Belgium

12 Unique things to do in Antwerp

by Paul Joseph  |  Published January 15, 2018

Resting on Belgium’s River Scheldt, the pretty port city of Antwerp has a history stretching back to the Middle Ages. Home to some 1.2 million people, it is also one of the country’s main urban centres and has a commensurate number of attractions, including a thriving restaurant scene, buzzing nightlife, hip boutiques and plenty of cultural landmarks and institutions to boot. The heart of the action is in the city’s intriguing medieval centre, where café-lined cobbled lanes, a waterside fortress and an imposing cathedral provide a striking setting against which the hum of daily life unfolds.

The Cathedral of Our Lady stands prominent on the Antwerp skyline (Photo: Adams K. via Flickr)

Needless to say, visitors to Antwerp will find that filling their time is an easy task. But for those keen to seek out some of the lesser known parts of the city, there’s no shortage of opportunities either. To help inspire you, we’ve picked out some of the most unique things to see and do in Antwerp. We hope you enjoy our selection.

1. Antwerp Ruien

Like in most cities, sewers, streams and ramparts have zig-zagged across Antwerp for centuries. But not in every city can you explore them quite like this. Visitors can head underground to discover the former network of waterways that served Antwerp down the years, traversing narrow canals, bridges and old vaulted ceilings along the way. Tours can be undertaken as part of a guided group walk (complete with intriguing anecdotes from your official guide), independently with an interactive tablet, or for a truly unique experience you can even navigate The Ruien by boat.

LOCATION Suikerrui 21 HOURS Tues-Fri 10am-5pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm Closed Mon

Antwerp Ruien

Inside the murky former canals & sewers of Antwerp Ruien (Photo: Jeroen Schortemeijer via Flickr)

2. Bierpassie Weekend

A three-day celebration of all things amber nectar, Bierpassie Weekend has been a regular fixture on Antwerp’s social calendar for nearly two decades now, taking place in the Groenplaats, one of Antwerp’s most prominent squares in the heart of the city’s historic district. Over that time the event has gone from strength to strength, with visitor numbers growing along with the number of beer producers who come to present the fruits of their brewing endeavours. On average there are around 200 beers to try out here, with every beer style under the sun available. Entrance to the festival is free of charge, and tokens can be purchased at the entrance which can then be redeemed in exchange for beer tastings and food.

LOCATION Groenplaats DATES 22-24 June

Bierpassie Weekend

Revellers gathered at Antwerp’s Bierpassie Weekend (Photo: VISITFLANDERS via Flickr)

3. Rampage

Billed as the biggest drum ‘n bass and dubstep party in the world, such was the demand for tickets for this well-established festival in 2017 that this year’s edition has been doubled in size. Now held over two nights rather than one, it will once again take place at Antwerp’s Sportpaleis multipurpose stadium and will host some of the genre’s biggest names in front of a massed audience of music fans, many of whom travel from far and wide for the high-octane event. In previous years the action has run throughout the night, and whether revellers will have the stamina to keep this going over two nights remains to be seen. But we wouldn’t put it past them…

LOCATION Sportpaleis Merksem DATES 2-3 March 2018

Rampage

Crowds gathered under the bright lights at a previous edition of Rampage drum & bass festival (Photo: Rampage)

4. Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum

If you were walking through Middelheim Park unaware of the 400 bizarre and beautiful sculptures to be found here, you might assume something hallucinogenic has been slipped into your morning coffee. Because some of them are truly surreal, including what appears to be a giant pile of excrement. Every year sees new works added to the open-air museum, which spans some 30 hectares of park and exhibition space. Among the sculptures are works by major artists such as Auguste Rodin, Rik Wouters, Henry Moore, Juan Muñoz, Carl Andre, Panamarenko, Franz West and Erwin Wurm.

LOCATION Middelheimlaan 61 HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-7pm Closed Mon

Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum

A pungent-looking art piece at the Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum (Photo: appelogen.be via Flickr)

5. Modeste Bier Festival

Organised by the Antwerps BierCollege, this intimate but hugely popular beer festival was created in honour of Modeste Van Den Bogaert, who ran the De Koninck brewery for over half-a-century after the passing of his father. In keeping with its name (Modeste translates as ‘modest’), the event welcomes mainly smaller sized breweries and members of the Belgian Family Brewersto showcase their mouth-watering wares inside the impressive De Koninck brewery festival hall. As well as the array of beer on display, there are also cheese stalls, a cheese shop, and an array of activities to keep the 4,000-plus visitors entertained. Entrance to the festival can be gained by buying a sample glass for €3, with individual beer samples priced at €1.

LOCATION Brouwerij De Koninck, Boomgaardstraat 17 DATES 6-7 October 2018

Modeste Bier Festival

Crowds gathered at the Modeste Bier Festival (Photo: Modeste Bier Festival)

6. Plantin-Moretus Museum of Printing

With the printed word an endangered species due to the rise of digital modes of communication, there is ever more reason to preserve its legacy, not least so future generations can see how we used to exchange information. Unbeknown to many, during the early 1500s the city of Antwerp played a key role in the proliferation of print. Christophe Plantin, a printer from Paris had fled to Antwerp due to printing still being illegal in his home city. Once in Belgium, he started the first commercial printing press and began printing books. It continued for over three centuries and is now a museum housing some truly remarkable exhibits and documents, including a Bible from 1450 and two of the world’s oldest printing presses. In 2002, UNESCO honoured the museum as a World Heritage Site.
LOCATION Vrijdagmarkt 22-23 HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon

Tin City

An antiquated set of scales at the Plantin-Moretus Museum of Printing (Photo: Thomas Quine via Flickr)

7. The Red Star Line Museum

Between 1873 and 1935, Antwerp served as the gateway to a better life for more than two million Europeans thanks to the ocean passenger service Red Star Line. This museum draws the spotlight on their stories, the company that transported them to North America, and the city of Antwerp itself, through a vast array of audiovisual testimonies and written documents. There’s also an impressive assortment of artwork inspired by this great migration, with the works of artists such as Eugeen Van Mieghem and Louis van Engelen all to be found here. For panoramic views, head up to the observation tower that’s designed in the shape of a ship’s smokestack.

LOCATION Montevideostraat 3 HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon

8. Het Steen

If you want to visit Antwerp’s oldest surviving building in its current guise, then you better be quick. In less than two years the ancient monument will undergo its latest renovation that will see it transformed into a welcome centre for cruise passengers and a tourist facility. It will mark the latest chapter in the story of this fascinating 13th century site, which over the years has served as a fortress to repel Viking invaders, a prison, a warehouse, and at one point also held the collection of the National Shipping museum.

LOCATION Steenplein 1

Het Steen

Statues outside the Het Steen medieval fortress (Photo: Marie via Flick)

9. Desertfest

Lovers of alternative music have a very good reason to visit Antwerp each year and that reason is called Desertfest. The Antwerp edition of Deserfest returns in 2018, showcasing the very best in stoner, doom, sludge and psych music. Now in its fifth year, notable acts to have performed at previous shows include The Melvins, Electric Wizard, Brant Bjork, Fu Manchu, Earth, Graveyard, Kadavar, Goat and Orange Goblin. The action take place across three stages and three days, contributing to what has become one of Europe’s most eagerly-awaited celebrations of musical talent.

LOCATION Wapper 9-11 HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon

Desertfest

A performance at a previous edition of Desertfest (Photo: Desertfest)

10. MAS Museum

Nestled in Antwerp’s hip and happening Eilandje district, on the banks of the river Scheld, this is no ordinary museum, with each display linked to the next to create a weaving narrative that captivates the thousands who visit each year. Housed in an architecturally striking building, it is home to a vast collection of some half-a-million items themed around the geography and social history that surrounds the venue. Particular focus is given to the nearby old port – the second largest in Europe, no less – and the people who have worked there down the years. Also prominent are tales of power politics, how food has shaped our modern cities, and life and death. If the weather’s good, be sure to head out to the roof terrace for panoramic views of the city.

LOCATION Hanzestedenplaats 1 HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon

MAS museum

A view of MAS Museum seen over the river Scheldt (Photo: Przemysław Turlej via Flickr)

11. Paters Vaetje

In a city sprinkled with watering holes, there’s good reason why locals and visitors alike consider this one of Antwerp’s finest bars. Boasting beautiful décor and nestled across the street from the famous cathedral, it combines a charming setting with a vibrant atmosphere that invites you to sample some of the finest beers available anywhere in Belgium. Whether blonde, dark, amber, sweet, sour or bitter is your poison of choice, you’re sure to find it here, and there are also an excellent selection of snacks to help line the stomach. For a quintessential bar experience in Antwerp, you’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere better.

LOCATION Blauwmoezelstraat 1 HOURS Mon-Sat 11am-3am; Sun 11am-2am

Paters Vaetje

Behind the bar at Paters Vaetje (Photo: Paters Vaetje)

12. Fashion Museum MoMu

The fashion industry has a habit of looking forward rather than backward, but this museum bucks that trend by celebrating the social, political and cultural history of apparel, with a focus on its role in the evolution of the city of Antwerp itself. Through exquisite couture and historical pieces (including two major exhibitions every year), the museum explores the changing mores and clothing tastes of its inhabitants, earning it a reputation as one of the world’s leading fashion museums anywhere in the world.

LOCATION Nationalestraat 28 HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-6pm Closed Mon