Antwerp is like Brussels’s cool younger artsy sister. You know, the kind of girl who can make mom jeans look effortlessly chic. Even though Antwerp is obviously still a big, buzzing city, you somehow feel a much more laid-back vibe that than of the capital. It doesn’t need the official title as the capital of the country. After all, it is the fashion and diamond epicenter of Europe.
I’m sad we only got to spend a day in Antwerp because it has a lot to offer for a city break. But if you are short on time like us and want to experience some of the charm and cool vibes of the city, I got your back. This is a mini guide of what to do in Antwerp in a day.
Guzzi’s – Italian Piadina Bakery
For a cozy morning coffee and brunch, head here first. Their dough is made in-house and they serve both sweet and savory treats. Plus, they are locate right next to the city center and they have an amazing view to the main Market Square. Not only is everything fresh and delicious but their staff is super friendly and they easily accommodate to your preferences.
Market squareRight on the middle of the Market Square, you will find the Brabo Fountain depicting Antwerp’s most famous legend, the mythical hero Brabo. According to the legend, the giant Antigoon demanded a high toll for each ship that wanted to enter the city. If the ship’s crew did not want to pay the toll, their hands were cut off. The hero Brabo fought the giant, cut its hand and head and threw the hand in the river. The fountain’s statue depicts Brabo throwing the giant’s hand in the river Scheldt and symbolizes the free passage through the river. This legend is meant to symbolize the win of Antwepians over the Dutch ruling on their river. And it is said that this is where the city takes its name.
Stone castleAlso around the city center, you will find this medieval fortress alongside the Scheldt river. It is the city’s oldest building and the different layers of color show the renovations made through time, meaning that the white stone place on top of the gray tiles was added later. Antwerp is still one of the biggest ports of Europe, imagine how important was this castle back then! It used to control the access of ships to the mainland and it was also a prison for some time.
St. Charles Borromeo ChurchThe church is quite average looking from the outside, but inside to admire this stunning painting. Fun fact, a unique feature of this church is the original and still functioning mechanism above the main altar used to switch the paintings from below the ground and the church was build back in 1615.. now that is some clever engineering!
Hendrik Conscience SquareThe church is located in this square, named after Antwerp’s most popular poet and novelist Hendrik Conscience. His peculiar pose makes him the target for some students’ practical jokes. Let’s just say they like to cover him up with scarves when it is cold or share a beer with him over the weekend. Below, and not pictured, you will find tiles placed in the shape of the four card suits: hearts, ace, diamonds and clubs. This is because back then, the square was a popular spot for people to get together and play cards.
VlaeykensgangOne of the city’s best kept secret is the Vlaeykensgang alley. The alley dates from 1591 and connects Hoogstraat, Oude Koornmarkt Pelgrimstraat with one another. The city used to be built this way before its present day modernization. Navigating through it now feels like you are back in time. Now you can find cute cafes and stores inside.
NelloNello is a relatively new statue, but it’s already the most photographed one of the city. Nello is the dog from a famous tale called story A Dog of Flanders. The story is very sad but oddly enough had more commercial success in Japan. Actually, the statue was made by the Japanese government because flocks of Japanese tourists come to Antwerp just to visit the places the story mentions. Some even cry at the sight of it! Once you read the story you will understand why.
Antwerp’s Little RascalMeet Brussel’s Manneken Pis little cousin, Antwerp’s little rascal. And much like his little cousin, not a lot makes sense about this statue other than they’re just mischievous boys. Some people say rubbing his butt brings good luck but hmmm, I didn’t want to try that out. Anyway, it adds to the collection of weird things to see while in Belgium.
Cathedral of Our Lady and Rubens Statue
Even though this Cathedral is massive, it’s still pretty much unfinished with only one of the towers standing. In typical Gothic style, there should be two towers but wars interrupted the completion. It hosts painting by Peter Paul Rubens, one of the most notable and prolific Flemish artists and pictured above. During his lifetime, he had his studio in Antwerp. He is most-known for painting “full-figured” women in typical male-gaze style. He was also known as a womenizer and the pose chosen for this statue certainly shows it (it looks like he is grabbing someone’s butt).
The name of the bar literally translate to the 11th commandment. Pretty clever name for a bar, lol. Before living in Belgium, my husband used to come to Antwerp every year for work. One of the traditions was to grab a drink at this bar every time they were there. So I was relived that I finally got to experience it too after hearing about it a million times. It is really a peculiar place. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place like this. I guess it is the kind of place you go when you feel like not going to church on a Sunday :)
Antwerp is filled a fun, quirky legends and places. And it has lots more to offer like the Diamond museum and epic fashion streets, both established and upcoming independent designers. And it is nothing short of boring!
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