Antwerp and the Northeast

The area that surrounds Centraal Station, Antwerp's magnificent railway station, is in the commercial center of the city, but is not representative of its character. Hop on the subway to Groenplaats and walk past the cathedral and then into the Grote Markt. This is where Antwerp begins.

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  • 1. Abdijsite Herkenrode

    Around 5 km (3 miles) northwest from central Hasselt, the vast Herkenrode Abbey complex was founded more than 800 years ago as the first Cistercian...

    Around 5 km (3 miles) northwest from central Hasselt, the vast Herkenrode Abbey complex was founded more than 800 years ago as the first Cistercian monastery in Benelux. Over the centuries it became a site of pilgrimage, and it experienced periods of great conflict and prosperity, until the monastic order was abolished following the French Revolution. After years of neglect, the Flemish government bought 250 acres of the site and began a lengthy restoration project, partly financed by the sale of Herkenrode abbey beers—not brewed here, but available in the on-site shop and café. Inside, an audio-guided "Experience Center" recounts the site's turbulent past in a series of galleries. Behind the abbey, a meticulously planted Herb and Inspiration Garden covers 5 acres and contains 500 different species—divided by hedges into a series of peaceful small spaces, some with water features. Elsewhere, accessible without an entry ticket, do not miss "The Quiet View," a permanent artwork by the artist Hans op de Beeck—it's a stunning monochrome landscape diorama that makes ingenious use of mirrors to create a sense of infinite space.

    Herkenrodeabdij 4, Hasselt, Flanders, 3511, Belgium
    011-239–670

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Experience Center: €5; Herb and Inspiration Garden: €4, Closed Mon. Sept.–June; gardens closed Nov.–Mar.
  • 2. Chocolate Nation

    Centraal Station

    Taking its cue more from Willy Wonka than any museum, this carnivalesque look at the humble cocoa bean is one of the city's biggest crowd-pleasers....

    Taking its cue more from Willy Wonka than any museum, this carnivalesque look at the humble cocoa bean is one of the city's biggest crowd-pleasers. Relentlessly inventive and whimsical, room after room boasts Heath Robinson--esque contraptions that make the history of chocolate making and its production a story worth telling. It's as theatrical as it is informative, using projections, stagecraft, and workshops to draw you in. Audio guides are pointed at information points along the way, and some rooms are time-locked so you can't leave until your group is done, but there's often a handful of chocolates on hand to quiet the impatient. The finale is a tasting room where you're free to try 10 different kinds of melted chocolate.

    Koningin Astridplein 7, Antwerp, Flanders, 2018, Belgium
    03-207–0808

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €19
  • 3. De Koninck Brewery

    South of the Center

    The De Koninck Brewery is almost as old as the city of Antwerp itself and still resides on the site of the inn from which...

    The De Koninck Brewery is almost as old as the city of Antwerp itself and still resides on the site of the inn from which it was converted back in 1833. Back then, De Plaisante Hof (or The Merry Garden) lay in plain view of Antwerp's notorious hanging fields; today its view of King Albert Park is mercifully less shocking. Visitors can now take ambling tours inside the brew hall that include a wealth of interactive video screens and gizmos, as well as a couple of beers to taste. The brewery has also expanded to include a number of local artisanal food and drink producers and a meat-heavy gourmet restaurant, The Butcher's Son, that already boasts a Michelin star. Classes range from beer cookery to sessions on how to pair beers and cheese (or chocolate).

    Mechelsesteenweg 291, Antwerp, Flanders, 2018, Belgium
    03-866–9690

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12, Closed Mon.
  • 4. De Ruien (Underground Antwerp)

    Oude Stad

    What seems like a million miles from the Rubens paintings and shops of the Meir is actually just a few meters below street level. Beneath...

    What seems like a million miles from the Rubens paintings and shops of the Meir is actually just a few meters below street level. Beneath Antwerp lie 8 km (5 miles) of sewers, streams, and tunnels that date from the 16th century. In 1885 they disappeared from view when the city brought in covered drains, but their story continued. During WWI and WWII, these tunnels became a way to smuggle goods into the city and people out. Suit up (special protective suits are supplied) and wander old vaults, canals, bridges, and medieval fortifications on guided tours (day and night), with boats for the deeper sections; or simply explore by yourself with a tablet and map. Rats and some rather big spiders also make these tunnels their home, so the squeamish should beware. Tours will also be called off in the event of heavy rain---this makes parts of the tunnels unnavigable.

    Suikerrui 21, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-344–0755

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From €19, Closed Mon.
  • 5. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (KMSKA)

    South of the Center

    Finally reopened in 2022 after more than a decade of extensive restoration work, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts collection is studded with masterworks from...

    Finally reopened in 2022 after more than a decade of extensive restoration work, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts collection is studded with masterworks from Bruegel to Ensor, and is a must for any student of Flemish art. Paintings recovered from the French after the fall of Napoléon form the nucleus of a collection of 2,500 artworks. There are rooms devoted to both Peter Paul Rubens and to Anthony van Dyck, and other focused almost entirely on Jacob Jordaens and Bruegel. The collection of Flemish Primitives includes works by Van Eyck, Memling, Roger van der Weyden, Joachim Patinir, and Quinten Metsys. On the ground floor, there’s a representative survey of Belgian art of the past 150 years—Emile Claus, Rik Wouters, Permeke, Magritte, Delvaux, and especially James Ensor.

    Leopold de Waelplaats 2, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-224–9550

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Mon.
  • 6. Museum aan de Stroom

    Het Eilandje

    This ambitious museum, in a striking red sandstone and glass building next to Antwerp's old dock area, aims to place Antwerp's history into a world...

    This ambitious museum, in a striking red sandstone and glass building next to Antwerp's old dock area, aims to place Antwerp's history into a world context. Five floors of exhibits explore themes such as trade and shipping, men and gods, here and elsewhere, and prestige and symbols, showcasing everything from pre-Columbian artifacts to gas masks from World War II. It's all capped off with a panoramic rooftop view (free to visit) and a Michelin three-star restaurant, ‘t Zilte. Note that most of the museum's documentation is not in English; for a translation, use your smartphone to read the QR codes placed next to many exhibits, or pick up an information booklet at the entrance to each room.

    Hanzestedenplaats 1, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-338–4400

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12 (€10 if no temporary exhibition), Closed Mon.
  • 7. Museum Mayer Van den Bergh

    Meir

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder's arguably greatest and most enigmatic painting, Dulle Griet, is the showpiece of the 4,000 works that passionate art connoisseur Mayer Van...

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder's arguably greatest and most enigmatic painting, Dulle Griet, is the showpiece of the 4,000 works that passionate art connoisseur Mayer Van den Bergh amassed in the 19th century. It has been restored to its full, hellish glory and is the prize of a collection that also includes Bruegel's witty, miniature illustrations in the Twelve Proverbs, based on popular Flemish sayings, and such treasures as a life-sized polychrome statue from about 1300 of St. John resting his head on Christ's chest. There's an English-language pamphlet included with admission that reviews part of the collection.

    Lange Gasthuisstraat 19, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-338–8188

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €10, Closed Mon.
  • 8. Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek

    The elaborate Basilica of Our Lady is one of the most beautiful medieval monuments in the world. The original church was built on Roman foundations...

    The elaborate Basilica of Our Lady is one of the most beautiful medieval monuments in the world. The original church was built on Roman foundations in the 4th century and was the first stone cathedral north of the Alps. A siege in 1213 destroyed everything but the 12th-century Romanesque cloister; soon afterward construction of the present-day Basilica of Our Lady began, a project that would take three centuries to complete. The central nave, up to the pulpit, the choir, and the south transept, dates from 1240. The candlesticks and lectern, from 1372, are the work of Jehan de Dinant, one of a number of outstanding metalworkers who flourished in the Meuse valley at that time. The basilica has excellent acoustics and is often used for symphony concerts.

    Stadhuisplein, Tongeren, Flanders, 3700, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 9. Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal

    Oude Stad

    A miracle of soaring Gothic lightness, the Cathedral of Our Lady contains some of Rubens's greatest paintings and is topped by a 404-foot-high north spire....

    A miracle of soaring Gothic lightness, the Cathedral of Our Lady contains some of Rubens's greatest paintings and is topped by a 404-foot-high north spire. The monument is the work of a succession of remarkable architects, including Peter Appelmans, Herman and Domien de Waghemakere. The tower holds a 49-bell carillon played at various times throughout the year. The cathedral's art treasures were twice vandalized, and many were either sold at auction or carried off to Paris—though some have been returned. The cathedral nevertheless has an outstanding collection of 17th-century religious art, including four Rubens altarpieces.

    Groenplaats 21, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-213–9951

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €8
  • 10. Openluchtmuseum Middelheim

    The Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum is a selfie wonderland, albeit of the more classical variety, with some 200 sculptures from artists including Jean Arp,...

    The Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum is a selfie wonderland, albeit of the more classical variety, with some 200 sculptures from artists including Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Rodin, and Ossip Zadkine spread across an attractive park and castle complex. Look up into the trees for bronze figures by the Spanish artist Juan Muňoz and in the Braem pavilion for smaller, more fragile sculptures.

    Middelheimlaan 61, 2020, Unknown
    03-288–3360

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, except for special exhibitions, Oct.--Mar., 10–5; Apr., Sept., 10--7; May, Aug., 10--8; June and July, 10--9
  • 11. Plantin-Moretus Museum/Prentenkabinet

    Oude Stad

    For three centuries, beginning in 1555, this UNESCO-listed building was the home and printing plant of an extraordinary publishing dynasty; the family printed innumerable bibles,...

    For three centuries, beginning in 1555, this UNESCO-listed building was the home and printing plant of an extraordinary publishing dynasty; the family printed innumerable bibles, breviaries, and missals. Christophe Plantin's greatest technical achievement was the Biblia Regia (in Room 16), eight large volumes containing the Bible in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic, complete with notes, glossaries, and grammars.

    Vrijdagmarkt 22--23, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-221–1450

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12, Closed Mon.
  • 12. Rubenshuis

    Meir

    A fabulous picture of Rubens as painter and patrician is presented here at his own house, where the elaborate portico and temple, designed by Rubens...

    A fabulous picture of Rubens as painter and patrician is presented here at his own house, where the elaborate portico and temple, designed by Rubens in Italian Baroque style, were the only things still standing three centuries after the house was built. Most of what's here is a reconstruction (completed in 1946) from the master's own design. It represents Rubens at the pinnacle of his fame, when he was appointed court painter to Archduke Albrecht and, with his wife, was sent on a diplomatic mission to Madrid, where he also painted some 40 portraits. He conducted delicate peace negotiations in London on behalf of Philip IV of Spain, and while in London he painted the ceiling of the Whitehall Banqueting Hall and was knighted by Charles I of Great Britain. The most evocative room in Rubens House is the huge studio, where drawings by Rubens and his pupils, as well as old prints, help to re-create the original atmosphere. In Rubens's day, visitors could view completed paintings and watch from the mezzanine while he and his students worked. Rubens completed about 2,500 paintings, nearly all characterized by the energy and exuberance that were his hallmark. A few of his works hang in the house, including a touching sketch in the studio of the Annunciation and a self-portrait in the dining room. Unfortunately, his young widow promptly sold off some 300 pieces after his death in 1640. A re-creation of Rubens's original garden exists within the grounds and is well worth a stroll.

    Wapper 9--11, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-201–1555

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12, Closed Mon.
  • 13. Sint-Romboutskathedraal

    Begun in the 13th century, but only completed in the 1520s, this cathedral represents a magnificent achievement by three generations of the Keldermans family of...

    Begun in the 13th century, but only completed in the 1520s, this cathedral represents a magnificent achievement by three generations of the Keldermans family of architects, who were active in cathedral building throughout Flanders. The beautifully proportioned tower, 318 feet high, was intended to be the tallest in the world, but the builders ran out of money before they could reach their goal. Inside are two remarkable 40-ton carillons of 49 bells each. Carillon playing was virtually invented in Mechelen (the Russian word for carillon means “sound of Mechelen”). The best place to listen to the bells is in the Minderbroedersgang. Chief among the art treasures is Van Dyck’s Christus an het Kruis (Crucifixion) in the south transept. The remains of the cathedral’s namesake, Sint-Rombout (St. Rumbold), are hidden in the high altar. Climb to the top of the tower and you'll be rewarded with an exhilarating 360-degree panoramic view of the city and the surrounding region—space at the top is limited, however, so advance reservation is recommended.

    Onder-den-Toren, Mechelen, Flanders, 2800, Belgium
    015-294–032

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Cathedral: free; tower: €8
  • 14. Antwerp Zoo

    Centraal Station

    Antwerp's zoo houses its residents in style. Giraffes, ostriches, and African antelopes inhabit an Egyptian temple and a thriving Congolese okapi family grazes around a...

    Antwerp's zoo houses its residents in style. Giraffes, ostriches, and African antelopes inhabit an Egyptian temple and a thriving Congolese okapi family grazes around a Moorish temple. In part, this reflects the public's taste when the zoo was created 170 years ago. Today, animals are allowed maximum space, and much research is devoted to endangered species. The zoo also has sea lions, an aquarium, and a house for nocturnal animals.

    Koningin Astridplein 26, Antwerp, Flanders, 2018, Belgium
    070-233--354

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €31
  • 15. Begijnhof

    Lier's Begijnhof differs from most other beguinages in that its small houses line narrow streets rather than being grouped around a common. A Renaissance portico...

    Lier's Begijnhof differs from most other beguinages in that its small houses line narrow streets rather than being grouped around a common. A Renaissance portico stands at the entrance, and on it is a statue of St. Begge, who gave his name to this congregation and who probably derived his own from the fact that he was un begue (a stammerer). Beguines were members of ascetic or philanthropic communities of women, not under vows, founded in the Netherlands in the 13th century.

    Begijnhofstraat, Lier, Flanders, 2500, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 16. Begijnhof

    Meir

    This beguinage---a community of women who dedicated themselves to religious duties without taking any vows---dates from the 13th century, but by the 1960s there was...

    This beguinage---a community of women who dedicated themselves to religious duties without taking any vows---dates from the 13th century, but by the 1960s there was only one beguine left. Redbrick buildings surrounding a courtyard garden give a sense of tranquility as you stroll the roughly cobbled walk. The building is a little difficult to find, but your efforts will be rewarded with serene surroundings and charming houses, which you can only view from the outside.

    Oude Begijnhof, Antwerp, Flanders, 2000, Belgium
    03-232–0103

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 17. Berchem

    Take the 7 or 15 trams to this neighborhood southeast of Antwerp's city center, where 19th-century entrepreneur Baron Edouard Osy and his sister, Josephine Cogels,...

    Take the 7 or 15 trams to this neighborhood southeast of Antwerp's city center, where 19th-century entrepreneur Baron Edouard Osy and his sister, Josephine Cogels, inherited an old castle, demolished it, and built some refreshingly eccentric houses reflecting the eclectic tastes of the era. There are houses in Renaissance, Greek classical, and Venetian styles, but most of all, there are Art Nouveau town houses, especially on Cogels Osylei, Transvaalstraat, and Waterloostraat, mainly built between 1890 and 1906. Berchem is the first stop on the railway line to Brussels; the local tourist board organizes some interesting walking tours of the area that start and end at the station.

    Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium
    03-338–9530

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From €75 for a 2-hr walking tour, Online phone booking weekdays. 9–4
  • 18. Brouwerij Het Anker

    The first document referring to the brewery dates from 1369, making it one of the oldest breweries in Belgium. Touring this small, intimate brewery, the...

    The first document referring to the brewery dates from 1369, making it one of the oldest breweries in Belgium. Touring this small, intimate brewery, the birthplace of Mechelen’s pride and joy, the dark, sweet Gouden Carolus (Golden Charles) beer, you can witness every stage of the beer-making process. Tours and tastings in English lasting 1 hour 30 minutes must be arranged in advance, but leave at least once a day (except Monday), more often on weekends. It is also possible to tour Het Anker's own De Molenberg distillery, either separately or in combination with a brewery tour. The distillery is at another location 8 km (5 miles) away, but the ticket price includes transfers. The brasserie next to the brewery is open daily, and serves the entire range of Gouden Carolus beers and several beer-seasoned dishes at affordable prices. There is also a hotel in the brewery complex (see below), so devoted beer fans can spend the night.

    Guido Gezellelaan 49, Mechelen, Flanders, 2800, Belgium
    015-287–141

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Individual brewery or distillery tours €11; combi tours €22, Closed Mon.
  • 19. Brusselpoort

    Dating from the 13th century, the imposing stone Brussels Gate is all that remains of the medieval walls that once kept Mechelen safe. Today, it...

    Dating from the 13th century, the imposing stone Brussels Gate is all that remains of the medieval walls that once kept Mechelen safe. Today, it stands in the middle of the busy ring road around the center, and is no longer open to the public, but in its day it was the highest and most impressive of 12 gates that controlled people's passage in and out of the city.

    Hoogstraat 83, Mechelen, Flanders, 2800, Belgium
  • 20. Centraal Station

    Centraal Station

    The neo-Baroque railway terminal was built at the turn of the 20th century during the reign of Leopold II of Belgium, a monarch not given...

    The neo-Baroque railway terminal was built at the turn of the 20th century during the reign of Leopold II of Belgium, a monarch not given to understatement. The magnificent exterior and splendid, vaulted ticket-office hall and staircases call out for hissing steam engines, peremptory conductors, scurrying porters, and languid ladies wrapped in boas. Today most departures and arrivals are humble commuter trains, but the station still inspires. Two underground levels, added to accommodate high-speed trains, has turned the track areas into an impressively vast open space.

    Koningin Astridplein 27, Antwerp, Flanders, 2018, Belgium
    02-528–2828

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