Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium. This bustling city combines the charms of its historic past and the exciting and quirky present. Filled with grand buildings and fascinating museums, it is also the cultural capital of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. Here are 6 reasons to visit Antwerp:

1Amazing Gothic Cathedrals

Cathedral of Our Lady and statue of Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp, Belgium visit antwerp
Cathedral of Our Lady and statue of Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp, Belgium

A bustling industrial port city throughout most of its history, Antwerp has many majestic Gothic Cathedrals. St. Paul’s Church (Sint-Pauluskerk) in the city centre was completed in 1639. It features a Baroque clock tower and confessional, lavish interior furnishings, and paintings by Rubens, Jordaens, and Van Dyck.

However, the largest Gothic church in Antwerp is the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedraal). Built between 1352 ans 1521, it has suffered serious damage over the years leading to the loss of many precious works of art. Another beautiful church is the St. James’ Church (Sint-Jacobskerk. Once the church of the city’s patrician families is also filled with artistic treasures, as well as the tomb of Rubens.

2The Exciting Museums

The Plantin-Moretus Museum, a famous printing museum in Antwerp
The Plantin-Moretus Museum, a famous printing museum in Antwerp

Antwerp is full of exciting and unique museums. The Plantin-Moretus Museum was once the home of 16th-century Felmish printer Christophe Plantin. It is now a museum about the history of printing. You can also visit the Gothic Butcher’s Hall (Vleeshuis) is now a museum of applied art and archaeology. Its collections include prehistoric Egyptian, Roman, and Merovingian artefacts such as weapons, ceramics, furniture, and sculpture.

The Red Star Line Museum is housed in old warehouses and examines the thousands of immigrants who left the city by steamer st the start of the 19th century. There is also the Museum by the Stream (MAS) that looks at Antwerp’s connection with the North Atlantic, and the MoMu fashion museum. However, perhaps the most famous is the Diamond Museum (Diamantmuseum) that loos at the history of the diamond trade in Antwerp.

3A City For Artists

Peter Paul Rubens at the Cathedral of Our Lady visit Antwerp
“Descent from the cross,” by Peter Paul Rubens at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp

Apart from its museums, Antwerp has an incomparable collection of 15th- to 17th-century art. It was once home to famous artists such as Rubens, van Dyck, and Jordaens. These masters have left their mark throughout the city. You can see many paintings collected at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh and the magnificent Royal Museum of Fine Arts.

There are also paintings by Rubens in many churches and public buildings. However, to truly appreciate the artist, head to Rubens’ House (Rubenshuis). Restored in the 1940s and decorated in 17th-century style, you can see the artist’s studio as well as numerous original paintings.

4Antwerp’s Beautiful Buildings

Port house in Antwerpen
ThePort House building designed by Zaha Hadid architect in Antwerp

Antwerp is dotted with picturesque squares and cobblestoned streets. However its buildings are truly unique. Apaty from the iconic MAS, there are many other eye-catching and creative buildings around Antwerp. The city has transformed into a haven for the hip and artistic, and the daring architecture reflects this.

Many of these buildings can be found at the dockside neighborhood, Het Eilandje. Check out the remarkable Port House; the spiked roof of the Palace of Justice, and the stunning Antwerp Central Station, often described as one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. For a change, you can also see the 12th-century fortress Het Steen (The Rock).

5The Grand Place (Grote Markt)

Grote Markt in Antwerp
Grote Markt in Antwerp

Antwerp’s Grand Place is the heart of the old town. It is home to the city’s town hall and numerous step-gabled guild houses. This plaza is built to truly monumental proportions. At the centre is the is the ornate Brabo Fountain.

Built in 1887 by Jef Lambeaux, it depicts the Roman soldier Silvius Brabo. He is tossing the severed hand of the giant Antigonus into the Scheldt. This throwing of a hand (“handwerpen”) is said to have led to the city’s name “Antwerpen.” Most of the buildings around the square are now open to the public. The 16th-century Town Hall (Stadhuis) was built by Cornelis Floris de Vriendt  and is now filled with 19th-century paintings by H. Leys illustrating the history of Antwerp.

6Antwerp Zoo

A tiger at the Antwerp Zoo
A tiger at the Antwerp Zoo

While many European cities have zoos, Antwerp Zoo is often regarded as one of the finest zoos in Europe. Founded in 1843, it is famous for its variety of species, success in breeding, and the great care bestowed on the animals. People also visit Antwerp Zoo for its beautiful architecture. It most iconic features are the Art Deco facade, and an 1855 giraffe and elephant house built like an Egyptian temple.

The zoo houses over 6,000 animals of 950 species. Among them are rare breeds such as the white rhino, okapi, and mountain gorilla. However, if you want to explore nature without the animals, check out Middelheim’s sculpture park, and Park Spoor Noord.

If you can think of any other reasons to visit Antwerp, be sure to share them in the comments below.

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