Antwerp Introduction Walking Tour, Antwerp

Antwerp Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Antwerp

A major city-port on the River Scheldt in Belgium, Antwerp is known primarily as the diamond capital of Europe. For centuries, Antwerp's Diamond District has been the center of diamond trade, with thousands of dealers, cutters and polishers processing 85% of the world's rough diamonds each year.

Historical Antwerp has its origins in a Gallo-Roman settlement, first mentioned in the 4th century AD. The actual translations of its name range from the “land thrown up at the riverbank” (Andhunerbo) or “on the wharf” (an t werf), in old German, to the Celtic “Andoverpis” – possibly meaning "those who live on both banks".

However, a folklore legend celebrated by statue in the city's main market square, the Grote Markt, holds that a mythical giant once lived near the river Scheldt and extracted toll from passing boatmen under the threat of cutting their hands off. Eventually, the giant was slain by a young hero, who cut off his hand and threw it into the river; hence the name Antwerpen from Dutch hand werpen (“hand-throwing”).

Both economically and culturally, Antwerp has long been an important city in the Low Countries. The Bourse of Antwerp, originally built in 1531 and re-built in 1872, was the world's first purpose-built commodity exchange. The city is also famous for its Flemish Renaissance architecture and close association with the 17th-century Flemish Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens, whose house is now a museum.

Among other landmarks here are:

Het Steen – a medieval fortress in the Old Town, built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages.

Plantin-Moretus Museum – a real gem and the only museum in the world recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vlaeykensgang – a historic maze of small alleys, offering an idyllic refuge from the hubbub of the city center.

Cathedral of Our Lady – the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries; richly adorned with the Rubens paintings.

Antwerpen-Centraal – the Antwerp Central Station, one of the city’s main landmarks, and one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

Antwerp is a reasonably-sized city, with most places of interest located close by to one another. It is therefore best explored on foot. If you wish to discover the most prominent attractions of Antwerp in a relaxed manner, take this self-guided walk and get to know the city at your own pace.
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Antwerp Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Antwerp Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Belgium » Antwerp (See other walking tours in Antwerp)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: mary
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Grote Markt (Great Market Square)
  • Het Steen (Steen Castle)
  • St. Anna Tunnel
  • Plantin-Moretus Museum
  • Vlaeykensgang Historic Alley
  • Cathedral of Our Lady
  • Groenplaats (Green Square)
  • Rubenshuis (Rubens House)
  • Meir Shopping Street
  • Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central Station)
1
Grote Markt (Great Market Square)

1) Grote Markt (Great Market Square) (must see)

Right in the heart of the city, the Great Market Square is one of the favorite locations for locals as well as tourists. Filled with cafés and restaurant, the Great Market Square is a popular destination if you want to just kick back, bask in the sun with a chilled glass of beer or stroll around lazily admiring the architecture of the city. Dominated by the elegant and grant Renaissance style City Hall on one side and a row of guild houses and old patrician houses on the other, the Great Market Square is a magnet for those who love studying city architecture.

The center of the square holds the magnificent fountain that bears the well sculpted statue of Silvius Brabo, the local mythical hero. As legend has it, the water way was once governed by a giant who demanded a high toll from those who wanted to enter the city. Those failing to meet the requirements, were punished by having their hand cut off. It was Brabo, who fought the giant and cut off his hand and threw it in the Scheldt river.

One of the best ways to enjoy a perfect day in Antwerp is to sit in an open terrace restaurant amidst the elegantly constructed buildings of the Great Market Square, have an authentic Belgian meal on the table and admire the city as it moves past you.
2
Het Steen (Steen Castle)

2) Het Steen (Steen Castle)

Antwerp is Europe’s second largest seaports and through the years this has played a very critical role in the history of the city. Where at one hand Antwerp enjoyed the benefits of the sea with trade and commerce, the open blue water and its vulnerable position also attracted Vikings and other plunderers over the years.

One of the oldest structures in Antwerp is the Het Steen, a castle which was once a part of a long wall of fortification around the city of Antwerp.

The Het Steen is believed to have been around since 650 AD, when the structure was only made up of clay and mud. It was however not until the 9th century that the city got its first fortified walls built of stone to protect the interiors from the Viking plunderers. During the reign of Otto 1, the walls were fortified for establishing the city of Antwerp.

From serving as a military protection to a prison and finally a museum, the Het Steen has changed its role in time.
3
St. Anna Tunnel

3) St. Anna Tunnel

One unique sight worth the visit on foot or the bicycle is the St. Anna Tunnel. What may seem like your average underpass is actually built under the river Scheldt, which runs through the middle of the city.

Truly a feat of engineering, what makes the Tunnel even more fascinating is that it was built in 1931. It is believed that the city had thought long and hard about connecting the two banks of the river via a bridge, however that would seriously interrupt navigation and traffic to the port, which is why the decision of building a tunnel was made.

The St. Anna Tunnel is 572 m long and at a depth of 31.57 m. one can enjoy the rustic look of the Tunnel as the antiquities like the wooden staircase and escalator are still very much in use. The tunnel was built in attempt to connect the old town to the new, developing side across the river.

So, if you are looking for a surreal adventure, there is one right in the heart of the city.
4
Plantin-Moretus Museum

4) Plantin-Moretus Museum (must see)

One of the most fascinating museums one can encounter in Antwerp is the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Home to one of the most prolific printing presses of the 16th and 17th century, the Platin–Moretus Museum is a must visit in Antwerp.

Founded by Christoffel Plantin, a Frenchman who from being a mere bookbinder became the most noted publisher and printer of the Renaissance period, the printing press was one of the key factors in establishing Antwerp as one of Europe’s leading cities with regard to the spread of typography and inventions in printing technology. Plantin’s son-in-law, Jan Moretus, played a vital role in bringing newer technologies and inventions to the press after the death of Plantin.

After running successfully for over two centuries the company was sold to the city of Antwerp in 1876. The Museum is located in the former residence and printing establishment of the Platin–Moretus family. Its location is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Museum houses some of the world’s oldest surviving printing presses and some extraordinary tools, dyes and matrices that were in use. The most prized possession of the Museum remains the extensive library and antique books that are a century or two old. Also noteworthy are the rich and elaborate interiors and the architecture of the building that speak of the opulence of the Platin-Moretus family.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am - 5 pm
5
Vlaeykensgang Historic Alley

5) Vlaeykensgang Historic Alley

Great Market Square in itself gives you a glimpse of life in Antwerp as it was a few centuries ago. Parallel to the Square are several alleys that manage to reflect the lifestyle, ambiance and feel of the years gone by as they are still preserved and almost untouched by the hands of time. One such place is Vlaeykensgang, and the entrance to this alley is through a small doorway.

Easy to overlook, once found this alley will transport you to the 16th century. A perfect place to walk and get the true feel of the city, the Vlaeykensgang is filled with authentic peasant houses and residential complexes.

Although today, these may seem like the perfect refuge from the urbanization and the pace of city life, back in those days, these alleys were not considered as places suitable for living. Cramped up and over populated with large families, poor sanitation are just some of the problems one faced here. However today, Vlaeykensgang is looked at as an idealistic and artistic refuge from the hectic city life.
6
Cathedral of Our Lady

6) Cathedral of Our Lady (must see)

Overlooking the city of Antwerp since the 14th century is the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady, which till date dominates the city’s skyline. Built by architects Jan and Pieter Appelmans, the Cathedral boasts a magnificent Gothic structure with hints of Baroque style complementing the interiors of the building.

Whether you are a history buff or an admirer of architecture, the Cathedral of Our Lady is one structure that has something to offer every visitor. The structure stands as the epitome of the perfect combination of artistic architecture, breathtaking interiors and a dramatic past making it a tantalizing site to visit.

Although the construction of the structure began in 1352, it took more than a century to complete the entire construction. The Cathedral that stands today rests on the same site where once stood a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady. The chapel traced its history to early 10th century and it was subsequently followed by the construction of a Romanesque Church.

The Gothic Cathedral that took its place was considered one of the most magnificent structures of its time and one of the largest cathedrals in the whole of Benelux. However despite all its glories, the Cathedral of Our Lady has faced a very turbulent past. From natural fires to raids, plunders and assault by iconoclasts, the structure has born tremendous damage over the years. But it has stood the test of time and stands proudly today in the city of Antwerp.
7
Groenplaats (Green Square)

7) Groenplaats (Green Square)

Antwerp is the perfect destination if you love to laze around on a warm summer’s day under the sun or enjoy watching the city from the comfort of a cozy café. Yet another famous square in Antwerp is the Green Square. Although not as green as the name suggests, the Green Square, is a popular destination amongst both tourists and locals during summer and on weekends.

Overlooking the Square in the north is the elegant Cathedral of Our Lady. Back in the medieval times, the Green Square was used as a cemetery that was attached to the Cathedral. With the Austrian occupation of Antwerp in the 18th century, Emperor Joseph II abolished cemeteries within the walls of the city. Although the premises were then converted to a square for town use, the age old name couldn’t get converted and locals still call it Green Place.

Today the center of the square is dominated by the statue of the much loved Flemish painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Installed in 1843, this bronze statue replaced a crucifix that overlooked the cemetery. Created by sculptor Willem Geefs, the statue commemorated death bicentenary of the city’s beloved artist.
8
Rubenshuis (Rubens House)

8) Rubenshuis (Rubens House) (must see)

Known for his Counter Reformation portraits, landscapes and paintings, Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Baroque painter, book illustrator and a diplomat during the early 1600s. The Rubens House is a city of Antwerp-owned and curated building that Rubens designed himself and spent most of his lifetime in.

Located on 9, Wapper Street, Rubens purchased this house in 1610 and added a gallery, porch and a large studio in Greco-Roman classic styles and a hint of Italian Renaissance to the structure. Within the walls of this house, Rubens and his students, such as Anthony Van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens, created most of their works. Rubens’ work is categorized by various stages of productivity of his own life. However, all of Rubens’ work that is on display in the House today came back only after great efforts were put in by the people of Antwerp once it was decided to make the building into a monument in 1937.

The Rubens House is home to paintings such as St. Claire of Assisi, The Annunciation and Adam and Eve made by the great painter himself in addition to the works of other contemporaries of his time. The House also displays various objects of art from the 17th century giving visitor a peek at the lavish lifestyles of those times. The Renaissance Garden which was renovated in 1993 takes inspiration from Rubens’ paintings and should not be missed.

Operation Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am - 5 pm
9
Meir Shopping Street

9) Meir Shopping Street (must see)

Meir is a famous shopping destination for the city of Antwerp and, along with the New Street in Brussels, one of the most important shopping areas in Belgium. The Meir shopping district encompasses the streets surrounding Our Lady’s Cathedral all the way to the Central Station. Once used to store wet wood for furniture, the area has come a long way to be recognized as one of the prime areas for shopping in the country. Once being a small street on the outskirts of the city, today Meir is an integral part of the city center.

With the opening of the Stadsfeestzaal Shopping Centre in 2007, the Meir has become the most expensive shopping destination in the economic union of Benelux. The area is home to all major shopping brands and attracts over 200,000 visitors from neighboring states and other European countries.

Along with being a shopping capital, the Meir has also seen the richness of architecture and the lavishness of the rich. It is home to some exquisite buildings such as ‘Osterrieth House’ at number 85 and the Royal Residence of the Belgian Kings, both built in the old Rococo style by architect Van Baurscheit. Whether for a shopping experience or just visiting to catch a glimpse of the past, Meir is a place that all must visit.
10
Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central Station)

10) Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central Station) (must see)

Antwerp is a perfect blend of old and new, renowned for its great effort in preserving historic buildings. One such building is the Antwerp Central Station, aka Middenstatie (Middle station). The latter name – now an antiquated expression in Dutch – is seen on the plaque fixed on the north wall of the Station.

A key landmark in the city, this mighty edifice is one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Belgium. It's been repeatedly voted among the world’s most impressive railway stations, including number four in 2009 by the U.S. Newsweek magazine, and number one in 2014 by the British-American magazine Mashable.

The original stone-clad structure, with a steel platform covering, was designed by Louis Delacenserie. It was built between 1895 and 1905 as a replacement for the first terminus of the Brussels-Mechelen-Antwerp railway.

Because of its unique architecture, historians still struggle to attribute the Antwerpen-Centraal to any particular style. The eclectic mix features a Neo-Gothic front, a massive dome over the iron-glass waiting hall, for which the building has been colloquially referred to as the "spoorwegkathedraal" ("railroad cathedral"), and a modern multilevel platform system. Another notable element, the viaduct leading into the Station, was designed by local architect, Jan Van Asperen.

During WWII, the train hall sustained severe damage by V-2 rockets, which is still visible today due to a lasting wave-distortion in the roof.

Recently, the Station was completely renovated, and in 2007 had an underground tunnel opened. Today it operates 14 railways tracts at four different terminals and plays a vital role in connecting various parts of Belgium.

If you're an architecture buff or railway enthusiast, having the Antwerpen-Centraal on your list of things to see is a must! But even if you're neither of these, we still recommend visiting it, just for the spectacle.

Walking Tours in Antwerp, Belgium

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