The Top Things to Do and See at Antwerp's Het Eilandje

Het Eilandje, with the all-important MAS museum in the middle
Het Eilandje, with the all-important MAS museum in the middle | © Sarah Blee - Neutelings Riedijk Architecten / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp
Nana Van De Poel

Antwerp’s former harbor area Het Eilandje breathes water and exudes charm. Since wholeheartedly embracing its maritime history through projects such as the MAS and the Red Star Line Museum, a gust of rejuvenation has blown through the neighborhood. Coffee bars, artist ateliers, and stunning architectural projects have popped up left and right, making the area a must-visit when in Antwerp.

1. Grab a coffee at Broer Bretel

Bar, Coffee

When in need of a caffeine boost or a break from museum hopping, head over to the espresso bar Broer Bretel. One of the first to recognize the neighborhood’s potential six years ago, this beloved Eilandje institution boasts a 70s interior, complete with floral fauteuils. Owner Toon Craen serves a consistently qualitative cup of joe and is never afraid to try out something new, whether that be a new type of bean or a stint of “pay for the time you spend instead of the cups you drink” policy. Any coffee-guzzling local knows that obtaining a spot on Broer Bretel’s wooden-benched terrace on a sunny day equals dockside bliss.

2. Migrate back in time at the Red Star Line Museum

Museum

The Red Star Line
© Dave Van Laere / Courtesy of Visit Antwerp
While New York’s Ellis Island presented immigrants wanting to start a new life in the promised land with their last hurdle, the sheds of Antwerp’s Red Star Line were one of their first. After being checked and approved, over two million Europeans would sail with the legendary shipping company to America and Canada in between the 1870s and 1930s. The historic sheds where the hopefuls gathered opened their doors as an impressive new museum in 2013. Thanks to old posters of the massive ocean steamers, personal stories of passengers, and a unique location, the journey that so many dreamers undertook becomes tangible again.

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