If you only have one day to spend in Antwerp, this one day itinerary for Antwerp will guarantee you see the best that Antwerp has to offer.
Start your day at Antwerp Central Station, one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. The stone terminus building, with an impressive dome above the waiting hall, was constructed between 1895 and 1905 on special request of King Leopold II. Between 1998 and 2007, largescale reconstruction works converted Antwerp Central from a terminus into a through station. A tunnel was excavated under the station, allowing high-speed trains to travel through Antwerp Central without having to turn around. The combination of old and new is incredible. You’ll want to take your time looking up, down, right and left when you admire the outside and inside beauty of the station.
Meir & Stadsfeestzaal
Leave the station and walk towards Keyserlei. It’s time to stroll towards Antwerp’s main shopping street: Meir. Of course, the main activity to do on Meir is shopping or window shopping. If you’re not a big shopper, there’s still plenty to see on Meir, as it is flanked by impressive 19th century buildings full of fascinating decorative details. Halfway on Meir you’ll find a hidden architectural gem on your left-hand side: Stadsfeestzaal. Inaugurated as a banquet and exhibition hall in 1908 and then destroyed in a fire in 2000, the structure was recently restored and made into a commercial hub. This historic building is worth a look for its beautiful architecture and design.
A little bit further down Meir, you’ll pass Wapper, the location of the Rubenshouse. This is where Peter Paul Rubens once lived with his wife, Isabella Brant. The artist decorated the house himself taking inspiration from the Classical Antiquity. You could spend an hour visiting the Rubens House that has been turned into a museum. You’ll be able to admire works from the painter’s original art collection, including a striking self-portrait.
After your visit, you’re probably hungry. You have quite a few great lunch options on Meir and Groenplaats. In summer, I’d recommend a healthy and tasty lunch at the rooftop terrace at Coffeelabs (Lange Klarenstraat). It’s a hip and trendy place where with coffee, fresh juices, home-made iceteas & lemonades. Their lunch menu changes daily. I’ve read reviews saying that baristas are unfriendly, but I’ve always found the baristas quite friendly and cheerful. Salad & Co (Wiegstraat) is also a very good option for a tasty lunch. Order the grilled chicken sandwich. It is perfectly seasoned, packed with veggies and I love the dressing that goes with it. Salad & Co is generally packed, not because it’s such a cozy hang-out, but because the food is just honest and good.
The historic city center
Leave Meir and continue towards Groenplaats. On the square, you have a clear view of the outside architecture of the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady. Spend half an hour in the cathedral as it momentarily exhibits some interesting artwork of important Flemish masters from the sixteenth and seventeenth century.
Stroll through the narrow streets leading to Grote Markt. Grote Markt is surrounded by the so-called houses of the guilds or corporations and is dominated by the town hall and the statue of Brabo.
From Grote Markt, walk towards Vleeshuis, an impressive former guild hall and meat hall. Continue your exploration of Medieval Antwerp at Het Steen, a medieval fortress and the oldest building in Antwerp today.
Your journey continues walking along the quays towards the MAS. It’s up to you whether you want to see the museum exhibition. But even if you don’t, go inside MAS and explore the building from the bottom to top. Make your way up the escalators to the top floor free of charge. (You’ll only have to pay an entrance fee to see the expo.)
Afterwards take some time to explore ‘t Eilandje (“the little island”). Savor the historical atmosphere of the old loading dock with its monumental warehouses, lanterns, hangars and cobblestones. This is an excellent place enjoy an aperitif. Have a beer in Batavier (Sint-Laureiskaai) or enjoy a drink in Bar Du Port (Napoleonkaai), where the ambience is incredibly mundane, but also very folksy.
There are too many diner options in the area. My favorites are Marcel & Burgerij. At Marcel (Van Schoonbekeplein), you’ll enjoy tasty classic dishes in a nostalgic atmosphere. The two dining rooms perfectly match the art-deco building. The furniture is a mix of old and new reproduced furniture, lighting elements and attributes from the 20s and 30s. Burgerij (Sint-Laureiskaai) is the place to be for the better burger.
(If you like burgers, you might like this article: The perfect burger: comparing burger restaurants in Antwerp)
A private guided tour in Antwerp?
Considering a customized, private guided tour that reflects your own interests? I can help you out! I design personalized, custom itineraries for anyone looking to visit Antwerp with a private guide. Check out some of the options on the page ‘visting Antwerp with a local tour guide‘.