Antwerp is astonishing. When people talk about Belgium, they either choose Brussels as the main city to explore and Ghent or Brugges to breathe the cultural air of a small town.
Antwerp has them both. It’s big and it’s small. It has an artistic vibe to it, in a Parisian way, and a cozy, warm feeling, as Salzburg has. There’s so much to do, so much to see, and most importantly, so incredibly much to enjoy.
Go eat the chocolate
I’m a chocolate addict. Along with traveling and books, this is my most powerful addiction. If you’re not, just go to Antwerp, you’ll become one in no time.
You can see handmade chocolate shops in every corner. You may think it’s hard trying to choose, but believe me, it’s not. They all are awesome! If you want to sit down and have the best hot chocolate ever, go to the chocolate bar Quetzal. I recommend the double shot option with 35% milk. And eat a brownie. It’s to die for!
Go rent a bike and cycle around the neighborhoods
You may hear a lot that the true spirit (or soul, or feel – whatever you want to call it) is not in the touristy area. For Antwerp, the historic and cultural feel is in the center, while the “people feel” is around its residential neighborhoods.
Berchem is a good choice. It’s incredibly peaceful and green. You can stop for a coffee or frozen yogurt in one of its parks, or you can go see the Middleheim university campus and its open-air museum, which is quite original. You can talk to random people, because contrary to common understanding, the people here are friendly and smile a lot. And don’t worry, it’s very safe.
Go feel the jazz
I think most of the people have heard about De Muze jazz bar in Antwerp. It’s an awesome place! Even if you don’t like jazz (and I don’t think it’s possible, maybe you just haven’t yet listened to good jazz), De Muze is the bar to be. It is a bar, a café and a pub. And above all, it’s a meeting place for all locals and travelers alike.
Wanna make some new friends? Wanna meet talented musicians and artists? Wanna have the best night of your life? You got it – go to De Muze. You can’t find a free table? No worries, just ask anyone to make some space at their table for you, and you’re going to end up with some amazing new friends in Antwerp.
Go enjoy even more of the music
Antwerp has art and culture at its core. Everywhere you’ll choose to go, you will see people singing, playing instruments, painting, dancing. The Meir Street is the center of it all.
Walk along the main pedestrian street (if you’re into shopping, you can definitely check out the numerous brand stores here) and let your senses guide you. You will hear a violin and a piano, you will be amazed by African instruments and you will definitely lose yourself (in a good way, of course) into the overwhelming ambience of the music. You can start dancing you feel like it, it’s absolutely normal here and even advised.
Go to China town
It may seem a little unconventional (when you go to Barcelona, you want to see Gaudi, not Tour Eiffel), but the food here is one of the best Asian food in all of Europe.
Besides, there are a lot of gift shops and markets where you can buy cheap things, which is quite rare in the whole Belgium, Antwerp especially. You can get an Asia feeling without stepping out of the city or out of the continent. Many people running around, a lot of different smells coming from all directions and a colorful street will meet you at the huge gate. Do not try to talk on the phone here, you’ll not be able to hear anything but the cheery and lively people around you.
Go take a picture with the hand
The hand is a symbol of Antwerp. One of the legends says that the name Antwerp came from the Dutch hand werpen, which means “throwing hands”. There was a giant once who asked for “passing money” from boatmen on the river, and everyone who refused had one of their hands severed. As the story usually goes, a young hero came along and killed the giant, cutting off his own hand and throwing it into the river.
Whether you’re into legends or not, a photo with the hand on the main pedestrian street of Antwerp is a must. It may not be as popular as the Statue of Liberty in New York, but it definitely has an interesting vibe to it and you can tell the old story to everyone when showing the pictures. You can even be creepy about it, adding some spicy details. Already have some ideas? Go take the photo!
Go see some of the touristy spots
Yes, I know, we do this because we have to, but most of the times we end up waiting in huge queues or get pushed by people taking selfies all over the place. To see the Charles Bridge in Prague is amazing, but to have a nice, slow stroll it’s impossible (unless you go on a winter with heavy snow, on a storm or decide to wake up at 4 in the morning). It is not the case with Antwerp.
The entire Belgium is laid back. The center of Antwerp is full of people (pretty much all the time), but no one is pushing you, yelling at you or making you feel uncomfortable. Rubenshuis and the Cathedral of Our Lady are definitely attractions to see. You can go to the Museum aan de Stroom if a view of the city and the river along it is what your heart desires.
And eat the Belgian fries, they eat them here with everything. You can’t say you’ve been to Belgium until you try the fries. But after this, stick to the frozen yogurt and amazing chocolate.
Antwerp is a city for everyone and everything. There are some things you may need to get used to (like no one on the streets after 6PM), but it will only add to its charm. It’s beautiful, it’s full of untouched little places and alleys, it has mind-blowing chocolate and awesome people from every corner of the world. Just go there, immerse yourself into the city and enjoy it!