There is one Belgian city that holds a special spot in my heart, Antwerp. It is the Fashion and Diamond capital of Belgium and it is such an awesome city. Antwerp is all about fashion, hip new coffee bars and has an excellent nightlife. Having lived here for five years, I’ve spent many perfect weekends here between my 9 to 5. Therefore it’s the ideal city to spend a weekend away from home.
The best time to visit most European cities is in the summer time and this is no different for Antwerp. With pop-up concepts spread all across the city and plenty of greenery, the city is lively, exciting and relaxing all at once. With Belgian’s national holiday coming up on the 21st of July, I decided to create my perfect weekend in Antwerp. It was so difficult to pick and choose as there is so much more to experience. This weekend is pretty perfect as it is, but I do think you should come back one day and do the rest. I hope you enjoy it!
How to spend a Perfect Weekend in Antwerp
Spending a long weekend in the city will allow you to enjoy everything that the city has to offer. Maybe you can already drive up to the city on Thursday evening and enjoy the beginning of the long weekend with the locals.
There are several neighborhoods in Antwerp that are worth visiting. You can choose between the touristy center, the hip North with an excellent park (called Park Spoor Noord) and ‘Het Eilandje‘, the fancy South, ‘Zurenborg‘ and it’s expensive houses, ‘Borgerhout‘ where the millennials are buying homes and where there are many cool bars popping up or even the left bank of the river. Every tourist will want to start off in the center but it’s so important to get out of there if you really want to experience what the city is all about!
What is better than anticipating a weekend long adventure while spending your last hours at work. Maybe you can even leave early and jump in the car to start your weekend early, put on some road trip tunes and hit to one of the best cities in Belgium.
If you’re staying in the city, take it easy for your first night and have a nice drink at my favorite square in town. The ‘Mechelseplein’ is home to several iconic bars and is a great start off point for your evening. Your legs will be getting a good workout later in the weekend anyway!
Have dinner at the local restaurant ‘Kapitein Zeppos‘ or anywhere around the famous cathedral will be good for your first night out. Even though the area around the cathedral is filled with very touristy places, there are also a couple local’s favorites such as Tapabar and Pasta Hippo.
If you are having dinner around the Cathedral, a funny bar to visit is definitely 11e Gebod. It is filled to the brim with religious statues and has a big selection of beers. Back to Mechelsesquare for more drinks, it’s the start of the weekend after all. Time for a cocktail (or two) at Caffè Barbossa and finishing the evening at the iconic Pallieter or Korsakov is just what I would do if I don’t want to walk too far.
The weekend gets very busy in the center of the city. Therefore we’ll focus on this part of town today and head out for the weekend. There is so much to see and to experience so try to get up early and brush off your hangover at Mirlo’s.
Mirlo’s has been around for the last two year and is here to stay. The owner Merel is so passionate about her café that you will find the best coffee and an exciting new menu every week. She also sells the cutest little home decor items, it’s going to be hard to not buy anything! This is a small but delicious little restaurant so call in beforehand if you want to be sure of a table!
The Touristy Bit
From Mirlo’s you can easily find your way to the first shopping street on the itinerary, the ‘Nationalestraat’. This street has a couple of smaller boutiques and cute coffee shops. It also leads you straight into the center where you can go all out tourist on Antwerp.
The Groenplaats is home to the Cathedral Of Our Lady and the start of any and every tourist’s journey around the city. Have a look at the church but skip the expensive trip up the tower. If you want to see the skyline, I’ll take you there for free later in the article.
Make your way to the Great Market Square and admire the beautiful city hall and its medieval homes lining the market. Make sure to include a short detour to the prettiest square in the whole city, ‘Hendrick Consciencesquare’. If you’re lucky, there might even be a street musician.
Head to the water and visit ‘Het Steen‘ to learn a bit about how the city got its name from a David vs Goliath story involving a mean giant and a how his hand was chopped off and thrown into the Scheldt River. It’s also a tiny little castle by the water and the start of one of my favorite walkways over the water. Connecting ‘Het Steen’ with another icon of the city Het Zuiderterras, this walkway is the perfect breath of fresh air between all your activities.
On your way back, you will see the Sint-Anna Tunnel that passes under the river, but that’s for later. Now it’s lunch time. In the little streets leading you back to the Great Market Square, you’ll find today’s affordable lunch spot. Chickpea makes everything with chickpeas and is hummus heaven. The perfectly filling stop-over for an afternoon filled with shopping.
After lunch and on your way back into the center, try and find the oldest street of Antwerp, the ‘Vlaaikensgang’. This little street is sometimes difficult to find so ask a local if you miss it. It was built in 1591 and is a very beautiful part of Antwerp’s history.
Even though there is a long weekend ahead, Friday shopping will be slightly less busy than going shopping in the weekend. Most of the high street chains can be found on the famous Meir Street. Head here for the cheaper and well-known brands such as H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, etc. You will also find Uniqlo and a pretty cool concept store Juttu in this street. Start your walk from the iconic ‘Boerentoren’ building which is THE landmark that signifies Antwerp’s skyline (in combination with the Cathedral of course).
Shop your way along the main street and pass through the “Stadsfeestzaal”, which is a gorgeous shopping mall. Next your reach Hopland and Schuttershofstraat. In this street, you will find the Belgian brand Essentiel, Burberry, Antwerp’s only Chanel store, Belgian’s iconic shoestore Cocodrillo and many more high fashion brands. Peek around the corner to find Graanmarkt 13. An amazing store with restaurant and B&B attached. Truly one of Antwerp’s finest pearls.
If you still have not been shopped out, you can continue on in ‘De Wilde Zee’. This is a collection of small streets where you’ll find ‘& Other Stories’, the MAC store and Rituals. From here you’ll reach de Lombardenvest for minimalist fashion at ACNE.
Dinner & drinks
Time for one of the many great Asian food restaurants that we have in the center of Antwerp. Go for Umamido if you feel like ramen, Yam Thai for nice Thai food and Bun if you need Vietnamese. Friday nights are busy in Antwerp so make sure to book a table in advance.
End the day in style in the fancy Antwerp Zuid and go for a drink in one of the many cafés around the Museum of Fine Arts. Chat Le Roi and De Nieuwe Linde are many local’s favorites. Check whether there is an interesting party at De Studio if you want to continue on.
Start your morning in cozy Zurenborg. The area is very residential area but oh boy, are the houses beautiful. The most famous street, Cogels-Osylei, is filled with small Art Nouveau castles and is absolutely gorgeous. It also leads straight to the center of Zurenborg where you’ll find the Dageraadplaats with plenty of great cafés. My favorite pizza restaurant (Pizzeria Orso) is just around the corner as well. If you can’t find your heart’s desire on the Dageraadplaats, find your way to Walvis for breakfast. Spend the rest of your morning exploring the area and walking the pretty streets.
Go all the way across the city to the North to explore the area we call ‘Het Eilandje’. You can go by tram (tram 9 and 7), by Vélo city bike or by taxi. We’ll stay here for the rest of the day because you’ve gone far enough for one day.
‘Het Eilandje’ is one of the up and coming neighborhoods in Antwerp and has cool new spots opening up every day. If you’re not hungry yet, there are plenty of places to discover as well. The harbor is a place for relaxing and exploring and is worth some of your time. It’s here that I used to imagine myself sitting at the Sydney Harbor when I was plotting my escape from Belgium.
There are two places next to the water that are absolute musts. First up, the view from the top of the MAS museum. Here you can see the entire city for free and if you have some extra time, it’s worth checking out the museum as well.
Another gorgeous spot right next to the water is the Felix Pakhuis. In the 19th century, this place was a place for trading and shipping coffee, grain, cheese and tobacco and is now one of the most beautiful venues.
As a part of the building, you will also find the restaurant of tv-chef Wim Ballieu, Balls & Glory. They serve meatballs or rice balls with a sauce and mashed potatoes. It’s slightly more on the expensive side but it is delicious. Story Urban Delight Shop is another option for a delicious lunch around the water.
An afternoon at the harbor is easily spent. Relaxing by the water, having a couple of coffees and admiring the architecture of this new part of the city. Don’t forget Antwerp’s newest addition elevating our architectural status, Zaha Hadid’s Port-house. It is a bit of a walk to the building but you can also admire it from a distance. Along the Kattendijkdok there are usually several temporary summer bars opening such as Bar Paniek.
Sunset & Dinner
Around the corner you will find the Rijnkaai and the Sloepenweg. Perfect spots for wandering during summer evenings and for watching the sunset. The Sloepenweg even has a barbecue! If you don’t want to cook for yourself, the Antwerp Summerbar is open until late during the summer months.
Aaah, Sundays in the city might be the best days. Everyone is relaxing all over the city and enjoying their time off. As I said before, the whole city is lively during the summer months and even more so on Sundays. Start your morning in one of Antwerp’s best breakfast bars, Tinsel. Everything about this bar is beautiful, from the coffees they make, the food, their interior to the people that work there. This bar is first come, first serve so booking a table is not possible.
From here you can easily stroll around the Kloosterstraat. One most Sundays, this is the only street where all the shops are open. It’s most famous for its antique stores, which are on the pricier end, but maybe you will find a vintage treasure. I always have a stop over at my favorite urban garden on the back deck of Take Five Minutes in Paris.
The Kloosterstraat will lead you all the way to the Sint-Anna’s Tunnel which is a pedestrian tunnel that goes underneath the Scheldt river has these beautiful wooden escalators from the 1930s. Walk all the way to the other side of the water and admire the city in the best way possible. Maybe even stick around for sunset!
On this side of the river, you can also find several pop-up cafes that are only open in the Antwerp summer. Bar Left is another great example of one of those little bars. It is best reached by bike but is so worth the detour. Spend your afternoon in nature or head back to the city for one last urban dinner.
There are many cool B&B’s and hotels in the city to choose from covering any and every budget. I would recommend looking for a place in the center of the city or at least close to one of the main tram lines that will get you everywhere.
Antwerp is super easy to get around as it has a pretty good tram and metro network. Another option to get yourself around the city is a Vélo (Flemish people’s word for a bicycle) city bike. This is by far my favorite way of getting from place to place and will turn out to be cheaper than taking the tram everywhere. The prices are four euro for a day pass and 10 euro for a week pass.
It was so hard to write a three-day itinerary for a city that has so much to offer. There are a million cool restaurants and coffee spots that I never even got to. For example, I didn’t find a spot for my favorite open air swimming pool, Het Boekenberg Park, or the most beautiful co-working space, Fosbury & Sons. There is so much! As my favorite Belgian city to live in, this truly is a great city. I might elaborate on this article in a later post with a bit more of a list of all the cool little restaurants and places to visit if that’s something you’re interested in.
I could never have written this post without the help of the Instagram accounts of so many awesome people still living in Antwerp. Their pretty photos jogged my memory and almost made me homesick. Follow these lovely people for daily updates on this awesome city: Julie for the best hipster spots in Antwerp and beyond, Patricia for interior envy and great dinner spots and Paulien, who even has her own helpful hashtag #pielauninantwerp for all the best Antwerp spots. The list of cool people living in the city is too long but these three will definitely get you started.
This post was sponsored by Weekendesk. They offer many deals on stays in Belgium and around Europe. I love that they have the option of looking for places within a two-hour drive from your hometown. While living in Belgium I often looked to places I could visit with only a short drive away (that’s how we ended up in Dinant) and with Weekenddesk you’ll be able to give in your adventurous urges every time you want to get out.