In a country that oozes culture and history, it may be hard for any historic city to stand out. Antwerp, however, manages to do that with flair and charm. Belgium’s second-largest city, after the capital of Brussels, boasts numerous medieval architectural landmarks, several world-class restaurants, the nation’s premier shopping strip and is the global hub of the diamond industry. On top of all that, there are also many superb museums in Antwerp, the best five of which are listed below.
Best Museums in Antwerp, Belgium
The museums in Antwerp cover an almost impossibly wide range of subjects. In this glorious historic city—a true Western European gem—you’ll find museums that feature such things as fashion and art, but also turn-of-the-century emigration to America, the history of printing and a variety of other themes.
While Belgium is historically not a major fashion hotspot, that all changed in the 80s and 90s thanks to the “Antwerp Six”, a sextet of fashion designers who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp in the early 1980s.
Although it’s a little much to compare Antwerp with icons like Paris, Milan or New York, the city does have more than its fair share of high-end boutiques and designers. And the MoMu, short for ModeMuseum (literally Fashion Museum), introduces you to historic clothing and couture, mostly in Belgian style. Its collections along with its twice-yearly major exhibitions have made one of the world’s leading fashion museums.
Short for Museum aan de Stroom (Museum at the Stream), MAS is the largest of all museums in Antwerp. It’s also one of the youngest, officially opened in 2011. Situated in the Eilandje district, it lies at the meeting point of the historic city center and Antwerp’s port.
An architectural masterpiece, this museum is enormous, housing more or less 500,000 different objects. Its five themes are spread out across five floors. They range from politics to ports, from urban cuisine to life, death and religion. Where this museum distinguishes itself from basically every other museum in the world is its ability to link and weave all these various topics together.
Also, the view from the roof is sensational.
3. Red Star Line Museum
One of the most fascinating museums in Antwerp has to be the Red Star Line Museum. Also located in the Eilandje district, this museum retraces emigration to America at the turn of the 20th century.
Antwerp, with its huge port, was a major hub for the ocean liners that traveled between the Old and the New World. While Southampton took care of emigrants from the UK and Ireland, it was Antwerp that processed people looking for a better life in America from the European mainland. No fewer than two million people passed through its port on their way to America. The White Star Line, famous for its Titanic disaster, operated from Southampton. The Red Star Line, its sister company, was based partly in Antwerp.
The Red Star Line Museum shows this important part of world history through a wealth of first-hand accounts, diaries, testimonies, letters and so on.
2. Plantin-Moretus Museum
The Plantin-Moretus Museum is one of the most extraordinary museums in the world. And that’s not an exaggeration. It is the world’s only UNESCO World Heritage-listed museum. Housed in the former 16th-century residence and printing shop of Christophe Plantin and his son-in-law Jan Moretus, it offers a unique insight in the history of printing and book-binding.
The building’s interior is spectacular as it is, filled with historic sculptures, paintings, furniture and wallpaper. The real highlight of this phenomenal museum, however, is the Plantin presses, the oldest existing printing presses in the world today. This is the very place where printing was perfected. It’s the workshop that made books into the powerful medium that they still are.
Antwerp’s most famous former resident is Peter Paul Rubens, one of the greatest painters of all time. At the Rubenshuis, you can literally walk through his old house and workshop, see many of his original paintings, discover how he went about creating a painting and much more.
This museum is beyond great, housing not only numerous works of art but also period furniture and decorations. In addition to Rubens’ paintings, you can also see his own private collection and works by some of his friends and colleagues, most notably Anthony van Dyck. Of all the awesome museums in Antwerp, the Rubenshuis is definitely the greatest. A must-visit for everyone who spends time in the city.