Heading for an Antwerp city break?
Then here are some little things and insights from our own trip that will help you plan ahead and get the best of of your visit to Belgium's second biggest city.
Buy an Antwerp Card
Ye, we know most cities have them and they’re often completely next to useless, but believe us when we say that the Antwerp City Card is essential for any city-breaker.
Find out more in this post this little post we've put together.
Antwerp is slow to rise
Whilst we’re big fans of getting up nice and early to find empty streets (or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves - hopefully it'll stick one day), we know that most people prefer their neighbourhoods with a little more life.
It’s worth noting then that life tends to get going a little later in Antwerp, particularly in Zuid where many shops don’t open their doors until at least 11 a.m. So, enjoy your leisurely morning lie-in rather than heading out at the crack of dawn.
Additionally, note that many shops do not open at all on Sundays (which is why Koolsestrat and its antique stalls is a great area to visit that day of the week).
Know your museum opening times
As we’ve mentioned in other articles, museums are everywhere in Antwerp and we implore you to visit as many as you can. If you’re visiting for a long weekend however, do note that most of them are closed on Mondays, so plan around it.
And whilst we’re on the subject of museums, it’s perfectly normal for you to have to place even the smallest of bags in a locker before entering the exhibits. Being the security freaks that we are, we were a little miffed to begin with, but can now happily reassure you that you should have no concerns. Each locker with a personal key and are housed in a part of the musum that is secure (you may just want to carry a spare euro for the locker in case).
Consider Its Layout
Instead of lumping the entirety of the Antwerp together, you’ll be able to plan your time in the city much better if you instead consider the city as divided into three distinct areas for you to visit on a city break: the old town, the port and Zuid.
These are the neighbourhoods where you’re likely to spend most of your time (bar the odd exception such as a bike ride to the outer limits), and you can easily walk, cycle, travel between the three.
There are excellent food options
Given the vast number of nationalities that call this relatively small city home, it should come as little surprise that you can find pretty much any food that your heart desires here. And whilst it's certainly possible to indulge in frites and waffels, the more adventurous travellers can find pretty much any cuisine their heart desires across Antwerp. We had Japanese, Italian, Chinese, plus some local Dutch fare on our visit.
Additionally, vegetarians and vegans are exceedingly well catered for, and even in traditional restaurants we always had more than enough choice.
Understand the local lingo
Whilst Brussels in the south of Belgium speaks French, the official language of Antwerp is Flemish. With considerable similarities to Dutch, it is possible for these geographical neighbours to easily converse with one another in the local lingo. French will also be heard often on the streets of Antwerp, but not absolutely everyone will speak it.
For tourists like us and you, you’ll be pleased to know that the standard of English proficiency in the city was incredibly high everywhere we visited, so it's easy to communicate.
Your Euro may not go as far as you would like
First things first: Antwerp is not expensive, per se. It’s just that it’s not terribly cheap either.
Visits on a bit of a budget can definitely be done, you’ll just have to hunt around a bit for cheaper food options and possibly opt for a hostel.
You Should Totally Get on Your Bike
Besides the language, another thing that Antwerp has in common with its neighbours in the north, is a fondness for bicycles. Miles and miles of designated bike routes, respectful drivers who obey related speed limits and cyclist rights of way, and a culture that encourages all to give it a go!
For anyone visiting on a city break, we recommend checking out the city-wide VeloAntwerpen bike rental scheme, which is €4 for a day pass, or €10 for a week. Find out more about how to get around Antwerp in our City Break Guide.
Whilst we're on the subject, it'll become quite clear to you quite quickly that you really shouldn't walk on the cycle paths in Antwerp!
Arrive By Train
Being based on an island, we usually have little choice but to fly in and out of a new destination. That was however until we discovered the joys of the Eurostar. Up until May this year, can you believe that one half of Along Dusty Roads had never actually ventured beneath the sea and across to the continent before? By the end of July, that person would end up having taken it five times!
It’s fair to say we’re absolute converts. It’s quick (around three hours from London, via a change in Brussels), doesn’t require a prolonged check-in period, there’s very generous limits on your luggage allowance, and, most importantly, you get to arrive into one of the most beautiful train stations in the world - Antwerp Centraal! Note that, a cheap flight option may make it a good idea to fly to Brussels and then take the train from there to Antwerp.
This is a city of apps
If there is one thing that Andrew's phone can attest to, it's that he loves a good app (not that he ends up using half of them mind). So, in addition to the usual ones we use when we travel, we were delighted to discover a handful that were specific for this trip.
This is Antwerp | Like to live like a local? This is the app for you. Hidden secrets, pop-up bars and cool shops alongside up to date information. Android + Apple.
VeloAntwerpen | If you want to use the public bike system, you'll need this app. Particularly useful for finding out where to pick up and drop off a bicycle. Android + Apple.
Street Art Cities | Perfect for those low on time but keen to check out the local street art scene - this app plots all the city's best on a map (along with an explanation) so you can plan your route. Android + Apple
Ask Antwerp | If you're in need of an Antwerp city tip, you can add 'Ask Antwerp' on Facebook Messenger and ask locals your questions about the city!