Antwerp Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Antwerp

The diamond capital of Europe, Antwerp is a port city on the River Scheldt in Belgium that is otherwise famous for its Flemish Renaissance architecture and close association with the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. All these and other historical facts are duly reflected in this orientation walk, featuring, among other attractions, the landmark Grote Markt in the Old Town, 17th-century Rubens House Museum, Plantin-Moretus Museum and many more.
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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: 18
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.3 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: mary
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Antwerpen-Centraal
  • Vlaamse Opera
  • Meir
  • Rubenshuis
  • De Boerentoren
  • Church of Carolus Borromeus
  • Saint Paul's Church
  • Het Steen
  • Vleeshuis
  • Grote Markt
  • Silvius Brabo Statue
  • Vlaeykensgang
  • Cathedral of Our Lady
  • Groenplaats
  • Vrijdagmarkt
  • Plantin-Moretus Museum
  • MoMu - Mode Museum
  • Sint-Andrieskerk

1) Antwerpen-Centraal (must see)

Antwerp is a perfect blend of old and new, renowned for its great effort in preserving historic buildings one of which is the Antwerpen Centraal, one of the world’s most impressive railway stations. The mighty Antwerpen Centraal is voted the world’s fourth best railway station and one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Belgium. Built between 1895 and 1905, it still operates 14 railways tracts at four different terminals and plays a vital role in connecting various parts of the country. Due to its unique architecture, historians to this date find hard to attribute the Antwerp Centraal design to any particular style. We, therefore, recommend visiting the Station and defining it in your own way.
Vlaamse Opera

2) Vlaamse Opera (must see)

The Vlaamse Opera is the Flemish Opera financed by the Flemish Government and the city councils of Antwerp and Ghent. Directed by Aviel Cahn, this single opera company performs in both, Antwerp as well as Ghent. The Opera is carrying forward the trend of one opera company performing in two historical theatres of the Flemish region set in 1981 by Opera voor Vlaanderen.

The history of opera in Antwerp dates back to 1661 when performances were held at the Grote Markt. The influence of the French artists in the performance troupes led to the adoption of French as the official language for all performances. A theatre was first constructed in 1709 and even enjoyed royal patronage between the years 1815 – 1829. However, it never garnered the attention it deserved and was never big enough to entertain a large crowd. It was only in 1834 that a new theatre was built to this effect and is used to this date for theatre performances. After many discussions, work for renovation of the theatre was finally taken up in 2005 at a budget of 24 million euros. The seating in the main auditorium, office spaces for the theatre and a new heating system were put in place. Much of the renovation work still remains but the Vlaamse Opera’s contemporary performances are being conducted in the renovated building since 2007. The Opera never ceases to amaze its audience whether they are in Ghent or in Antwerp or whether they are performing a classic or something altogether anew.

3) Meir (must see)

Meir is a famous shopping destination for the city of Antwerp and along with the Rue Neuve in Brussels, one of the most important shopping areas in Belgium. The Meir shopping area encompasses the streets surrounding Our Lady’s Cathedral all the way to the Centraal 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. From being a small street on the outskirts of the city, Meir has become an integral part of the City Centre.

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 even 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 of a lifetime or just visiting to catch a glimpse of the past, Meir is a place that all must visit.

4) Rubenshuis (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 Rubenshuis 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 displayed 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 the visitor a peek at the lavish lifestyles of those times. The Renaissance Garden which was renovated in 1993 takes inspiration from Rubens’ paintings and must not be missed.

Operation Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am - 5 pm
De Boerentoren

5) De Boerentoren

De Boerentoren, meaning Farmer’s Tower, was the first sky scraper to be built in Europe. Inspired by sky scrapers in New York and Chicago, De Boerentoren was built on a site that was bombed during the First World War, as part of preparations for Antwerp World Exhibition of 1930. Completed in just three years between 1929 and 1932, the original building stood at 87.5 meters.

Designed by Jan Van Hoenacker, this art-deco styled building was constructed to house offices and residences along with cafés and also had a Beer Hall. In 1954, the building height was raised to 112.5 meters with the addition of an antenna. It remained Belgium’s tallest building till 1967 when the city council discussed the possibility of destroying the structure. However, these plans were dropped and restoration of the building was taken up in 1970. The apartments and other amenities were removed and the building was reserved for office use only. In 1981, the building was declared a protected monument. Currently, it is home to the KBC, the largest bank of Flanders district, which also gives the tower its official name, the KBC Tower.

Tourist legend has it that you can see the Atomium in Brussels from the roof of this building. We leave it for you to find out whether it’s a myth or fact, when you visit the KBC Tower in Antwerp.
Church of Carolus Borromeus

6) Church of Carolus Borromeus (must see)

The Spanish invasion of 1584 brought in a wave of forced Catholicism to Antwerp. Protestants either left the city or were converted to Catholicism. The Jesuits decided to counter this reformation and François d'Aguilon, a Jesuit mathematician began work on a Baroque styled church. Similar to the Chiesa del Gesù in Rome, this new church in Antwerp was completed in 1621 and was called the Ignatius Church. Much of the interiors including many ceiling paintings were completed by the local artist, P.P.Rubens. A unique feature of the Church is the mechanism to change the painting at the altar.

The Fire of 1718 destroyed most of Rubens’ work but the mechanism to change paintings survives to this day. The structure became a Parish Church in 1803 when it was given its current name. Today, it stands neatly tucked away behind some modern buildings at the Hendrik Conscience Square. Several protests during the 1960s and 70s have made this area a pedestrian zone which gives the area its instantly appreciated serenity. During your walk to the Church you might come across the soothing notes of violin being played to make your visit very special. We request you to please check the open hours of the Church before visiting. The Artist’s mass on Sundays and other holidays should not be missed.
Saint Paul's Church

7) Saint Paul's Church (must see)

The Saint Paul's Church of Antwerp has it's own interesting history – after surviving a couple of revolutions, fires and lootings it still managed to save a very rich collection of 17th century paintings of Flemish masters such as Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens but is best known for the hundreds of sculptures it houses. Build by the Dominican order in 1571 Saint Paul's Church didn't manage to "preserve" it's main tower which was rebuild in 1679 in Baroque style.
Het Steen

8) Het Steen (must see)

Antwerp is definitely the historians’ paradise, with each building and monument having its own tale and its slice of history to share with one and all, the Het Steen is one of them.

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 along 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 speculated 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 tough stone and mud protecting the interiors from the Viking plunderers. And hence crediting Otto 1, during whose reign 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.
Sight description based on wikipedia

9) Vleeshuis (must see)

Who can resist the temptation of diving into the past of a city and experiencing the tall tales and legacies of the land? And when the city in question is Antwerp, this opportunity just cannot be missed.

At the Vleeshuis Museum get the opportunity to unravel the history of Antwerp. The Museum is one of a kind and specializes in showcasing local history and artifacts that are in some way or the other connected to the land. Equally fascinating is the building that has served as home to the Vleeshuis Museum since the early 20th century. With a late Gothic façade, the building was once home to the Butcher’s Guild of the city. Although the building once sold meat and other animal produce, the structure and design is no short of an architectural treat.

Illustrating about 600 years of a rich and vibrant past, the Vleeshuis Museum displays a collection of antiquities and artifacts that stand to display the rich diversity of culture and art in the pool that is Antwerp.

With a priceless collection of ceramic, metal work and iconography unravel the past of the region along with the illustrations of dance and music. From the history of street musicians to opera singers, the section manages to portray how music and dance were an integral part of the Antwerp society.

Operation hours: Thursday - Sunday: 10 am - 5 pm
Grote Markt

10) Grote Markt (must see)

Right in the heart of the city, the Grote Markt is one of the favorite locations for locals as well as tourists. Filled with cafés and restaurant, the Grote Markt 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 Stadhuis or the City Hall on one side and a row of guild houses and old patrician houses on the other, the Grote Markt 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 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, where punished by having their hands cut off. It was Brabo, who fought the giant and cut off his hands and threw it in the Scheldt.

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 Grote Markt, have an authentic Belgian meal on the table and admire the city as it moves past you.
Silvius Brabo Statue

11) Silvius Brabo Statue (must see)

The Silvius Brabo statue is located at Oude Beurs 4 in the city of Antwerp and stands right in front of the Antwerp City Hall. The statue is the result of the mythological story that is believed to give the city its name.

Legend has it that a giant named Druon Antigoon lived near the bridge over the river Scheldt. The giant would forcibly charge the people for using the bridge or else would cut off hands of people who either could not or refused to pay him. According to the story, Silvius Brabo was a Roman soldier who came to the city. Antigoon’s restrictions over using the bridge on the Scheldt were hurting the city’s business and therefore, Brabo decided to bring an end to Antigoon’s tyranny. Brabo killed Antigoon and as a fitting reply to his oppression, tossed the giant’s hand into the river. The statue in front of the City Hall captures the moment when the brave Brabo was about to throw away the giant’s hand. The name Antwerp is corruption of ‘An twerp’ or hand throwing committed by Brabo. The term ‘Brabant’ is also believed to have originated with Brabo.

You can enjoy the statue while relishing a coffee on one of the café terraces located in the area.

12) Vlaeykensgang (must see)

Grote Markt 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 that are still preserved and untouched by the hands of time. One such place is Vlaeykensgang, and the entrance to this alley is the size of a 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.

Although there were many such alleys then existing around the city hall, they were destroyed over time. Vlaeykensgang, too was scheduled for demolition in 1960, however it was saved in time by a local antique dealer and restored to its former glory.
Cathedral of Our Lady

13) 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 buildings and structures, the Cathedral of Our Lady is one structure that has something to offer its 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, dating back to the early 10th century which 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. It has stood the test of time and stands proudly in the city of Antwerp.

14) Groenplaats (must see)

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 Groenplaats or the Green Place. Although not as green as the name suggests, the Groenplaats, 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 Groenplaats 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 Groenplaats.

However, unlike other squares in the city, the Groenplaats did not start off as a center for the city. The center of the square is dominated by the statue of the much loved Flemish painter Sir P.P.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 Rubens.

15) Vrijdagmarkt

Your stay in Antwerp would not be complete without visiting the Vrijdagmarkt. Bustling with life and energy, the Vrijdagmarkt has stayed the same for over 4 centuries now. This popular square has ever since the 16th century been the epicenter of street shopping and local auctions.

It is believed that a rich real estate merchant by the name of Gilbert van Schoonbeke Jr. bought a big chunk of land near the City Center in 1547. He developed a market for the street vendors who held weekly bazaars on Fridays and because buying second hand goods was a prevailing practice then, this soon became the market where people auctioned their clothes and furniture. In fact, famous Flemish painter Rubens’ clothes were also auctioned here post his death. Dominating the market is the statue of St. Catherine, who is the patron saint of ‘old clothes buyers.

Today, the Vrijdagmarkt is a popular site for both locals and tourists to enjoy the age old tradition of shopping at this historical market. Although the Vrijdagmarkt may not have the reputation of having the best in the market, if you enjoy browsing through local goods, handmade souvenirs etc., this is the perfect place to be.
Plantin-Moretus Museum

16) 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. After its establishment, the printing press saw the involvement of Plantin’s son-in-law, Jan Moretus who 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. It was not until recently that the Museum was given the title of 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. However, 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 that speak of the opulence of the Platin- Moretus family.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am - 5 pm
MoMu - Mode Museum

17) MoMu - Mode Museum

Editor's note: MoMu is closed for renovation and will reopen in Autumn 2020.

The MoMu-Mode Museum is yet another museum whose theme is sure to garner lots of interest as well as visitors. A unique museum that is especially dedicated to clothing, apparel and fashion, the MoMu Museum manages to enthrall an ardent fashion critic and follower as well as a fashion atheist. Touching a wide array of subjects, the exhibits manage to provide a unique insight about the cultural and societal influences of clothing and fashion along with historical account of the various changes that were brought about in the world of fashion.

Located perfectly at the heart Antwerp’s fashion destination, the ModeNatie, the Museum is next door to the Flanders Fashion Institute, the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Open since 2002, the Museum is a proud owner of more than 25,000 objects. With exhibits that display the delicate craftsmanship of the region, the Museum also showcases gorgeous garments, exotic fabrics, tools and machines, shoes laces and other accessories that are the key ingredients for a perfect look. Apart from that the Museum also possesses rare antique garments that date back to the 16th century along with contemporary modern apparels. Another unique feature of this splendid museum is its contemporary architecture and interiors. Designed by Belgian architect Marie-José Van Hee, the MoMu Museum is a must visit in Antwerp.

18) Sint-Andrieskerk

Founded in the 16th century, Sint-Andrieskerk (St. Andrew's Church) was the birthplace of writer Hendrik Conscience. Since November 2007 the church has served as a museum. Its Baroque altar made in 1729 by William Ignatius Kerricx and the pulpit of Jan-Baptist Van Hool and Jan-Frans Van Geel in 1821 are beautiful examples of Belgium’s art heritage.

Walking Tours in Antwerp, Belgium

Create Your Own Walk in Antwerp

Create Your Own Walk in Antwerp

Creating your own self-guided walk in Antwerp is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Antwerp Shopping Tour

Antwerp Shopping Tour

Antwerp is the best place in Europe to shop for diamonds. Visit the famous Diamond District, or Diamondland, the most beautiful diamond center in the city. Antiquity lovers can find a lot of interesting items on Kloosterstraat. Admire the beauty of Asian markets and restaurants in Antwerp's Chinatown. Follow this unforgettable tour, shop the best stores and have fun!

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Museums Tour

Museums Tour

Visit the famous home and studio of Peter Paul Rubens and see the works of this unsurpassed master. Admire Northern Renaissance art at Mayer van den Bergh Museum. Discover new depths of 14th century art at the Royal Museum of Fine Art and observe the evolution of fashion at the unique Mode Museum.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Antwerp Old City

Antwerp Old City

Visit Pierre Bruno Bourla’s most famous work, the Royal Theater, and witness its extraordinary 19th century architecture. Take a walk in the peaceful oasis of the Botanic Gardens and be sure to see the remarkable Rubens house and admire his famous masterpieces.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Deurne Neighbourhood Walk

Deurne Neighbourhood Walk

Visit the Silver Museum at Sterckshof castle to learn more about the art and technology of silver. See the City Hall, enjoy a meal at Rivierenhof Castle, enjoy a game with the Phantoms hockey team and much more in the beautiful neighborhood of Duerne.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Antwerp's Historical Churches Tour

Antwerp's Historical Churches Tour

Admire the unforgettable works of Peter Paul Rubens, Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos at the Cathedral of Our Lady. Feel the spirit of antiquity at Beguinage of Antwerp. Listen to the music of the 18th century organ at St. James' Church and see the 18th century Baroque altar and the pulpit of Jan-Baptist Van Hool and Jan-Frans Van Geel at St. Andrew’s Church.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
South Side Walking Tour

South Side Walking Tour

Visit Antwerp’s South Side and see Waterpoort, built in honor of King Filip IV. Visit Sint-Walburgiskerk, the place used by Rubens in many of his works. The Royal Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of Modern Art are great places to see the development of art in the region.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles