Torn between Antwerp or Amsterdam for your next city break? Which one should you choose if you’re time constrained?
Antwerp is a port city in Belgium with a population of around half a million souls. It’s one of the largest diamond trading centers in the world and an international fashion hub. It has a very rich artistic heritage with the works of famous Flemish painters like Rubens, Van Dyck, and Jordaens in its museums.
Antwerp has a diverse range of architectural styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau and impressive landmarks like the Cathedral and Central Station. The city has some of the best Belgian chocolatiers and traditional Belgian bars and breweries. Antwerp is liked for its great shopping and dining.
Amsterdam has a population twice the size of Antwerp. It’s famous for its 100+ kilometers of canals and 1,500 bridges. It hosts also world-famous museums like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum.
Amsterdam has a “red-light” district where prostitution is legal, as well as coffee shops where people can legally consume cannabis. Amsterdam is very bike-friendly with most people cycling around the city using an extensive network of bike lanes and ubiquitous bike rentals.
Choose Amsterdam for the canals, the world-class museums, the bike lifestyle, the coffee shops, and the vibrant nightlife. Choose Antwerp for the trendy lifestyle and shopping, the port city atmosphere, the art and architecture, the food and nightlife, and the easy access to other Flander cities.
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What travelers say
- Antwerp may not be the most charming European city but it has a nice historic center and streets with stunning Art Nouveau architecture, an attractive waterfront on the Scheldt river, and an impressive and beautiful train station. It’s a great strolling town.
- Antwerp has a lot to offer when it comes to monuments and museums. It’s also an international fashion center with trendy stores. It has countless bars and restaurants, and small chocolate stores from all the major brands. The zoo is also worth visiting.
- Antwerp is a great base for easy train trips to Bruges, Brussels, and Ghent
- Antwerp is a lot smaller than Amsterdam. While both have their own charm, some visitors prefer Antwerp’s atmosphere. Others feel that a day trip is enough for visiting Antwerp as opposed to spending a night or two there.
- Some travelers feel that Amsterdam is way too touristy and pricey and are glad to get away to Antwerp after a couple of days.
- While both Amsterdam and Antwerp have good nightlife, Antwerp’s Belgian cafés are special and grant staying overnight. Antwerp also has great beer.
- Amsterdam’s cafes and many parks give it great character. It’s a lively and entertaining city with great sights that can be seen in a few days. English is spoken everywhere.
Access & transportation
Amsterdam and Antwerp are connected by high-speed Thalys trains and slower intercity trains. High-speed trains require advanced reservation and purchase for decent prices, whereas intercity train tickets can be bought right before boarding.
Antwerp is the first Belgian city when coming from the Netherlands e.g. La Hague (1 hour by slow train) or Rotterdam (1h30). London is easily accessible from Antwerp by going to Brussels and then catching the Eurostar.
The old town can be easily reached from Antwerp’s central train station through a 15-minute walk along the elegant Meir shopping street, or by metro (lines 2, 3, or 15 to Groenplaats).
Getting around Antwerp is easy by using the city’s efficient tram and bus network. Likewise, traveling by train to other cities in Flanders is a lot easier than driving on busy roads through unattractive urban zones.
Amsterdam is also a well-connected city with beautiful canals, excellent public transport, and cycling lanes everywhere. The canal transport system is great for visitors and facilitates moving around the city.
In Amsterdam, a large number of bicycles are available all over the city for daily transportation.
Vibe & people
Amsterdam is a vibrant city with scenic views and world-famous sights, countless coffee shops, and great nightlife – due in part to free marijuana consumption and being the home of Heineken beer.
Amsterdam feels more like a bustling metropolis with a diverse mix of cultures and a bohemian vibe.
Air pollution in Amsterdam is low, namely thanks to the canal system and ubiquitous cycling
People in Amsterdam are open-minded, friendly, upbeat, and highly energetic. Amsterdamers are modern and hip, and the city is fast-paced.
Amsterdam is one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the world, with a vibrant gay scene and many events and festivals celebrating the culture.
Some travelers feel that the numerous, marijuana coffee shops, and red light district sometimes attract a not-so-great kind of tourist crowd.
Antwerp is relatively spread out, but most of the tourist sights are within walking distance. For example, the city’s main square has the highest number of guild houses in Europe.
The city has a fascinating mix of architecture including many Queen Anne-style buildings. Aside from the pretty and traditional historic center, Antwerp is a lively city with a very diverse range of people.
Compared to Amsterdam, Antwerp has a more traditional and upscale atmosphere. It’s business-oriented, and visitors generally encounter many more locals than tourists.
Antwerp also has a red light district but it’s cleaner and more secure compared to Amsterdam’s. While Antwerp can feel a bit shady at night (similar to the atmosphere found in the popular Zone Stad Flemish crime series), it’s as safe as other mid-sized cities in Europe.
Sights & culture
Amsterdam has very popular cultural and art museums such as the Van Gogh museum, Stedelijk Museum, Madame Tussauds, and Rijksmuseum (Dutch art including Vermeer and Rembrandt).
The Ann Frank House is one of the most visited museums in the Benelux region (advance booking is advised to avoid the long queues).
There are also smaller museums such as the great FOAM and Huis Van Marseille photography museums, or the Resistance Museum. A Sunday visit to Artplein ‘t Spui where more than 60 international artists display their work will interest you.
The Heineken Experience is a fun and interactive museum that tells the story of Heineken beer. The large and beautiful Vondelpark in the heart of Amsterdam is great for a relaxing stroll or a picnic.
The canal ring of Amsterdam is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take a canal cruise (around one hour) or simply walk along the canals to enjoy the scenery, around the Eye which overlooks the Het IJ harbor part.
The Red Light District area is famous for its brothels and sex shops, but it’s also a lively and interesting part of the city with many bars and restaurants.
Antwerp has a lot to see and do, including an attractive old center with cobblestoned streets and nice squares, great art nouveau architecture, impressive museums, scenic canal boat trips and river walks, and diamond trade history.
Like Amsterdam, Antwerp also has a long waterfront on the Scheldt river. The Bercham station is one of the most glorious Beaux Arts train stations in Europe.
The Het Steen medieval fortress on the Scheldt river bank is impressive. The 14th-16th-century Cathedral of Our Lady is a grand Gothic building with masterpieces from Ruben and other painters.
In the old town, the Grote Markt central square and the Stadhuis (City Hall) building are beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture with Flemish and Italian influences. The Stadhuis is surrounded by numerous other 16th-century colorful Flemish guildhalls (historic trade houses).
Antwerp also has significant Art Nouveau architecture with a unique concentration of some of the best-preserved buildings in Europe on Cogels-Oyslei street and the Zurenborg neighborhood.
Noteworthy museums in Antwerp include the Rubens House Museum (17th century), the Ship Museum, the Plantin and Moretus museum (16th-century printing), the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten – KMSKA, a major art museum with a vast collection 14th to 20th-century art, and the ModeMuseum museum of fashion.
Middleheim is one of Europe’s greatest statue parks.
Antwerp’s mainly orthodox Jewish Diamond Quarter is the world’s largest diamond district with thousands of diamond brokers, merchants, and cutters and 4 diamond-trading exchanges.
The renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the dozens of fashion stores in the trendy neighborhoods (‘t Eilandje, Het Zuid, Sint-Andries, Zurenborg, etc) reflect Antwerp’s status as an important fashion center.
Food & nightlife
Amsterdam’s food scene is diverse, trendy, and relatively expensive with a wide range of international cuisine – Indonesian, Surinamese, Vietnamese, Italian, etc.
The city is also famous for its street food, such as stroopwafels and raw herring. Check out the Kunstmarkt Thorbeckepleinart market near the Rembrandtplein.
In Amsterdam, the nightlife is vibrant with numerous cocktail bars, brown and grand cafes, and coffee shops that allow marijuana smoking.
Most of the popular bars are found in the outskirts of the city, but Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein dominate the city center nightlife with bars like Bar Oldenholf, Bar Dvar, Doka, and Snappers, among many others.
Some popular hangouts:
- Cafe Luxembourg at the Spui, is a great cafe/bar for relaxing and people-watching.
- The nearby Luden restaurant (good and affordable)
- The Hoppe bar, a classic Amsterdam “brown bar”, is also at the Spui near the Luxembourg.
The famous red-light district is also known for its bars and cafes in addition to its adult entertainment establishments.
Amsterdam also has a vibrant and diverse party scene from techno clubs and live music venues to pubs and cafes.
Antwerp has a reputation for night fun, being an animated port city. There are lots of nice restaurants, cafés, and quirky pubs in the historic center.
Antwerp also has a great choice of bars and restaurants in other areas of the city, including along the river around the cruise terminal – such as Het Zuiderterras (glass building) and Noorderterras (more expensive) – and around the Grote Markt.
The area around the cathedral has live and historic restaurants and bars. One example is the Elfde Gebod (Eleventh Commandment) with its unique decor, great for a meal or a beer.
Beer Passion Weekend is a great event on Groenplaats (a secondary square) for tasting all sorts of beer.
The De Groote Witte Arend, just South of the cathedral, offers Belgian food at reasonable prices.
An excellent restaurant overlooking the harbor is the Zuiderterras. The Grand Café Leroy in the ‘t Zuid area has a really nice garden. You can also have a drink while listening to a DJ at café King Kong on Volkstraat avenue.
Het Gebaar, next to the botanical garden, is a very good restaurant though obtaining a reservation is not easy. The Jane is also a beautiful place but very hard to get into.
Travelers often recommend the De Vagant, Kulminator, Den Engel, Paters Vaetje, ‘t Oud Arsenaal and Bier Central, and ‘t Pakhuis brewery (very large bar/restaurant). The Jenever cafe has over 200 Belgian types of jenever liqueur (a local specialty).
The trendy ‘Eilandje’ neighborhood north of the city also has excellent bars and cafés. The ‘T Zuid area, South of the center, is a stylish (and expensive) area for bars and restaurants.
Amsterdam’s main shopping street is Kalverstraat with famous international brands (Zara, HM, etc). The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) is a charming area with many independent boutiques and vintage shops, while the Jordaan neighborhood has many art galleries and design shops.
Amsterdam is also famous for its outdoor markets, such as the Albert Cuyp Market, where you can find fresh produce, street food, and souvenirs.
Antwerp has great central shopping and is considered to have the best shopping in Belgium. The shopping areas primarily cater to locals rather not tourists.
The main shopping areas in Antwerp include the historic city center, the Meir area, Quartier Latin, Wilde Zee, the Fashion District, Het Zuid, and the Station District.
Antwerp is known for its high-end fashion and design scene with fashion houses such as Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and Raf Simons.
Amsterdam is an expensive city with lodging prices of up to € 150 for a little room. The Jordaan and Grachtengordel areas are among the most expensive to stay- attractive, trendy, and great to explore.
The Renaissance Amsterdam, the NH Barbizon Palace (well-regarded and convenient to the train station), and the IHG Crowne Plaza are great places to stay, located within walking distance of the central station, main shopping center, and tourist attractions.
The Die Port van Cleve Hotel is located right behind the Royal Palace & Dam Square. It has a bar and a restaurant well-known for its steaks.
Marcel’s Creative Exchange is a hip place to stay – Marcel is an artist who will guide you on the best things to see and do based on your tastes.
Many travelers choose to stay near the Antwerp Central train station, convenient for traveling to and from Paris or Amsterdam or for taking a day trip.
The Ibis Budget is often mentioned as an affordable, clean, and modern, albeit relatively basic option. It’s a short tram ride or a 15-20 minute walk away from the Grote Markt main square.
There are many other hotels of different categories around Antwerp central station. All are conveniently located, allowing you to quickly drop your luggage and walk to the city center for a day visit.
Travelers also frequently recommend the Hilton Antwerp Old Town, which is a 5-minute walk from the Grote Markt and boutique shopping areas. Old bars with a great atmosphere surround the hotel.
In general, hotels located in the area between the Italielei boulevard that wraps around the old town and the river are typically within walking distance of the center and have restaurants and bars around them.
Amsterdam has a very good train network if you want to take a day trip. Options include Utrecht (25 minutes by train), The Hague and Rotterdam (both 45 minutes by train). You can also visit Utrecht, and Eindhoven, or get lost in smaller cities.
Zaanse Schans (20-minute train ride) or Keukenhof (40 minutes train and bus ride) also make excellent day trips.
you can also take easy day trips to the Zandvoort beach resort or to ancient cities like Haarlem, Leiden or Delft. Zaanse Schans has nice windmills.
If you like seafood, spend a day in Scheveningen (a suburb of The Haag) which has great seafood, mussels, and raw herring, as well as a casino, clubs, and shops.
the Hoge Veluwe National Park is about an hour and a half drive from Amsterdam and hosts the world-renowned Kröller-Müller Museum which houses works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Piet Mondrian.
Since Antwerp is located in the heart of Belgium, it’s a good starting point for day trips to Brussels, Bruges (1.5h from Antwerp by train), Ghent (45-minute train ride), Mechelen (halfway between Antwerp and Brussels), Delft (two-hour train ride from Antwerp).
The western Netherlands and north and central Belgium have many charming smaller cities with good train connections between Amsterdam and Brussels.
If you like canals, you can check out Lier, another nice little town close to Antwerp known as “little Bruges”.