City Trip Antwerp: Get Your Culture Fix on a Budget
Antwerp may be best known as THE shopping destination among visitors, but also culture lovers can easily satisfy their art & culture cravings in this beautiful Belgian city. Together with my bestie Suzanne, I went to Antwerp for a short city trip and visited a great number of museums, admired the Jugendstil villas in, according to some, the most beautiful street of Belgium, and drank some pints in the city’s oldest bar. And all of this on a budget!
“When I was still a young lad, we all drank beer,
but of course the alcohol percentage in beer was significantly less then”, according to the owner of the rustic bar Telefoneke, Antwerp’s oldest bar (Lange Nieuwstraat 121). When we passed the bar in the afternoon, Suzanne immediately said she wanted to go there that evening for a drink. “This is where the locals go, not tourists. You can tell straightaway.” Although she was probably right about this, it’s ironic that the only customers on this particular Wednesday evening happen to be tourists. The owner tells us the property once used to be the work and living space of the famous Antwerp painter Rubens (best known for his iconic Rubens Women). While we’re sipping from our Belgian beers, we are overwhelmed by more historical facts about the city and listen to the owner’s opinions about language pollution among Dutch speakers. Having heard more than enough trivia for one night, we finish our drinks in the authentic local bar, which resembles someone’s cozy living room, and head back to our beautiful bed and breakfast The Baron, located in an old town house.
The ultimate budget tip: buy an Antwerp City Card
After a delicious start of the day with fresh rolls and boiled eggs served on the most beautiful breakfast table I’ve ever seen (unfortunately no photos) the next morning, we make our way to the Central Station to buy our Antwerp City Cards. Depending on the type of card you choose, it allows you free (or significantly discounted) access to dozens of museums and attractions over a period of 24, 48 or 72 hours. Since we’ll be driving back to the Netherlands that evening, we opt for the 24H card. Even though Antwerp is small enough to explore on foot, it’s pretty convenient the Antwerp City Card also allows you free travel on public transport in the city!
In case you’re not travelling to Antwerp by train, do make sure to pop into the station anyway as the striking Central Station is definitely worth a visit. This architectural gem was built between 1895 and 1905 and I think it’s quite clear from the photo below why this station is regarded as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.
Drinking beer in the name of culture
I enjoy visiting museums and often see several art exhibitions a day when I’m in London, but the art & culture marathon Suzanne and I did in Antwerp, might not be for everybody. However, the Antwerp City Card offers a wide range of attractions so I’m sure there’s something for everybody there. Since Suzanne studied Art History and Museology, she is my perfect partner in crime when it comes to a day filled with culture and art. Below you can see our itinerary for the day!
Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)
We start our culture-filled day in the eye-catching modern museum MAS in Antwerp’s harbour area. Here we discover the works of forgotten Flemish painter Michaelina Wautier (1604–1689). Baroque’s leading lady is the first retrospective exhibition of this extraordinary artist and it certainly leaves a big impression on me. We check out the other exhibitions in the museum and learn more about Antwerp’s colourful history, including the legend of a giant terrorising the city hundreds of years ago and whose unfortunate defeat by a Roman soldier gave the city its name. From the Panorama deck on the tenth floor (which you can also visit for free even without the Antwerp City Card) you can enjoy great views over the city.
Art somehow makes me ravenous (this is just an excuse as I actually always have an appetite), and since Suzanne and I both tend to get shaky and hangry quite quickly, we decide to have lunch in the beautiful grand café of MAS. After our filling smoked salmon focaccia we feel recharged again and are ready for our next stop: Brewery De Koninck!
City brewery De Koninck
“This is the best welcome in a museum ever!” I exclaim when the girl at the ticket desk hands us two pints of the delicious beer Tripel D’Anvers upon arrival at the museum brewery De Koninck. During our fun and interesting interactive self-guided tour through the city brewery we learn more about Antwerp’s famous ‘Bollekes’, the local nickname for De Koninck beers (named after the shape of the distinctive round-shaped glass in which the beer is served). We finish the tour with our second free glass of beer in the inviting industrial-chic bar.
Cogels-Osylei: Antwerp’s picturesque street from the belle époque
You can also do this budget tip without the Antwerp City Card because a visit to Antwerp’s most stunning street in the charming neighbourhood of Zurenborg is free to all. We admire the astonishing Jugendstil villas and hop onto the tram at the local BerchemSstation for our next stop on the agenda.
Printing office Plantin-Moretus
If you are a book nerd like me, then this printing office and house formerly is absolute heaven! At Plantin-Moretus you can find the oldest printing presses in the world and also portraits of the family Plantin-Moretus painted by none other than Rubens. Whilst visiting this stunning building with its picture-perfect courtyard, you’ll understand why this is the first museum on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
The museum is located on the lively Vrijdagmarkt square where we rest our feet and minds for a moment with a drink and much-needed cheese platter.
Cathedral of Our Lady
After the short pit stop we dash off to the nearby Handschoenmarkt to squeeze in a visit to the city’s striking cathedral just 15 minutes before closing time. This magnificent structure was built between 1352 and 1521 and with its 123 metres it’s the tallest Gothic church of the Low Countries.
M HKA (Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp)
Almost entirely culture-saturated, we step inside the M HKA for a number of very interesting modern and contemporary art exhibitions. We are challenged to think about the tension between contemporary and baroque art (inspired by the cultural city festival Antwerp Baroque 2018. Rubens inspires) and also get to see the highly unsettling installation Five Car Stud. Besides the artworks on display, also the stark white and spacious building itself is an artwork in its own right.
When Suzanne and I go out for dinner together, we prefer a spicy Thai curry as both our partners aren’t so good with spicy food, so when we find out there’s a Thai restaurant in walking distance from the museum, we’re sorted for the night! Before we hit back on the road for our drive back to the Netherlands, we tuck into our scrumptious curries at Yam Thai (76 Volkstraat). The perfect ending of our Antwerp city trip!
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