to the Central Station. I had a fantastic time walking down this street… so many international brands to browse through, and I even stopped to listen to a few street buskers. This was my last stop for the day.
Getting Around: The city is best explored on foot; but if you get tired, just hop on one of the trams or buses. They have a fixed route, so just look at the maps at the bus stops and get on the right one. Taxis are also available.
If You Have More Time: Explore the museums and chill at the many cafes around town.
Things to Eat: Lots and lots of frites (Belgian fries), waffles and ice-cream! Top it off with some Belgian beer.