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9 Must-see spots in Antwerp, Belgium

By Riselle Celestina

A church aisle leading to the grand altar

1. St. James Church or Sint Jacobskerk

This church is built on the site of a hostel for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. The interior is absolutely breathtaking and whether you are religious or not, you will find yourself dwelling around the many historical pieces inside this church, including many private burial chapels. Antwerp’s famous painter Rubens got married in this church and was buried here as well. His private grave took 4 years to complete.

A church with a road lined with statues

2. St. Paul’s Church or Sint Pauluskerk

Also known as my absolute favorite church to visit in the city, St. Paul’s Church is a beauty with an interesting history. Consecrated in 1571 as a replacement church, St. Paul’s has a baroque interior and hosts paintings from Antwerp’s renowned artists such as Rubens. I personally love this church because of its large window which allow for a lot of sunlight to stream in, giving the inside of this church a magical feel to it.  The outside garden is a must. Once a cemetery for those hung in the nearby square, it features beautiful life-sized statues.

A grand building in clear skies

3. The Cathedral of Our Lady or Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal

This cathedral took 169 years to complete and at 123 meters high it towers over Antwerp’s skyline. The cathedral, like some of the other churches, is also home to impressive paintings by none other than Rubens. of course.

Statue of a child and a dog near a church

4. Nello & Patrasche

Once you step outside of he cathedral make sure you don’t stumble over the white statue on the floor in front of you. The statue is of a little boy and his dog sleeping peacefully under a cover made of bricks. It is based on the famous English fictional novel from 1872 called A Dog of Flanders that takes place in Antwerp. It’s a beautiful story of friendship and ambition that makes me cry every single time I see, read or hear it. It is especially popular around Christmas and has become an integral part of Japanese Christmas tradition.

A bike rack near an old building

5. Antwerp Central Station or Antwerpen-Centraal Station

Since we’re on the topic of older buildings…one cannot visit Antwerp without either arriving at the Antwerp central station or taking a stroll through this impressive train station it. It is by far my favorite building to photograph. The stone-clad building itself is from 1892 and is regarded as one of the finest railway architecture in Belgium.

An old building in Antwerp

6. The Wooden House or Het Houten Gevel

During one of my many visits to Antwerp, I decided to go in search of the wooden house. It is said to be the oldest house of Antwerp and the only one left of its kind, which is with a wooden front. It has withstood 6 wars and countless fires and is now owned by a family and can be rented on Airbnb as a unique stay.

Small, cozy street in the countryside

7. The Vlaaikens Alley or Het Vlaeykensgang

This one was a bit hard to find. I must have passed a dozen times without knowing it was there. All you have to do is look a bit harder, really because it is located between two famous streets in the city center. The Vlaaikens Alley is a “secret” alley dating back to 1592. Walking through this small alley makes you feel like you’re stepping back in medieval times. It is rather short and leads to a historical hidden neighborhood, where the shoemakers and the city’s poor used to live. The shoemakers were in charge of ringing the cathedral’s bells.

An old building with a big courtyard

8. The Plantin Moretus Museum

I am not big on museums. I quite often ask myself how I could possibly call myself a traveler if I stay out of museums. The Plantin Moretus Museum however is a must visit, not because it is home t the oldest printing presses in the world and documents the dynasty of two publishing families and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but rather for its garden. At least, it is according to yours truly. By all means, do wander the museum itself. It is rather interesting but I just love the garden.

Woman posing with a wine glass and three statues

9. The 11th Commandment or Het Elfde Gebod

Right around the corner of the cathedral you will find the eleventh commandment, a bar/restaurant housed in one of Antwerp’s oldest buildings. The building is said to be from 1425 and at one point was part of the cathedral. It now is home to some of Belgian’s best beers and it’s my favorite stop for a pint or two. It is also where one gets to sit and drink with the saints. The place is filled with Christian art and statues of saints. It gives it a misplaced holy look that is quite an attraction on its own.