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Brabo fountain | © Sigridspinnox.com / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp
Brabo fountain | © Sigridspinnox.com / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp
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20 Must-Visit Attractions in Antwerp

Picture of Nana Van De Poel
Updated: 2 June 2017
Known as the cool kid on the block in Belgium, Antwerp combines all the charms of a historic port city with all the joys of a fashionable frontrunner. Its 20 must-visit attractions include grand artist residences, architectural masterpieces—both old and new—and a bunch of exciting museums.
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The MAS

This giant Lego® brick-like structure lies in the heart of an old harbor neighborhood that’s been revamped by its presence. Either admire urban vistas from the MAS’s nine-floored horizontal boulevard (open for free to the public until 10 pm—midnight in the summer months) or learn about Antwerp’s historic status as a major European port inside.

MAS, Hanzestedenplaats 1, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 338 44 00

MAS Museum | © Sarah Blee | Neutelings Riedijk Architecten / Visit Antwerp

MAS Museum | © Sarah Blee | Neutelings Riedijk Architecten / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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Red Star Line Museum

Those 12 million immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the first half of the 20th century, looking to live the American dream? A great number of them set sail from Antwerp. At the Red Star Line Museum, housed in the old warehouses of the shipping company that sent steamer after steamer full of people westwards, the odyssey of these dreamers is laid out with an impressive eye for both detail and historical context.

Red Star Line Museum, Montevideostraat 3, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 298 27 70

Red Star Line Museum | © Dave Van Laere / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Red Star Line Museum | © Dave Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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Het Eilandje

Both the MAS and the Red Star Line have become large attractions in Het Eilandje, an abandoned port district until a decade ago. As the news and the excitement about the MAS project spread, coffee bars, artist ateliers and repurposed warehouses flowered to comfortably overtake Het Zuid as the hippest district in the city.

Het Eilandje, Antwerp, Belgium

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Het Zuid

Even without a specific restaurant in mind, a stroll down Het Zuid’s terraces at dinner time has the mouth watering in seconds. Trendy restaurants and cafés dot the historic neighborhood’s wide boulevards and squares. The afternoon running up to the meal is well spent exploring the FoMu photo museum, the MoMu fashion museum, the stately Museum of Contemporary Art, or a couple of its many art galleries.

Het Zuid, Antwerp, Belgium

MoMu fashion museum | © Dave Van Laere / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

MoMu fashion museum | © Dave Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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The Port House

When challenged to incorporate an old protected fire station into the city’s new international Port House, Zaha Hadid Architects decided to plop quite the juxtaposition on top. The monument now carries a glittering, glass-covered expansion simultaneously referencing Antwerp’s reputation for diamonds and its maritime culture. The piece of prestige architecture is begging to be admired in the sunlight.

The Port House, Zaha Hadidplein 1, Antwerp, Belgium

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Vintage hunting in the Kloosterstraat

Antiques and vintage are the Kloosterstraat’s forte. Visitors will find the oldest and oddest objects in the shops lining this street, from wooden rocking horses to winged designer lamps and seas of retro chairs.

Kloosterstraat, Antwerp, Belgium

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Cogels-Osylei

Walking along Antwerp’s Cogels-Osylei, it can be hard to believe your eyes; with one villa more ostensibly opulent than the next, the entire long avenue is an exercise in neo-classical eclecticism. It’s a very worthy walk, and at its end is the Draakplaats, a lovely spot for a drink or bite.

Cogels-Osylei, Antwerp, Belgium

Cogels-Osylei | © David Van Laere / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Cogels-Osylei | © David Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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Rubenshuis

Much-traveled as an ambassador and fond as he was of Italy, Peter Paul Rubens still chose to plant his personally designed house and atelier in Antwerp. The Rubenshuis, preserved as one of the most famous artist residencies in the world, is where the master’s own pieces, as well as those of other talented Flemish painters, can be admired alongside a peek into the home-life of Belgium’s ultimate uomo universale.

Rubenshuis, Wapper 9-11, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 201 15 55

Rubenshuis | © Dave Van Laere / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Rubenshuis | © Dave Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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Plantin-Moretus Museum

It’s no exaggeration to say the Plantin-Moretus family ruled over the early European printing world. Like Rubens, Christoffel Plantin set up his workshop and sumptuous living quarters in the same place. The 16th-century printing presses and a library containing precious original manuscripts still bear witness to the flowering of European literature.

Plantin-Moretus Museum, Vrijdagmarkt 22-23, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 221 14 50

Plantin Moretus Museum | © Dave Van Laere / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Plantin Moretus Museum | © Dave Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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Park Spoor Noord

Sultry days soon call for lazy afternoons at Park Spoor Noord, Antwerp’s resident hot-day solution. Here, children splash around in shallow water basins, chattering friends carry rosé from the pop-up summer bar to their beach chairs, and communal barbecues and the occasional food truck fill the summer air with foodie fragrances.

Park Spoor Noord, Ellermanstraat, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 221 13 33

Park Spoor Noord | © Dave Van Laere / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Park Spoor Noord | © Dave Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp | © Dave Van Laere / Visit Antwerp

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The Grote Markt

A massive 16th-century City Hall, a grand fountain depicting the city’s mythical origin story, and a flurry of step-gabled guild houses—these all combine to make Antwerp’s main square a beauty of monumental proportions.

Grote Markt, Antwerp, Belgium

Grote Markt | © Sigridspinnox.com / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Grote Markt | © Sigridspinnox.com / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp | © Visit Antwerp

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The Brabo Fountain

The ultimate place to learn about Antwerp’s folkloric origins would be at the foot of the Brabo Fountain in front of City Hall. Looking up, courageous Roman soldier Silvius Brabo can be seen flinging away the severed hand of Antigoon, a malicious giant that terrorized the region. Legend has it that by throwing the giant’s hand in the river Scheldt, Brabo gave the city its eventual name—“handwerpen” (throwing a hand) would lead to “Antwerpen.”

Brabo Fountain, Grote Markt, Antwerp, Belgium

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Het Steen

Another spot swimming in folklore is the 12th-century fortress Het Steen (or “The Rock”). Formerly a prison, sawmill, fish warehouse, maritime museum and at one point even a residence, it’s now open to the public. At its entrance, mythical water ghoul Lange Wapper bows over a couple of drunk fishermen.

Het Steen, Ernest van Dijckkaai, Antwerp, Belgium

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Central Station

Considered the world’s most beautiful railway station by many, Antwerp’s central train hub is mainly admired for its outspoken contradictions. The bringing together of Louis Delacenserie’s Neo-Renaissance aesthetic and engineer Clément Van Bogaert’s use of modern steel, iron, and glass is where its beauty resides.

Central Station, Antwerp, Belgium

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Middelheim’s sculpture park

The Middelheim’s sculpture park to the north of the city core is 30 hectares of world-class statues and conceptual art. The open-air museum doesn’t bother so much with high or lowbrow concerns—you’re just as likely to bump into elegant nudes by Rodin as inflatable turds by Paul McCarthy—but is increasingly acquiring more contemporary works.

Middelheim Museum, Middelheimlaan 61, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 288 33 60

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Vlaeykensgang alley

Antwerp’s eminent medieval alley has to be the idyllic Vlaeykensgang. It’s a beloved spot to listen to the city’s carillons chime away during a concert and to dream about simpler times.

Vlaeykensgang, Oude Koornmarkt 16, Antwerp, Belgium

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Cathedral of Our Lady

Much like Ghent’s St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady doubles as a temple for art. Major works by Rubens are displayed inside, while its 123-meter-high (403.5 feet) north tower qualifies it as the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries. Pay special attention to its spire of stone lacework.

Cathedral of Our Lady, Groenplaats 21, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 213 99 51

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St. Anna’s Tunnel

Crossing from the left to the right bank of the river Scheldt via the underpass (or St. Anna’s Tunnel) holds its own handsome rewards. The white-tiled pedestrian tunnel, built in the ’30s, still uses its authentic wooden escalators, a unique feature at the time. Once on the left bank, a splendid view of the historic core’s skyline is yours.

St. Anna’s Tunnel, Antwerp, Belgium

Underpass | © Jan Crab / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Underpass | © Jan Crab / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

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City Brewery De Koninck

They created Antwerp’s signature Bolleke beer (a malty pale ale with hints of caramel), and for that, locals will forever be grateful for De Koninck. It’s the oldest of the city’s breweries, and it recently added an impressive visitor center and tour that grants a glimpse into its brewing chambers.

City Brewery De Koninck, Mechelsesteenweg 291, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 866 96 90

De Koninck brewery tour | Courtesy of De Koninck Brewery

De Koninck brewery tour | Courtesy of De Koninck Brewery

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Vrijdagmarkt

The Vrijdagmarkt lies snuggled up against the previously mentioned Plantin-Moretus printing museum. On lovely days, the small but bustling square guarantees full terraces, and Fridays only see the hustle and bustle increase as brocante vendors strike down to auction off their wares during a market whose roots stretch all the way back to the 16th century.

Vrijdagmarkt, Antwerp, Belgium

Vrijdagmarkt | © Sigridspinnox.com / courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Vrijdagmarkt | © Sigridspinnox.com / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp