Student Travel Guide: Antwerp, Belgium

For me, Antwerp is the mecca of Belgium. It is the city to be in, dine in and take in the beauties that Belgium has to offer. For whatever reason, Antwerp seems to always fall behind other Belgian cities such as Brussels, Bruges and Ghent as the best places to visit in the country. This has no reflection on Antwerp as a city at all, but merely on tourists who aren’t going to the right place, which leaves Antwerp much less crowded with flag following hordes of tourists.

For students, Antwerp is a good spot to be and a perfect place to stop on a trip from Paris to Amsterdam and vice versa. Antwerp embodies the culture of Amsterdam with a bit of the arrogance of Paris creating an interesting blend of culture, history and sights. Don’t forget that the language of choice in Antwerp is Flemish, a dialect of Dutch, but be sure not to confuse the two.

Sights

As far as sights go Antwerp is packed to the brim with beautiful buildings, monuments, churches as the like. It may be one of the most strikingly beautiful cities I have ever traveled to, with an old town that simply can’t be beat. The architecture of the city is very much in the Dutch style, with roofs topped with steeples and golden figures. The figures themselves each tell a story, either about the building, when it was built or who lived there at the time. The king of symbolism and a sign you will find everywhere is the hand of Antwerp. The hand symbolizes the origin of the name of Antwerp and dates back to the middle ages.

The story, much like a fairytale, documents a battle between Brabo, the liberator of Antwerp and the troll who has taken the city. Brabo was able to cut off the hand of the troll and threw it into the river. The troll left and the city was saved. Funny story but linguistically it has significance. Ant is said to come from the word “hand” in Dutch and “werpen” is the verb to throw. Antwerp, “Hand Throw”…it really does make sense when you think about it.

In the Groenplaat, you will be able to see a large statue of Brabo in front of the town hall holding a cut of hand with water shooting out of the top. Brabo, the hand and the city walls are the de-facto symbols of the city, and if you look, you can really see it everywhere.

As far as sights you need to check out, the list goes as follows

The Central Train Station – A near cathedral like structure voted the most beautiful train station in the world more times than people can count. Be dazzled by the architectural prowess, huge halls and very efficient and timely trains!

The Meir – One of the worlds first outdoor luxury malls. The entire street is chock full of different fashion and luxury brand stores beckoning hordes of tourists and locals alike to spend their hard earned Euros in style.

Cogels Osylei – Voted one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the world, Cogels Osylei sits about a thirty minute walk away from the train station. The neighborhood is adorned with beautiful mansions with various different architectural styles. They are really a sight to behold

The Diamond District – Antwerp remains the largest distributor of diamonds in the world, and in this district you can find tons of shops selling jewelry that will really blow your mind. This has also become one of the largest Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Europe, which truly shows the diversity that Antwerp has to offer.

The MAS – The MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) is a newly constructed museum with 9 floors of rotating exhibits. The museums rooftop offers one of the best views of Antwerp you can get. On certain weekends, the museum also turns into a club, with 9 floors of DJ’s!

Groenplaats/ Old Town – The old town is striking, miraculous and a great place to be. The architecture matches any of Europe’s greatest city and it is incredibly walkable. You can find delicious food and a great bar scene.

Other cool places that you should check out if you have time are

  • Pleinpublik
  • Linkeroever
  • Eilandje
  • Sint-Andries Neighborhood
  • Rubenshuis
  • Antwerp Zoo

Bites and Sips

Antwerp is ridiculously expensive as far as it comes to food. Unfortunately, if you are traveling on a budget, this city can really do some damage, and quick. Luckily, immigrants from the Middle East and Asia have brought their food with them, so if you are looking for a good meal, there is plenty of Kebabs and Noodles out there for you.

If you do want to try some local fare for cheap stick to the holy trinity

  • Fries
  • Waffles
  • Beer

If you want to know more about what to eat, check out my page here

For Fries, go to either Frikot Max or Frituur No. 1

For Waffles, check out The Smallest Waffle Shop in the World, Australian or Desire de Lille

If it is a beer experience you are after, the De Konnick brewery tour is well worth the 10 Euros, and you get to sample the beer after learning about the history and beer of Belgium.

To read more click here

The bars that I recommend are

  • De Muze
  • Cabron
  • Paters Vaetje
  • Cargo Zomerbar
  • Marmite

Accommodation and Transportation

If you are looking to stay in Antwerp, you have to do a hostel. Luckily, I worked at one so I have the perfect place for you!

The Antwerp Student Hostel is the place to be. It is about a five minute walk to the train station and a fifteen minute walk to the bars, old town and more. They have an awesome patio in the center, a communal kitchen and tons of space to meet people. The staff organizes tours and events for you to join in on. Ask for Fabian, say you know Pierce, he will give you the scoop on clubs and parties around the city.

As far as transportation goes, the city is incredibly walkable. They do have a metro and great buses but I never took them.

Clubbing

Antwerp is known as the place to go clubbing in Belgium although many students like heading out to Ghent for Friday or Saturday nights as well. If you want to go clubbing and keep it cheap, Thursday nights are the best to go out.

Both of the most popular clubs for students are completely free on Thursdays and within striking distance of each other.

Cafe d’Anvers is notorious in the Antwerp clubbing scene and with two stories and a massive tropical dance floor, it is definitely the place to be.

After Cafe d’Anvers head over to Red and Blue, normally a gay club on all other nights, on Thursdays it is packed to the brim with students and other partygoers. Get ready to stay out late because both clubs don’t close until around 6 in the morning.

To add to the experience, both clubs are located in Antwerp’s quite large Red Light District, one of the largest in Europe. It certainly adds to the craziness of the experience and you can definitely see some weird things going on. Don’t worry though, the city is safe and cops patrol the area making sure everything is functioning as it should be.

Other clubs to check out depending on what you are into are

  • Klub Vaag
  • Klub Goud
  • Petrol
  • Ampere

Whatever you end up doing in Antwerp, the city is perfect for three or four days, just make sure to visit in the summer or fall to avoid rainy, cold days. Enjoy!

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