Mechelen, Belgium: Flemish hidden treasures


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Picture of St. Rumbold's Cathedral on the market square in Mechelen, Belgium
St. Rumbold's Cathedral on the market square

Mechelen, Belgium

Mechelen is a city in the province of Antwerp, located north of Brussels in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is strategically located between Brussels and Antwerp, and although it is not as well known as Ghent or Bruges for tourism, it has around 300 protected monuments, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It really is one of Belgium's little-known treasures!

A short history of Mechelen

Mechelen was first mentioned in the inventory of lands belonging to the East Frankish kingdom in 870. It was Christianised in the 8th century by St. Rumboldt, a monk from Ireland who was martyred in the city. As a result, an abbey and cathedral were built in his memory. In the 15th century, Mechelen became the administrative capital of the Burgundian Netherlands under Charles the Bold. Later, power passed to his wife's granddaughter, Margaret of Austria. As governor of the Netherlands, she transformed the court of the city into one of the most elegant of her time. During this period, Mechelen flourished as fine buildings were constructed and great masters of various disciplines moved to the city. Marguerite was tutor to the children of her late brother, Philip the Fair, including Charles V, who took his first steps and learned various disciplines from Burgundian and Castilian masters. During the two world wars, the city suffered considerable damage, although several of its main monuments were later rebuilt.

Picture of the Ijzerenleen, one of the most beautiful streets in Mechelen, Belgium
Ijzerenleen, one of the most beautiful streets in Mechelen

Where is Mechelen?

Mechelen is only 30 km from Brussels and the journey time by car is approximately 30 minutes. If you would like to rent a car, click here for the broadest selection at the best price. However, the option we recommend as the most comfortable and economical is to take a train from Brussels, a 20-minute trip with a more than interesting frequency (every 10 or 20 minutes). A 10-ticket train ticket called the Standard Multi (Rail Pass), valid throughout Belgium, is available for just over 80 euros and can be shared, allowing you to make stopovers all along the main route at no extra cost. Finally, if you're travelling during the weekend or on a public holiday it's best to buy the weekend ticket which for example costs around EUR 5.80 for a return trip Brussels-Malines. Finally, if you are interested in evaluating different options on how to get to Mechelen from any city, we recommend you to make your searches from the widget below.

Getting around the city of Mechelen

Only 1.2 km separate the central station from the Grote Markt (the large market square). For this reason, we recommend walking as it is a short and beautiful walk. Another option is to use public transport, in particular bus number 1 of the state-owned bus company "De Lijn", which makes the journey in 8 minutes. For this you can use either a Lijnkaart travel card or the mobile app (our preferred option). The advantage of using the app is that in addition to being more practical, the tickets are much cheaper than buying them at the machines or directly on the bus. Here is the link to download the mobile app.

Top attractions in Mechelen

  1. The Market Square (Grote Markt) is a square in the heart of the old town surrounded by typical Flemish buildings. Every Saturday morning it hosts a traditional market with foodstuffs and handicrafts.

  2. Picture of the town hall of Mechelen, Belgium
    Mechelen Town Hall (Mechelen Stadhuis)
  3. Mechelen City Hall (Mechelen Stadhuis): it is located on the Market Square and its construction began in 1320. It consists of three distinct parts: the Grand Council Palace, the Belfort (belfry) and the Cloth Exchange. Since 1914, the buildings have served as the City Hall.

  4. St. Rumbold's Cathedral (Sint-Romboutskathedraal): the construction of this cathedral began in the 13th century and lasted until the beginning of the 16th century. Its interior is impressive and houses a large number of fascinating works by artists such as Van Dyck, Michel Coxcie and Gaspard de Crayer. It is well worth a visit and the entrance is free and open to the public. It is also possible to climb the 97-metre-high San Rumoldo Tower, although this costs extra.

  5. Picture of the Great Beguinage of Mechelen, Belgium
    Great Beguijnhof (Groot Beguijnhof)
  6. Great Beguijnhof (Groot Beguijnhof): it was built in the 16th century after the destruction of the Beguijnhof outside the city walls. Thanks to its Flemish character and architecture, this Beguijnhof is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is truly wonderful to stroll aimlessly through its cobbled streets.

  7. St. John's Church (Sint-Janskerk): this Gothic church dates back to the end of the 15th century and today houses numerous works of art, such as sculptures, paintings, tapestries, pulpits and even a magnificent altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi painted by Rubens.

  8. The Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-over-de-Dijlekerk): built between the 14th and 15th centuries, this church preserves its complete carillon, with no less than 49 bells. It also houses several works of art, including one of Rubens' "The Miraculous Catch of Fish" (depicting the biblical story of the same name).

  9. Picture of the Oat Quay (Haverwerf) in Mechelen, Belgium
    Oat Quay (Haverwerf)
  10. The Oat Wharf (Haverwerf): oats used to be unloaded and traded on this street. Nowadays, in its place we can highlight three beautiful houses dating from the 17th century, which are one of the main attractions of the city.

  11. Margaret of Austria's Palace (Hof van Savoye): this was her residential palace, in fact it was the first Renaissance building in the Netherlands. Today it houses the Court of Justice, whose Renaissance garden can be visited.

  12. Brusselpoort: this is the only gate of the old city wall that still remains. It dates back to the 13th century and today houses the city's archaeological museum.

  13. Schepenhuis: is one of the oldest city halls in Flanders, built in the 13th century. It was the seat of the Grand Council, the highest court in the Netherlands, and is now an art gallery.

  14. Renaissance palace of Hieronymus van Busleyden (Hof von Busleyden): this palace was built at the beginning of the 16th century. Today it is a museum that takes us back to the past and the glorious history of the city.

  15. Het Anker brewery: founded in 1471 by a community of Beguines. At the end of the 19th century the brewery was bought by Louis Van Breedam, who renamed it Het Anker. Today, in addition to being a brewery, it houses a museum dedicated to the brewing process, where local beers can be tasted.

  16. Touring the city by bicycle: one of the things we like most about this city is that a large part of its historic centre is car-free, that is to say, the passage of cars is limited, which means that getting around by bicycle is really comfortable and safe. In this city most people use bicycles as a way of life and everyone respects them. Here is the link to the city's website where you will find the different rental options. In addition, we suggest you to take a guided bike tour and our recommendation is to do it with the people of "de de fietsgids". They offer different routes with their respective guides through the city. By clicking on this link you will be able to choose your preferred route and book a place.

  17. Picture of the path along the Dyle (Dijlepad) in Mechelen, Belgium
    Path along the Dyle (Dijlepad)
  18. Walking or boating on the banks of the Dyle River: the city is crossed by the Dyle River and several other canals. There is a nice floating walkway that allows you to walk on the river and we also recommend the boat ride services with wonderful views of the city.

  19. For those of you who are interested in knowing more about the city and to keep up to date with its latest news, we invite you to visit the blog and the YouTube channel of our friend Eddy Verschueren. We confess that we love his way of presenting information and best of all, both his articles and videos are available in several languages!

Finally, here is an interactive map of Mechelen, where you can easily find the location of each point of interest. Moreover, by clicking on the markers you can directly access the paragraph containing the information about that place. Moreover, if you allow us to get your geographical location by clicking on the button below the map, you will also be able to see your position so you can easily find the points of interest (reverse search provided by LocationIQ.com).

Where to sleep in Mechelen?

Although it is possible to visit Mechelen in one day, if you really want to enjoy this wonderful city, to stroll along its canals, take a bike ride and visit its many museums and parks, then we recommend at least two days. Here are two of the most original and interesting accommodations in Mechelen:

  • Martin's Patershof: This 4-star hotel is located in a former church built in 1863 and the great thing is that much of the original structure has been preserved. It is extremely interesting to see how the hotel has been structured and when it comes to the rooms, we assure you that it is worth staying here! It is practically inside the ring of Mechelen and therefore within the historical centre of the city. So, would you stay overnight in a church?

  • Van der Valk Hotel Mechelen: Housed in what looks like a small palace dating back to 1924 is this beautiful 4-star hotel, which formerly housed the Mechelen City Spa and a customs office. It is ideal for those travelling by car as it is located close to the Mechelen ring road and only a 10 minute walk from the historic centre of Mechelen.

Picture of the hotels 'Martin's Patershof' and 'Van der Valk Hotel Mechelen' in Mechelen, Belgium
"Martin's Patershof" (left) and "Van der Valk Hotel Mechelen" (right)

Finally, if you wish to evaluate other accommodation options more in line with your preferences and budget, click here to find the most varied offer at the best price.

Further information?

Below you will find our videos of Mechelen (with English subtitles), where we expand in more detail on the above. If for some reason the videos do not load or you encounter any other problem during its playback, by clicking here you will be able to watch them directly from our YouTube channel.

In the first video we show you all about the historical city centre and its most iconic places:

While in this second video we show you its surroundings and in particular a bike ride on a beautiful sunny day:

We thank you for having made it this far. If you enjoyed the article, feel free to share it on your social networks by clicking on the icons below and subscribe to our YouTube channel by clicking here. Till next time!


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