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Brussels and Antwerp are popular cities in Belgium but in the middle of those two big cities you find a beautiful place called Mechelen. You should spend one or more nights in this overlooked city. There is so much to do in and around Mechelen. You will never get bored in this vivid, cozy city.
Must do in Mechelen
There is something for everybody in and around Mechelen. You can learn about the history, visit museums, go shopping and much more.
You can do a lot in Mechelen, there are many must do’s in Mechelen of course it depends on your preferences. Mechelen also has its own website with a lot of information about what to do, where to eat, etc.
Things you should visit and do in Mechelen are:
- City walks
- Street art walk
- Large market Mechelen
- Town hall
- Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral (Dutch: Sint-Romboutskathedraal)
- Brewery ‘het Anker’
- Museum Dossin
- Palace of Margaret of Austria (Dutch: Paleis Margareta van Oostenrijk)
- Large beguinage
- Brussels gate
- Sint-Jozef – De Duiveltjes – Het Paradijske
- Mechelen by boat
City walks are the best way to visit a city. When doing a city walk you pass by all the highlights of Mechelen. You can find a nice city walk on this website. It’s possible to get the guide for free on this website with two walks in the city. You just have to fill in your email address and they will send you a guide with two beautiful walks in the city of Mechelen. First, there is the historical city walk which takes around four hours (7.2 km walk), where you pass by all the highlights. The other walk you find in the free guide is a street art walk.
So, during this walk you’ll pass by all the highlights, and you can visit those highlights if you want. You can find the Grand Market of Mechelen in the city center. Here you already find a lot of highlights. There is a square where you find the Town Hall and a lot of other old buildings with beautiful facades. The town hall is really impressive because it’s three buildings in one. It’s three different architectural styles from different periods. The three buildings are called Belfry, the Palace of the Grand Council and the Cloth Hall.
If you want an amazing view over the city, you should ascend the Sint-Rumbold’s tower. The tower is 97 meters (318 feet) and counts more than 500 steps; this means it takes around 20 minutes to get to the top, but the view is worth it. It’s opened every day and you pay a small entrance fee. You can find all the information of the opening hours and prices here.
Interesting to know is that the Sint-Rumbold Cathedral is from the 15th century, and it has incredible art. In the baroque interior there is a painting called ‘The Crucifixion’ which is painted by the famous Anthony Van Dyck.
Fun to know: Mechelen has a city beer called ‘Maneblusser’, litteraly translated ‘moon extinguisher’. This comes from a legend. You can read the story in several books or on the internet. In short, it is about a man who stepped out of a pub, and he raises the alarm because he thought the tower of Mechelen was on fire. The whole city started to move, and the alarm bell was rung. Soon they went to put out ‘the fire’ on the tower. What transpired was that the tower was not on fire at all, but the moonlight gave this impression.
Another way to get an amazing view over the city is by taking a guided tour in the brewery ‘het Anker’. This brewery is in the city center and is easy to reach by foot. You get all the information about the history of the brewery, the beer and you get a free view over the city during the tour. The tour takes around one hour and a half. After the tour you can also taste the beer (it’s included in the price of the tour) and if you want you can eat something in the restaurant (it’s better to book a table in advance). You can find everything you need to know for a visit on their website.
Kazerne Dossin is a museum about World War II and it’s a memorial center for the Holocaust. Around 25,000 people were transported from these barracks to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau during the war. If you want to learn what happened you should visit the museum, you can find all the information on their website.
In the center of Mechelen you can find the palace of Margaret of Austria. If you like you can visit the palace that was once from Margaret. She was the Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands in the beginning of the 16th century.
During your walk in Mechelen you must walk along the ‘Dijlepad’. ‘Dijlepad’ is a path that floats on the Dijle river and it goes from the fish market (Dutch: Vismarkt) to the Botanical Garden. During the walk you see some beautiful buildings and you walk under bridges.
Some other places you should pass by during your walk are the Botanical Garden, the Large beguinage, Brussels Gate and three remarkable houses called ‘Sint-Jozef’, ‘De Duiveltjes’ and ‘Het Paradijske’.
Another way to discover Mechelen is by boat. It’s a boat trip on the Dijle river. You depart from the Haverwerf. If you like to do a boat tour you can find all the information about departure, prices, etc. here
Our experience for two days in Mechelen
We always love to go to Mechelen because it’s such a vivid city. Even though it’s vivid it’s not overcrowded like some cities in Belgium. Mechelen is the ideal get-away with your friends, family or your partner. Strolling around the streets, relaxing by the Dijle river, eat or drink something in one of the trendy restaurants or bars, etc. I could go on, but you have to go there yourself to understand the city.
You can visit Mechelen for a day, but we think it’s nicer to stay one night or more to experience the nightlife in Mechelen. In the evening the ‘Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral’ gets lit up which is stunning and there are some nice bars where you can drink something.
There are a lot of places where you can spend the night. We already slept in ‘Martin’s Patershof’, which is a hotel located in a former church.
Another hotel we already stayed in is ‘Elisabeth Hotel’ which has amazing views over the city. If you want, you can get a room with a view over the cathedral, which is incredible. Even if you don’t get a room with a view, you have beautiful views over the city if you take the stairs. Besides the views and the cozy decoration there is also a vibrant bar and a relaxing pool, ideal for a getaway. Did I already mention that this hotel is on less than 200m from the city center?
There are many places where you can eat or drink something in Mechelen. ‘Bar Klak’ is a bar where we drank something in the evening. If you like to drink something with a view, this is the place to be. While sipping your drink, you can gaze over the Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral. The place where we had dinner is called ‘Local table & tap’. It’s a food & drink sharing concept. We loved the fact that it’s local food and you have options for everybody. You can order something with meat, fish or vegetarian. You can also ask information about allergens.
What to do around the city
Besides the city center there is also a lot to discover in the neighborhood of Mechelen.
If you like to walk around in parks, this park is ideal to relax and enjoy nature.
Mechels Broek and Blaasveldbroek
These are two nature reserves in the suburbs of Mechelen. The access and parking are free.
Here you can learn everything about science and technology. You learn it in a fun way, whether you’re a child or an adult you will definitely remember this trip. You can find all the information on their website.
This fort was built between 1906 and 1913. It was used as a defensive belt around Antwerp (WWI). During WWII it was used by the Nazis as a reception camp for prisoners of war and Jews. Now it’s a memorial and museum. It’s one of the best-preserved prison camps in whole Europe. On their website you find some more information about this fort and how to visit.
If you want to visit this zoo, you should calculate a whole day and just enjoy all the beautiful animals. For extra information, check out their website.
Leuven, Brussel en Antwerpen
These three cities are near Mechelen and are easy to visit from Mechelen.
So Mechelen has a lot to offer. Both in the city and around. We will definitely go back to discover more in and around Mechelen.