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10 fun things to do in Antwerp on a river cruise

Antwerp is a city that harmoniously combines the old and the new, the narrow streets of the medieval centre contrasting with the sheets of water and stunning modern architecture of the harbour basins. The city owes its prosperity to being the second largest port in Europe, having controlled the route along the River Scheldt for centuries, growing rich on the taxes and international trade. Belgium’s largest city is a melting pot of cultures and ideas, known for its vibrant fashion scene and as the centre of Europe’s diamond trade.

Brabo Fountain in Antwerp

Brabo Fountain in Antwerp

Our visit to Antwerp was one of the stops that I enjoyed most on our Titan river cruise on MS Serenade 1, which took us from Amsterdam through the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium. We only had one day to explore the city, so here’s a taste of the things to do in Antwerp that you can fit into the short time that’s available when you visit on a river cruise. 

Read more: Highlights of our Amsterdam river cruise with Titan Travel through Belgium and Holland

Antwerp port Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Port of Antwerp

Arriving in Antwerp on our Titan River cruise

Our Titan river cruise on MS Serenade 1 brought us by breakfast time into the Port of Antwerp, where we were located in the Kattendijkdok, one of the inner port areas that lead from the River Scheldt. The thing we love about river cruises is that you generally arrive early in a new city and stay late, departing after dinner, giving us plenty of time to explore all the things to see in Antwerp.

Read more: 10 things we enjoyed on our Titan River cruise with MS Serenade 1

MS Serenade in Amsterdam

MS Serenade1 on our Titan River Cruise

1. Museum aan der Stroom or MAS in Antwerp

Our first encounter in the next basin of the port, was with the Museum aan der Stroom or MAS which looks a bit like a tower of orange bricks, with glass panels giving views of the harbour, as you take the escalators up through the building. The “Museum on the river” tells the stories that flow through the city and port, where merchants from all over the world met to exchange ideas and trade goods. Each floor houses permanent and changing exhibitions to tell the story of the city, the building’s exterior mimicking a giant warehouse that forms a repository for collections that reflect Antwerp’s past and future. 

Things to do in Antwerp - Museum an der Stroon in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Museum an der Stroon in Antwerp

Although you there’s a charge to visit the exhibitions (entrance €10), it’s free to walk through this landmark building, with views through the glass walls on each floor. From the roof terrace there is a 360 degree view over the port, through glass panels which have convenient circular holes in them so you can get the perfect photo.

Looking down on the square below, you may notice the white mosaic paving forms the image of a skull, an artwork by Antwerp’s artist, Luc Tuymans. We didn’t have time to visit the exhibitions but really enjoyed our visit to the rooftop terrace and views from MAS, which I’d recommend as one of the top free places to visit in Antwerp. 

Find out how to book a similar cruise with Titan Travel – Beauty of the Dutch Waterways with Bruges  (August 2019)

What to do in Antwerp - Museum an der Stroon in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Museum an der Stroon in Antwerp

What to see in Antwerp - Museum an der Stroon in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Museum an der Stroon in Antwerp

2. What to do in Antwerp – a Cycle tour of Antwerp

In order to see as much as possible during our day in Antwerp, we decided to hire a bike from Antwerp by Bike, who have a depot tucked away under the Zuiderterras elevated walkway near the Flandria information desk. Antwerp is a very walkable city, but the walks between different things could take a while, so the bike was an excellent solution to get us around.

You may also enjoy: Five hidden hotspots in Amsterdam

The bike hire is pretty reasonable at €12 per day and we loved the little map we were given with lots of quirky, local recommendations (that’s how we found Paniek summer bar). If you are visiting Antwerp for longer than a day, I think it could be great fun to try one of the themed guided tours covering Jewish Antwerp, Belgian Beer culture and the Port area. If you’d like to plan ahead check out this Antwerp highlights guided 2 hour bike tour which you can book in advance.

Things to see in Antwerp on a Cycle tour Photo Heatheronhertravels

Cycle tour in Antwerp

3. The Brabo Fountain and Grote Markt in Antwerp

Any city tour will take you through the Grote Markt or Great Market Square of Antwerp where you’ll stop at the Brabo fountain to hear how the city got its name. The story goes something like this.

“In Roman times there was a giant who controlled the bend in the River Scheldt, exacting a toll from each passing ship. Anyone who refused to pay the toll would have his hand cut off, until the Roman warrior Silvius Brabo had enough and slew the giant, chopped off his hand and threw it into the river. Hence the act of throwing the hand into the river gave the city its name based on the Dutch for Hand (hant) and Throw (werpen), which dropping the H became Antwerp.”

Find out how to book a similar cruise with Titan Travel –Waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands – this 8 day cruise includes Antwerp (Sept 2019)

Places to visit in Antwerp - Brabo Fountain in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Brabo Fountain in Antwerp

It’s a nice story which is commemorated by the fountain topped with a bronze statue of Brabo throwing the giant’s hand, which was commissioned in 1887. Of course the reality is that the city was more likely to have been named after the aanwerp or alluvial mound in the river, but that wouldn’t be such an interesting tale!

If you need a starting point on what to see in Antwerp, the Grote Markt is the heart of medieval city and hosts lots of events through the year. When we visited it was being set up for a concert and the central square is used for festivals and Christmas markets, overlooked by the medieval Stadhuis (City Hall) and Guildhalls.

Find out how to book a Christmas markets cruise with Titan Travel – Christmas markets cruise Amsterdam and Antwerp – this 5 night cruise includes Antwerp (Dec 2019)

4. The Rubens House in Antwerp

As one of the most popular things to see in Antwerp, we made our first sightseeing stop the Rubens House, where the painter Peter Paul Rubens lived and worked until his death in 1640. Since Rubens admired the art of Roman antiquity and the Italian Renaissance, he enlarged the house in Renaissance style to give it the air of an Italian palazzo. Sadly the collection of Ruben’s own work has been largely dispersed, so that the artworks you see in the house are mostly from other artists and old masters of the period.

Read more: 10 things we enjoyed on our Titan River cruise with MS Serenade 1

During his lifetime Rubens became one of Europe’s most successful artists, employing many pupils and assistants in his studios to cope with the growing demand. His wealth bought him two country estates, and you can see the picture of one of these at Ekeren hanging in the house.

Things to do in Antwerp - Rubens House in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Rubens House in Antwerp

In his 50s, following the death of his first wife, Rubens married again to the sixteen year old beauty Helena Fourment, who bore him five children and whose portrait by Rubens also hangs in the house. As well as running his large studio, Rubens was himself an art collector and a diplomat who spoke several languages and was charged with negotiating the exile of Marie de Medici the French Queen Mother to the Dutch Republic in the 1630s.  

At the end of the visit we enjoyed wandering around the pretty enclosed garden which has been recreated based on paintings of the time, where Rubens could relax with family and friends. Now, as then, it forms a walled oasis in the middle of the city and is a delightful place to sit among the flowers at the end of your visit. The Rubens House should be top of your list of things to do in Antwerp in a day, if you are short on time. 

Find out how to book a mini cruise with Titan Travel –Amsterdam and Antwerp mini cruise – this 3 night cruise break includes Antwerp (Oct 2019)

Things to do in Antwerp - Rubens House in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Rubens House in Antwerp

5. The Cathedral in Antwerp and the Bollekesfeest beer festival

The Cathedral of Our Lady sits at the heart of old Antwerp and its 123 metre high spire must have dominated the skyline when it was completed in 1521. The cathedral is a treasury of artworks, including a number by Paul Rubens, so this is one of the best places in Antwerp to see his work.

There’s a busy plaza in front of the cathedral and to the side the square was taken up when we were there with the Bollekesfeest, which celebrates the Antwerp’s De Koninck city brewery making Bolleke beer and other regional food and drink. If you want to taste the beer at other times, you can visit the De Konick brewery for an interactive brewery tour  with a beer tasting at the end.

Read more: Highlights of our Amsterdam river cruise with Titan Travel through Belgium and Holland

Things to do in Antwerp - Cathedral Square in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Cathedral Square in Antwerp

6. Belgian Waffles in Antwerp

You can’t visit Belgium without trying the waffles, so after we had cycled around to see quite a lot of the city we stopped near the cathedral where I spotted the bright green and yellow shopfront of Creme de la creme and the smell of freshly made waffles. This place is a small kiosk serving ice cream and waffles, with outdoor tables and deck chairs where you can sit for a while to eat them.

There are lots of different toppings, including the favourite chocolate sauce but I went for the strawberries and whipped cream which was quite over the top and finished me off for anything else. Meanwhile Guy who prefers savoury to sweet had settled into Fish a’ gogo a small street-food place next door, for a beer and some seafood snacks, which were also very good. 

Find out how to book a similar cruise with Titan Travel – Beauty of the Dutch Waterways with Bruges (August 2019)

Things to do in Antwerp - Belgian waffles in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Belgian waffles in Antwerp

7. The Botanical Garden or Plantentuin in Antwerp

A chance find as we cycled through Antwerp was the Botanic Garden or Plantentuin – one of those places you spot the greenery and stop to investigate. The garden was originally created to supply herbs and medicinal plants to the St Elizabeth’s Hospital next door and houses around 2000 different species.

There was a pretty brick building at one end which houses a restaurant, Het Gebaar, that was closed when we visited but it looked very nice.  We parked our bikes and wandered around, enjoying this green oasis with curving paths and beds planted with cactus, trees and exotic plants. At the opposite end of the park stand some of the original glasshouses filled with tropical plants and there are sculptures scattered throughout the gardens. 

Find out how to book a similar cruise with Titan Travel –Waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands – this 8 day cruise includes Antwerp (Sept 2019)

Things to do in Antwerp - Botanic Garden in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Botanic Garden in Antwerp

8. The Central Station and Diamond District in Antwerp

We were really pleased to have our bikes to cycle to the Central Station, as it would have been a bit of a walk from the old district. The streets around the station were busier with traffic and lined with many jewellery stores with sparkling window displays, as we were now in the Antwerp Diamond District.

Within the Antwerp’s Diamond Square Mile, are many diamond workshops, cutters and traders with a high proportion of the world’s diamonds passing through Antwerp. Historically this was also the Jewish quarter and most of Antwerp’s Jewish community work in different parts of the diamond trade, hence you won’t find much open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. 

Things to see in Antwerp - Antwerp Central Station Photo Heatheronhertravels

Antwerp Central Station

Parking our bikes, we walked through Antwerp Central Station, which is well known as a favourite photographic stop. You’ll probably enter through the lofty entrance hall, with checkered marble floor, coloured marble columns and glazed roof. It was designed by Louis Delacenserie, constructed between 1895 and 1905 and in the last 10 years has gone through restoration and modernisation to convert the station from a terminus to a through station, where high speed trains can now pass through between Amsterdam and Brussels.

Walk up the steps and pass through the doorway, pausing to look back at the fine arched facade and golden clock. Before you the station opens up so you can look down through the four different levels of the platforms and up at the glass roof bound by curving iron girders. It’s truly and impressive sight!

You may also enjoy: The historic sights of Europe on a Rhine River Cruise

9. The Port House in Antwerp

From our river cruise ship MS Serenade, I had spotted The Port House at the end of the basin and was determined to go and have a closer look. It was late afternoon by the time we returned to the port area, having handed back our bikes and I can tell you it was quite a walk down the length of the port basin, which Guy abandoned me to do on my own!

Things to see in Antwerp - The Port House in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

The Port House in Antwerp

The geometric anvil of blue glass panels sits on top of the traditional architecture of the port’s old fire station, which is dwarfed by comparison. There’s an air of unreality about the design which is striking when seen from a distance, but seems quite odd close up. Have a look at the photo below and the van parked underneath the building to appreciate the scale of the thing! Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the building is  the head office of the Port Authority, housing an office for 500 employees, and you can take a tour inside the building on a few days of the month – check the website for more details. I’d love to see what it’s like inside and check whether it is a great place to work or a case of form over function. 

Find out how to book a mini cruise with Titan Travel –Amsterdam and Antwerp mini cruise – this 3 night cruise break includes Antwerp (Oct 2019)

10. Paniek – The riverside summer bar in Antwerp

After a full on day exploring all the Antwerp has to offer, I expect you’d be ready for a well earned drink and we were too! We’d noticed the Paniek Bar right across the harbour basin from where MS Serenade 1 was moored and as the sun was shining it seemed the perfect place for an aperitif before dinner on board. These summer bars pop up all around Antwerp overlooking different parts of the harbour, often in old warehouses on the waterfront, with a trendy vintage or industrial feel.

Paniek summer bars in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Paniek summer bars in Antwerp

Paniek was in a warehouse that seemed to also be housing a selection of furniture and bric a brac, with the bar and some seating inside, although with the sun out, most of the action was on the outside tables on the cobbles overlooking the harbour. Drinking a glass of Amsterdam brewery company local draught beer, with a view of the harbour seemed to be the perfect way to end our one day in Antwerp. 

You may also enjoy: Belgian food and drink – the Trappist experience

Paniek summer bars in Antwerp Photo Heatheronhertravels

Paniek summer bars in Antwerp

Antwerp Belgium flickr

To Book your Titan River Cruise on MS Serenade 1

Antwerp guide bookFor river cruises on MS Serenade 1 and other cruise lines, visit the Titan Travel website and social channels Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

The cruise that we enjoyed in August 2018 was an 7 night cruise – Delights of the Low Countries that started and finished in Amsterdam. The MS Serenade 1 follows a varied programme of cruises on the rivers of Europe throughout the cruise season from May to October, so you may not find the exact same cruise as we did.

Need a guide book for Antwerp? We recommend the DK Top 10 guide to Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent

Read about what to expect on a Titan River Cruise: 10 things we enjoyed on our Titan River cruise with MS Serenade 1

MS Serenade 1 with Titan Travel

MS Serenade 1 with Titan Travel

For the latest cruises, you can take a look at the MS Serenade 1 cruise programme here to see all the possible cruises and get an idea of prices. Titan also offers other holidays that include Antwerp – take a look at these cruises that you can book through the Titan website.

Beauty of the Dutch Waterways with Bruges – this 10 day cruise includes Antwerp and costs from £1,699 per person (August 2019)

Waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands – this 8 day cruise including Antwerp costs from £1299 per person (Sept 2019)

Amsterdam and Antwerp mini cruise – this 3 night cruise break costs from £229 per person (Oct 2019)

Christmas markets cruise Amsterdam and Antwerp – this 5 night cruise break costs from £429 per person (Dec 2019)

Visitor information for Antwerp

Find out more things to do in Antwerp on the Visit Flanders website and Visit Antwerp website.

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10 Things to do in Antwerp in one day

Our river cruise was hosted* by Titan Cruises who provided the 7 day river cruise for Heather and Guy.

* More info on my policies page

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links which earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Izy
    April 9, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Looks like you really had fun! I will take in your advice and do some of these things!

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      April 9, 2019 at 11:15 am

      @Izy I loved the mix of medieval and modern in Antwerp

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