One day in Antwerp Itinerary – Free things to do
Where we stayed in Antwerp?
One day in Antwerp – The World’s Diamond Capital
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.
- Lots of under-construction stuff going on. The skyline full of building cranes, with the roads connecting one construction site to another. According to the map, the construction work included a renovation of old monuments, raising skyscrapers, constructing tram lines and some big plan of building a whole new green district on top of the ringway around the city (“Ringland”).
- The formal, classy dressing style. When it comes to fashion, we mostly think of Paris, but just a walk down the fashion district and looking at the well-dressed men and women you’d know Antwerp is not behind. Honestly, I don’t understand fashion, but even for a fashion agnostic person, it was not difficult to appreciate their stylish outfits.
- It is a well-planned city with one dedicated block for each purpose. On our way from hostel to the Stadspark, we walked through the fashion district with the designer boutiques, big brand outlets and then the shopping malls. Then we came to the Cathedral around which there are the souvenir shop and those mouth-watering Belgian Chocolate shops. After that, we walked into the world’s largest Diamond District, with diamond shops, the Diamond trade center, and few offices and banks within or adjacent to the diamond district. Then we entered the foodies street with lots of pop-ups bars, restaurants, pizzeria and cafes. You will see pop-up bars and cafes everywhere in the city, but there is this one block where you can just reach and have all the options for food within a small radius.
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|Had one of the best Pizza I’ve tasted at Del Popollo Pizzeria near the Central station|
Our Antwerp Itinerary
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.
Antwerp itinerary | Stadspark – The City Park
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.
Antwerp Central Station
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.
Diamond District of Antwerp – The Jews and the Indians
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.
Antwerp in one day | Meir Market
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.
The Grote Markt – The Great Market of Antwerp
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.
The Steen Castle – My favorite place of one day in Antwerp
The Antwerp Harbour
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.
Nightlife at Antwerp
Other places to visit in Antwerp in one day
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.
- Plantin – Moretus Museum. This is a museum and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also a 16th-century printing workshop, the only remaining one in the world.
Antwerp Zoo. If you are visiting with family don’t forget to peek into the AntwerpZoo, which is right behind the Antwerp Central station.
- New Port House of Antwerp. This is another free attraction in Antwerp’s skyline but we missed it.
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.
Roadmap for our one-day Antwerp Itinerary
Check out our walking tour plan and click on the map to go to the interactive Google maps.
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