Antwerp is a historic port city that seamlessly blends its medieval roots with modern cosmopolitan lifestyles. With nearly half a million residents, Antwerp is by no means a small town. But somehow, it remains relatively unvisited by the tourist masses. Honestly, I think Antwerp is fairly off-the-beaten path and relatively undiscovered by most travelers. What a missed opportunity for them, because Antwerp is a sensational city.
Antwerp doesn’t have the cliché offerings or iconic attractions that you find in more famous Belgian cities like Brussels or Bruges. Instead, it feels like a city built for locals. It just has a cool vibe about it. From progressive urban modalities to stunning modern architecture, Antwerp is a city for design lovers, foodies and culture vultures. Sam and I were really surprised by how much we enjoyed our long weekend in Antwerp. There was something about Antwerp that really resonated with us, on top of all the incredible food we ate here.
Perfect for a weekend getaway or a short city break, I am sharing all of my favorite things about Antwerp in this blog post. From exploring the city’s rich history and culture to indulging in delicious Belgian cuisine, this travel guide will help you make the most of your 2 days in Antwerp. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or just looking for a fun weekend getaway, this guide will help you plan your perfect trip to Antwerp.
The Perfect 2 Day Antwerp Itinerary
Morning: Railway Station + Old City
I am trying to reduce my carbon emissions from travel-related transportation, so I typically try to travel by train in Europe. Plus, my home city of Cologne is only a few hours by rail from Belgium. It is the perfect way to arrive because one of the most popular attractions in Antwerp is the Central railway station. You can imagine my enthusiasm as we were pulling into the station – I was absolutely blown away. This has got to be one of the most beautiful train stations I have ever seen!
The station was built in the late 19th century and is a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture. Walking into the towering main atrium, you’ll notice gilded details, multi-colored marble and massive clock. Plus, the glass ceiling is a showstopper. The whole train station feels like walking onto the set of a romantic Humphrey Bogart movie. Even if you don’t arrive in Belgium by train, I would still recommend coming to the central station for a visit. It really is impressive, and is a great place to snap photos. If you want to learn more about the history of the train station, they offer guided tours.
Early Afternoon: Wander Old City
Another must-see area of Antwerp is the Old City. Spreading out like a maze around the Grote Markt, this area dates back to medieval times. While it is the most touristy part of Antwerp, there are a few worthwhile things to check out. Historic landmarks and cultural institutions, like Rubens House, and the Plantin-Moretus Museum, are all within a few minutes walk from one another. During our visit, the Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady was completely under construction as was the Grote Markt. Hence why I don’t have many pictures of Antwerp’s old city – it didn’t look very nice when we were there.
The best part of the Old City is definitely the charming streets. Narrow alleys and picturesque squares are lined with quaint shops and cafes between frites stalls and beer bars. Tucked just off the market, my favorite narrow street is Vlaeykensgang Alley, which has secret restaurants, perfect for lunch! Wash down your lunch with a beer at the quirky Elfde Gebod just next to the church. Translating as the 11th Commandment, this “church bar” features statues of saints all over the place. It will make you feel like a Trappist monk.
Late Afternoon: Sint-Annatunnel & Kloosterstraat
If you are looking to add some Wes Anderson flair to your Instagram feed, the Sint-Annatunnel is a must-see attraction in Antwerp. This underwater commuter tunnel connects the left and right banks of Antwerp, shuttling pedestrians under the river Scheldt. Opening in 1933, old-school wooden escalators are the highlight here. Soak in the 1930s aesthetic as you walk through the 1.2 km tunnel. You’ll come up on the other side of the river with a lovely view of the Antwerp skyline. The tunnel is still used to this day, so keep your wits about you when you’re down there because bikes are likely to be passing by quickly.
Nearby to the tunnel is Kloosterstraat, a picturesque street in the heart of Antwerp’s trendy Zuid neighborhood. This street serves as a key connection point between the Old City and the neighborhood, and Kloosterstraat is known for its charming architecture, lively atmosphere, and great shopping. I absolutely loved this neighborhood, and I found myself biking and walking through a few times during our visit. Each time, I would notice new boutiques that I wanted to pop into or dig for treasure in one of the cool antique shops. In general, Kloosterstraat is a great place to leisurely stroll and explore.
Evening: Fancy Dinner
Belgium has great restaurants all over the place, but Antwerp specifically offers one of the most diverse high-end culinary scenes in the country. It is definitely an emerging foodie destination. There are a number of Michelin-starred and Michelin-recommended meals to enjoy in Antwerp. I would say it is worth the splurge!
The most well-known fine dining establishment in Antwerp is the Jane. This two Michelin star restaurant specializes in contemporary, seasonal Belgian cuisine prepared to perfection. The stylish restaurant is housed in a former chapel which has been renovated with sleek décor, striking light fixtures and beautiful stained glass windows. It is jaw-dropping! The food is refined with a strong emphasis on fresh flavors and stunning plating and presentation. You’ll need to make a reservation weeks (or even months) in advance, but it will worth it.
Morning: Brunch & Vintage Markets
Start your second day in Antwerp doing what locals do best – wandering street markets after brunch. The weekends are when Antwerp really comes alive with a number of markets set up across the city. You should strategically plan your visit to include a weekend, because Antwerp’s markets really are legendary. Grab a coffee to go as you leisurely wander and browse at your own pace. This is not a morning for rushing.
With its roots dating back to the 16th century, The Friday Market (every Friday between 9 am and 1 pm). is located in front of the Plantin-Moretus Museum. The stalls are full of vintage treasures, especially books, old prints, and furniture. There is even an auctioneer selling bulk items off to the highest bidder. Another great market option is Sint-Jansvliet Flea Market. Hosted on Sunday mornings, this smaller market has an excellent selection of antiques, and I found the prices to be really fair.
Early Afternoon: Bike Ride
For long-time readers of Traverse, this Antwerp suggestion probably doesn’t come as a surprise – I am obsessed with cycling during my travels! But genuinely, biking around Antwerp on a gorgeous summer day was one of my fondest memories from our entire week in Belgium. With 700 km of cycling lanes throughout the city and cycle-friendly infrastructure, even novice bike riders can feel confident spending an afternoon exploring Antwerp on two wheels.
I recommend doing this entire second day in Antwerp with a bike. It will give you tons of freedom and flexibility to explore different corners of the city at your own pace. An easy-to-use and affordable option for bike rentals in Antwerp is VeloAntwerpen. To use these small red and white bicycles, you need to purchase a pass on their convenient app (one day or week passes available). Once you’ve got your pass, you can use a code to rent a bike at any of the velo stations around Antwerp. Your first 30 minutes are included, and then you’ll pay a premium for longer rides.
Late Afternoon: Harbor Area
Antwerp has this gritty, salt-of-the-earth kind of feeling about it, which I can guess is heavily influenced by the massive port. Throughout its history, Antwerp has been an important place for shipping, and the old port has recently undergone some revitalization. Antwerp’s government has made a conscious effort to regenerate the port into an attractive public space with cultural, culinary, and business offerings perfect for pedestrians. It is now one of the trendiest areas of the city!
Take a bike or bus up to the award-winning architectural marvel Havenhuis. While it is only a government building, the striking shape is meant to look like a ship coming into the harbor (although it reminded me a little bit of those imperial walkers from Star Wars). Bike along the channel towards the Eilandje and Het Eilandje neighborhoods. Stop for a beer at the quirky and colorful Paniek Bar. Surrounded by greenery, this shabby-chic bar is a great place to sit on a nice summer day.
Looking out over the waters of Willemdok, the hallmark of this neighborhood is the Museum aan de Stroom (typically shortened to MAS). With 7 floors of different exhibitions and galleries, MAS is another architectural marvel with red brick and glass sides. The rooftop terrace has one of the best views of Antwerp. There are a number of pleasant restaurants nearby, as well as design shops, street art, and hole-in-the-wall bars. The harbor area is a cool place to come for a happy hour, especially on a nice day when the weather is good.
Evening: Beer Bar
You simply cannot visit Belgium without sampling some of the country’s finest beers. It is world famous for its strong Trippels and monk brewed Trappists. Naturally, my beer snob husband did lots of research about where to drink in Antwerp, but it is not difficult to find somewhere with a good selection of beer on tap and in bottles. Simply wander into a bar that strikes your fancy, and watch the world go by as you drink some of the best beers in the world.
One of our favorite beer bars was Dr. Beer near MAS. This cozy spot fills up with locals around happy hour, so if you want to go where the locals go, check it out. Closer to the train station, Bier Central is a great choice for sampling a lot of different types of beers – they have over 300 Belgian beers! With a cool vibe and chance to sit inside of a beer barrel, they offer flights of beer with highlights like Delirium Red, La Chouffe, Triple d’Anvers, and Cuvee des Trolls.
Where to Stay
Being a design-focused city, there are a number of lovely boutique hotel options in Antwerp. In fact, we stayed at different hotels during our 4 day stay there — 2 nights in 2 different hotels! I just couldn’t pass up the chance to see different corners of this unique city, and really experience two totally different accommodation experiences.
The first hotel we stayed at was the De Witte Lelie. With a quirky and colorful design, the hotel only has 10 rooms, each with a unique design. It has a feeling of old-world luxury without any of the stuffy vibes or uptight staff. In fact, the incredibly friendly host upgraded us to one of the biggest rooms in the hotel. We had a bathroom that was the same size as the bedroom with a freestanding tub directly in the center! This was such a special and romantic stay for us, all of which really just speaks volumes about how much hospitality you’ll feel during your stay at the De Witte Leile. The breakfast in bed in the morning was a lovely touch.
The second hotel we stayed at was August in the southern part of Antwerp. This was a completely different type of stay. August absolutely nails the chic modernist vibe inside of refurbished Augustinian convent. With 44 individually styled rooms, the details at August are impeccable. It has this new luxury feeling about it, ideal for millennials and design-minded travelers. The bar and restaurant inside are absolute showstoppers from a design perspective, and the food is pretty darn good too!
Where to Eat
There are lots of delicious eateries throughout Antwerp, and you will definitely be eating well during your visit! One of our highlights was Jane’s summer pop up. We couldn’t get a reservation at the main restaurant during our visit, but we were lucky enough to secure a reservation at their outdoor restaurant in the harbor. Fine dining alfresco? Count me in!
I also loved our lunch at Graanmarkt 13. This farm-to-table restaurant is located in the historic center with a menu featuring a unique blend of traditional Belgian and modern European cuisine. These dishes are prepared with a focus on simplicity and seasonality, allowing the natural flavors of the ingredients to shine through. I absolutely loved the restaurant’s inviting subterranean interior with rustic-chic décor that evokes a sense of warmth and homeliness.
For a quick and tasty bite, pop by Frites Atelier. Known for its delicious, hand-cut fries and unique dipping sauces, Frites Atelier has the best frites in Antwerp. Made from the highest quality potatoes, cooked to perfection and served hot and crispy, you will love these. Pictured below, Felix Pakhuis is a top-rated spot for Belgian cuisine in a fun and welcoming atmosphere. The dishes range from hearty meat courses to delicious vegan options, so there is something for everyone.