Anyone who’s ever set foot in Antwerp will know museums like MAS or KMSKA. Great start, but no more than a fraction of all that’s on offer. Some museums are brand new and flashy, others are hidden or nostalgic little gems unknown to even most locals. Trot Op! visited every single museum in Antwerp and reviewed them in this handy list.
With weather as awful as we had this summer, a man has to find himself a little project to keep from getting all too depressed. This is why I decided to visit every single museum in Antwerp during the summer holidays. ‘This’ll be a total breeze’, I thought, until I did some research and ended up with a list of no less than 50 museums. Kind of a bummer, but I enthusiastically started my endeavour anyway. Because I wanted you to get something out of it as well and because I couldn’t find a comprehensive and up-to-date overview online, I’ve put all of my impressions in this very article – incidentally also by far the longest I’ve ever published on this blog.
“Want to visit every museum in Antwerp? Better book a room for more than a weekend then, because you’ll have to cross exactly fifty off of your list.”
To avoid complaints and general favouritism, I kept the whole list in its natural alphabetical order. This way the smaller places are mixed up with the established names, and you’ll have to read through the entire thing before finally arriving at the unprecedented and universally acclaimed Zorro Museum*. Because I’m nothing if not complete, I also added all addresses, opening times and ticket rates below each venue. Until recently, everyone living in Antwerp could get into most museums for free. Sadly for everyone, we’re apparently living through an economic crisis presently, so now you’ll have to get your wallet out whether you live here or not. A Museum Pass is a good alternative. It’ll cost you €59, and is valid in the entire country for a year after purchase. Almost every major Belgian museum works with it. www.museumpassmusees.be
*This obviously doesn’t exist, but you’ve scrolled through my entire list nonetheless. GOTCHA, SUCKAH!
Visit all 50 museums in Antwerp: a comprehensive overview
To keep my selection within reasonable limits, I had to impose some rules upon myself (someone has to do it). A number of entries might play with the boundaries of what could be considered a museum, but commercial galleries selling art will not be in the list whatsoever. As far as churches go, I made a selection as well (mainly because there’s tons of them and I’m a very lazy man). Only those with an extensive art collection and an entrance fee made the cut. Museums temporarily closed due to a renovation are not listed either, unless I’d already visited them before. All of this led me to an interesting experience, which took me to various places in my own city I had never even heard of. Enjoy, go and visit a few and let me know which was your biggest discovery – or whether or not I still missed some. Let’s get on with it and blow those puny visitor numbers into the stratosphere.
24/7 Automata StreetMuseum
Well would you look at that: the first museum on the list is also by far the smallest. The 24/7 Automata StreetMuseum in Borgerhout is actually just the display window of Geert Hautekiet’s studio. In it, he showcases a new automaton every three months. These are figurines that are able to move with the help of a little manpower and some intricate mechanics. If you want to see them in action, just slide a single measly euro into the slot (or pay by card: the future is now old man). The lights will pop on, you can spin the little handle and the entire thing will spontaneously come to life. Fun to watch, and at least it brightens up the street scene.
24/7 Automata StreetMuseum, Kroonstraat 58. “Tickets”: €1. Always open since it’s – you know – right on the street. www.automata.be
Atelierflat Jozef Peeters
Jozef Peeters was one of the first abstract painters in Belgium, but was never seen as a big name during his lifetime (1895-1960). He lived in a small apartment on Gerlachekaai. In it, he painted on all the walls and ceilings, and designed most of his furniture himself. This makes it the perfect representation of his work as an artist. His daughter lived in the place until 2009, before donating it to the city. Now you can book guided tours here, which feels like time travelling to the thirties. His office/studio is a gorgeous room with a view on the Scheldt. Peeters’ abstract work was ahead of its time, but in my opinion it’s his earlier portrait work which is quite unique.
Atelierflat Jozef Peeters, Gerlachekaai 8. Price: €115 per group. Guided tours can be booked from Tuesday to Saturday for a maximum of 11 people.
Brouwerij De Koninck
When I was a student in the early 2000s, I once took a tour of the De Koninck Brewery in Berchem. It was somewhat old fashioned and led by some dude who should have retired fifteen years ago, but it ended in a beer tasting which is always nice. Things have changed in the last couple of years. De Koninck was incorporated into a bigger brewing company (the one that makes Duvel), and its brewery – while still active – was turned into an experience centre housing a couple of top restaurants, a cocktail bar and some fancy food shops as well. The tour is now an interactive and audiovisual experience, smoothly taking you through the brewing process and unravelling the company’s history with the help of some beautifully designed rooms. You still get to see the actual brewery, and you will of course get a taste of the beer as well. You can pour it from the tap yourself, and then take it with you through the whole museum. A prime example of how to modernise a site to revive the entire neighbourhood around it.
Brouwerij De Koninck, Mechelsesteenweg 291. Tickets: €16/14. Tours from 11 am to 6 pm. Closed on Mondays. www.dekoninck.be
Ah, those Germans: a lot of things can be said about them, but not that they don’t know the best hangouts. The exquisite Den Brandt Park for example, served as the headquarters for the 89th Army Corps during the second world war. The entire Belgian and Zeeland part of the Atlantikwall was operated from here, and they did so from a bunker complex built near the entrance on Acacialaan. One of these bunkers was meticulously refurbished with original equipment and materials by a group of passionate volunteers. As a result everything looks almost exactly as it did in 1943. Every first weekend of the month (except for January: New Year’s eve hangovers) the Bunker Museum opens its doors to the public, and a visit is absolutely worthwhile. Not only will you get a unique glimpse of the past, you’ll also learn about the importance of Antwerp for the German war effort, and the later V1 and V2 bombardments the city had to endure. The wild stories you’ll hear in between are free of charge.
Bunker Museum Antwerp, Park den Brandt. Tickets: €5. Open every first weekend of the month. Saturday from 1 to 5 pm; Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. www.bunkermuseumantwerpen.be
A couple of years ago, the Aquatopia aquarium in the hotel opposite the Central Station flushed all its fish down the toilet (not really though) and afterwards made way for Chocolate Nation. This is a nice and slightly chauvinistic museum on the delicacies of Belgian chocolate. Although I almost literally live next door, I’d never set foot in it before writing this piece. This proved to be a mistake: it’s put together surprisingly well. An audio guide and some ingenious contraptions will guide you through the first four rooms, telling you about where cocoa comes from (hint: the jungle) and how they turn it into sweet sweet chocolate. After this little teaching moment, you can walk past all kinds of chocolate creations and photo spots at your own pace. The most pleasant surprise comes at the end, when you can taste hot chocolate from ten different taps. Please use the offered spoon and don’t start sucking it straight from the faucet like some wild animal.
Chocolate Nation, Koningin Astridplein 7, Tickets €19.90/14.90. www.chocolatenation.be
DIVA: Museum of diamonds, jewellery and silver
Antwerp is – until proven otherwise – still the diamond capital of the world. You can have an opinion on that, but it surely isn’t making the city any poorer. DIVA is a relatively new museum all about this industry. Strangely enough, it wasn’t opened in the actual diamond quarter, but behind the town hall on Suikerrui instead. In an interactive way they’ll tell you where and how diamonds are extracted from the ground (strangely, most of them come from Russia), how they are cut, how their value is determined and how the history of Antwerp is intertwined with these precious stones. There’s also an impressive collection of gold and silver objects to admire – usually of course generously set with diamonds. Looking is allowed. Touching will get you a one way ticket to Begijnenstraat (which is yes, the local prison).
DIVA Antwerp, Suikerrui 17/19, Tickets €12/8/0, closed on Wednesdays. www.divaantwerp.be
EcoHuis in Borgerhout is not technically a museum. What it actually is – especially when you include EcoCafé – is one of the cosier spots in the district. Not only that: it offers an interesting exhibition on the Antwerp Climate Plan for 2030, which was drawn up to counter the consequences of climate change. You’ll be taught about the apocalyptic future (I could be exaggerating a little here) we all might be facing in the years to come, and you’ll see how the city will need to change to keep everything more or less livable. You’ll also find out how to make your own home energy efficient, and you can ask for advice on renovation projects after making an appointment.
EcoHuis Antwerp, Turnhoutsebaan 139. Free admission. Open from Tuesday to Friday between 9 am and 4.30 pm. www.antwerpenvoorklimaat.be
Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Want to feel like Harry Potter, but Emma Watson already got a restraining order in place? There’s really only one place to go in Antwerp then. The Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library – named after one of our most famous writers – keeps a wide array of historically significant books and magazines on its many shelves. More than a million of them were catalogued, which means history students spend more time here during their studies than at their mum’s house. For ordinary visitors the most interesting room would be Nottebohm Hall: a beautiful, moody library finished in dark wood that makes it look like Hogwarts, including good old creaky floors, marble globes and dusty books up to the ceiling on every wall. Gorgeous place and often open to the public for temporary exhibitions.
Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, Henrik Conscienceplein 4. Tickets €8/5/0 www.consciencebibliotheek.be
Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum
The Redershuis (“ship owners’ house”) opposite Steen Castle, was built at the end of the 19th century by order of a wealthy ship broker. It probably has the most richly decorated but least known interior in the whole of Antwerp. Therefor it’s quite ironic it also serves as the Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum. Van Mieghem was a talented but somewhat overlooked illustrator and painter who lived in the same period the house was built. He was what they call a social artist, and was the first in Europe to depict the lives of ordinary people in an international port. He pictured dock workers, prostitutes, emigrants, war refugees and even his wife’s illness (she died of TB) – all in a very personal, realistic style. This way, he gave us a glimpse of how Antwerp truly felt and looked like in those days. A guided visit is well worth it, as it shows you both the lives of the most and least privileged around the turn of the last century. One of Antwerp’s true hidden gems.
Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum, Ernest Van Dijckkaai 9. Ticket: €4. Open on Sunday and Monday from 14-17h. Not in July and August. www.vanmieghemmuseum.com
The impressive Felixpakhuis – a renovated warehouse close to the MAS Museum – houses the city archives as well as Felixatelier. This is where the city archaeologists (yes, we have them) work, and where they keep and document everything found during excavations. They regularly host exhibitions on these finds. The last one covered the digs done in preparation for the new Opera square and the tunnel under the Leien (which laid the old city fortifications bare). The next exhibition will most likely be ready this autumn and is about the cloister that used to be located on Falconplein. These days only the gate is still there. Too bad, but maybe not the biggest drama for the nuns who used to live here, since it now looks out directly onto the entrance to the red light district.
Felixatelier, Oudeleeuwenrui 29. Free admission. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 6pm. www.antwerpenmorgen.be/nl/projecten/felixatelier/over
FOMU: Antwerp’s Photography Museum
FOMU on Waalsekaai is one of the most important photography museums in the country. You wouldn’t believe this at first sight, since they’ve never even once exhibited my work (please call me guys) but it most definitely is. Mainly temporary exhibitions are held in this beautiful building, often showcasing some of the industry’s bigger names. In the same building you’ll find Cinema Lumière, which screens alternative films every day. The museum bar offers tasty and healthy food and the shop is the main treasure trove in Antwerp for anyone interested in the latest photography books. I myself proudly display a few dozen of them in my living room. This way, everyone visiting will immediately know how seriously I take my profession.
FOMU Fotomuseum, open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Tickets: €12/5/0. www.fomu.be
Fondatie Terninck is a foundation near Mechelseplein, committed to helping people with a mental disability. They have a day centre where people come in for all sorts of activities, and they also have rooms where some stay fulltime in living groups. Sometimes – like on the open monuments day – they organise exhibitions with art made by the residents, but they’ve also amassed a surprisingly rich art collection themselves over the years. This collection is exhibited in their Kunstenkamer. Among the eighty or so works are two original paintings by Jacob Jordaens.
Fondatie Terninck, Terninckstraat 30. To visit, mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Another candidate for the smallest museum in Antwerp is Galerijke Marijke (nice name btw) where one work of art by one artist is exhibited every month. This must be an accessible work that doesn’t require complicated explanations, so that even people who have to count their age on their fingers can see what it’s about. The gallery is no more than one ivy-framed window in Lange Slachterijstraat behind Park Spoor Noord, but with each new artist comes a small vernissage. Nice project.
Galerijke Marijke, Lange Slachterijstraat 8. Free admission. Always open. www.galerijkemarijke.be
Heemkundig Zoldermuseum Schaliënhoeve
Schaliënhoeve – next to the Berchem Sport football stadium – is the last standing farmstead in the district of Berchem. On the ground floor lies Brasserie Domein Park West, but the attic is home to Heemkundig Museum Schaliënhoeve. Here they keep a whole collection of Berchem artifacts: all sorts of objects and documents deemed important throughout the district’s history. Would be nice to get a peek in while having your Sunday lunch, were it not for the fact the website still states the venue is closed due to the current covid regulations – which were of course all lifted about a year and a half ago. Might be time for a little update.
Heemkundig Zoldermuseum Schaliënhoeve, Rooiplein 6. Open (subject to change) every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 14-17h. Prices €2/1.5/1/0 www.heemkringberchem.be/museum.html
Heemmuseum De Kijkuit
Similar but actually open is Heemmuseum De Kijkuit in the district of Merksem. It’s hidden in Hof van Roosendaal: an old castle with only the gatehouse still standing. There, a group of volunteers keeps track of everything that was of historical importance to the district. Documents, photos, paintings: you name it. Because neighbourhood schools visit every year, three rooms were furnished with original objects from the days. You can now visit a classroom with old lecterns and inkwells, as well as an old pub where the beers cost just one single franc (it’s not an actual bar, don’t try) and a church with an original altar and stained glass windows from a real one they tore down years ago.
Heemmuseum De Kijkuit, Terlindehofstraat 265. Free entrance. Open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2pm to 5pm.
The Hofkamer is a beautiful building in Oude Beurs. The original dates from the 16th century, but at the end of the 18th it was completely renovated by order of the merchant Adriaan Van den Bogaert. As a result, it now has a beautiful display room in Rococo style that served to receive guests and to highlight the owner’s wealth and prestige. The room has a fantastic ceiling painting on canvas (the largest of its kind in Western Europe). On the first floor you’ll find the strangest room in the entire building: a toilet that was completely furnished as an imitation library with fake book spines everywhere. Even the toilet bowl resembles a stack of books. Ironically, you’ll still have nothing to actually read when it’s time for number two.
De Hofkamer, Oude Beurs 27. Price: €6. Group tours on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Individual visits possible on Sundays from April 16 to October 29, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.experienceantwerp.be/nl/locatie/de-hofkamer/
Illusion Antwerp is a brand new and quite amusing museum about a hundred meters from my door opposite the opera building. It was opened just in March 2023 and I must have walked past it a hundred times without even noticing. Inside you’ll find a whole collection of optical illusions in all shapes and sizes. These range from works of art that seem to defy the very laws of reality, to several sets for you to pose in so that you’ll look like stupid gravity doesn’t get to tell you what to do. Yes, you might not have noticed, but I’m not actually meditating on the ceiling in the pic above. You can keep yourself entertained for at least an hour in here, especially when you take some kids with you. They’ll go bananas.
Illusion Antwerp, Frankrijklei 18. Open from 9am to 9pm (Fri-Sun) and from 10am to 7pm (Mon-Thu). Prices €12/9/0. www.illusionantwerpen.be
KMSKA: Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
If you only have the time to visit one museum in Antwerp, you might just have to pick KMSKA. The entire place was closed for over ten years for a very expensive and seemingly endless restoration project, but the final result is absolutely impressive. A modern new museum was built in the courtyard of the imposing old building, and it seamlessly merges into the original rooms. This gives you the impression of walking around in two completely different worlds. The rejuvenated museum now is quite interactive, even for kids, and the collection is huge. You’ll of course see numerous paintings by the three great Antwerp baroque masters Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck, and several new rooms were dedicated to James Ensor, but if you keep your eyes open, you’ll also randomly stumble upon works by Dali, Magritte, Van Eyck, Titian, Bruegel, Rodin, Memling and even Van Gogh. Absolutely top notch museum and probably the best in the country in its category.
KSMKA, Leopold De Waelplaats 1. Open every day from 10am to 5pm (weekends until 6pm, Thursdays until 10pm). €20/10/0. Open from 10am to 5pm. Open until 10pm on Thursdays. www.ksmka.be
Kantmuseum Sint-Carolus Borromeus
The Carolus Borromeus Church on Hendrik Conscience square is not only one of the most beautiful churches in Antwerp, it’s also the only Baroque one. What I didn’t know until recently, is that it also houses a hidden museum. This is the Lace Museum and you can visit it every Wednesday in the gallery on the first floor. They came upon the collection by chance after taking a large inventory during which a whole bunch of forgotten pieces of lace were found in all kinds of cupboards. The result is an unparalleled collection of 17th-century Antwerp lace that you won’t find anywhere else on this scale. Probably one of the least known museums in Antwerp.
Lace Museum, Hendrik Conscienceplein. Price: €5. Open on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Kunsthal Extra City
This former Dominican church behind the Antwerp Zoo is another true hidden gem. In a fantastic setting, temporary exhibitions are held several times a year. Currently a number of large installations by Marcin Dudek are on display until October, revolving around mass psychosis. Behind the church is a so-called honesty bar where you can grab and (supposedly) pay your own drink without anybody supervising you, and behind it is the green and wonderfully overgrown cloister garden, where occasional performances and events are held during summer. Nice place to spend some time when the weather is right.
Kunsthal Extra City, Provinciestraat 112, Tickets €7/5/3/0. Thu-Fri: 1-7pm; Sat-Sun: 10am to 6pm. www.extracitykunsthal.org
Did you know the Stuivenberg hospital had its own little museum? Well now you do. It’s located in one of the old patient halls and can only be visited on Thursday mornings – which is of course the best possible time for a fun excursion. It showcases all sorts of medical equipment from the past – like the oldest röntgen machine in Belgium – and right now they have an exhibition on infectious diseases and the historical influence our climate has had on them. This comes with a lot of graphic images that are often hard to look at (just keep taking those vaccines please). If you want to visit the museum, you’ll have to act fast. Somewhere in September, Stuivenberg will move to the new Cadix hospital and there’s no room for the collection there. Everything will be stocked in a warehouse to be exhibited on a new location later.
Lambottemuseum, Stuivenberg, Lange Beeldekensstraat 267. Tickets: €5. Open on Thursdays from 10am till noon. www.museumgeneeskunde.be
Letterenhuis is a museum about Flemish literature. It can be found near the Academy of Fine Arts and serves as the literary archive of Flanders. You’ll literally walk through the history of our written works, while you admire all kinds of artifacts used and manuscripts produced by Flemish writers. Unfortunately, the museum has been closed since March 2022 for a thorough renovation, so I could’t go and take any pictures. So instead enjoy this photo I made on a book fair picturing two of Belgium’s biggest writers crying internally because nobody wanted them to sign their books, while there was a line of more than a hundred people waiting in front of the next stall to get an autograph from some c-rated television star who’s in a comic book. True story.
Letterenhuis, Minderbroedersstraat 22. Not open. www.letterenhuis.be
M HKA: Museum of Contemporary Art
My relationship with modern art is one of ups and downs: either I absolutely love it, or I think it’s crap. This said, M HKA in the south quarter is a unique building regularly offering great modern art exhibitions. Until mid-September 2023 they’re hosting Let’s Play Museum. For this exhibition, they invited a class of ten year olds to choose their favourite art from the museum’s collection, and then come up with their own presentation and captions. The result is a brilliant, playful exposition with no pretentiousness whatsoever. Not only is there a colourful jumble of unusual art to marvel at, you can also go for a game of bowling or relax in a swing set, and captions like “I love towers. Towers are usually very big. I like things that are very big, because being big is always better.” make me very happy. Much better than the pompous five-page essay you normally have to elbow yourself through next to every other painting. The museum has a splendid rooftop bar as well – with an original Keith Haring mural on the wall.
M HKA, Leuvenstraat 32. Rates: €14/8/0. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm. www.mukha.be
Maagdenhuis (“Virgin House”) on Mechelseplein is not the local Pokémon clubhouse– haha, sorry guys – but a former orphanage for girls dating back to the 16th century. It’s been a museum since 1930 and showcases the history and art collection of Armenzorg (an institution dedicated to helping the poor). They too have a number of paintings by Antwerp’s top three baroque guys on display. The statue of Houten (“wooden”) Clara Hendrik Conscience wrote a novel about is here as well, as is a replica of the first trapdoor for foundlings from 1812 (in which more than 400 babies were dropped off in the first two years after it opened – those were the days). When I visited, they held an exhibition full of art made by children from the oncology wing of the UZA Hospital in the chapel and the rooms behind the courtyard. Quite touching.
Maagdenhuis, Lange Gasthuisstraat 33, Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10-13h and from 14-17h. Prices: €8/6/0 www.maagdenhuis.be
MAS: Museum on the Stream
Before KMSKA reopened, the MAS Museum was by far the most popular museum in Antwerp. After this now iconic building opened in 2011, ‘t Eilandje changed from the saddest neighbourhood in the city centre to one of the fanciest. The actual collection itself is somewhat of a mishmash. Pieces from the former Ethnographical Museum, the former Museum of Shipping and part of the Vleeshuis collection all found a home here. As a result, you’ll see miniature ships as well as classic paintings, African masks and Japanese samurai armour all under one roof. The exhibitions are actually just a fraction of the total collection they have in stock – the building is way too small to cover it all. Apart from this melting pot, it’s mainly a museum about Antwerp, its port and its connection to the world. The temporary exhibitions and the photo collages in the stairwells are always worth a visit as well. Those who don’t feel like cooking and have a few hundred extra euros sitting idly in their pocket, can book a table in ‘t Zilte on the top floor. This is the only 3-star restaurant in Antwerp. Getting up to the rooftop is always free of charge though, even long after the museum closes. It probably offers the best possible view on the city.
MAS: Museum aan de Stroom, Hanzestedenplaats 1. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Tickets €10/6/0. www.mas.be
Those who like combining their art with a ray of sunshine should visit Middelheim Museum: officially the largest and greenest museum in Antwerp. This is not surprising. It is after all, a thirty hectare sculpture park. Along the many walkways and under the stately trees, more than 200 works of art are exhibited. The most striking examples are the melting sailboat by Erwin Wurm and Zotte Geweld (see photo) by Rik Wouters – which is really just a statue of his apparently extremely ecstatic wife. You’ll also discover works by Rodin, Henry Moore, Ai Weiwei, Panamarenko and many others. Unlike in just about any other museum, here you can simply sit your ass on a bench and enjoy a picnic. Completely free of charge. They wouldn’t let you in The Louvre, that’s for sure.
Middelheim Museum, Middelheimlaan 61. Closed on Mondays. Free admission. www.middelheimmuseum.be
In the district of Merksem you’ll find ACAM, which is the Academy for Mineralogy. If you are so inclined, you can sign up for a two-year course as a gemmologist here (which would allow you to officially check gems for authenticity and value) but on Saturday afternoon you can visit the Mineralogical Museum as well. This is basically a whole building filled with display cabinets crammed with the most diverse collection of minerals, gemstones and fossils. The collection is huge and satisfyingly old-fashioned, and ranges from rocks of all sizes and colours to dinosaur eggs and even the complete skull of a prehistoric cave bear. The pièce de résistance is a darkroom full of luminous stones in the most psychedelic colours – the largest collection of this type in Europe. The museum is run by a couple of friendly volunteers who will happily give you all the info you need. Want to pick up some stones to expand your own collection? This is your spot as well.
Mineralogical Museum, Avenue Frans de l’Arbre 12. Price: €5. Open on Saturday from 13.30 to 17.30h. www.acam.be
MoMu: Fashion Museum Antwerp
Antwerp is – it must be said – the finest jewel in the Belgian crown. Not only are we the diamond capital of the world and the second largest port in Europe, we’re also by far the most important fashion city in the country. This is mainly due to the presence of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where in the eighties the famous Antwerp Six graduated before conquering the international fashion scene. This story is told in the recently refurbished MoMu in Nationalestraat. On the ground floor you’ll find part of the permanent collection, with of course a number of designs by the very same six. On the upper floor are temporary exhibitions. In my case, it was one about photographer Man Ray and his influence on fashion photography, contrasted with a number of ravishingly dressed mannequins. A must for all fashionistas.
MOMU, Nationalestraat 28. Tickets: €12/8/0. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Saturday open until 1am. www.momu.be
Museum De Reede
Museum De Reede is located on the quay opposite Steen Castle, and exhibits a range of paintings and sketches by three of the darkest artists they could find. There’s a whole collection of Edvard Munch (the one who painted The Scream) and Francisco Goya (the one who painted the naked giant eating his own son – don’t ask). You’ll also find a number of works by one of my favorite Belgian artists. Felicien Rops was a Namur-born etcher, painter and caricaturist of the 19th century who made prints, cartoons and paintings that even now would be considered holy sh*t, that might be a bit over the top. Satirical, critical and sometimes even pornographic images mercilessly butchering the political hypocrisy of the time. Fantastic.
Museum De Reede, Ernest van Dijckkaai 7. Open from Friday to Monday from 11am to 5pm. Prices: €15/5/3. www.museum-dereede.com
Museum Mayer van den Bergh
Museum Mayer van den Bergh is located in a beautiful building in Lange Gasthuisstraat, and exhibits the art collection of Fritz Mayer van den Bergh – a wealthy collector from the 19th century. Here you can see a wide variety of different artworks, including paintings by (you guessed it) Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck, but also older material by Quinten Massijs, Jheronimus Bosch and especially Bruegel. The absolute masterpiece is the recently restored Dulle Griet – also by Bruegel. It now got its own room and the colours are bright and lively again. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the most interesting paintings in Antwerp. At the time it was bought at a Cologne auction, Mayer van den Bergh paid the ridiculous price of 488 Belgian francs for it. For the Gen-Z folks: that’s about twelve euros. Bit of a bargain.
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Lange Gasthuisstraat 19. Prices €10/6/0. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. www.museummayervandenbergh.be
Museum Plantin-Moretus on Vrijdagmarkt is the only museum in Antwerp (excluding the Cathedral) recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What’s more, in 2005 it was the first museum on the entire list. This happened mainly because it’s an original and exceptionally well-preserved printing house from the 16th century. Inside this fantastic building you can marvel at the world’s two oldest printing presses, as well as a whole workshop full of iron printing letters, a lot of beautiful historical manuscripts, a number of original rooms with the walls covered in gilded leather and a few portraits made by Rubens. Outside you can also visit what is probably the most gorgeous courtyard in Antwerp. Which can freely be entered without having to get a museum ticket by the way. Isn’t that swell?
Plantin-Moretus Museum, Vrijdagmarkt 22. Tickets: €12/8/0. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. www.museumplantinmoretus.be
Museum to Scale
In my day, the so called R-building used to be the darkest and ugliest place on the entire University of Antwerp campus. A concrete bunker full of asbestos (I’m just guessing here), where the faculties with the least economic potential were left to rot. As a master in communication sciences, It’s fair to say I spent a day or two here. Times they are a-changing though, and the whole place got a recent makeover. A few years ago, they added a little extra on top. On the ground floor you can now visit a museum with countless rooms. Miniature rooms that is, unless of course you’re a leprechaun. The project is called Museum to Scale and offers a dozens varied rooms decorated by artists like Jan Fabre, Fred Bervoets, Arne Quinze, Luc Tuymans and Stephan Vanfleteren in small niches in the wall. You can come take a look for free during the university’s business hours.
Museum to Scale, Rodestraat 18. Free admission. Open on weekdays until 18h. www.uantwerpen.be/nl/overuantwerpen/campussen/kunst-op-de-campus/museum-to-scale/
One of the oldest buildings in Antwerp strangely doesn’t house a museum focussed on the history of the butchers’ guild that commissioned it in the middle ages, but one full of old musical instruments in all shapes and sizes. In the past you could play a replica of the cathedral carillon here, but unfortunately the software broke down and the company who programmed it went tits up. No need to panic: they still have an extensive collection to marvel at and the cellars offer exhibitions on the casting of church bells, the rise of public fanfares and a beautifully recreated dance café with an organ as it would have looked like a hundred years ago. Interesting and diverse, but the real star of the show is of course the building itself. Stately columns and huge windows, and under the vaults in the cellars you can find a number of 400-year-old tombs.
Museum Vleeshuis, Vleeshouwersstraat 38, €8/5/0, open from Thursday to Sunday. www.museumvleeshuis.be
Nationaal Museum en Archief van Douane en Accijnzen
The National Museum and Archive of Customs and Excise – a museum that was completely unknown to me – is hidden in the offices of the Department of Finance at Park Spoor Noord, and can only be visited by appointment. It’s run by Francis and Bruno: two customs officers who passionately talk about their profession and collection. A very interesting collection by the way. You first learn about the history of customs – with extensive information on the Great Butter War between Belgium and the Netherlands in the fifties and sixties: google it, it’s hilarious. The most interesting part for the majority of visitors is of course the wild collection of contraband and smuggling methods displayed here. From Chinese fake stuff and hollowed-out shoes full of coke, to a steel chest plate some Dutch smuggler drove around with in the thirties and a steamroller from Afghanistan sent to Brussels by airmail (not suspicious at all) – with several pounds of heroin in one of the rollers. Surprisingly interesting visit full of great stories.
National Museum and Archives of Customs and Excise, Ellermansstraat 21, €35 for guided groups/free without a guide. Appointment via: email@example.com.
Natuurhistorisch Museum Boekenberg
This small Natural History Museum is hidden in what’s probably the most unique location on the list: the largest artificial cave in Western Europe. It was built next to the pond in Boekenbergpark. Inside, among the fake stalactites, there are a whole lot of cabinets with all kinds of fossils, minerals and prehistoric tools on display. You can even see the skeleton of a real Merovingian – with someone else’s skull, because the original one was stolen years ago (no idea where they got the other one – best not to ask). Nice collection, especially for kids, but the cave itself is even more of a draw. It was once the vanity project of a baron who had his guests sail little boats through it. In winter the museum is closed for months. This is not because the volunteers don’t feel like sitting in the cold, but because every year the cave is taken over by a colony of bats looking for a cosy spot to hibernate. Fake it till you make it, cave!
Natural History Museum Boekenberg, at the Adelbert Kennisplein entrance. Ticket: €1. Open on Sunday from 14 to 18h. www.museumboekenberg.be
The cathedral is undoubtedly Antwerp’s greatest icon, but it’s a valued art museum as well. Some of Rubens’ best-known paintings are on display under the church spire, as well as a statue by contemporary artist Jan Fabre who – being the modest guy he is – made a gilded version of himself balancing the cross of Christ on his hand like it’s nothing. The cathedral is of course a work of art in its own right, full of massive columns and colourful stained glass windows, a magnificent organ and an ornately carved pulpit. Behind the altar, several unique niches were repainted in recent years and are worth a visit by themselves. Nowadays you can even explore a bit of the basement where the foundations of a much older Romanesque church were left exposed. During summer, there’s a carillon concert every Monday evening. You’ll sometimes hear some Abba, Queen or even Metallica pass by if the carillonneur feels like it.
Cathedral of Our Lady, Handschoenmarkt. Tickets: €12/10/free for everyone living in the province of Antwerp. Open from 10-17 on weekdays, from 10-15h on Saturday and from 13-17h on Sunday. www.dekathedraal.be
Panamarenko, or Henri Van Herwegen, was one of the most iconic Antwerp artists of the twentieth century. He was a sculptor with a boundless imagination who cobbled together all kinds of mechanical creations that could have come straight out of a dystopian cyberpunk world. Many of his designs were focused on the dream of flying: from zeppelins to jetpacks and iron prehistoric birds. He made most of these things at home in his studio in the Biekorfstraat, and now you can book a group tour in here every other Saturday afternoon. In addition to his actual work, you’ll also see plenty of the things that inspired him pinned to the walls. The house is easily recognisable by the helipad he attached to the roof.
Panamarenkohuis, Biekorfstraat 2. Price: €20 per person. Visit bi-weekly on Saturdays. By appointment only and with a maximum of eight people. www.muhka.be/nl/visit/adults/the-panamarenko-house
The Phoebus Foundation was established in 2015 to manage and insure the art collection of Fernand Huts: owner of Katoen Natie. This collection is huge and varied, and includes everything from medieval to modern art, avant-garde works by the Cobra group, textiles from ancient Egypt, countless medieval maps, more than 350 versions of Reynard the fox and even (I’m not making this up) the complete skeleton of an adult Tyrannosaurus Rex called Trinity. The intention is for this entire collection to be eventually on display in the Boerentoren, which will immediately grant Antwerp another top museum. Until then, you can admire pieces from the collection in other places as part of temporary exhibitions. On the open monuments day, I went to have a look in the large hangar in Pretstraat, where a vast collection of maritime heritage (also part of the foundation) is stored. We’ll have to stay patient a while longer to see the rest.
All current exhibitions with pieces from the Phoebus Foundation can be viewed here: www.phoebusfoundation.org/nu-te-zien-in-phoebus/
This local museum in Lillo is aimed at preserving the history of the Antwerp polder region. When the port of Antwerp significantly expanded in the late fifties, several nearby towns like Wilmarsdonk, Oosterweel and most of Lillo itself had to disappear. In order to not lose local customs and history, a whole range of objects was collected and housed in this museum. Nowadays, you can visit an old bakery, a classroom or a local bar here, and find out how life used to look like in these lost villages. Interesting visit, but even more of a museum is what remains of the actual town. Less than 50 people live in this hamlet today, nestled in the remains of an old fortress smack in the middle of Europe’s second largest port. It’s almost surreal that this is one of the greenest and most idyllic places in Antwerp, while it’s surrounded by industry and containers on all sides. The water bus will drop you straight at the pier from the city centre.
Polder museum Lillo, Tolhuisstraat 10-16. Tickets: €4/3.5/0. Open on Sundays from April to November, during the summer also on Saturdays. www.poldermuseum-lillo.be
Portopolis is the info centre for Port of Antwerp-Bruges, located in one of the red buildings in front of the MAS Museum. Upon entering, you’ll be given a tablet with augmented reality, allowing you to get extra info from the many panels on the walls. This information ranges from facts and figures to all the fun excursions and nature reserves you can visit in the port (see my own selection here). With some VR glasses, you can even take a virtual tour of the port itself. On the upper floor, birthday parties for children are held, with all sorts of port and shipping themed games.
Portopolis, Hanseatic city 19. Admission free. Open from 9am to 5pm. Closed on Mondays. www.portofantwerpbruges.com/onze-haven/bezoeken/portopolis-antwerpen
Red Star Line Museum
The Red Star Line Museum opposite Waagnatie is all about migration. The focus point is the eponymous shipping company that, at the turn of the last century, took two million Europeans in search of a better life across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Their sea voyage started in this very building, and for the majority of them it happened in third class and was therefore obviously not the most pleasant experience. Their personal stories, dreams and the hoops they had to jump through to get to their destination are the guiding principles of the experience and often don’t make for the happiest of tales. The museum broadens the theme beyond just Red Star Line, and talks about migration in general as well, based on all kinds of stories from people past and present. This is a museum with a message becoming increasingly important in the current political climate. When you climb the building’s tower after finishing the exhibition, you can immediately reflect on what you just saw with a nice view on the Scheldt river.
Red Star Line Museum, Montevideostraat 3. Tickets: €10/6. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. www.redstarline.be
Rijn- en Binnenvaartmuseum
On the Droogdokken site a little further on, three original river barges are moored against each other. Due to construction work currently underway, it’s a bit of a hassle to get there (walk past the front of the Stormkop building, then pass all of the dry docks) but if everything goes well you’ll eventually end up at the Rhine and Inland Navigation Museum. This place wants to preserve the history of the inland shipping life, and all three vessels are open for visits on Wednesday afternoons. Inside you’ll find some volunteers, a whole collection of miniature barges, equipment from the good old days and above all the possibility to walk around on a ship like this by yourself. The original living quarters are especially interesting (be it somewhat claustrophobic). On the middle ship, a bar was set up for you to go and have a drink in afterwards. It’s also available for small events.
Rijn en Binnenvaartmuseum, Droogdokkenweg 4. Free admission. Open from mid-April to mid-October, on Wednesdays between 2pm and 6pm, and on the first Saturday of the month from 10am to 3pm. www.rijnenbinnenvaartmuseum.be
Rubenshuis close to the Meir shopping street, is the place where Rubens used to live and work. It’s one of the first museums in Antwerp to visit for many tourists, but unfortunately this will not be the case anymore for a while. The entire place will undergo a renovation that will last until 2027 – including a brand new entrance on the side of the Theatre square. During this time the museum will obviously be closed, but as the new KMSKA proves, the wait is sometimes more than worth it. Quite positive is that they’ll finally tear down the ugly glass greenhouse in front of the original façade. Soon you might actually be able to see it without this atrocity blocking the view.
Rubens House, Wapper 9-11. www.rubenshuis.be
Did you know Antwerp used to look like Amsterdam? It was a wonderful place full of canals, but sadly they had them all covered centuries ago because people kept pouring their sh*t into them. As a result, every street with a name ending in -rui, -vliet or -vest now has a corresponding tunnel running underneath it, where these waterways used to be. You can still explore this network to this day and it’s a fantastic thing to do. You either book a tour with a group to get all the stories directly from a guide, or you can go for an individual tour with an iPad on one of several fixed time slots. Then someone will still accompany you, but just to make sure you don’t get lost. It’s a great, albeit somewhat fragrant experience and perhaps the most unique visit you can book in Antwerp. You’ll have to wade through some very suspicious looking water though (they’ll give you boots) and you might see the occasional sewer rat scutter away. Consider it part of the experience.
Ruihuis, Suikerrui 21, Tickets: €19/12. Walks from Tuesday to Sunday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. www.ruien.be
Sint-Pauluskerk on Veemarkt is in my opinion the most beautiful church in Antwerp. The light here is wonderful – no imposing dark galleries – it’s full of fantastic wooden sculptures and furniture and it showcases more than 50 paintings. A fair number of them were (yet again) made by the same three Antwerp greats. By the way, these priceless paintings could all have been lost in a fire, were it not for the nearby sailors and prostitutes taking them out to safety in the sixties. What makes this church even more unique is the Calvary Garden outside. This is an oasis of peace in the middle of the city, full of sculptures picturing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Another hidden gem.
St. Paul’s Church, Veemarkt. Tickets: €5/3/0. Open daily from 1-5pm from April to October, only on weekends from November to March. www.sintpaulusantwerpen.be
Snijders & Rockoxhuis
Snijders & Rockoxhuis in Keizerstraat is a museum housed in two 17th-century buildings that used to belong to mayor Nicolaas Rockox and painter Frans Snijders (yes, they were neighbours). They’re both beautifully decorated, the courtyard is pleasant to walk through and the art collection has works by amongst others (you know by now) Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck. The most famous painting is perhaps Flemish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – although it’s a copy made by his son Pieter Bruegel the Younger. Whether or not his son Pieter Bruegel the Infantile also made a version of it and whether he ate his box of crayons in the process, sadly got lost in the mists of time.
Snijders & Rockox house, Keizerstraat 10. Tickets €10/6/0. Closed on Mondays. www.snijdersrockoxhuis.be
Stampe & Vertongen Museum
Jean Stampe and Maurice Vertongen were two aviation pioneers who founded a flight academy and aircraft factory in Antwerp in 1923. This eventually gave rise to the Antwerp airport. Next to the same airport, you’ll now find the Stampe & Vertongen Museum, where the entire history of aviation in Belgium is dutifully explained, as well as what happened in the skies above Antwerp during the two world wars. The eye-catchers are of course a number of biplanes from World War I that were preserved in perfect condition. Several types are on display here. There’s also a much newer stunt plane set up for you to get into the cockpit of. In the hangar next door are a bunch of historic planes that are still taken out for the occasional flight.
Stampe & Vertongen Museum, Luchthavenlei. Tickets €7/0. Open on Saturday and Sunday from 2pm to 5pm. www.stampe.be
Visitor Center Het Steen
A lot of things have been said about the modern extension added to the Steen castle two years ago, and opinions are divided. What the new Visitor Center inside actually does very well though, is giving the arriving (mostly cruise) tourists a crash course on Antwerp. The Antwerp Story is the paid part of the tour, where you first get a personal introduction to a number of neighborhoods from the residents themselves, after which you’ll discover the most important buildings and museums through all kinds of fun setups. There’s also a room with a 360° projection taking you for a virtual trip through the harbour. Nice and practical place, and from the rooftop terrace and the adjacent tower you can enjoy a beautiful view over the city and the Scheldt river (some of the pics on the walls of the top floor are mine by the way).
Visitor Center Het Steen, Steenplein 1. Tickets: €7/5/0. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. visit.antwerpen.be/nl-BE/info/the-antwerp-story
Vlaams Tram- en Autobusmuseum
The Flemish Tram and Bus Museum can be visited in the tram hangar on Diksmuidelaan in Berchem – itself a protected, century old building – and exhibits a collection of more than 50 historic trams and buses. Some of them are absolute gems from the early 1900s. What’s even more fun is that you can actually get onto most of them. What immediately stands out is how much more graceful and intricate the designs were back then. One of the trams still has original advertisements from the 40s inside, which makes for quite the contrast with the screamy ads of today. This is a well documented and well kept museum run by enthusiastic volunteers. A number of trams are still roadworthy and can be booked for events.
Flemish Tram and Bus Museum, Tickets: €5/3. Open on Saturday and Sunday between 1 and 4.30pm, from 15 April to 15 October. www.vlatam.be
Well would you look at that: we’ve already arrived at the last museum on the list. Volxmuseum is located in an old workers’ house from 1860, near Cogelsplein in the district of Deurne. Inside, the life of the average labourer from the early 20th century is depicted in several setups. The whole place is also filled to the brim with all kinds of artifacts: from old tools to archaeological finds from the ice age and relics from the two world wars. Volunteers will lead you through the collection every weekend, and in the accompanying pub you can have a drink with them afterwards.
Volxmuseum Deurne. Tickets: €2. Open on Saturday and Sunday from to 2 to 5pm. www.volxmuseum.be
There you go everyone: it took me a while to write it all down, but these were all the museums in Antwerp. Which ones were new to you? What’s your favourite? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below.
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