To be truthful, Dear Reader, we screwed-up badly. Antwerpen was among the TOP 3 destinations that we were excited to see the most since moving to Belgium1. We heard a lot, we saw a lot, we visualised a lot, and we have even had several discussion about the things that we want to see there the most. Now imagine this, Dear Reader. We were wandering all day there, made two big circles around the old town, walked more than 6 kilometers, but forgot to visit two of the three sites that we wanted to see the most! What is more, the one of them looks like the most magical place in whole Belgium, and you know what it means for me.. Anyway, it kept me excited since autumn, but not on the day that we were in 300 meters from it!
Nevertheless, there are several places that we manage to see during our 5 hours stay. And if we would add two out of two mistakes, I am pretty sure that we could get an awesome guide for your trip to Antwerpen, Dear Reader. Because if you will ever find yourself in Belgium, you will most definitely find yourself in Antwerpen, too!
Short Background, Dry Facts and Several Thoughts
Antwerpen is second biggest city in Belgium located in Dutch-speaking region of Flanders. Antwerpen is situated around River Scheldt and linked with the North Sea. City is considered to have one of the biggest ports in whole world – second in Europe, and among TOP 20 worldwide.
According to a bit creepy legend, a mythical giant who lived by River Scheldt, demanded a toll from everyone who wanted to cross a river. And if anyone refused to give that big guy what he wants, Antigoon (the giant) would rip-off their hands and throw it into the river. But this one day a brave young boy Brabo determined to stop this terror. He cut off the giant’s hand and threw it in the river. It is believed that this legend explains the origin of Antwerpen name – it derived from the Dutch words that means to throw a hand.
There are a lot of interesting and significant facts surrounding Antwerpen. For example, did you know that Antwerpen held 1920s summer Olympic Games? Or that the first world’s printed newspaper was published here nearly 400 years ago? Yes. Yes, that’s all true. And there is more! Antwerpen was home for famous painter Peter Paul Rubens. And, actually, this is where he is buried. You can admire artist’s works all across the city and even visit his spectacular home. Also, Antwerpen has one of the oldest zoos in Europe, and one of the most beautiful railway stations in whole Old Continent.
But enough of these dry facts, let us show you the truly important things. Though this metropolitan is full of interesting places to see and things to experience, but we counted 7 of them that are free and the essential for you to see. Now if you don’t want to forget the essential things as we did, we strongly suggest you, Dear Reader, to put your notebook in front of you and start writing these down.
Cathedral of Our Lady
Antwerpen’s Cathedral of Our Lady is the largest Cathedral in Low Countries and has the highest tower among all the other towers Benelux countries. Actually, it is so big that it will accompany you everywhere you go in the old town of Antwerp. Gothic style Cathedral was started to built in the 12th century and was constantly beautified by different generations. Among the most significant contributors was Peter Paul Rubens whose masterpieces are still the major works of art in the Cathedral.
Nevertheless, there is an entrance fee of 6 euros for those who want to admire the beauty from inside. I have to admit that we were quite disappointed about that the moment we walked through the door – even the entrance to St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican is free of charge. But as we digged a bit deeper we found out that maintenance of the Cathedral costs 1.5 million per year. So the entrance fee becomes a bit more logical. Anyway, whether you like it or not, but if you want to see the architectural beauty and the unique works of P. P. Rubens’, you will need to agree with these conditions.
Belgium has outstanding Grote Markt squares and Antwerpen is no exception! Main square is situated in the heart of the old town, in between the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Scheldt riverside. The three main thing that you will find in this spacious square are: the Town Hall, the charming and beautiful guildhalls and the Brabo’s sculpture. The last one was the most interesting site for us. It is a beautiful, but kind a creepy sculpture, and since we didn’t know any city legends back then, it brought up some questions for us. Do you remember that legendary hero Brabo who ripped off giant’s hand? So he is standing there, on the top of the sculpture, caught in that famous moment for ever.
Just around the corner from Grote Markt square there is a pedestrian street that leads to the beautiful riverside of Antwerpen. You can walk a long distance to both sides here, but there are several stops that you have definitely see. One of them is the southern promenade2 which is situated in front of the Cathedral Tower. Here you will find both – a nice walking path along the river and the beautiful spot to admire the unique view of the old town.
Antwerpen Central Railway Station is considered to be one of the most beautiful train stations in whole world. Built at the beginning of 20th century, railway station owns two spectacular neo-baroque facades, a large 60 meter high metal and glass dome and an astonishing marble interior. It looks simply magical. Magical!
So, yes, this is the thing that made us excited the most about Antwerpen. And yes, this is the thing that we forgot to see. Now I can’t imagine how we managed to do that, but it definitely will make us visit Antwerpen once again.
Carolus Borromeus Church
Carolus Borromeus Church is a beautiful baroque style church formerly know for the 39 ceiling paintings made by P. P. Rubens. Sadly, they were lost in a fire when church was struck by a lightning in 18th century. Though church was beautifully restored, but it’s not the only thing that charmed us there. For us this church was more about the charming Hendrik Conscienceplein square in which it is located, and the cute streets that surrounds it. It’s a nice place to get lost for a while!
Port and Port House
Port of Antwerpen has a long and significant impact to the world trade since the Middle Ages. It is considered to be one of the biggest ports in Europe and whole world. In spite of its worldwide significance, it’s a nice place to wander around while exploring the city. Undoubtedly the most interesting site to see here is extraordinary Port House built by Zaha Hadid architects in 2016.
It was the second thing that we forgot to visit while in Antwerpen. Though P. doesn’t agree with me on this3, but from the pics that I have seen – it is a true masterpiece of modern architecture. And we are going back for this one as well!
Steen Castle is located on the banks of River Scheldt and was a building of great significance in the times when city needed protection from their enemies. Built in the early Middle Ages, Steen Castle is the oldest building in whole Antwerpen. Nowadays Steen Castle is not an ordinary castle-building. It’s more like the castle-frame which serves as an entrance to the riverside promenade. While offering the beautiful view of the old town towers on the right, Steen Castle will be a perfect starting point for your stroll alongside the great River Scheldt.
I can’t hardly imagine if we could have been more out of focus that Sunday in Antwerpen, than we were. You have to have special ability to manage to forget two of the most important things to see! Nevertheless, there is a bright side of that – we’re definitely going back to Antwerpen. As all the big metropolitan cities, Antwerpen doesn’t have the charm that small cities or towns own. Here you can find things that don’t match, or newly built buildings that contrasts with their authentic neighbours. Nevertheless, as all big cities, Antwerpen is dynamic, lively, diverse and full of surprises. You can wander here for days, or months and you will still find a lot of new and interesting things to see and experience.
And, I just realized, that it is quite a good excuse for our absent-minded actions. We got lost around all the interesting things and forgot what we came there to see.
Anyway, what do you think of Antwerpen, Dear Reader? Waiting for all your thoughts and stories in the comments!