My wife and I will be in Antwerp for seven days in early October. We already have booked a train for a day in Amsterdam and are looking for some smaller regional cities/towns near Antwerp that we can access by train. Just looking to see if you folks out there have any favorites? Some folks have suggested Leuven but others say it is just okay. I would love to hear your thoughts?
The only two I’ve visited are Bruges and Ghent.
I personally don't see Amsterdam as close enough for a good daytrip from Antwerp. Amsterdam is a very attractive city that is good for a week-long stay, including similar short daytrips within the nearby Netherlands. It also has a lot of air connections, so it's easy for many travelers to get there alone, or as part of a longer trip.
We don't know enough about you two and your previous travels to comment on whether you would like Leuven. Despite a big fire 100 years ago, I really like it. It has one of my favorite Beguinhofs, although it's far enough from downtown to call for a local bus ride. The cathedral and the exterior of the city hall are both lovely. There's a nice town art museum with a good little collection. The interior of the city hall is only available once a week on Sunday, tickets from the TI office, AFAIK. The university formerly known as the The Catholic University of ... makes for a youthful (and less expensive) atmosphere. The exterior of the University library is important because it's a landmark that has been destroyed twice in war, and rebuilt identically. The town could be said to be convenient to BRU. But all of the cities in the area are easy to get to by unreserved local trains.
Mechelen. just 20 minutes by train from Antwerp, is a historic city that, like Bruges and Ghent, grew wealthy from the cloth trade during the Middle Ages. It has a large Grote Markt that is pedestrian-only and a massive cathedral in the center of town.
Ghent is my first choice, but if you are set on a slightly smaller town, then I second Mechelen. We day tripped there and it was enjoyable. Not “Ghent” enjoyable but good nonetheless.
My first link above includes replies to a visitor who specifically targeted Mechelen. I once took the city bus from Rooseveltplein (Antwerp) to Mechelen, just for variety, and sightseeing. I think I saw some developments with modern thatched roofs on single-family detatched houses on that ride.
Except for the Grote Markt, Mechelen is a subtle beauty. I was lucky enough to find a temporary art show about homeboy painter Rik Wouters and his father, a wood carver. I ran across this beer article today: