• Richard Hammond

Green Traveller's Guide to Antwerp, Belgium

Updated: Feb 21

Belgium's second city is probably best known as the country's fashion capital. Despite its long and rich history, it is the city's present day dynamism that gives it an edge over other medieval towns in Belgium, packed with trendy bars and cafes, modern art exhibitions and festivals. The juxtaposition of the old and the new make it a great city break destination, especially as it's just under three hours by train from London St Pancras International Train Station.

Antwerp's magnificent 19th century train station, Astrid Square, in the heart of the city.
Antwerp's magnificent 19th century train station. Photo Richard Hammond

Here are a few of things I saw on my recent trip to the city as part of our Great InterRail Adventure with Rail Europe, plus a selection of the many tips that were sent in by readers via our twitter account: @greentraveller and via our facebook page. Thanks to all those who sent in recommendations. Next stop is Cologne!

The interior of Antwerp's restored 19th century train station.
The interior of Antwerp's restored 19th century train station. Photo Richard Hammond

What to do

1. Antwerpen Centraal Train Station: Before heading into town, it’s worth admiring the magnificent architecture of the late 19th century train station, one of the city’s main landmarks.

2. Fashion: The Fashion Department of the Royal Academy for Fine Arts of the Hogeschool Antwerp is one of the worlds leading fashion design schools. If fashion is your thing, don't miss the Fashion Museum on Nationalestraat, home to the famous Antwerp fashion designers, Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, and a host of designer labels. I spent a few hours here and visited the fair trade and environmentally conscious fashion shop Today is a good day. There are several other ethical trading shops on Nationalestraat, such as Rewind and Hadhi. There's also a wide range of shops and many more chi-chi boutiques on Schutterhofstraat.

Fair trade fashion: The ethical designer shop 'Today is a good day'
Fair trade fashion: The ethical designer shop 'Today is a good day'. Photo: Richard Hammond.

3. Museums and galleries Head to Kloosterstraat for antiques and galleries and stroll along the river to the contemporary art museum, Muhka. The mansion where Rubens lived between 1610 and his death in 1640 , at Wapper 9-11 (rubenshuis.be) has 10 of the artist's works and gives an absorbing insight into Flemish fine living in the 17th century.


4. Admire Europe's oldest printing presses The home of 16th century bookbinder and printer Christoffel Plantin is now the UNESCO listed Plantin Moretus Museum. It is believed to be one of the world's finest printing museums; housing an extensive collection of books and some of our oldest printing presses. If printing doesn't float your boat it is still worth a visit, the grounds and house are a beautiful place to wander around and there are often rotating art exhibitions and events. Info: The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Tickets are available until 4.30pm. Admission is 6 Euros, which includes an audio guide. www.museumplantinmoretus.be

5. Step into the extravagance of Belgium's past At the end of the 19th century, two wealthy entrepreneurs, Joséphine Cogels Osy and her brother Baron Edouard Osy decided to develop a new area for the rich residents of Antwerp. This extravagant design is still on full display today as you wander through the Cogels Osy area stumbling upon a French Chateau, a Venetian Palazzo, a Greek temple and eccentric Art Nouveau buildings. While in the area stop off at Dageraad Plaats, a huge square full of bars and cafes. Info: The Cogels Osy area is in the Zurenborg district, in the south east of Antwerp, near the railway station Antwerpen Berchem.

Where to eat and drink

Chocolate fountain at Antwerp's train station.
Chocolate fountain at Antwerp's train station. Welcome to Belgium! Photo Richard Hammond

1. Mama Matrea serves fusion food that they call 'soul food', because of their eco philosophy alongside hosting a range of cultural and musical performers. For groups of five or more it is worth booking and ordering the 'table matrea', which offers a communal feast of appetisers, followed by a meat, fish and tasty salads. Info: Every Wednesday evening the restaurant offer a starter and a main for an incredible 5 Euros. www.mamamatrea.com/Dagverse-creatieve-fusion-wereldkeuken 2. Café-restaurant Zuiderterras resembles a moored ship in both design and position. Sat on the River Scheldt, near the cruise terminal, this is the perfect spot to watch the comings and goings from Europe's largest port. The building, created by Bob van Reeth, has large window frames and mirrors to create a spacious environment and a closer connection to the river. In summer a terrace makes this the perfect place for a sunny brunch. The menu offers a variety of dishes from breakfast to dinner, all prepared with fresh ingredients on site. Info: A main meal costs between 19-32 Euros. www.zuiderterras.be 3. Kulminator is the best place to go for a famous Belgian beer in Antwerp. With a beer menu 30 pages long, there must be a pint to suit everyone! The rustic bar is fully equipped with board games and cards so you can happily while away a few hours. Info: A beer here is average price for the city. You can find Kulminator on Vleminckveld 32, near the Latin quarter and Kathedraal.

Hotel Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel is conveniently located directly opposite Antwerp's main train station.
Hotel Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel. Photo: Richard Hammond

Where to stay Green Traveller stayed at the Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel conveniently located directly opposite the Antwerpern Centraal train station. The breakfast room has wonderful views overlooking Astrid Sqaure and the magnificent 19th-century station. Over 1,600 reviewers who have rated this hotel with our booking partner, booking.com, gave it a score of 'Very good, 8.4'.

For more hotels near the main train station, see: Hotels near Antwerp Train Station.

Boulevard Leopold , a luxury B&B in Antwerp’s traditional Jewish quarter.

What the locals say

For local insights from an Antwerp resident and fashion enthusiast see the blog Faces and Places of Antwerp or check out the Antwerp postings on Spotted by Locals

How to get there There's a direct train from St Pancras to Brussels where you change and 45 minutes later arrive at Antwerpen Centraal. If you leave London at 11am you can be enjoying moules et frites in Antwerp by 3pm.

For more information on the journey to Antwerp by train see our Overland Journey Planner: Train from London to Antwerp.

== By Richard Hammond with help from Holly Tuppen.

Thanks to Stad Antwerpen for hosting us and to Visit Flanders for helping organise our visit to Belgium. We'll be back!