Some places you instantly like even if you arrive tired and, in my case with Antwerp, wet. Antwerp is one of these cities where I felt instantly at home and felt that while 48 hours was enough to get a good overview, I would like to return very soon with more time to explore in depth.

As I was on a food and family expedition that my brother had organised, I didn’t really have a set itinerary or some sort of plan as I would usually have. We had nothing but our reservation at the restaurant The Jane and decided to just go with the flow apart from this one dinner.

So I don’t consider myself an expert on Antwerp or this to be a thorough travel guide and if you want to utilize 48 hours in a new city best you probably shouldn’t nap as much as my brother and I did. But having that said I did realize that Antwerp really has something to offer for all tastes, food wise and other, and I wanted to share my favorite things to eat, see, and delight in.

1. Getting around, old school

Not only Belgium guys are cute, the De Lijn trams are as well. The wagons are old and while they are not horse-drawn anymore they are really picturesque and the perfect way to get around (except for the obligatory bicycles of course!). And if you are German like me the signs that say ‘bellen’ (Dutch ‘to ring’, German ‘to bark’) in order to make the tram stop might just make you giggle.

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2. ‘Sunday mass’

Obviously not everyone is keen on fine dining, but if you are interested you will be in a for an affordable treat (compared to other Michelin star restaurants) at The Jane. You are technically eating in a church, but the atmosphere is hip, young, and relaxed, and so is the staff: never snobby, but super knowledgable about their food and wines they seem to really enjoy passing on their knowledge.

If you don’t feel like indulging in a 9-course feast, get a seat at the bar upstairs where you can munch on yummy tapas with a view over the whole church. Either way, you should get your reservation long in advance.

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3. Giraffes in the city

I don’t really care for zoos, especially not when the wind is howling. However if there is a zoo to see, of course it should be located on Giraffen Plein. Obviously the giraffe lover in me got super excited and made elaborate plans to steal this street sign at night. That plan was deferred by a lobster and a bottle of Chardonnay, but I may come back for it one day.

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4. Top view

Go to the 5th floor of the MAS museum to get the perfect view of Luc Tuymans’ mosaic ‘Dead Skull’. Climb up further or, well, take the escalators to visit the viewing platform of the museum to get a great, albeit for me grey, view of the city. In case you don’t care for museums, you don’t need to buy a ticket in order to go up there and it is open till midnight.

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5. The original skull

The original skull which stood model for the mosaic is a stone plate from the 17th century and can be found at the front door of the Cathedral of Our Lady. Check it out to see the striking resemblance and also take a look inside; the cathedral is beautiful and they offer free tours to see all the artwork including many significant pieces by Peter Paul Rubens.

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6. The Antwerp Six

Antwerp is well-known for its very own group of famous avant-garde fashion designers, the Antwerp Six. To follow their footsteps check out the MoMu, the fashion museum, as well as their own stores. Ann Demeulemeester’s as well as Het Modepalais, Dries van Noten’s headquarter, are like little exhibitions themselves and worth a visit even if there is no sale. And if there is – good luck to you and your credit card! travelettes_antwerp_belgium_annika ziehen - 13 travelettes_antwerp_annika ziehen

7. Italy goes Dutch

While the food at Renaissance, a designer boutique and restaurant, on Nationale Straat was good, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t for their parmesan croquettes. It is really the best of two worlds combined, Italian cheese and Dutch croquettes, and utterly scrumptious; definitely worth the food coma that will follow.

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8. Belgium souvenirs for take away

While the obvious souvenir from Antwerp is chocolate truffles, what does one get non-chocolate friends like myself? According to my brother, who is a butter connoisseur, the Belgium butter tastes like no other. So, if you are in need of a last-minute souvenir I suggest you find one of the early bird supermarkets near the train station and get yourself a packet. Needless to say this is only adequate when traveling in winter.

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9. Platform 9 3/4 

Keen for a little bit of historic sightseeing on the go? While I usually don’t have an eye for old and beautiful buildings before sunrise, the central train station of Antwerp is worth a little photo session even at 6am. After all how many train stations besides King’s Cross Station do you know that has claimed multiple titles of most impressive railway station in the world?

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10. Fries, a nation’s favorite food 

Obviously you must eat fries in Belgium. My brother gave me a dirty look when I ordered fries with our seafood tableau, but then he quickly dug in as well and declared that these fries were the best two euros he ever spent. While you don’t need a lobster to go with in order to enjoy Belgium fries, I do recommend the combination.

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Do you have to add something to the list? What are your favorite things to do, see, and eat in Antwerp?

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!