Belgians are a street market kind of people, and as the second biggest city in the land, Antwerp has naturally sprouted some true gems. While one has been attracting marketgoers since medieval times, others have only recently bloomed into terrific platforms for young designer talent. Whichever tickles your fancy, all nine of these characterful open-air markets are worth a stroll.
The biggest market classic in Antwerp, with roots reaching back to the 16th century, has its home in the historic core, next to the old Plantin-Moretus printing house. On this snug cobbled square called Vrijdagmarkt (“Friday Market”), each final day of the working week results in a series of small bidding wars. Dealers jovially prize their secondhand bikes, chairs, and bags full of miscellaneous trinkets at a loud volume so that even the people on the terraces get to enjoy the action.
Right in front of Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts in the popular Zuid neighborhood, the Lambermontmarte market provides a place for amateur painters, drawers, and sculptors to show off their stuff just a stone’s throw from where some of the country’s biggest names are on display. Slaloming around easels, stalls, sketching artists, and crafting kids is the great charm of this monthly summer event. A clue as to its atmosphere is found in the last part of the market’s name, “Montmartre.” The eponymous French village where Renoir once lived boasts the Place du Tertre, one of Europe’s imminently stroll-worthy and romantic painter markets.
Once a month from May until September. Check the calendar here.
At the “Markt van Morgen,” young local creatives turn the Kloosterstraat in the Sint-Andries quarter—a lane already known for its vintage and secondhand furniture stores—into a bigger shopping haven on Sunday afternoons in summer. Many of the designers pay special attention to honest and ecological sourcing of their materials, making the purchase of that hand-woven throw pillow or comical lama-themed tote guilt-free. At times, you’ll find a class of yogis stretching in full swing. DJs are often spinning vinyl records, and you can always trust the food caravans to supply espresso, cupcakes, hamburgers, and wine.
Ten times a year, on Sundays. Check the calendar here.
No artist has left a greater mark on Belgium’s premier port city than Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, a fact the people of Antwerp are well aware of; they celebrate the brilliant painter/diplomat by throwing a yearly market day in his honor, period-style outfits and all. Clad in 17th-century garb, over 200 stallholders, including florists, bakers, fruit farmers, and all sorts of artisans, transport visitors back to Rubens’ time. Lasting from 8 am until 11 pm, the market takes up multiple squares around central showstopper Grote Markt, where the ancient City Hall and step-gabled guild houses truly help give a feel for the days of yore.
Underneath the white beams floating above Antwerp Theaterplein square, an outdoor food market settles in every Saturday, and it is overflowing with colors and fragrances from fresh flowers, herbs and both warm and cold international snacks. It’s the kind of place where an Antwerp foodie likes to start his or her weekend. Handmade fish croquettes, Moroccan mint tea, French champagnes, and Greek olives are all staples of the market, though a lot of locals also use the place to stock up on ingredients for an expansive family meal later. If you pop by half an hour before closing time, you might walk away with a homemade baklava at a fraction of the cost.
In Dutch, there’s a word without a proper English equivalent that expresses a certain kind of feeling. “Gezellig” more or less describes a mix between cozy, carefree, comfortable and cheerful, but it can also indicate a situation of jovial togetherness between friends and/or family. The flea market on the Dageraadplaats square in the idyllic Zurenborg area makes for a great example of “gezelligheid.” Although it only pops up a handful of times each year and gets pretty busy, this market on a tree-lined basketball square has a distinctly local and yard sale feel to it. Plastic plates, old lamps, and peep-toe pumps are just droplets of what you’ll find in this bric-a-brac sea.
Three to four times a year. Check the calendar here.
Antwerp bookworms have a monthly reason to rejoice in the market that transforms the De Coninckplein square into “Book Square.” “Gezelligheid” is again held in high esteem by the organizers, who always makes sure that there is live music and a bite to eat.
Every third Sunday of the month except for the November–February period.
For fans of idiosyncratic stuff and full-fledged brocanteurs on the lookout for quality items, Brocantwerpen takes place on Antwerp’s main square about 10 times a year. Stallholders here tend to sell a lot of genuine antiques and other unique wares—think grandfather clocks, globes, crystal vases, and old suitcases that still have leather straps on them—though smaller pieces such as stamps and even matchboxes make their way to vendors’ tables too. Objects such as the occasional mounted fox and old movie posters make it even more of a collector’s dream.
Ten times a year during spring and summer. Check the calendar here.
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Sunday Antiques Market
In the same vein as Brocantwerpen but geared more towards casual buyers, the Sint-Jansvliet antique market is an Antwerp staple. Despite its limited size (about 40 booths every Sunday), its offering of small objects is still quite diverse, from porcelain dolls to yellowed books on local history. It is also close to the St. Anna’s Tunnel, a tiled underpass that leads cyclists and pedestrians from one side of the river Scheldt to the other. A trip down on its original 1930s wooden escalators and the view of the skyline from the left bank are essential Antwerp experiences. A similar market takes place on Saturdays at Lijnwaadmarkt.