Antwerp is renowned as being the diamond capital of the world. It is the second largest city and municipality in Belgium as well as the capital of the province of Flanders. This cosmopolitan, down to earth city is full of fascinating architecture and historical institutions, complemented by a lively nightlife.
The city has always held an important place in the Benelux economic union. It is located on the banks of the river Scheldt and is bordered by the countries of The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France. Next to being the second largest city it is also the second largest port in Europe behind Rotterdam, Netherlands, and is one of the 10 largest ports in the world.
The people of Antwerp have always been known for their happy go lucky way of life. This could be because of their easy-going lifestyles and their liking of good food. Among all the European countries, Antwerpens are known to be the happiest people on earth. For this very reason many tourists are attracted to Antwerp, so that their trip turns out to be relaxing and enjoyable.
The metropolitan is known as the largest trader of diamonds with 70% of trading done in Antwerp. For centuries it has been known as the “diamond capital of the world”. Diamond cutting, polishing and trading is the crux of the city’s economy.
The trademark cobbled roads, historical heritage, excellent bars and restaurants, diamonds, and chic shopping centres are enough for any tourist to be drawn to Antwerp. Antwerp is a city of many facets like that of being a shopaholic’s heaven and a girl’s best friend for its diamonds. Beer lovers can have their own ‘heady’ time by trying all the typical Belgian flavours.
Country code for Belgium: 32
Antwerp area Code: 3
Time zone: GMT/UTC +1 (+2 in summer)
CET (Central Europe Time)
Language: The official languages are Flemish, French and
German; Flemish is slightly more widely spoken
Electrical sockets (outlets) in the Kingdom of Belgium (Koninkrijk België) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. North American sockets supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts, far lower than in most of the rest of the world. Consequently, North American appliances are generally built for 110-120 volts.
The climate in Antwerp is very moderate so the port is never out of operation because of bad weather conditions.
Antwerp Weather and Climate Chart
18°C / 64°F
8°C / 46°F
Medium weight clothing all year, with a jacket or pullover for the cooler summer evenings. Waterproof clothing is useful at any time of year. Men are requested to wear a jacket in most good restaurants. Heavier clothing is advisable in the winter months. Belgians dress conservatively. For business meetings, men should wear dark suits and ties. Women should wear suits, dresses or skirts and blouses.
People in Antwerp, pay in euro, as does the rest of the EU. Anyone under the age of 25 can open and close a bank account free of charge. At the same time it is advisable to apply for a bank card which gives you access to the cash machines / ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines). Most bank cards also have a PROTON chip that allows you to use the card as an ‘electronic purse’, which means that you can load a certain amount of ‘cash’ onto your bank card at cash machines. The device that allows to pay by proton can be found in many shops at the checkout. Phone banking services mean that bank cards also enable you to pay for transactions by phone. Conditions and services may differ from bank to bank, so it may be worthwhile to check out a few.
ATMs are available in many parts of Antwerp - ensure you inform your bank before travelling abroad, and be aware you may be charged for cash withdrawals. It is advisable to exchange some cash before arriving in Antwerp.
MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club and Visa are accepted as well as Eurocheque cards. Check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available. ATMs are plentiful.
Service charge of 16 percent is included in all Hotel and restaurant Bills. Gratuities are gratefully received by porters. Tip is generally included in Taxi fares.
How to get Antwerp / Brussels / Schipol Airports to Antwerp City Center
Antwerp Airport (ANR). There are a few airlines serving this local airport. Most flights are with CityJet, catering to business travelers. Flights go to London (LCY) and Manchester (MAN) in the United Kingdom with convenient connections to Dublin, Dundee, Edinburgh and Jersey. There is a regular bus to the center and a taxi costs around €10.
Brussels Airport (BRU). Every hour there is a direct bus to and from this airport which costs €10 and has two stops in Antwerp at Hotel Crowne Plaza and in the city center, in front of Central Station. Taking the train from Brussels Airport is also an option to arrive in Antwerp (tickets €9,50, change trains in Brussels-North). It takes 45 min to 1 hr to reach Brussels Airport from Antwerp. On weekends, this could extend to an extra 30 minutes.
Schiphol Airport (AMS). There are 2 options to take the train from Amsterdam Schiphol airport to Antwerp central station. There is a regular intercity train Amsterdam - Brussels that connects Schiphol Airport directly with Antwerp Central station in approximately 1 hr 50 minutes. You can buy tickets with credit card at the automatic ticket booths in the Schiphol arrival hall. Payment with cash is also possible at the counter. Or you can book through Belgian Railways (SNCB/NMBS). A single ticket costs about €25. Second option, is the bright red high-speed Thalys train Amsterdam - Paris, which also connects Amsterdam airport with Antwerp central station, in about half the time it takes the regular train, but at double the price. Contrary to regular trains, reservations on Thalys are required. Best reserve your seat a week or so beforehand, since buying a ticket on the spot will turn out to be even more expensive. Please keep in mind that the regular intercity and the Thalys are run by different companies, but their trains tend to leave from the same platform. 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. Your wallet won't like the fine.
Antwerp Central Station
There are good train connections to and from Brussels Airport and Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Since 2009, international trains from France and the Netherlands stop in Antwerp—central station only, and not anymore in Antwerp-Berchem. To plan your trip, you can consult the website of the NMBS for national and international travels.
Antwerp Central station is an architectural monument in itself, and is mentioned in W G Sebald's haunting novel Austerlitz. Prior to the completion in 2007 of a tunnel that runs northwards under the city centre to emerge at the old Antwerp Dam station, Centraal was a terminus. Trains from Brussels to the Netherlands had to either reverse at Centraal or call only at Berchem station, 2 km to the south, and then describe a semicircle to the east, round the Singel. Now, they call at the new lower level of the station before continuing in the same direction.
Antwerp is also home to Antwerpen-Noord, the largest classification yard for freight in Belgium and second largest in Europe. The majority of freight trains in Belgium depart from or arrive here. It has two classification humps and over a hundred tracks.
A motorway bypass encircles much of the city centre. Known locally as the "Ring"
it offers motorway connections to Brussels, Hasselt and Liège, Ghent, Lille and Bruges and Breda andBergen op Zoom (Netherlands). The banks of the Scheldt are linked by three road tunnels (in order of construction): the Waasland Tunnel (1934), the Kennedy Tunnel (1967) and the Liefkenshoek Tunnel (1991). Currently a fourth high volume highway link called "Oosterweelconnection" was in the tendering stage. It would entail the construction of a long viaduct and bridge (the Lange Wapper Bridge) over the docks on the north side of the city. However the plans were rejected in a public referendum in 2009. In September 2010 the Flemish Government decided to replace the bridge by a series of tunnels.
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 €2 per hour.
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.
Rubenshuis, The house of painter Peter Paul Rubens is now a museum of his life and artwork. Entrance fee: €6, Students under 26 €1, other students free. Free audio guide (recommended). Bring light earphones to plug in to the audio guide.
Plantin Moretus Museum, The home of 16th century bookbinder and printer Christoffel Plantin. Regarded as one of the finest museums dedicated to printing in the world. Its extensive collections of important books and printing presses along with its role in spearheading the technology of printing have seen it added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Rubenshuis One of the most impressive and largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe, built in 1351 it stands over 400 ft tall. It also houses some of Rubens' most famous paintings.
One of the oldest zoos in the world, with over 4000 animals and lots of 19th century design and architecture.
Food & Drink
Seafood specialties and particularly mussels are always a popular choice for visiting diners. Marinated in wine or beer and a side of french fries is the city's signature dish and which isn't complete without a cool glass of De Koninck beer. Other treats to look out for include Paling in't groen (eels with vegetables and herbs) and tomato filled crevettes. Visitors will find the many chocolate shops of Antwerp too alluring to pass and the 'Antwerpse handjes'- small hands made of creamy chocolate are simply irresistable.
* As with most Flemish towns, you can find many fritkoten in the city. These are places of which the Belgians are really proud of. Here you can buy the famous Belgian fries and other fried food for a reasonable price.
* Pitta/Shoarma - These shops are often open through the day and are the last ones to close.
* Broodje/Boterkoken (sandwiches) are local and inexpensive. Try one with mussels and curry (2,85€) at Vishandel van Bladel (Schrijwerkerstraat 25), or one with crevettes and sause andalouse (3,50€ for a double one) at Diksmuise Boterkoeken, in the basement of the ugly shopping center (Schoenmarkt)
* People often go eat a "smos", a bread with several layers of garniture in it. The name refers to the mess you make when trying to eat it. You can find them in several stores like Panos or Foodmaker. The most famous "smoskes" according to students are found at "Jean-Pierre". You can find it opposite to the university (Grote Kauwenberg 41).
* Thai Thai Simple +32 477 292 554. Amerikalei 72. Fresh authentic thai food in an old mansion on Amerikalei.
* Sombat +32 3 226 21 90. Vleeshuisstraat 1. Thai haute cuisine
* De Keyserlei (the street that runs west from Central Station) is a street with a varied choice of restaurants. The side streets on the north side of De Keyserlei offer even more options, with Lebanese, South-African, Mexican, Italian and Vietnamese (to name but a few) restaurants all rubbing shoulders with each other. With so many restaurants in a small area the prices tend to be pretty competitive.
* Chinatown takes up a couple of streets on the north side of Koningin-Astrid-plein (the large square to the north of Central Station). Look for the 2 lions guarding the entrance to Van Wesenbekestraat. Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Nepalese retaurants are here as well as lots of Chinese options.
* Da Giovani (Jan Blomstraat 3-5-7-8), +32 (0)3 226 7450. A cheap Italian restaurant. It is popular among students, because of their 20% discount. A second "Da Giovanni" is on the Keyserlei, near the central station.
* Tropicos (at Tabakvest and Hopland), +32 (0)3 231 9964. Known for its lively South American atmosphere, caipirinha cocktails, and tasteful Brazilian Mexican kitchen.
* Wok & Tandoor, +32 (0)3 248 9595. A show-restaurant serving wok and tandoori food. It is prepared in front of you by cooks in a spectacular way. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet with very reasonable prices. It is in the south of Antwerp close to the new Courthouse.
* Govinda's Garden (Amerikalei 184) — The restaurant of the Krishnas. They serve healthy macrobiotic food for a small price. Only open in the evenings. UPDATE: This is no longer a restaurant, though still a Hare Krishna center. So if you ring, they'll be very kind and friendly to you, but don't expect to be able to get dinner! Try one of the Indian restaurants on Lange Herentalsestraat instead.
* The Hilton Hotel has a restaurant overlooking the Groenplaats.
* Rooden Hoed Corner of Oude Koornmarkt and Tempelstraat. The oldest restaurant in Antwerp, specializing in seafood, especially mussels. Very popular with locals, but few tourists, so you know it's good. Mains starting at €20.
* Mata Mata & Pili Pili (African Restaurant and Cocktail Bar), Hoogstraat 44, 2000 Antwerpen, ☎ 03 213 19 28. from 5pm 7 days. Lively and colourful restaurant with a range of dishes from across the African continent and a particular focus on West African cuisine.
* Bourla, Graanmarkt 7. A "Havanna style" restaurant in an old theatre. They serve a mix of Belgian and French style food. Not cheap, but excellent value for money €25-€50 for a 3 course meal incl. wine and drinks.
* The main shopping area is the Meir, a street that stretches out from the Keyserlei (close to the central station) to the Groenplaats. It is one of the most famous shopping streets in Belgium. Don't forget to visit the mall Stadsfeestzaal (between Meir and Hopland, which was beautifully restored and reopened in 2007 after it was partially destroyed by a fire ten years earlier. You will see a lot of gold on the ceiling, and all sorts of stores. The streets Hopland andSchuttershofstraat are the shopping terrain of the rich and famous with exclusive fashion shops like Cartier, Hermes, Scapa, Armani, etc. TheHuidevettersstraat, Nationalestraat, and Kammenstraat (all located close to the Meir) are also very interesting shopping streets to visit.
* Purchasing a diamond at one of the many tourist jewelry shops around the Central station can be an unpleasant experience. Like any big diamond city in world, there are many tourist trap diamond shops around the actual diamond district centre, though it is fair to say that if you are prepared to barter you can purchase jewellery here for significantly less than in countries such as the UK. Wealthy diamond buyers should do their investigative shopping online prior to visiting Antwerp. If you're less wealthy and someone asks you to bring back some diamonds from Antwerp, buy diamond-shaped chocolate pralines at e.g. Burie (Korte Gasthuisstraat 3), Château Blanc  (Torfbrug 1) or Del Rey (Appelmansstraat 5).
*Trendy shopping can be done in the Kammenstraat and surroundings. In this area, you will also find the Fashion Museum  and many shops of famous Antwerp fashion designers, such as Walter van Beirendonck and Dries van Noten.
* The Kloosterstraat has many antique shops, with often bizarre items for sale.
* Chinatown can be found about 300m north of the Central Station (see also Eat). A lot of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese products can be found here.
* Weekend Markets take place on the Theaterplein Square (follow Wapper or Meistraat south from the Meir) in front of the Stadsschouwburg theatre. The markets are very popular with stalls offering everything from food (fruit and veg, meat, fish, nuts, cheese ethnic specialities) to household goods to bicycles to antiques to clothes. Sunday tends to see a lot more stalls compared to Saturday. Take a break from browsing at the stall at the centre of the square, where you can buy a cheese roll with a glass of chilled cava to wash it down, most convivial!
* At Ploegstraat 25 you can find a "give-away shop", where you can bring and take stuff as you please without any monetary interaction. Open M-F 2PM-6PM.
Useful phone numbers
Antwerp Tourism & Convention
+32 (0)3 232 01 03
European emergency number
112 (in case of an accident or other emergency)
Ambulance / Fire
Doctors on call in Antwerp
+32 (0) 900 10 512