The capital of Flemish style offers a cultured, fashion-conscious port stop for both ocean and river cruisers. Regular ocean cruise calls include Fred Olsen, Cruise & Maritime Voyages and Holland America Line, while Crystal River Cruises and Viking River Cruises offer regular river cruise options. The city combines the maritime heritage and regeneration of the former industrial docklands with the chocolate-box sidestreets of the medieval old town — all within a compact city centre, which is easy to explore on foot.
Cruise port location
River cruises navigate the river Scheldt to dock at one of two wharfs, either the Scheldt Quays in the city centre with views of the Cathedral of Our Lady upon disembarkation, or at the Kattendijkdok/Willemdok wharfs at Het Eilandje (Little Island), close to the museums of the rejuvenated docklands.
The cruise terminal for ocean cruises is currently located by the Het Steen fortress, the oldest building in the city centre. However, a new, extended cruise terminal is due to open towards the end of 2020 in the same location. It will comprise a quay-level disembarkation point, tourist information on the first floor and a top-floor visitor experience, which will tell the story of Antwerp past, present and future. The new facility will feature an expanded 350m pontoon for both sea and river cruises.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
Yes. The urban-redevelopment docklands, north of the centre, make for great strolling with a host of attractions and cafes. It’s a 15-minute walk back to the Old Town, or catch the tram if raining. Alternatively, walking tours of the docklands unpick the story of Antwerp as a major immigration and trading port. There’s no need for shuttle buses from the main cruise terminal, meanwhile, as it’s an easy walk to Groenplaats at the heart of the city centre. From here, it’s just a short stroll to the main attractions, such as the Museum Plantin-Moretus and the Rubens House, the Flemish master’s 17th-century former home.
Antwerp has a comprehensive public transport network; a combined day pass for tram, bus and metro costs €7 (£6) from local shops. Tram Number Seven starts from near the landmark Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) and runs via the city centre to the De Koninck Brewery in the Zurenborg district. Note that trams don’t accept cash and taxis do not wait dockside – call ahead.
What to see and do
Day-visit options range from shopping to world-class museums. Start at the main tourist office at Grote Markt for details of independent or guided walking and cycling tours.
What can I do in four hours or less?
Start with a guided walking tour of the docklands. The modernist Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) tells Antwerp’s story as a world port city through interactive displays. Head to the 10th floor for the best view of the adjoining plaza, featuring a giant mosaic by the Antwerp artist Luc Tuymans. Nearby, the Red Star Line Museum, built around the three original warehouses of the Red Star Line shipping company, recounts, in moving detail, the personal journeys behind the era of mass transatlantic migration.
Antwerp’s fashion story is a favourite for themed tours, Crystal Cruises offering a City of Fashion excursion to explore the legacy of the Antwerp Six fashion collective. Leading fashion designer Dries van Noten runs his flagship store, Het Modepaleis, at Nationalestraat, while the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts hosts a graduation show each June for its next-generation designers. The Modemuseum (MoMu), Antwerp’s Fashion Museum, is closed until 2020, but hosting pop-up events elsewhere.
Finally, independent explorers could spent a few hours visiting the diamond-trading district near Central Station centred on DIVA, the city’s new Diamond Museum, which explains Antwerp’s 500 years of diamond heritage. For something more classical, the baroque Rubenshuis celebrates the life of the Flemish master with a tour of the house and garden, including his former studio.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
If not joining a group excursion, leg-stretching options for more active day visitors include a range of independent cycling trails (there are free maps from the tourist office) or guided cycle tours. Cycle along the banks of the Scheldt, taking in Antwerp’s left bank, or follow an architectural trail from Gothic to Modernism.
Eat and drink
If it’s Belgium, then it’s beer and chocolate. Try people watching from an Old Town pavement café with a glass of De Koninck — ask for a bolleke, a reference to the shape of the glass. Or take a break at Günter Watté‘s chocolate-themed café at Steenhouwersvest. For local flavours, including North Sea crab, the docklands is home to Het Pomphuis, a converted dry-dock pump house, and ‘t Zilte, the Michelin-starred restaurant from local chef Viki Geunes, located at the top of MAS.
Don’t leave the city without…
Refreshing your wardrobe. Visit the city’s south for young designers, second-hand and vintage stores, or the docklands for international brands. Go in autumn to catch Antwerp Fashion Weekend and the Antwerp sample sales, a week of designer sales at heavily discounted prices. Finally, chi-chi chocs from chocolatier to the stars Dominique Persoone make for great souvenirs from his Chocolate Line store.
Need to know
Most visits are crime free and suited to independent explorers. Beware stumbling across the red light district close to the harbour – best avoided after dark.
Best time to go
Antwerp is suited to day visits spring to late autumn; expect crowds at attractions over summer months.
Many restaurants and attractions close Mondays, although DIVA, the diamond museum, remains open, as do Old Town cafés.