Antwerp’s heyday may have been centuries ago, but behind its Flemish facades, a renaissance is underway.
The cultural capital of Flanders has earned its stripes as a fashion hub, an art history hotspot and a bastion of Belgian beer. Best of all, it’s friendly, picturesque and easy to tackle on foot.
Arriving at Antwerp Flanders International Airport
Antwerp Flanders International Airport is less than four miles (6km) from central Antwerp. The airport is compact and simple, with a few shops and restaurants, a VIP lounge and complimentary Wi-Fi. Grab a snack at Belgian supermarket Louis Delhaize just before security. For aviation buffs, the Stampe & Vertongen Museum, open on weekend afternoons, displays a collection that includes several World War I military aircraft.
The easiest way to get to central Antwerp is by taxi. Hail a ride from the roundabout in front of the airport and you’ll be in the city centre in just 15 minutes.
Alternatively, take a bus to nearby Antwerpen-Berchem train station and a tram into the city centre from there. There are buses every 15 minutes from the airport to Antwerp-Berchem Station. From there, take a tram to Silsburg and get off at Antwerpen Groenplaats for the historic city centre. For the zoo and Antwerpen-Centraal station, head towards Rooseveltplaats and get off at the final stop.
Antwerp’s public transport system is well connected and easy to navigate. The network of trams and buses is integrated, so a single ticket works for both. Buy a single ride or a 10-journey pass from the vending machines at the stations. Public transport operates from 0600 to midnight on weekdays and 0100 on the weekends. Special night buses run longer on Friday and Saturday nights.
Taxis are easy to hail in Antwerp. Be sure to take an official metered taxi as they charge a government-controlled tariff. Official taxis have a red plate on the front and an illuminated sign on the roof. You can hail a taxi on the street.
Antwerp’s bike-share program is a fun way to explore the city. Look out for the Velo Antwerpen stations across the city, where you can easily pick up a bike and drop it off as you explore.
The airport has several car-hire counters. And to make getting around the city easily, there’s a convenient guide to free and paid parking across Antwerp.
Historic city centre: for sightseeing
The historic city centre is a treat of cobbled streets, graceful squares and the iconic Cathedral of Our Lady, with its towering spire. Sightseeing highlights include the UNESCO-recognised Museum Plantin-Moretus, the graceful Grote Markt square and Rubenshuis, home to many works by Reubens, Antwerp’s best-known painter. Dotted between the historic sites are charming pubs and restaurants that bring a contemporary character into this rich neighbourhood. When your sightseeing is complete, stop and soak up the atmosphere from a café terrace.
Het Eilandje: for hipster culture
Flemish for the Little Island, Het Eilandje is almost completely surrounded by water. Not so long ago, the city’s oldest port was dingy and industrial. Now, gentrification sees world-class museums and cutting-edge architecture popping up along its shores. The newest residents are the MAS, the 10-storey art and maritime museum, and the eye-catching Port House, designed by Zaha Hadid.
Thankfully, some Little Island spirit remains, with a few local dives peppered among the hip bistros and coffee roasteries. Spend your day exploring museums, strolling along the Scheldt River, and hanging with the cool crowd at the hipster hubs.
Het Zuid: for gallery-hopping
Contemporary art lovers should make a beeline for trendy Het Zuid. South of the city centre, Het Zuid is home to wide boulevards, beautiful mansions and dozens of galleries. Dive into the neighbourhood’s artsy side with a visit to the M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art, with nearly 5,000 works by Belgian and international artists. Then peruse the acclaimed Fotomuseum, one of the best photography collections in Europe. From there, walk to Volkstraat street and duck into the small galleries, chic design stores and concept shops that line the way.
Time zone: Central European Standard Time (GMT+1) and Central European Summer Time (GMT + 2)
Languages: Dutch is the official language of Flanders. French and German are the other official languages of Belgium. Staff in restaurants, bars, shops and museums often speak English, though don't take it for granted.