Now that it’s the height of summer travel season in Europe, why not consider Antwerp, Belgium? Antwerp is a city of roughly 500,000 people in the northern part of Belgium, just across the border from the Netherlands. At one point, the city was known as the “diamond capital of the world” for its large diamond district and is one of the most multi-cultural cities in all of Europe, with over 170 nationalities represented. For tourists, the city is relatively compact, making it walkable, and its picturesque architecture makes it a perfect stop on the way to Amsterdam.
Keep reading to find out more about how to spend a day out in Antwerp!
9am: Hit the Major Sights
Start your day in the town square, also known as Grote Markt. Originally the town square just outside the medieval quarter, today Grote Markt is the center for festivals and outdoor cafes. Grab a cup of coffee outside and soak in the majestic architecture and stop in to the Visitor Centre at the southeast corner of the Markt. The Visitor Centre has a wealth of information and friendly faces to give you guidance on the very best Antwerp has to offer.
After you’ve fueled up and filled up on information about Antwerp, take a short walk over to Het Steen, a castle and fortress along the Scheldt River. The castle dates back to the 11th century and is most famous for its giant statue of Lange Wapper, a Flemish folk character known for his tricks and mischief.
11 am: Take a Music Break
Museum Vleeshius is just steps away from Het Steen. A former gathering spot for butchers (known as a guildhall), Vleeshius now houses a fascinating collection of musical instruments dating back six hundred years. Although the museum isn’t gigantic, it’s a great way to while away an hour or so looking at the evolution of music over time and Antwerp’s place in it.
Our kids loved tinkering with the carillon and listening to an antique crank organ. It’s also a great reminder to parents that before there can be beautiful music, there’s chaotic discord that has to come out first.
12:30pm Moules, Moules, Everywhere
It’s lunch time! Belgium is known for its moules frites, or steamed mussels with fries, and for good reason. Plump, juicy and just a little bit briny, the mussels in Antwerp are unlike any other. Continue your day out in Antwerp at Restaurant Maritime, where several different preparations of moules frites are available for your sampling.
Can’t decide? Pick the “chef’s way, ” a delectable steamed mix of carrots, leeks, celery, mushrooms and mussels simmered in white wine, garlic and parsley. The frites are floury, with the right about of crispness on the exterior.
Antwerp’s city life bustles with quaint scenes, making it an ideal place to wander and soak in your surroundings. Check out the worn sidewalk cafes with chalkboard menus and quirky local shops like Maritime Antiques, a shop specializing in all things related to life on the sea. You might even happen upon a street brass band, like the one we saw outside the Antwerp Diamond Museum.
4pm: Waffle Time!
If 4pm isn’t the perfect time for a waffle break, then we just can’t be friends, can we? Stop in one of many waffle shops in Antwerp for a bite of waffle liege, a crusty yeast-based waffle that’s coated in melted sugar. The waffles are served with a variety of toppings, with powdered sugar being the most common. Alternatively seek out a waffine, a thin, crispy version of a standard Belgian waffle, or the standard “Brussels waffle,” which is a yeast-based version of the kind that you’ll find on Sunday mornings in households all over America.
Antwerp is accessible via air or train, with flights from the UK and points throughout mainland Europe at Antwerp International Airport. Alternatively, Antwerp is connected by rail through Brussels, Rotterdam (the Netherlands) or Amsterdam; check train arrivals and departures into Antwerp Central station here. You can purchase a Eurail pass to simplify your train travel with Europe; details are available here.
For places to stay, the Hilton Old Town Antwerp provides spacious rooms in an ideal location (rates start at €170).