Last update: December 3, 2020
Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium. Located in the north of the country, it is the industrial centre of the Flemish region and is home to one of the busiest ports in Europe. It is a hub for expatriates from all over Europe who come to live and work in Antwerp. But what are the best districts of Antwerp to live and what do they offer expatriates?
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A bit of history
Antwerp is not Belgian at all, and the inhabitants prefer it that way. The city’s history is littered with pitfalls, from being (and still is) the main gateway to Europe for cocaine (the water supply contains more residual cocaine than anywhere else in the world) to the dark criminality of the diamond trade (which still exists, again). Despite billions of euros of European regeneration projects, Antwerp maintains a series of criminal activities under its glittering facades.
Most of the historic centre of Antwerp is pedestrianised. Away from the hustle and bustle of the port, Antwerp derives enormous income from tourism and most tourists find themselves in the labyrinthine alleys of the historic centre. This is not the best place for expatriates. It’s expensive because a large part of the accommodation is rented for tourism, but if you only visit the city for a short period, there is a lot to do in this area.
It is worth visiting Het Steen castle or getting lost in the Vlaeykensgang. Just south of the station is the Diamond District, known as the hub of the world diamond trade. Antwerp has hundreds of jewellers, brokers and diamond dealers. This is why it’s one of the best districts of Antwerp.
Het Eilandje definitely belongs in the best districts of Antwerp. This region is an ideal place for expatriates who want both a pleasant neighbourhood to live in and the proximity of the port to work in. Het Eilandje has a rich maritime history that continues to palpitate in the area after its renovation (20 years ago the area was desolate).
There is no shortage of bars and restaurants in the area, the architecture honours the maritime traditions of the region and, surrounded by water (Het Eilandje means «little island»), it is only a few steps away from the harbour. For expatriates who want to be close to the port, this is the best option to avoid the hell of Antwerp’s morning traffic.
The South (Zuid) of Antwerp is a trendy district, far away from the tourism of the historical centre, but with a lot to see and do. This area is relatively expensive to live in, but with a lower cost of living, where many locals live and work among many expatriates who also choose this area for its decent balance between cost and living.
There are weekend markets, galleries, museums and many excellent places to eat. Don’t expect to find typical Belgian cuisine here, the restaurants are very varied, from sushi bars to burgers. The Zuid is ideal for families, there are schools and the whole area is child-friendly, especially the Antwerp people who are very friendly with families. Truly one of the best districts of Antwerp.
Linkeroever is quieter, more peaceful, and certainly has fewer expatriates living there. I
It is a very residential area with some new construction and other areas that have become dilapidated. In fact, it is incredibly easy to reach the centre of Antwerp from here and the housing is much cheaper.
There are beautiful apartments that can be rented at low prices and staying here to work means easy access to the port and the city centre, without the constant bustle of tourists. All in all, it’s quiet, peaceful, residential.
You can easily reach Antwerp via the Waaslandtunnel by car, and on the other side there is easy access to the motorways to Ghent and Bruges. For expats who work and come to Antwerp for the port, it is an ideal location. But note that if you are young, on erasmus, and want to have fun, this is probably not the best place.
If this estate were a celebrity, it would be Natalie Portman. Beautiful, elegant, and with a hint of hipster. It’s also expensive, and for good reason. The streets in this neighborhood are very clean, the architecture is old and pretty, and the residents tend to be fairly young, well-to-do guys who enjoy a kale frittata on a café terrace.
Housing and rental prices are also higher here, but if you are looking for a place to live and are happy to spend the extra money, this is a very pleasant area of Antwerp.
Life on the outskirts
Expats who come to Antwerp to work may prefer to stay out of the city. Life here is much more typical of Belgium, the food is excellent, life is relaxed and quiet.
Antwerpenaren are comfortable with expatriates because so many people have come to live in Antwerp over the years, they are also uncomplicated (often interpreted as a dead end) and are not afraid to repeat themselves. And be affirmative, that is the Antwerp character. To fit is, this is one of the best districts of Antwerp.
Borgerhout and Berchem
These are very ethnically diverse eastern suburbs. Borgerhout is best known for the Turnhoutsebaan street, which is home to a large number of Moroccan restaurants and shops. Berchem and Borgerhout are in fact part of the city and the historic centre can even be reached on foot.
Further to the north-east is Deurne, which has the most Belgian character of all Antwerp’s outlying districts.
It is only recently (1983) that Wilrijk was integrated into the Antwerp metropolitan region. It’s quite far south and it’s very green. Because of its separation from Antwerp, it is also a very different place to live, with the annual goat festival as a highlight.
Lastly we have Mortsel which belongs to the best districts of Antwerp. 5-6 km from the city, Mortsel is a popular residential area. There are old buildings, parks and a small main street for shopping. It is notoriously difficult to reach the centre of Antwerp or the port in the morning via the N1.