Antwerp, an overview
Antwerp (Dutch: Antwerpen) is a major destination in Belgium in the region of Flanders. It is renowned for being the “world’s leading diamond city” and more than 70% of all diamonds are traded there. The Diamond Market is the hub of the economic section in Belgium. More than 85% of the world’s rough diamonds, 50% of cut diamonds, and 40% of industrial diamonds are traded in the city.
Antwerp used to be the second largest city of Belgium. It has a beautiful historic city center, and is world-renowned for its fashion industry. The port of Antwerp is the second largest in Europe, and a major economic player in Belgium.
The name “Antwerp” is most likely derived from “aan de werpe”, which is Dutch for “at the throw”, referring to a place where the bending river throws its sand. Locals might tell you of an ancient urban legend, saying it comes from “Hand werpen”, which translated is “throwing (a) hand(s)”. In the official flag, the castle “het Steen” and the hand of Antwerp are shown.
In the 16th century, Antwerp was one of the most important financial centres of the world, where traders from all over Europe and Asia sold and bought their goods. After the siege of Antwerp in 1585 by the Spanish, this role as a financial centre was taken over by Amsterdam. Nevertheless, since the 19th century and especially the 20th century, Antwerp has made a serious economic comeback. At a population of 506,225 (2012), it is the second largest city in Belgium, after Brussels, and it has a major European port. Recent upheaval has rendered much of the data obsolete, but we suspect the local migrations have done little to change Antwerp’s status as a hub in Europe. With insufficient funds to stave off the toxic flows outside of the city, inner-city life has become a real solution for many who used to live in rural towns further off, like Brecht or Zandhoven.
Due to its long and culturally rich history, the city of Antwerp houses many interesting historical buildings from different historical periods, as well as a lot of interesting museums. Recently it has become a trendy city, attracting a lot of Flemish and foreign artists, writers, intellectuals, and actors. This is reflected in the city’s many trendy bars and shops. Antwerp is a city with many faces. While it may not be as historically preserved as other Flemish medieval cities, like Bruges or Ghent, it is a very dynamic city, offering a perfect mix of history and present-day modern life.
Antwerp airport (IATA: ANR). CityJet is the main airline serving Antwerp Airport, flying 3 times daily to London City Airport (LCY), with convenient connections to Dublin, Dundee, Edinburgh and Jersey. FlyBe has begun one flight daily to London Southend Airport (SEN). There is a regular bus from Antwerp Airport to Berchem train station (lines 51, 52, 53), from where there are multiple connections to the city centre (e.g. tram line 9). A taxi costs around €30.
Brussels Airport (IATA: BRU) Every hour there is a direct bus to and from this airport which costs €20 on way. It has two stops in Antwerp: at Hotel Crowne Plaza and in the city centre, in front of Central Station. Hourly direct trains link Antwerp central station with Brussels airport, with a travel time of approximately 35 minutes (45 minutes on weekends and public holidays). Single adult tickets are €15.
Charleroi Airport (IATA: CRL) marketed as “Brussels South Charleroi Airport”, is a low-cost hub, served mainly by Ryanair and WizzAir. An express bus (line A) connects it to Charleroi Sud train station, from where there are train connections to anywhere in Belgium. Belgian Railways sell a combined express-bus + train ticket: from Antwerp Central Station the trip takes 2 hours and costs about €30.
Schiphol Airport (IATA: AMS) There are two options to take the train from Amsterdam Schiphol airport to Antwerp central station. First, the regular intercity Amsterdam – Brussels service runs 16 times daily. You can buy tickets with credit card at the ticketing machines in the Schiphol arrival hall. Payment with cash is also possible at the counter, or you can book in advance through Belgian Railways (SNCB/NMBS). A single ticket costs about €35. Second option, is the bright red high-speed Thalys train Amsterdam – Paris, which also connects Amsterdam airport with Antwerp central station, in half the time it takes the regular train, but at twice the price. Best book your seat at least a week beforehand, since buying a ticket on the spot will turn out to be even more expensive. Keep in mind that the regular intercity and the Thalys are run by different companies, but their trains leave from the same platforms. Whatever you do, do not jump on a Thalys train with a regular intercity ticket or vice versa. Thalys and regular train tickets are not interchangeable, and you will be fined for riding without valid ticket.
Düsseldorf Airport (IATA: DUS) is the third largest airport of Germany. There is no easy train connection to Antwerp, but since June 2014, a bus service by Deutsche Bahn railways connects Antwerp directly to Düsseldorf Airport 3 times daily. Tickets can be booked through Deutsche Bahn.
Antwerp Central is one of the few railway stations in Europe with its own IATA code (IATA: ZWE). Many airlines therefore can offer integrated tickets directly to Antwerp. Depending on demand and time of travel, these can turn out to be much cheaper than flying to the nearest airport and taking the train on your own. In practice you will then first fly to Amsterdam, Paris or Düsseldorf Airport. After collecting your luggage, you register at the transfer desk to collect a “boarding pass” for a high-speed train or bus connection to Antwerp.
Antwerp has a Eurolines office near the central bus station (Rooseveltplaats, office in the Van Stralenstraat). There are regular buses to London and to most cities in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Balkan, the Baltic states and eastern/northern Europe. Their buses usually halt in the Van Stralenstraat.
Flixbus has two stops: Koningin Astridplein (near the main train station) and Berchem. Bus connections everydays to: Paris, The Hague, Amsterdam, Groningen, Brussels, Delft, London, Nijmegen etc.
Ecolines also serves Antwerp through its Riga-Paris route, with tickets that can be booked online or through the Euro-Maror company (located at Paardenmarkt 65). Its buses stop on the Borsbeekbrug, near Antwerp-Berchem railway station.
A special cross-border bus (Veolia line 19) connects Antwerp hourly with the Dutch cities of Breda and Hulst. It leaves from the Breda railway station, and has stops in Antwerp at Noorderplaats (the stop is on the nothernmost part of the Italiëlei), and on the left bank (Halewijnlaan). Tickets can be bought from the driver.
Megabus has services to Amsterdam and many cities of UK via London. They offers price from 1€ plus 50 cent fee reservation if you book in advance.
The public transportation company De Lijn operates a dense network of buses, trams, and pre-metro (underground tram) connections in the city and its surroundings. If you plan on taking a bus or tram more than 5 times, then buy a 10-ride card (Lijnkaart). They can be bought at fixed points in town (e.g. most supermarkets and any place that sells newspapers, just ask the cashier). Every time you enter a bus or tram, just put that card in one of the yellow ticket machines. A single ticket bought from the driver in the bus costs more.
For one fare, you can ride up to an hour within the city boundaries. If you want to travel out of the city boundaries you may have to pay more for extra zones travelled. The central bus station is the Franklin Rooseveltplaats, near the central train station. Nearly all buses leave from there, or from the Antwerp-Central or Antwerp-Berchem train stations. Buses towards the west terminate on the left bank (metro stop Van Eeden).
Maps of the bus/tram network in the entire region can be found online.
Due to traffic, buses and trams in Antwerp don’t always travel according to their indicated schedule, especially around rush hour. However, certainly within the city centre the frequency is usually high enough to not cause too much of an inconvenience. Public transport company De Lijn has a bad reputation when it comes to informing the public of diversions, cancellations or delays. Expect to be given little to no information when the bus suddenly follows a diversion or a stop is not served – it’s best to ask a local. This is a persistent problem that even the locals find very difficult to deal with.
Taxi and cars
Taxis are available, but they can be quite expensive. They await customers at specific locations around town (waving your hand will seldom work) like the Groenplaats or the railway station. You can recognize these places by an orange TAXI sign. The prices are fixed in the taximeter.
Driving in Antwerp is not as difficult as many big cities in the world, but crossroads can seem very chaotic for foreigners. There are few free parking spaces, but many spaces where you have to pay (on the street or in underground car parks). The underground car parks are well-signposted. The prices are typically €4 per hour.
In 2014 INRIX, the traffic data organisation, named Antwerp and Brussels as the two most congested cities in Europe and North America. The London Guardian newspaper, in 2014, published an article headed “5 Reasons Belgium has the worst traffic in Europe”.
There are many one-way roads, that can make it difficult to get to a specific place. Try to park your car as close as possible and go on foot.
Most things to see are near or within the Boulevards, the half-moon of avenues where there were once 16th century city-walls. This old town center, with a diameter of about 1.5 km can be walked, but there is excellent public transport.
Horse tram (paardentram) leaves from the Grote Markt every hour. It is an approximately 40 minutes / 1.5 mile ride through the city.
Rubenshuis, 32)3/2318830. Good location in the city centre, near the Stadschouwburg theatre and the Vogeltjesmarkt. Not very exciting but you won’t get any unpleasant surprises with this chain. Don’t pay (14 Euros!) for breakfast in the hotel as there are plenty of cafes in the immediate area and a market on the Theaterplein square in front of the hotel Saturday and Sunday mornings. If you’re a very light sleeper try to get a room on the side that doesn’t face onto the Theaterplein as the market traders start setting up pretty early!
Elzenveld, Lange Gasthuisstraat 45 A former hospital that advertises itself as a conference centre, but also offers accommodation.
The Swan B&B, Huikstraat 25. A self-contained apartment for up to 3 guests in a quiet part of the historic city center, a 5 minute walk from the main square. The owner Nadine gladly provides directions and tourist advice. Minimum stay of 2 nights. From €65.
aplace/antwerp, Vrijdagmarkt 1, ☎ +32 473 73 56 50,. Located on a quaint square in the fashion district area of Antwerp, aplace/antwerp is your ideal spot from where to discover this magnificent city. It provides warmly designed and comfortable suites and city flats.
Apartment in Antwerp, Gierstraat 3. Slapen in Apen is a guestapartment for 2 to 4 persons in the centre of Antwerp. It is located at the Vrijdagmarkt, on about 400 meters from the Central Market. €150.
A La Muze, Lombardenvest 18. A La Muze is a city apartment for short staying with 1 or 2 bedrooms. It is located in a calm street about 100m from the cathedral. You can get there easily by public transport or by car. €160.
Park Inn Astrid Hotel, Koningin Astridplein 2018 Antwerp, ☎ +32 3 202 31 70. This new hotel in Antwerp has 59 rooms and is ideally situated in the heart of the city’s Diamond District on Koningin Astrid Square near the famed Zoo Antwerpen.
Leopold Hotel Antwerp, Quinten Matsijslei 25, ☎ +32 (0)3 203 1234. checkin: 15:00; checkout: 12:00. 4-star hotel overlooking the city park. 5 minutes walk from diamond district and central station.
Radisson Blu Park Lane Hotel, Van Eycklei, 34, ☎ +32 3 2858585. This hotel is located adjacent to the Stadspark and bordered by the Diamond Quarter.
Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel, Koningin Astridplein 7, ☎ +32 3 202 31 70. This hotel offers guests contemporary cosmopolitan elegance situated across from the city’s historic main rail station.
The city centre now has free wifi that is available once you register using an account with Facebook or Google.
Some cafés have free wireless internet, but don’t write it on the door for whatever reason. Some will charge you for it…
McDonald’s has free internet.
Many hotels, including the Radisson, have free/included internet. If you come in from the street with a laptop, they may let you use it for the price of a few drinks at their bar. The Fon initiative has also some members living in and around Antwerp providing often free connectivity.
If you’re a student or member of a university, college or research institute elsewhere in the world, you can probably connect for free to the eduroam Wi-Fi network for higher education in and near most buildings of the University of Antwerp or any of the Colleges. Ask IT services at your home institution whether it’s part of eduroam, and if so, ask them for a manual to set up your machine for connections elsewhere.
Most parts of Antwerp are safe, but some neighbourhoods can feel less comfortable, especially by female travellers, as the local population is rich in foreign cultures and because of the dominant presence of young men in the streets, especially the area around De Coninckplein and the neighbourhoods of Borgerhout, Seefhoek and the Schipperskwartier. Still, these neighbourhoods have a very lively atmosphere and so are definitely worth a visit, during the day if this is new to you.
Moreover, it is of utmost importance to lock your bike properly if left outside on the street throughout the city, as to take any valuable off sight in your car. If you need police assistance, the direct police number is 101. If you need a nonurgent police inquiry or the most nearby police station you can dial 0800/12312 for free. Most police officers in Antwerp are friendly and professional.
Be particularly vigilant at Antwerp’s Central Station as there are teams of pickpockets operating in the area who use young children to distract their victims whilst laptop bags and handbags are slashed with razors. On average, 15 incidents of pickpocketing are reported daily at the station. There are also pickpockets operating in other busy Antwerp train stations like Berchem. Do be mindful of your belongings and keep an eye on your wallet and purses and avoid keeping all your money and travel documents in one place.
Like most of the rest of Europe, the number for emergencies (ambulance, police and fire) is 112.
Since Flanders (and Belgium) is not big, it’s very easy to take the train and go visit another city.
Bruges (Brugge) — Very nice medieval town. Often called “Venice of the North”, because of the many canals that flow through and under it. Well worth an overnight stay, since it is most romantic at night and very safe.
Brussels — The capital of Belgium and some say, the capital of Europe. Multicultural and multilingual. Unfortunately, some of the city’s historic (medieval) centre was destroyed at the end of the 19th century when Belgium seceded from the Netherlands and Brussels was made capital of the new country. Nonetheless, Brussels is known as a city of “hidden gems,” where you can turn a street corner in a less-than-breathtaking area and come face-to-face with an opulent and unexpected Art Deco or Art Nouveau building. Its popularity with tourists in recent years has been steadily increasing.
Ghent — A medieval town a bit like Bruges, with more emphasis on cathedrals and other big buildings. Great centre of medieval paintings exhibited in and around the cathedral of Sint-Baafs.
Namur — The regional capital of Wallonia.
Leuven — A college town hosting the oldest university in the Benelux. Very young vibrant city during the school year but calm and relaxing during the summer. Many hotels also cater to businessmen who find Brussels too expensive.
Amsterdam — You can take a direct train to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. There is about one train an hour and it will take you about two hours to get there. Amsterdam is well-known for its grachten, many bicycles, and coffee-shops. There also is the Thalys high speed train which is a bit more expensive but you will get there a lot faster.
Rotterdam — You can take a direct train to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. There is about one train an hour and it will take you about one hour to get there. Rotterdam is well-known for its harbour.
Den Bosch — You can go by train to this medieval city (change trains in Roosendaal).
Zeeland — Where the Schelde reaches the ocean. It’s about one hour by train and you will have to change in Roosendaal.
Lille — This is very famous among others for having the largest bookstore in Europe (“Le furet du Nord”). Lille is in the North of France just off the Belgian border. The train ride is pretty long (sometimes over two hours) making it less easy for a day trip. The Dutch (Flemish) name is Rijsel and the town is not to be confused with another Flemish town called, Lille in Dutch!
Paris — With the Thalys, you can be there in about two hours.