Three Days in Mechelen
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!
What to do in Mechelen
1. Explore the Beguinage (Small and Large) of Mechelen
Welcome to the most quaint part of the city – think European fairytale! This is one of my personal highlights of all the things to do in Mechelen. The beguinage is characterised by small houses and cobblestone streets (The merrits of wearing sneakers will become painfully clear, trust me). The neighborhood is dotted with religious iconography, a reminder of the religious nature of this part of town.
You see, these little houses were the home of the beguines. Beguines being religious women who chose to live together in a community but for some reason never decided to take the religious vows (e.g. to become them nuns).
As the houses are small, locals will gather outside during the summer to converse and escape the heat. There is a wonderful community spirit, that can be felt while walking through the little alleys. Don’t be shy and say “hi” when crossing a local, who knows they might strike up a conversation and tell you a little more about their home.
My favorite streets include: Acht-Zalighedenstraat, Krommestraat, Twaalf-Apostelenstraat.
2. Climb the Saint Rumbolds Cathedral & visit the Carillon school
Mechelen has the only Carillon school of the country. Perhaps not one of the most obvious things to do in Mechelen, but an essential part of the history of the city. The tour starts off in the actual school, where your guide will passionately explain what it takes to become a carillonist. This activity is only possible upon prior reservation.
Next up it’s time take a closer look at the bells inside the tower. There is only one way to go, and that is up the winding staircase inside the cathedral. Up the winding staircase you go, all 500 and something steps of it.
The last flight of stairs will take you all the way to the top of the tower and onto the glass walkway. The view is one of the most beautiful things to see in Mechelen: 360° degree views. See if you can spot the Atomium and the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady in Antwerp.
Practical details for visiting Saint Rumbolds Cathedral:
Entrance fee tower: 8€ per person
Opening hours: Sunday to Friday: 13.00 – 18.00; Saturday: 10.00-18.00
Duration: 2 hours
Warning: The staircase inside the cathedral is narrow and counts more than 500 stairs. If you suffer from vertigo or any other type of ailment that makes walking difficult, my recommendation would be to visit the cathedral itself instead of climbing up the tower.
3. Visit a local brewery: Het Anker Mechelen
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. The brewery het Anker in Mechelen does a great 1,5h tour and you finish off by trying 2 varieties of Gouden Carolus. The brewery has an excellent brasserie (restaurant) on site where you can try a variety of traditional Belgian dishes, made with the beer brewed on site.
Practical details for visiting Het Anker Mechelen
Entrance Fee: Starts at €11 for a tour
Address: Guido Gezellelaan 49, 2800 Mechelen
4. Visit the Art Nouveau Wintergarden
If you have a little more time in Mechelen, consider renting a bicycle and ride to the Winter Garden of the Urselinen in the town of O.L.V Waver. The Winter Garden is located in a former convent, in which the children of the wealthy, upper class of Europe went to school. It truly is one of the most beautiful buildings to see in Mechelen.
The Winter Garden itself was built in 1900 in a progressive Art-Nouveau style. The highlight in the space is the kaleidoscope of colours illuminating the room as the sun hits the stained glass windows that are all around this beautiful garden. If architecture is your jam, put the Winter Garden at the top of your list of things to see in Mechelen – it is worth the 10km bike ride.
Practical details for visiting the Wintergarden
Entrance Fee: €10 for a 2hour tour of the Wintergarden and the convent
Timing: The tour is run every Sunday at 14.30 and is held in English, Dutch or French.
Location: Bosstraat 9, O.L.V Waver (10 km outside of Mechelen)
Getting There: Rent a bike for half a day. This will only set you back a couple of euros!
5. Walk along the Dyle path through the city
If you are looking to get a different perspective when visiting Mechelen, a walk on the river Dyle might just do the trick. The Dyle path runs between the Haverwerf and the Kruidtuin (Botanical garden). It is wheelchair accessible (ramps are available to get on and off the path) and makes for a lovely little walk.
6. Grab a Belgian beer in the oldest bar in Mechelen
On your list of things to do in Mechelen, a visit to the Hanekeef bar cannot be omitted. This local establishment has been around since 1886 and started of as a grocer – who happened to serve a little Jenever (a juniper-flavoured liquor that to this day is served typically around Christmas time). The interior of the bar oozed tradition and is dotted with plenty of roosters (“Hanen” are the Flemish word for Roosters).
Address: Keizerstraat 8, 2800 Mechelen
Tip: Why not order a Jenever, or alternatively a Gouden Carolus (the local beer)
7. Discover the Haverwerf of Mechelen: The most colourful part of the city!
Paris has it’s Rue Crémieux, London has Notting Hill and Mechelen has the Haverwerf. If you are looking for the most colourful thing to se in Mechelen, a visit to the Haverwerf is exactely what the doctor prescribed. The three beautifully coloured houses date all the way back to the 16th century and have stood the test of time remarkably well. The little houses are respectively called – from left to right- Saint Joseph, The Devil and Paradise.
The houses itself cannot be visited, but that should not stop you from walking by and marvelling at the intricate details covering the façades.
8. Hunt down the coolest street art in Mechelen
A couple of years ago, the city of Mechelen decided to commission a handful or artists to bring a splash of color to the city in the form of murals. The various murals are dotted across the city and make for a cool walk called “Mechelen Muurt”. Strap on our walking shoes, download the map and start your treasure hunt for murals!
I might be slightly biased, but this activity alone is worth jumping on the train/in the car and coming to visit Mechelen. Tell me I am wrong!
9. Have a picnic at one of the local parks in Mechelen
The beauty of Mechelen is the abundance of green spaces within the city, or within walking distance from the centre of town. The green spaces are well maintained and a popular spot to hang-out for locals. In springtime the blossoms on the trees tend to burst open carrying a beautiful floral fragrance through the air. On a hot summers day there is nothing better to do in Mechelen than enjoy a relaxing break in the park.
Each park has their own specific reason to visit, this overview might help you choose:
- Tivoli Park: A little bit more outside of town, this park contains a small animal farm and it’s very own castle.
- Kruidtuin: The park located smack in the centre of town. During the week you can catch kids from the nearby high school chilling out.
- Vrijbroek Park: This is the largest park, and has 2 small lakes, a rose garden, a wild flower garden, a bar/restaurant (that serves pretty good mussels) and a dog park.
- The Silent Garden: One of the newest green areas to open to the public. The silent garden is located in the gardens of the Archiepiscopal Palais. It is a little oasis of tranquillity which offers beautiful views of the Saint Rumboldstower. Be sure to check the opening hours as it is only open on selective days for a few hours a time.
10. Grote Markt Mechelen & Ijzerleen – Gable house hunting
An iconic feature of European cities is the urban planning – a large main square with little streets running to and from the square. History has taught us that the function of the square was to hold the daily open-air market of the that cities. It stands to reason that the buildings around the central square were amongst the most intricately built, one had a reputation to uphold!
The city of Mechelen is no different, the central square has some of the cities most majestic buildings:
- The Saint Rumbolds Cathedral
On the original plans the tower supposed to be completed with a spire – That is, until the money ran out! Learn about how the inhabitants of the city got the nickname “moon extinguishers” and the role this famous tower had to play.
- City Hall – Turn your back to the tower and look at the exquisite buildings across the square. City Hall of Mechelen consists of two buildings: On the left you will see the Palace of the Great Council and on the right you will see the old Cloth Hall with the unfinished belfry. Lack of funds were, once again, the driving factor for the unfinished building. The belfry is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Take a left from the city square and wander past the statue of Margaret of Austria, and the tourism office of Mechelen (located in Het Schepenhuis) and walk onto the Ijzerenleen. The boulevard has plenty of nice shops, restaurants and places to grab a coffee, nothing special there. The real magic of this street lies not at eye-height, but about 3 stories up – you got it, the gabled rooves!
If you are looking for things to do in Mechelen with a historical context, the city offers guided walks with detailed explanation on the history of the city on a daily basis. Be sure to book in advance!
Getting to Mechelen
Public Transport to Mechelen
When visiting Mechelen you might consider taking public transport to get to the city. Getting to Mechelen by train or bus is relatively easy from any of the major cities in the country due to its geographical location.
Mechelen is located on the main train route Brussels – Antwerp, with multiple trains leaving from either city per hour. The city is a comfortable 20 minute train ride from both Brussels and Antwerp. Mechelen has two train stations: Mechelen & Mechelen Nekkerspoel, you will want to get off at the central station – Mechelen.
Make your way out of the station and walk 10 minutes to get one of the main things to do in Mechelen – the beautiful central square of the city.
Parking in Mechelen
Taking the car to visit Mechelen instead? No problem, there are ample parking spaces (both free & paid) in and around the city. During the weekend the tariffs of the outdoor parking in the city is reduced. Get an overview of all the free and paid parking in Mechelen.
Eating out in Mechelen
Lunch in Mechelen
Mechelen is slowly but surely developing a prolific food scene; vegetarian & vegan restaurants sit together next to upscale butchers and authentic traditional Belgian restaurants – there is something for everyone. I would venture that when you are making up your list of things to do in Mechelen, booking enough time to explore the culinary scene should not be omitted.
You may be visiting Mechelen for a day trip, in which case your quest will be to find the best place for lunch in Mechelen. There are plenty of places to choose from but these are my trop three lunch restaurants in Mechelen:
- De Vleeshalle: An upscale food court with 13 different food stalls. Caters to vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians.
- Lief: A stones throw away from the station, Lief works with local ingredients and works actively to reduce their environmental impact. Think quinoa salads, smoothie bowls and Tumeric latté. Suitable for vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians.
- Sister Bean: Tucked away in a corner of the most lively square of the city, the Fish Market. There is an ample selection of sandwiches, quiches, salads, pancakes and whatever your stomach might desire. Caters towards vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians.
Restaurants in Mechelen for dinner
Happen to be visiting Mechelen for a weekend? Or simply looking for a place to go for dinner in Mechelen? Have a look at these local restaurants in Mechelen to provide some inspiration:
- Cosma: The cuisine is based upon the principles of Ottolenghi – plenty of fresh ingredients with vegetables playing a key role in a Mediterranean style cooking. The concept is simple: One main (usually fish/meat) and three side dishes of choice (vegetarian), alternatively as a vegetarian you can stick to three of four side dishes.
- Magma: Magma is a sustainable restaurant in Mechelen which focusses on nourishing healthy dishes where locally grown vegetables play the central role and bonus point the veggies are roasted on a proper woodfire oven. Suitable for vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians.
- Pintxos: The restaurant in Mechelen with the absolute best interior and most inviting concept to share with a romantic partner. The cuisine is a mixture of all different styles, in tapas size portions. Ingredients are local, fresh and seasonal. Caters to vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Where to stay in Mechelen
Spending a weekend in Mechelen? The above restaurants recommendations will sure to keep your belly full but what about a good place to sleep? Below recommendations should provide the perfect place to sleep in Mechelen.
- Martin’s Patershof: The most unique hotel in the city, an old church that has been expertly converted to a cozy luxury hotel. Conveniently located in the centre of the city (5 min walk from the main square).
- Van Der Valk Hotel Mechelen: Another cool hotel, this one used to be the old swimming pool of the city and has now been converted into a beautiful luxury hotel with ample parking and easy access. Located 20 min walk from the central station and 15 min walk from the main square.
- Hotel Brouwerij het Anker: A room in the local brewery? Yep, that is possible in Mechelen. Het Anker is the award winning Brewery of Mechelen located 15 min walk from the main square. They have built part of the brewery to house a comfortable hotel and restaurant. Super cozy, with plenty of parking space and close to the beer!
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