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View of Antwerp

Time flies in Antwerp. There’s so much to see: the treasures of Rubenshuis, ground-breaking architecture, a world-renowned reputation for fashion and status as one of the biggest ports in Europe. So where do you start, and how do you make the most of every moment? What do you do if you only have 48 hours in Antwerp?

Day 1

Your morning mix of comics, zoo animals and diamonds

Arriving at Antwerp Central Train Station, look up at the breathtaking domed ceiling, ornate clocks and grand entrance hall – this has been the first sight many visitors to the city will have seen since 1905. This station is more akin to a cathedral than a transport hub, and it’s an unforgettable example of architectural eclecticism that will take your breath away.

Main entrance hall of the Central Station in Antwerp

Exit the station and you’ll immediately find yourself in Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world. If lions, tigers and bears aren’t your cup of tea, you’ll find plenty of treasures in the Diamond Square Mile. The stretch of shops in this quarter combines precious stones, dazzling gems and eye-catching window displays, but check opening times as stores are often closed on Saturday and open on Sunday.

Entrance gate Zoo of Antwerp

From the Meir to Rubenshuis: an afternoon like no other

From sparkling diamonds to fashion hotspots, restaurants, cafés and gorgeous Rococo buildings: welcome to the Meir. Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens used to visit the Meir area for inspiration and relaxation – especially since he once lived just around the corner. Rubens’ palace-like home has now been converted into a museum, 'Rubenshuis'. Here you can step into his studio, experience his world and view a selection of his masterpieces (including Adam and Eva and The Annunciation) as well as work by his contemporaries (such as Anthony van Dyck and Pieter Bruegel the Elder).

Rococo buildings on the Meir in Antwerp

Evening sophistication: modern art and fashion

Although it would be possible to spend 48 hours in Antwerp without ever leaving Rubenshuis, there’s a lot more to be seen. Perhaps a performance at the 'AMUZ' international music centre? The former church makes a spectacular setting for a concert.
Maybe a tour of the M HKA Museum of Modern Art – it focuses on the importance of ‘performative’ art, social commentary in contemporary art and the multi-polar world of today. Of course, you might prefer the MoMu Fashion Museum where fashionistas can admire a regularly changing exhibition of avant-garde designers. The focus is on designers from Antwerp and Belgium, so there’s no better place to immerse yourself in the radical work of the local fashion designers who became known as the Antwerp Six!

M HKA Antwerp - Museum of contemporary Art

Day 2

Spend your morning travelling back in time

Entering the Plantin-Moretus Museum is like stepping back in time to the 16th century. This grand building was once a powerhouse of the European printing industry, with some of the most important works of the time printed here. The printing machines are in immaculate condition, the walls are lined with gilded leather and there’s a library of incredible books, tapestries and paintings (including Rubens), a five-language Bible and plenty more to discover. This is also the only museum to have been recognised on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp - © Antwerpen Toerisme en Congres

A stone’s throw away, the Cathedral of Our Lady is a must visit. Dating back to 1321, this enormous Gothic church houses Rubens’s The Elevation of the Cross, The Descent from the Cross and The Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Crane your neck up to admire the fresco adorned ceilings or just wander in admiration of the cathedral’s incredible array of artwork.

Cathedral of our Lady in Antwerp

Artwork architecture and a few centuries of dance, opera and music

Journey on to the Grote Markt square where you’ll find the spectacular Antwerp Town Hall and the impressive Brabo Fountain. It tells the legendary story of how the city got its name. The tale goes that the hero Brabo cut off the hand of the evil giant Antigoon and threw it into the river Scheldt. In Dutch 'hand' is 'ant' and 'to throw' is 'werpen': hence the name Antwerpen. The fountain faces the town hall, a remarkable construction that is considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe, especially for a government building. The town hall is also flanked by impressive guildhalls; elaborate buildings each of which was once dedicated to a specific trade.

Follow the streets in the direction of the Scheldt river and you’ll be perfectly placed to visit a beautiful heritage-listed building and former meat hall: the Museum Vleeshuis. Its incredible collection covers 600 years of dance and opera, music and instruments.

Brabo Fountain on the Market Square in Antwerp

From port to panoramic views for an evening to remember

Wandering north along the Scheldt will bring you to the Port of Antwerp. You can see the busy port in action by taking a tour by boat, bus or explore at your own pace via bike. The Port Authority Building is the show-stopping headquarters that manages the port. Designed by Zaha Hadid, it’s a gleaming architectural construction that really needs to be seen to be believed.

Port House of Antwerp

It’s then time to head to the MAS Museum which explores the maritime history of Antwerp through photos, contemporary art, sculpture and more. The icing on the cake is that the building is literally topped off with a spectacular 360° panoramic view of the city. If you’re lucky, you’ll be here to watch the sun go down over Antwerp. What better way to end your visit?

Museum MAS in Antwerp
With just 48 hours in Antwerp, you’ll now have seen a lot of what the city has to offer. It’s certainly not everything though; there are untold numbers of treasures and experiences waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. Even Lonely Planet agrees: it selected Antwerp als a Top 10 City in its Best in Travel 2018-awards. In other words, Antwerp always has something new to keep coming back for.

Restaurants and night life

Antwerp is a must for gourmets of all sorts. The Michelin-starred restaurant L’épicerie du Cirque combines exquisite food with a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

L'épicerie du Cirque - Chef Dennis Broeckx

The Jane offers an exclusive dining experience – make sure you book in advance. You’ll want to do the same for Het Gerecht, a highly regarded restaurant in a beautiful Antwerp townhouse.

The Jane in Antwerp - © Eric Kleinberg Photography

If you’re looking for lower prices, Frituur Lo serves traditional hand-cut fries that are simply delicious – they have the reputation for being the best in Antwerp. If you’re after nightlife, Waagstuk is an authentic Antwerp beer café with plenty of atmosphere or there are live jazz bands at De Muze and Café d’Anvers that will keep you dancing until dawn!

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