Of all the major cities in Belgium that I plan to visit, Antwerp was the only in which I could not find a free tour. The tourist office offered a guided tour, but I felt the price was a bit steep, so I simply took myself around the city. I may not have learned as much about the history of the city as I would have on a tour, but I think I saw it all and then some.
I arrived to Antwerp (Antwerpen in Dutch, Anvers in French) via train. Prior to my arrival, I had googled sites in Antwerp and the Antwerpen Centraal Station was on the top of many people's list. The train station was magnificant and definitely worth seeing. In fact later that day when I stopped in at tourist info and asked for suggestions, they even suggested that I go visit the station!
The station is multi-level,which trains arriving on various levels. To get to the lowest level where my train arrived / departed, I had to take a series of escalators. One of the escalators was quite unique because about half way up it stopped ascending/descending and became a horizontal moving walkway and then resumed it's ascent/descent. The station was ornate and yes, worth seeing.
Antwerp is built along side the Schelde river. I headed first towards the river. As I walked through town, I could see that Antwerp, like Brussels, has a Christmas market and was decorated with a number of lights. As it was early in the morning, not much was going on at the markets, but I knew that later they would be teeming with people. Part of the market was at the river. I walked along the river, carefully navitgating my way along icy walkways towards the castle.
This one particular statue fascinated me. It is a very large man towering over two smaller men. I do not known anything about it, but must google it to find out more. ]
I headed along the river until I reached the Museum Aan De Stroom (MAS). I was not interested in the exhibits at the museum, but rather in the architechtural uniqueness of the building as well as the rooftop viewing platform on the 10th floor. I really enjoyed the 365 degrees view of the city as well as the river and countryside surrounding it.
I was also quite impressed by the locals of Antwerp. It was a bitterly cold day, but they were all out and about. In fact the markets were so packed that we probably stayed warmer as a result!
From the MAS I headed 5 more minutes down river to the Red Star Line Museum. This was one museum I was quite interested in the exhibit of.
The company flourished and thousands of people emigrated to the US or Canada leaving Europe via Antwerp until World War I. After WWI, the company faced financial problems as the US imposed stricter immigration restrictions. In 1934 the company was liquidated and sold to a German, Arnold Bernstein. However in 1939 Bernstein had to flee Germany and the ships were taken over by the Holland-America Line.
The museum focused on the immigration process pre-1920's, the company itself and immigration in general. I found the exhibits fascinating. I easily spent 2 hours in the museum and probably could have spent much more. It was definitely worth a visit.
After the museum I headed back to the Grote Markt and central area of town. I went to the cathedral. It was magnificant from the outside, but I did not visit the inside as they wanted visitors to pay a steep entrance of 6 Euros (approx 8 dollars)