Before visiting Antwerp, I had spent a glorious summer’s day in Ghent. And let me tell you, that is a tough act to follow. If you read my post about Ghent, you’ll know that I fell absolutely in love with the city. However, there’s no use in comparing these two cities because, in my opinion, they are completely different. Perhaps it was my timing or the lousy weather but Antwerp didn’t quite capture my heart. It’s difficult to explain because I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the famous sights such as Grote Markt, Rubenshuis, and Cathedral of Our Lady. There just wasn’t that instant connection with Antwerp like there was with my visits to Ghent, Bruges, and Brussels.
Would I return? Absolutely. I know I barely scratched the surface with Antwerp and maybe that was the problem. If you’re short on time like I was, here are a few sights that you really must visit if it’s your first time exploring Antwerp!
#1 Antwerp Central Station
This magnificent building is the main railway station in Antwerp which was constructed in the late 19th century. If you’re staying in Brussels and looking to escape for the day, taking a train into Antwerp is one of the fastest and cheapest options. For about 7 euros (one way) and in just 40 minutes, you’ll find yourself oooing and ahhing, snapping photo after photo, and wondering how on earth this is a railway station and not a palace. Or maybe that’s just me?! But seriously, even if you don’t take the train into Antwerp, Central Station is definitely worth popping into for a look around.
#2 Cathedral of Our Lady
What? Another grand cathedral in Europe?! Shocking, I know. I simply can’t help myself, I just love a good ol’ Gothic-style cathedral and the Cathedral of Our Lady does not disappoint.
Construction began in the 14th (!!!) century and wasn’t completed until 1521. Let’s take a moment to wrap our minds around that. It took over 150 years to complete this cathedral, in a time where there was no such thing as excavators or forklifts. The absolute genius and man power that went into building a cathedral like this will never fail to amaze me. If that’s not enough, for the next two years, the cathedral is home to famous art works from Flemish painters such as Peter Paul Rubens and several others. These are on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts which is currently closed for renovations until 2017.
The cathedral is open every day and the entry fee starts at 6 euros for adults.
Speaking of the famous Peter Paul Rubens, a visit to his former home and studio is a must for anyone visiting Antwerp. Rubens was a Flemish Baroque painter in the late 16th and 17th centuries. During his lifetime, he was very popular with nobility and arts collectors throughout Europe. He was even knighted by King Philip IV of Spain and King Charles I of England!
Rubens was a big fan of Italian Renaissance architecture which he studied extensively and used as inspiration to design his home in Antwerp. He lived here for most of his life and it was only sold after his death in 1640.
A visit to Rubenhuis costs around 8 euros and is worth every cent. During your visit, you’ll be able to explore the entire property which includes his home, studio, interior courtyard, and Baroque garden. It can get pretty busy with tour groups in the afternoons so I’d recommend a visit right when it opens at 10:00 AM. The rooms are small but beautifully decorated and be sure to give yourself plenty of time to sit in the peaceful courtyard, trying to imagine what life was like here in the 17th century.
#4 Grote Markt
Is there anything more quintessentially Belgian than an old market square surrounded by magnificent guildhalls? I don’t think so. Located in the heart of the old city quarter, Grote Markt is hard to miss and shame on you if you do! If there’s one place to take a selfie or family photo in Antwerp, this place is it.
I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the winter with a Christmas market and ice rink set up. Maybe next time…!
Have you visited Antwerp before? Where is somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit in Belgium? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know!