With magnificent architecture, cobbled streets and creative culture, Antwerp is a city that offers lots to see and do without costing you a penny. The second largest city in Belgium attracts thousands of tourists each year because of its unique beauty, making it the perfect destination to explore whilst on a short cruise.
Read on to find out the best free things to do in Antwerp, featuring some great recommendations from expert travel bloggers, including Inga from My Family Travel Zone. We asked Inga for her opinion on Antwerp: “We were in Antwerp just one day, but it was a fantastic experience and was 100% worth the visit. Antwerp is an amazing and beautiful city, and it is quite challenging to select the most favourite thing to do there. Antwerp is worth a visit because of its unique architecture, rich history, tasty chocolate and coffee, fashion and harbour.”
Whilst in Antwerp make sure you marvel at the beautiful guild houses at the Grote Market, the main square located at the heart of the city. The massive open space is surrounded by beautiful architecture and the whole square is completely pedestrianised allowing people to wander by foot to completely appreciate its beauty. You will also spot the Brabo Fountain, a sculpture depicting a hero of Antwerp. In legends, Silvius Brabo defeated a giant and cut off his hand. In the fountain, he is portrayed mid-way through throwing the hand. It is suggested that the world ‘Antwerpen’ itself translates to ‘throw a hand’.
The Grote Market is where you can also find the sixteenth-century city hall. The building is a must-see as it is one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture, which went on to influence many buildings across Europe. For much of the year, the outer building is decorated with flags which each represent the countries that are members of the European Union and nations that have a consulate in Antwerp.
The Antwerpen-Centraal is an architectural gem and often referred to as one of the most beautiful stations in the world. Belgium was the first country in Europe to open a public railway in 1835, and the magnificent architecture in Antwerp’s central station is a celebration of this. The station was constructed between 1895 and 1905 but was modernised in 2009 after a nine-year renovation. Even if you don’t have a train to catch, be sure to make a visit to the extravagant station and appreciate the grand architecture.
If you happen to be visiting Antwerp on a Friday, a great free activity is to attend the Friday Market. The traditional market has been taking place every Friday morning since the 16th century. With bustling crowds and aisles covered in old furniture and small antiques, this unique shopping experience is not to be missed.
The market attracts hundreds of locals and tourists each week, and it’s completely free to browse all the treasures on offer. You will learn more about the people and the Antwerp lifestyle and the market is a great opportunity to talk to locals and pick up an authentic souvenir. Inga from My Family Travel Zone, a blog for short trips, travelling the world and living abroad, says: “Friday market is something exclusive and is a must if you visit the city on Friday.”
Wander down the cobblestone paths and you’ll find the quaint alley of Vlaeykensgang. The alley dates back to 1591 and originally was a street full of shoemakers. Fast forward to today and Vlaeykensgang alley is a hidden gem that allows people a glimpse into the historic past of Antwerp.
We spoke to Karen from Wanderlusting K, a blog filled with adventure and travel inspiration, to find out her favourite free thing to do in Antwerp. Karen says: “One of my favourite free things to do in Antwerp has to be the secret street Vlaeykensgang. This hidden street was once the home of a guild, however today it’s mainly private residences.span>It’s free to visit, but it’s very easy to miss the entrance if you don’t have the doorway saved on your map.
“If you visit the Vlaeykensgang, be sure to be quiet and considerate as residents choose to leave this door open during the day for visitors. As soon as you wander down this scenic alleyway, you’ll wonder if you’ve wandered back in time.”
In amongst the historic buildings and beautiful architecture, you will also spot a few colourfully painted walls. The streets of Antwerp are home to some fantastic artwork, from painted comic strips to graffiti optical illusions. Creativity is a massive part of the lifestyle in Antwerp, with the city bursting with fashion culture and art galleries.
Discover Antwerp from its many comic strip walls. You can enjoy exploring the city and spotting some of the famous street art comics without spending a penny. The city has a long relationship with comic books, as Antwerp is the location of many popular Flemish comics such as Suske en Wiske (Spike and Suzy), which was a huge part of childhood for many Belgian people.
Middelheim Open Air Museum
Situated in the city, the unique open-air museum has spent over fifty years investing in a collection of impressive art and sculptures. With no admission fee, this hidden gem is the perfect cultural activity to do whilst visiting Antwerp. Spread across a serene garden there are approximately 400 pieces of artwork that will be sure to prompt intrigue and admiration. Expect to see sculptures by some of the world’s famous artists including Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin with pieces that date back to 1990.
The Middelheim is a great place to go to appreciate nature in the city, when you’re walking through one of the many green zones you can spot collections ranging from minimalistic to abstract. We asked Sanne from Spend Life Travelling, a blog where you can learn all about short trips, travelling the world and living abroad, for her top free thing to do in Antwerp: “One thing you can’t miss is a stroll around Antwerp’s historic city centre. Another thing to do in Antwerp that doesn’t cost any money is a visit to the Middelheim museum. This open-air museum inside the Middelheim park contains close to 400 sculptures, showcasing an international collection of modern and contemporary art.”
Cathedral of Our Lady
The Antwerp cathedral is famous for its Gothic architecture which took from 1352 to 1521 to complete. The inside of the cathedral is equally as impressive as the outside, with 125 pillars featuring Gothic lines and four Rubens altarpieces. The paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, who was a local artist, are admired for their cultural heritage. The Antwerp cathedral is the largest amongst the low countries and is particularly famous because of its northern tower, which features the tallest church spire in Belgium.
Museum Ann de Stroom rooftop view
After opening in 2011, the Museum Ann De Stroom (MAS) has been at the top of the list of interesting things to do in Antwerp and it’s famous for the unique design of the building that contrasts with the rest of the city. MAS is home to up to half a million pieces of artworks and historic objects which is constantly updated. To be able to enter the museum and explore the collections you must pay a small fee, however, without a charge, people can climb the steps to the rooftop and enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
We asked Lonneke, a blogger who lives in Antwerp and writes about her travels and experiences around the world on her blog Lonnies Planet, for her opinion on the best free thing to do in Antwerp. She says: “To visit the 65m high rooftop of the MAS Museum during sunset. This museum is located close to the river Scheldt and the yacht harbour, from where you will have an amazing view over the water, boats and the city. Even the way up with the escalators is quite an experience because the building has got outstanding architecture and the views vary on each floor.”
Free things to do in Antwerp
- Walk across the Grote Market and look at the Brabo Fountain
- Visit the Antwerpen-Centraal
- Attend the Friday Market
- Wander down Vlaeykensgang alley
- Spot famous street art around the city
- Visit the Middelheim Open Air Museum
- Marvel at the great Antwerp cathedral
- Enjoy the rooftop view at MAS