Our hostel was in a surprisingly peaceful complex near the throbbing fashion district. We loved the hostel. What we cherished the most was the free pocket maps from the UseIt series that were made available on the rack for tourists. These maps had a host of local tips and some history lesson of the city. Not only did it guide us through our walking tour of the city but it also helped me recollect the tidbits while writing the blog. This is in fact, the only souvenir I could bring from Antwerp (keep reading to know why). So after taking some time to freshen up, we set off for exploring the city on foot. Here are a few things that are hard to not notice when you walk on the streets of Antwerp.
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|Had one of the best Pizza I’ve tasted at Del Popollo Pizzeria near the Central station|
Our first stop was at the Central Station from where we walked 2km to our hostel. So by the time we started on our self-guided walking tour, we had already got an orientation of the neighborhood.
We had a delicious bacon and prawn pizza at a local pizzeria and then we went to the city park, called Stadspark. The remains of a 16th-century Spanish fortress was re-engineered into this beautiful open park in the 19th century, in a classical English landscape style. “On summer days it’s full of skaters, girls in bikinis next to women in veils,” said our pocket local guide. But on a relatively cold, somber day it just looked like a page out of Tom Sawyer or Great Expectations. There was a lovely children’s park where parents were watching the kids play after school-time.
Often ranked among the world’s 10 most beautiful train stations (even at no.1 by some surveys), this grand monument is a masterpiece and could easily be mistaken for a museum. The large dome with beautifully decorated exteriors is just a teaser of what’s inside. Look up at the glass dome above and the details on the arches with tainted glasses when you go up the escalators. It indeed looks like a cathedral inside but like many historic monuments it has a dark history. According to our pocket guide, the original building was built under the command of Leopard II with blood money from inhumane rubber harvest in the then colonies of Belgium.
Did you know? 84% of the world’s rough diamond passes through Antwerp!
Antwerp is the heart of diamond trading for over five centuries. With 220 million dollars worth of diamonds traded daily in the diamond district of Antwerp, you’d know why there are so many men in uniform around in the city. The highly secured Diamond quarter is home to the diamond trading center, a large number of jewelry shops, diamond traders, wholesalers, cutters and guess what, a branch of “Bank of India”!
Orthodox Jews have dominated the closed world of diamond trading in Antwerp for centuries, but Indians are taking over steadily. The rising prominence of the (mostly Jain) Indian community is seen in the cuisine as well, with special mention of vegetarian Indian restaurants on our map. You’d see a large number of formally-clad Jain Indians and orthodox Jews identified by the headwears (kippah) and long beard walking on the street. There are around 20,000 Jews in Antwerp, most of whom are orthodox and these families have inherited the diamond business from their ancestors from as early as the 15th century. The Jewish neighborhood near the diamond district has beautiful old buildings and synagogues.
You’d find most of my pictures of the city roads are sort of photo-bombed by an unusually large number of wires – I first thought these were only for the tram-lines, some of them are, but mostly it is the Eruv – a holy wire that symbolically encloses a certain area (a larger home). Read up a little about this on the internet and found out that Eruv runs almost throughout the central city enclosing the station and diamond district, to allow the orthodox Jews to move around as usual during a religious observation called Shabbat, in which they are forbidden to leave their home.
I spotted the Scheldt river on our map and decided to go there no matter what. So we just kept walking from the Diamond District towards the river. On our way, we crossed the Meir shopping center of Antwerp. We had walked through this place earlier on our way to the hostel. Yes, the place that made me aware of the great sense of fashion in the Antwerpeans.
Meir is the main shopping destination in the city. I also noticed that there was a sale starting in a few days, but we were out of luck. You would love looking at those gorgeous buildings and window-shopping like we did.
While we headed straight to the Grote Market from here, a slight left turn could have taken us to Ruben’s house. As the name suggests, this is the house of the great artist Ruben and it has been transformed into a museum. The museum has a great collection of his paintings. I didn’t know about it then, so we missed it. But you know now, so don’t miss it on your walking tour.
This is the central square of Antwerp is famous not only for a large number of shopping options and cafes but also for the architectural wonders around. Each building- be it a shopping mall or a bank has a medieval design lending the place its old-world charm. The Brabo’s fountain stands at the center, (recall the story I began with?) depicting the city’s hero. This is where we also saw the chocolate shops I mentioned and the stunning OLV Cathedral.
It has a 123-meter tall tower, which we could see from various parts of the city on our walking tour. This Gothic masterpiece was completed in an early 16th century and has been robbed several times since then. From here we followed the direction of Brabo’s hand towards the river Scheldt. Just kidding, we followed the map and walked towards the river.
Since the castle was closed for restoration activities we spent a great time at the banks of the river taking watching the ships and the windmills. A walk along the Antwerp Harbour is almost a mandatory free thing to do in Antwerp. But we missed something. The underpass connecting to the left bank of the Scheldt river leads you to the best Panoramic viewpoint of the city. We missed that unknowingly.
This was our itinerary which comprised only the free things to do in Antwerp. The things we missed? Well, there are some, as always when you have such a short stall in the city. Here are a few which you can add to your list even if you have only one day in Antwerp.
Antwerp Zoo. If you are visiting with family don’t forget to peek into the AntwerpZoo, which is right behind the Antwerp Central station.
However it is 7.2 km away from the Steen castle, so it’s better to take a bus or bike to it. We could not include it on our walking tour.
Check out our walking tour plan and click on the map to go to the interactive Google maps.
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Antwerp looks amazing. Now on my bucket list.
Antwerp looks great. The railway station, Jewish Quarter, Diamond district. Will have to get there. Thanks for the post.
Antwerp is awesome place to visit. Your detailed and informative post brought me back my memories of my visit. Thanks for sharing!
I've never actually heard of Antwerp so I enjoyed reading about it. How interesting that they have a different purpose for each street, great idea!
You squeezed in a lot into your time in Antwerp, looks like I could happily spend a couple of nights there I think. We want to see more of Belgium, as we recently spend a wonderful few days in Ghent and loved it. Looks like Antwerp shares the beautiful historical architecture, old town squares and cool tram network of Ghent too! And wow to that central station building!
I've heard about Antwerp before but never thought I will find so many cool things to do here. I loved your pictures of the historical architecture and the old town squares. I definitely have to visit it after reading your article!
What a beautiful post about an equally beautiful city Antwerp and it only makes it better with your tips to visit free places. I must say there is a lot to see in the city with the splendid architecture itself which is free. Would love a visit to the city park, called Stadspark which will be great in the summer. The other one which appeals to me is The Steen. Thinks for sharing this post .
I remember visiting Antwerp many years ago, and it's a great city to do a lot of walking. I also remember the Steen, and it's very cool inside too. I think I went to the Great Market, and probably had a beer there too! Not sure about the bacon and prawn pizza, but then again, I live half the year in Italy and we never eat that here!
I absolutely loved this walking tour seeped in history. I never knew the origin of the name Antwerp, that is so interesting! And the prawn pizza you had sounds so good – I've never had shrimp on pizza before. What was the name of the restaurant you visited?
Antwerp looks amazing as it has lots of beautiful things that can be done for free. I love your hostel location in fashion district, as it must be great to see something new trendy stuff there. Also detailed free maps by Useit series sounds useful as they have many local details. Thanks for sharing.
Antwerp looks really pretty! The central station is stunning and I bet that the Stadspark is a great place to enjoy the sunshine in the warmer months!
You should check out the huge street art scene in Antwerp, with the free Street Art Cities app you can wander in the open air gallery
We visited Antwerp a few years ago and whilst walking around the city popped into Centraal Station. We didn’t know anything about the station so was totally amazed by what we found when we wandered in! In 2009 Newsweek judged the station the world’s fourth greatest train station. Then in 2014 Mashable awarded it the first place for the most beautiful railway station in the world. It’s seriously impressive & grand – you really must visit if you’re ever in Antwerp!