Category: Museums


Most tourists concentrate on the historical city centre. I’m not saying that this area isn’t worth visiting, on the contrary, but in that way they miss a great number of interesting places, like e.g. the Middelheimpark. This park is situated on the south side of the city. There’s plenty of parking space in the area and lines 21 and 32 have a stop at the nearby Middelheim clinic.

In the sixteenth century well-to-do merchants of Antwerp started to build summer residences in the area around the town. The fields and meadows were quickly transformed into gardens and parks. When the city population exploded at the end of the nineteenth century, the city succeeded in buying a large area south of the city and decided to save it from the building craze that was happening in the rest of the city outskirts. In that way they created a majestic surrounding where people from the city could and can still find a little bit of rest in nature.

Tony Craigg – Envelope

In 1950 mayor Lode Craeybeckx decided to organise an exhibition of present-day sculptures in his town, and it was decided the exhibition would take place in open air, in the park called Middelheim. One of the artists he had invited, Zadkine, came with the idea to organise such an exhibition every two years, 20 editions of this ‘Middelheim Biënnale’ were held in the odd years, to complement the Venetian biannual that was held in the even years. The last one was organised in 1990, not in the least because the success was rapidly declining. After that all energy went into the 1993 project: in that year Antwerp became the Cultural Capital of Europe, and of course the open air museum also took part in the events. Ever since then thematic exhibitions were held on the Middelheim grounds, practically every year. As part of the Rubens Inspires project in 2018, the Middelheim museum organised a successful exhibition under the title Experience Traps.

In the mean time the permanent collection of sculptures had grown to over 60 works of art spread over some 30 ha. The sculptures cover the era from Rodin up to the present day.

This park and the museum can be visited for free every day but Monday. Opening times depend on the time of year, so be sure to check the website.

MAS: a Museum at the Stream

The Mas Building

In between the two oldest docks of the Antwerp harbour a remarkable building stands, built in a striking red colour: the MAS. Collections of more than three separate musea have been gathered here to tell the story of our town and its harbour.

Each floor of the museum tells a part of this fascinating story. The 2nd floor allows you to have a peek at how a museum works. Here you can see part of the depot: the objects that are not (yet) on display, but form a reserve. Floor 3 has temporary exhibitions.

The permanent exhibition

Floors 4 to 8 have more or less permanent exhibitions. At least: the aspect they try to tell remains the same. Floor 4 is about wealth, power, prestige and its symbols. The next floor is called ‘Antwerp à la Carte’ and shows you how towns are responsible for feeding huge masses of people. Follows a floor devoted to the harbour. Floor 7 is about death and the afterlife and how the different religions that are present in the city deal with these questions. Floor 8 has a very rich collection of pre-Columbian art from South-America.

Another view of the MAS
Another view of the MAS

On floor 9 you can enjoy a delicious meal in “‘t Zilte” a two-star restaurant lead by Vikki Geunes. From floor 10 you have a fantastic view over the city and its harbour.

Floors 2 and 10 can be visited for free, for the other floors there is an entrance fee.

The different floors 4 to 8 all have the same lay-out which starts with a short introduction to the theme in question. Then you enter the exhibition space as such. After that there is a section where you can find some more information, where kids can enjoy an interactive game, …

Another attraction is the hallways. As you travel from floor 1 to floor 10 you will pass a series of photographs that again tell a story about town. At this moment the theme is ‘Koekenstad’ (Cookietown). This was the nickname people from the country gave to Antwerp. Antwerp had many industrial bakeries, candy and chocolate factories. About twice a year the theme of these photographs changes.

Want to know more?

Chocolate Secrets: free to discover

As an accompaniment to the exhibition which is held at the Groenplaats, the MAS-museum has taken a selection of its background collection, added some objects from private collection, and puts it all on display on the second floor of the building. A floor you can visit for free.

The exhibition shows ancient Maya cups that were used to drink cacao in, porcelain cacaopots from Europe and tin boxes and so on that were used by Antwerp chocolate factories. These factories started their activities in the 19th century and they turned the once exclusive delicacy of the rich into an everyman’s candy: the chocolate bar. And of course they also helped the distribution and spread the world-wide popularity of the typical Belgian chocolates. The factories like Meurisse and Martougin are no longer there, but the local chocolatiers still make great chocolates.

This exhibition opens March 3rd and closes Sept 3rd. And while you’re there: do not forget to visit the top floor, which is also free and offers a very nice panoramic view over the city.

The MAS-museum can be found at the Hanzestedenplein.

Antwerp and chocolate: an exhibition

An original poster for the Perette chocolate bar.

From Feb. 3rd till March 31st an exhibition on the role of Antwerp in the history of Belgian chocolate is organised on the top floor of Mercado at Groenplaats. The very first Belgian chocolate factory was active in Antwerp. It was led by the Meurissefamily and created chocolate bars that were popular all over the country and far beyond the borders. Anyone older than 35 or 40 will certainly remember Perette (milk chocolate bar) and Boy Scout (black chocolate bar). One of their inventions was a cold-feel filling that was used in the Zero bars, which are still sold although they are now produced by another factory as the Meurisse plant has closed down and now houses a furniture store at Damplein.

In between 1830 and 1960 over thirty chocolate stores and factories were active in the centre of Antwerp. The exhibition, which is organised by Antwerpen Koekenstad (Antwerp Cookietown, a nickname for the city given because of its great amount of bakery, chocolateries and candy stores) shows a great number of unique documents dating back to the roaring twenties and the golden era of the fifties and sixties, and to top it all: you’ll be able to taste Perette (again), from Wednesdag to Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.

Tickets are available at 8 €, groups of more than 10 pay 5 €.

City of Rubens

The most famous name in Antwerp history is undoubtedly Peter Paul Rubens, the Baroque painter.

Come visit Antwerp to (re)discover the master and his works.

Rubens statue at Groenplaats

See his statue, erected to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his death in 1840. The Rubens statue stands in the middle of Groenplaats, one of the city’s busiest places. A popular meeting place for people from Antwerp to start an evening out or a walk in the historic heart of the city.

Behind the statue you can admire the spire of the Our Lady’s Chathedral. Don’t forget to visit the cathedral, as it contains not less than 4 paintings by the master, besides a great many other works of art.

Nearby, just off the busy shopping avenue of Meir, on a square called Wapper, you can find the master’s house which now houses a museum completely devoted to Rubens and his works.

Just a few 100 meters away at Sint-Jacobsmarkt, is Saint James’s church where Rubens was buried. The chapel where the Rubens family was buried is adorned with a painting the master himself selected for his resting place.

Saint Carl Borromeus Church

Not to be missed is the phenomenal Saint Carl Borromeus church, the former jesuit’s church at Conscienceplein. Unfortunately the painted ceilings Rubens provided for this church were lost in a fire, but there are strong signs Rubens contributed to both the façade and the tower of this masterpiece of baroque architecture.

Not so far away, the old dominican church, Saint Paul’s, next to the red light quarter, houses works by Rubens and some of his contemporaries.

Of course many of the other Antwerp museums show works by Rubens, such as the Fine Arts Museum (closed for intensive restauration works until 2019), the Museum Plantin-Moretus (Christoff Plantin was a close friend of Rubens’), the museum Rockoxhuis, …

Visit an acient printers’ shop

The Plantin-Moretus museum

One of the key figures in the history of Antwerp is Christophe Plantin. He was a French bookbinder who decided to come to the booming town of his day, Antwerp, and try his luck there around 1548. There’s a story that tells that one night, while he was delivering books to a client, he was attacked, robbed and stabbed in the shoulder. The injury made that he couldn’t practice his job as a bookbinder anymore, so he chose a new profession and became a printer.

Print shop (Kunst en Erfgoed)

He could have made a worse decision. His printshop was a huge success, he set up printshops in Paris and Leiden, and became friends with the important people of his days like e.g. Rubens. After his death the shop was taken over by his son in law Johan Moerentorf, who, as was custom in those days had changed his name into Moretus. The Moretus family kept on printing for almost three centuries, but eventually new technologies took over and the family left the building and all its contents to the city on condition that it be turned into a museum.

The museum not only gives one a unique insight into the history of printing, but it is also a lively showcase of how people used to live in the sixteenth century. Some of the printing presses are still in working order, and if you book it in advance, the visit to the museum can be completed with a real printing workshop in which you will print your own document on a replica of the ancient presses.

The inner garden of the Plantin-Moretus museum

Recently the exposition has been completely renewed, and should you pass the museum, which is situated at Vrijdagmarkt, but run out of time and be unable to visit it, feel free to take a look at the inner garden.

Practical information:

Museum Plantijn-Moretus

Vrijdagmarkt 22-23, 2000 Antwerpen

Phone: 03 221 14 50

Visit the museumwebsite

Opening times: Tue-Sun, 10:00-17:00

Tickets: 8 € (6€ for 12-25 year olds, free for under 12)

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