City Hall / Old Market Square (Stadhuis/Grote Markt, map). This is the historical centre of town. The market square is surrounded by the typical medieval guild houses you find in most Flemish historical towns. The city hall is designed in special architectural style with a combination between Gothic and early Renaissance, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This style is almost exclusively found in this region of Europe.
The hidden street Vlaeykensgang (map). Connects Hoogstraat, Oude Koornmarkt and Pelgrimsstraat. It is a real street, but only accessible through unassuming medieval front doors in the streets. The medieval equivalent of a gated community. It now houses nice, informal restaurants and chic, discrete houses. A must see!
Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, map). 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.
Saint Paul’s Church (Sint-Pauluskerk, map). A beautiful mixed gothic and baroque church formerly part of a nunnery. Noted for its Calvary monument.
Carolus Borromeus Church (map). Unlike the cathedral, this is a Baroque church. With a safe and minimal exterior, you would not know the beautiful decorations (done by Rubens’ studio) are inside.
*Red light district (map). If you want to visit, consider going during the day. When Villa Tinto (map) set up, Antwerp’s little red light district became Europe’s most high tech brothel. Even if you have no intention of partaking in the festivities, it is worthwhile just to see the spectacle that the district is. 200 women all in their own window dressed for action.
Plantin Moretus Museum (map). 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.
Vleeshuis (map). Literally, the “Meat house”. It was built as the guild hall for the butchers. The building is famous for the original masonry made to resemble stacks of bacon (switching between white stones and red bricks). It now houses a museum, of which the main part comprises a musical instrument collection, including some examples of old harpsichords built by the local Ruckers family.
Mineralogical Museum (map). Museum for mineralogy, paleontology and gemology. Largest collection of fluorescent minerals in Europe. Permanent collections of systematic minerals and fossils. Guided tours are free and highly recommended.
The Begijnhof (beguinage, map). A sort of medieval monastery for women. The well-kept gardens are great photo opportunities.
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, map). Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten boasts of an excellent collection of paintings from the 15th century to the 20th century. The museum’s permanent collection has masters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Brueghel, Van Eyck, Anthony Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, and James Ensor.