Touch Antwerp's cultural heart at the house where Antwerp's most illustrious son, the artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), lived and worked. A visit here is essential if you are fully to appreciate what you see elsewhere in the city. Far from being the stereotypical starving artist, Rubens amassed a tidy fortune from his paintings that allowed him to build this impressive mansion in 1610, along what was then a canal, when he was 33. Today you can stroll past the baroque portico into its reconstructed period rooms and through a Renaissance garden, and come away with a good idea of the lifestyle of a patrician Flemish gentleman of that era. Examples of Rubens's works, and others by master painters who were his contemporaries, are scattered throughout. In the dining room, look for a self-portrait painted when he was 47 years old, and in another room a portrait of Anthony Van Dyck as a boy. Rubens collected Roman sculpture, and some of the pieces in his sculpture gallery appear -- reproduced in amazing detail -- in his paintings. Don't just stay inside the house: The superb, restored ornamental garden from 1615 is well worth a stroll around, and a nice place to take a breather in spring and summer.
Note: Unless you want it as a souvenir, the English guide (2.50€/$3.15) is an unnecessary expense -- almost everything in it is listed on placards in the house.
The admission includes entry to the nearby Mayer van dan Bergh Museum, which houses art, tapestries, stained glass, and more, from the Medieval through the Renaissance eras. It isn't spectacular, but it has a nice collection, including a painting by Brueghel, in a 16th-century late Gothic building.