Three Days in Mechelen

 In Europe, Go exploring

Mechelen is a small and very upcoming city in the heart of Flanders Belgium.  Also the city I am proud to call home, for the time being at least.

In the 16th century, the city was the capital of the Netherlands under Margaret of Austria, our oldest bar dates back to 1880, our inhabitants tried to extinguish the moon in the 17th century and our pride and joy the Saint Rumbolds cathedral was never finished due to lack of funds resulting in the iconic rectangular shaped building it is today. Suffice it to say, we are a crazy bunch

So, what does one do when they come to Mechelen? Read on as I fill three days for you, easy peasy!

The main square in Mechelen
The main square in Mechelen

Things to see inside of Mechelen

Day One – Arrive and explore Mechelen

Today it’s time to get to know the city, see the sights and experience some culinary delights while savouring the local beer.

Morning

Time to explore the inner city. The city is very walkable, as it only takes you about 30 min to get from the North to the South. There are a number of different ways you can explore. My personal preference is on foot!

Get a map from the tourist office and start exploring. The city is so small, that even I could not get lost – and that is rare!

Make sure to incorporate the following hidden locations: ‘t groen waterke (Goswin De Stassartstreet), Sinte Mette Plein and the walkway on the river Dyle.

There are a large number of guided walking tours too. You can tailor them to your own interests although they usually require a group of people. Find out everything here

Tip: On the major sights, there is always a plaque with information about the location you are visiting. 

Example of signs in the Beguinage
Example of signs in the Beguinage

Lunch

Weather permitting, have a picnic in the cozy park de Kruidtuin. This park is off the main shopping street (the Bruul) and is lovely to chill out in. Be sure to try out the local delicacies. Brewers Cheese (Shockaerts) – Bread (Broodbroeders)// Mechelse maantjes (Vanderbeek)// Beer Gouden Carolus (widely available in shops) // Madeliefjes (Vanderbeek)// Bokkepootjes (Vanderbeek)

My picnic turned out to come with great company
My picnic turned out to come with great company

Afternoon

When you think of Belgium, chances are high that the word “beer” pops into your mind. Mechelen has one of the oldest (working) breweries in the country, dating back to 1471. Het Anker brewery does a great 1,5h tour and you finish off  by trying 2 varieties of Gouden Carolus.

Degustation beer number one: Gouden Carolus Triple

Brewery the Anker is located on the ring, a 10-minute stroll from the center of town.

Where: Brewery The Anker, Guido Gezellelaan 49 2800 Mechelen
Entrance fee: 8€ a person (this includes 2 beers at the tasting)
More info: www.hetanker.be

The Brewery is conveniently situated in the Large Beguines of Mechelen, a UNESCO classified part of town. Take a stroll through these quaint cobblestone streets. Formerly the gathering place of beguines (lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world), nowadays it is a much coveted part of town to live in.

My favorite streets include: Acht-Zalighedenstraat, Krommestraat, Twaalf-Apostelenstraat.

Small streets & friendly locals
Small streets & friendly locals

Aperitif or pre dinner drinks

Go to the main square and marvel at the beautiful architecture. The many colors of the houses in front of the St Rumboldstower are stunning during the day, and even better at night when they are lit up. My favorite spot for a good aperitif is a wine bar called Unwined.

Excellent selection of wine, moderately priced and a terrace to sit outside both in the front and the back.  Check out http://www.unwined.be/ for opening hours/days.

Day Two – History & Shopping

Today we strike a balance between history and some good old fashioned retail therapy.

Morning

Another little hidden gem in Mechelen is the Carillon school, or in layman’s terms a school where they teach you to play the carillon (the bells) of a cathedral. This tour is usually only available upon appointment, and it’s best to have a small group. But don’t let that stop you, this is honestly one of my favorite activities in town!

The tour starts off in the actual school, where your guide will passionately explain what it takes to become a carillonist – newsflash: it takes 8 years and a lot of hard work.

Then it’s time to put your new found knowledge into practice in the St Rumbords Cathedral.

Up the winding staircase you go, all 500 and something steps of it, to come to the “oude beiaard”.  This spot is home to the oldest bell in the tower, it is older than the tower itself, dates back to the 15th century and is called the Jesus bell.

One more flight of stairs brings you to the “new beiaard”, which is where the real action happens. This is where the maestro carillonist creates his magic. Who knows, your guide might decide to treat you to a private concert and you will witness first-hand the passion with which these bells are played. It looks deceptively easy, I promise you it is anything but.

The last flight of stairs will take you all the way to the top of the tower and onto the glass walkway. This is the money shot, 360° degree views. See if you can spot the Atomium and the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady in Antwerp.

The tour of the carillon school and the Saint Rumbolds Cathedral should take around 2 hours, depending on the size of the group and the amount of questions that people have.

Learning about the inner workings of the bells
Beers at the top
Climbing 500 something stairs is worth it for a fresh beer

Practical:

In case you only want to visit the tower and not the carillon school:
Entrance fee tower: 8€ per person
Opening hours: Sunday to Friday: 13.00 – 18.00; Saturday: 10.00-18.00

  • Tip One: On the last Saturday of every month, you can watch the sunset over the tower and enjoy a fresh Gouden Carolus. The cost is around 16€ and you need to reserve in advance. For more info check out www.buitengewoonmechelen.be
  • Tip Two: Every Saturday between 11.30 and 12.30 and Sunday between 15.00 and 16.00 you can kick back and enjoy a concert of the carillon.

Lunch

Get yourself a healthy smoothie or salad at Fruitsi (on the main shopping street).

Afternoon

Spend the afternoon browsing the city’s main shopping streets: Bruul, Ijzerleen, and Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat. My favorite street is the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat as it contains a great selection of stores which will have you reaching for your wallet in no time.

Aperitif

Wander over to the Fishmarket and grab a drink on one of the many terraces. On Friday and Saturday this place is absolutely packed to the rafters and getting a spot might be a bit of a challenge.

Just some casual posing here on the Fishmarket
Just some casual posing here on the Fishmarket

Daytrips from Mechelen

Day Three – Let’s Get Active

The area around Mechelen is beautiful to explore, it’s lush and green and has three different rivers flowing through it. There are a couple of nice attractions slightly outside the city which are well worth a visit too.

Renting bikes
Biking routes around town

Some sights worth visiting on your bike:

  1. Bike to the whisky distillery Molenberg (9km). The distillery is part of the brewery “Het Anker” and opened up recently (2010). In a one-hour tour, you will learn about the history of the distillery, the process of making whisky and of course you end the tour with a tasting!
dsc_1262-boost
  1. Bike to the Wintergarden in OLV Waver (10 km). The Winter garden is located in a former convent, in which the children of the wealthy, upper class of Europe went to school.  The convent was built in the late 19th century and is in itself an amazing piece of architecture. Nowadays, anybody can go to school here. Guess what, I actually went here for 6 years! The Wintergarden was built in 1900 in a progressive art-nouveau style.  As a student, we visited this part of the school once (in the full 6 years I attended classes), under very strict supervision. At the time, I did not understand what the fuss was about. Recently, I had a chance to go back and boy was I impressed, inspired, and proud,  all wrapped up into one big bundle of emotions.  The location can only be visited with a guide. The price is 10€ for a 2h tour of the Wintergarden and the convent. The tour is run every Sunday at 14.30 and is held in English, Dutch or French.
Great Gatsby vibes in the Wintergarden
Could not resist a little twist and turn in my old school hallways
  1. For the cyclists. If you are more of an experienced cyclist and happen to have your own bike with you, the team at Peloton de Paris offer a weekly ride every Sunday. Pop into their store or have a look on their website for more info: https://www.pelotondeparis.cc/. Address: Hoogstraat 49, 2800 Mechelen

Activities to do when in rains in Mechelen

Belgium gets a lot of rain, especially in spring and autumn. This is something you need to factor in when looking into visiting. Always carry an umbrella, even when the day starts of sunny (you just never know).

So, you have come to Mechelen and it is pouring with rain. What can you possibly do?  Here is a list of possible activities that could keep you busy. These activities are not exclusive to rainy days of course!

  1. Visit a museum or the stunning Wintergarden
  2. Go for a drink in the oldest café in Mechelen
    • De Hanekeef
  3. Plan in a spa day

Useful Links:

General

  • Website of the city of Mechelen: https://visit.mechelen.be/en
  • Tourism office: Hallestraat 2-4-6 2800 Mechelen; T+32 70 22 00 08; visit@mechelen.be

Things to see

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Guide of things to do in Mechelen
Things to see in Mechelen Belgium
Guide for things to do in Mechelen Belgium
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