Mechelen is a historically important city located on the river Dyle in the center of Flanders, one of the three regions in Belgium. It lies about halfway between Antwerp and Brussels and has approximately 80,000 inhabitants.
Though now in the shadow of Brussels, Mechelen is a historically important city in its own right. From 1506 to 1530 it was the capital of the Netherlands under Margaret of Austria. In 1559 it became an archbishopric, a sign of great importance. It was famous for its wood carvings, some of which can still be seen in the churches of the city, and for lace and tapestry manufacture.
Today it is a vibrant town, mixing trendy and traditional. Its carillon school is world-renowned, training students from all over the world in the art of playing carillons, sets of 24 or more bells hung in church towers. Shops downtown are often housed in buildings with the old-style Flemish architecture, but offer edgy fashions sure to appeal to the younger generation.
Mechelen is developing into the center of non-profit or non-governmental organizations for Flanders. Some famous examples are Natuurpunt, AFS, and the Red Cross. This is mainly because it's very easily reachable (by train or by highway) but not as expensive as Brussels.
Inhabitants are called "Maneblussers" (moon-extinguishers). The story goes that one day long time ago the moonlight was shining on the unfinished St.-Romboutstoren and that some people thought it was burning. The whole city was mobilized to extinguish the fire but there was no fire to extinguish.
Mechelen has his own local encyclopedia, called Mechelen Mapt, written in Dutch with short translations in English.
- 1 Mechelen station, Koning Albertplein 2. The main train station of Mechelen with many connections in all directions, including an hourly direct link to the nearest airport, Brussels Zaventem.
- 2 Mechelen-Nekkerspoel station. Secondary station of Mechelen. This station is located slightly closer to the historical center, so this station may be convenient if you want to start your visit in this part of Mechelen. However, check if your train stops here because most fast trains don't.
You can also reach by taking a bus from Antwerp. Just outside the main train station you'll find a bus station with connections to many places in the vicinity.
Mechelen lies at the E19-highway.
The city center is about 15 minutes walk from the train station. Mechelen is a very compact city, so you can reach most places on foot. There are a few bus routes through and radiating from the city center in case you need them.
- 1 St. Rumbold's Cathedral (Sint-Romboutskathedraal), Onder-den-Toren 12. 08:30-17:30. The largest of the 8 churches in Mechelen, with a high tower (though not as high as originally planned - construction stopped early due to lack of money). Notable works of art include the carved wood pulpit from 1723, painted triptychs dating to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and an image of "Our Lady of Miracles" which has been in the cathedral since the early 16th century. The cathedral is part of a multi-site UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tower: €8/adult, Church: free.
- 2 Market Square (Grote Markt). The cathedral cutting across one end and the City Hall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) at the opposite end, with restaurants and cafes lining the sides between the two.
- 3 Dossin Barracks (Dossinkazerne), Goswin de Stassartstraat 153, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M, Tu, Th, F: 9:00—17:00. Sa-Su: 9:30—17:00. Closed W. This museum and memorial opened in 2012. It documents the history of the holocaust and human rights. The barracks (Dutch: kazerne) were a waiting place for Jews from all over Belgium and northern France. Here they litterally awaited their deportation to death camps. There is a toilet available for disabled persons. €10 regular, €4 for students up to 21, free for children until the age of 10.
- 4 Palace of Margaret of Austria (Hof van Savoye). An unassuming set of buildings on Keizerstraat that was effectively the seat of government during Mechelen's time as capital of the Netherlands. Today it houses government offices, but the interior courtyard is worth a brief visit to admire the tranquil and well-organized gardens.
- 5 Palace of Busleyden (Hof van Busleyden), Frederik de Merodestraat 65. Expected to reopen 23 March 2018. Hieronymus of Busleyden afforded himself this eponymous Court in a rich renaissance style, making it one of the most beautiful buildings in Mechelen. Destroyed during the Second World War, it was rebuilt to house the municipal museum, which as of 2017 is undergoing refurbishment. €9 regular, €5 for -26, free for children under 12.
- 6 St. Jean Church (Sint-Janskerk). Daily 13:30—17:30 except M and during services. One of the 8 historic churches in Mechelen, with a notable Reubens painting/triptych "Adoration of the Magi". The painting of the crucifixion by Wauters is also very impressive.
- 7 Beguinage Church (Begijnhofkerk). Another of the churches, is known for the two statues above the door, one of Saint Catherine and one of God the Father.
- 8 Refuge of the Abbey of Tongerlo. Historically the refuge for the abbey in times of attack, it is now the home of De Wit, royal manufacturers of tapestry. There are guided visits on Saturday mornings at 1030.
- 9 16th Century Houses (Cross the river in front of the Vismarkt and turn right.). The three surviving timber houses have elaborate carvings on the front elevations. The houses are privately owned.
- 10 Toy Museum (Speelgoedmuseum).
- 11 Clocks and watches Museum (Horlogeriemuseum), Lange Schipstraat 13. Privately run museum where the owners, both watchmakers, give you a very interesting personal tour. Do come an hour before closing time to be able to have the full tour and explanations.
- 12 Technopolis, Technologielaan, ☏ . Open every day 9:30—17:00. Hands on science museum for kids of all ages. Adults or children over 12 years old: €9.50; Children (3-11 years old): €7; Children under the age of 3: Free.
- 13 Vrijbroekpark.
- Take a boat cruise along the waterways. The 45 minute trip costs €6. Departures are every hour on the half hour, from Haverwerf.
- Get to the tourist information center on the main square or Grote Markt and follow one of their recommended walking tours.
- 1 Planckendael Animal Park, Leuvensesteenweg 582, ☏ . Just outside Mechelen in Muizen. Located on the road towards Leuven. During July, August and in weekends during the warmer period of the year a special bus service, called Planckendael Express, connecting the Mechelen railway station and Planckendael operates regularly.
- 2 UGC's Cinema Mechelen, Spuibeekstraat 5, ☏ . This is the largest cinema in the Mechelen area. Movies are usually subtitled in French and Dutch.
- 3 De Nekker, Nekkerspoel Borcht 19, ☏ . This is a sport and recreation area governed by the Antwerp province. This makes a nice spot for open air swimming in summer or outdoor sports. €4,50 regular, reduced fares for children younger than 12.
- Weekly one-hour carillon concerts on the Sint-Rombouts tower carillon occur Saturdays at 11:30 and Sundays at 15:00 all year. During the summer (roughly June to September) there are additional concerts on Monday evenings; for these, carillonneurs from all over the Low Countries, as well as overseas, are invited to play.
- Maanrock. On the Grote Markt and in the IJzerenleen. End of August. A 2-day free festival featuring several stages of music and DJs, starting early in the afternoon and running till early morning.
- The main shopping streets are Bruul and IJzerenleen, both radiating out from the Market Square.
- There are several chocolate shops near the Grote Markt, but try the local one, Gauthier, on the IJzerenleen; it's very good and not as pricey as Neuhaus. They also have some spice cakes and cookies.
- If you're around on a Saturday morning there's an open market in the Grote Markt and the Botermarkt. There are a lot of food stands (cheese, meat, seafood, produce, some prepared food) but also some others (basic clothing, shoes, linens).
- There's a Match supermarket on Haverwerf, if you need supplies for self-catering. The Smatch on the Blauwhondstraat (between IJzerenleen and Bruul, near the Grote Markt) is smaller but is open Sunday mornings.
- 1 Hete Patat, Nieuwwerk 1, ☏ . Has some Turkish inspired cuisine. They specialize in stuffed potatoes of many varieties. They are conveniently located just behind the Cathedral off of the Grote Markt.
- 2 De Cirque, Vismarkt 8, ☏ . Offers pasta, steaks and salads. No English menus are available, (applies to Mechelen generally) but staff are helpful and will translate.
- 3 [formerly dead link] Intermezzo, IJzerenleen 36, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Nice Brussels waffles and other desserts.
- 1 Brewery Het Anker (Brouwerij Het Anker), Guido Gezellelaan 49 (On the ringway around the city center), ☏ . Features locally brewed Mechelse Bruynen and Gouden Carolus. Don't miss the opportunity to try some of their own jenever called Ouwe Klare or the beer chocolates. They also have a small shop where they sell their products. They have tours some weekends. It is wise to call ahead and ask specifically what will be available during your trip.
- 2 Als ik mijn ogen toedoe, ben ik in Honoloeloe (Honoloeloe), Grote Markt 11, ☏ . M-Th: 11:00-00:00. F, Sa: 11:00-02:00. Su: 11:00-18:00. Popular bar among the local youth. This is usually the place they start a night out. There are also several small dishes available if you are hungry. Upstairs is a cosy sitting corner.
- Various cafes on the Vismarkt
- 1 Zandpoort Youth Hostel, Zandpoortvest 70, ☏ , fax: . Zandpoortvest, More info and online booking on. 20 min. from the main train station, 15 min. from the city center. €20-31.
- 2 Hotel 3 Paardekens. from €62.
- 3 Best Western Gulden Anker. from €59.
- 4 Hotel Brouwerij Het Anker. from €72.
- 5 Holiday Inn Express Mechelen City Centre. from €64 (breakfast included).
- 6 Mercure Mechelen Vé, Vismarkt 14, ☏ , fax: . A stylish hotel on one of the most ancient markets of Mechelen: the fish market. The hotel is constructed in a factory where they used to smoke fish, but has a trendy, modern feel. Starting at €79.
- 7 NH Mechelen, Korenmarkt, 22-24, ☏ . In the historical part of the city. Rooms from €65.
- 8 Novotel Mechelen, Van Beethovenstraat 1. Starting at €69.
- 9 Hobbit Hotel Mechelen, Battelsesteenweg 455, ☏ . Far from the city. Room fares starting at €70
- 10 Martin's Paterhof, Karmelietenstraat 4, ☏ . This hotel is built in a former church (!) which offers some very original and unique settings. They are also have family rooms available. from €89.
- 11 Hotel VixX, Muntstraat 11, ☏ . Featuring unusual design. from €85.
- 12 Hotel Malcot, Leuvensesteenweg 236, ☏ . on the outskirts of the town from €100.
- 13 Parkhotel Montreal, Duivenstraat 56, ☏ . In a park surrounded by lakes out of town, but close to the A1 motorway. from €130.
- 14 The Red Spot, Vijfhoek 14, ☏ . Self-catering suites from €129.
- 15 Hotel Den Grooten Wolsack, Wollemarkt 16, ☏ , fax: . A comfortable hotel in the centre, behind St Rumbold's Cathedral. Staff are most helpful and very friendly. From €94.
- 16 Lithium, Bed Zen Breakfast, Trianonlaan 11, 2812 Muizen (Mechelen), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Luxurious B&B located a few kilometers outside Mechelen, close to the channel to Leuven. The four rooms all are named after the grandparents of the owners and inspired by their travels to far and exotic destinations. A spa, pool and gym are also available. Bicycles and electrical scooters available for rent. From €139.
While Mechelen used to have one of the highest crime rates in Flanders, it is safe to walk through Mechelen now. The city has improved much over the last years, especially in the tourist areas. You may want to keep out of the outskirts at night, though, but there is not much to do there anyway.
The city phone code for Mechelen is 015.
- Antwerp — Major port town north of Mechelen, with a large shopping, diamond and fashion scene.
- Brussels — The lively and diverse national capital is only a short train ride away.
- Leuven — Nearly as lively as Antwerp or Brussels is this college town, home to one of the world's oldest universities is here. Many hotels also cater to businessmen who wish not to stay in Brussels.
- Lier — Nearby small town with some medieval sights.