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City trip Mechelen: visit the former capital of The Netherlands

by Elisa Flitter Fever
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For those who have seen Antwerp or Bruges, a city trip to Mechelen is an excellent alternative. The Belgian city with about 87,000 inhabitants offers enough Burgundian entertainment for a pleasant weekend away. Away from the crowd! Did you know that Mechelen served as the capital of The Netherlands between 1507 and 1530? In this article I will take you along in what you can do during a pleasant city trip to Mechelen.

Mechelen is located about 150 km south of Utrecht, between Antwerp and Brussels. You can travel from Breda to the heart of Mechelen in just under 1 hour by train.

IJzerenleen city trip Mechelen
IJzerenleen, Mechelen

From past to present

In the Middle Ages, Mechelen was a furore as an inland port and with the trade in, among other things, cloth. In 1473, the highest court of the Netherlands was established in Mechelen. Under Governor Margaret of Austria, Mechelen even became the capital of the so-called Habsburg Netherlands for a few decades (1507-1530). After her death, the court moved to Brussels. In 1572 the Spaniards invaded Mechelen, who plundered and ravaged the city. Later came the English.

Mechelen also had a hard time during the First World War. The city was bombed and many inhabitants fled the city. The historic buildings on both sides of the IJzerenleen, which had been laid to ruins, were restored around 1920. Very nicely done! Nowadays you will find nice things like cheese trade Schockaert and Coffice here. The latter is a combination of a coffee bar with breakfast and lunch options and a business center (co-office space).

At 7 places in the city you will find the so-called Mechelen rocking horses. Opposite the former Palace of Margaret of Austria is a bronze statue of a boy on a rocking horse. This refers to Emperor Karel’s childhood with auntie Margaretha.

City trip day 1: wine bar and Mechelen cuckoo

We park our electric car in Parking Zandpoortvest (daily rate EUR 5, Sat/Sun free) and walk to our hotel. After checking in, it depends on what time you arrive, what you can do best to start your city trip: eat out first and then have a drink, or vice versa.

For dinner that evening we had dinner at Puro on the Guldenstraat. Both the interior and the dishes on the menu can be called classic. We did not regret our choice of menu; the so-called Mechelse koekoek (cuckoo, chicken breed) tastes excellent to both of us!

We went to wine bar The Neck on Friday evening to have a drink. In this hidden gem on the Begijnenstraat we toast with a nice glass of wine. No live music tonight and the Belgian white wine is unfortunately out of stock. But the Chilean Amplus Chardonnay from Santa Ema from 2021 makes up for it all. Such excellent wine makes me so happy! The spinach balls were also good.

Tired but satisfied we walk back to our hotel. Our room is right across from Our Lady of Hanswijk, also called Hanswijk Basilica, from the 17th century. Fortunately, the church bells do not ring again until 08:00 the next morning.

Typical Mechelen? After you have walked the Dijlepad, and climbed the St. Rumbold’s Tower, eat a delicious Mechelen cuckoo or mussels, and of course drink a Golden Carolus beer. Cheers! And go to the Vleeshalle.

City trip Mechelen day 2 – morning: muscle pain and biscuits

After a nice breakfast in our hotel we go for a walk. A weekly market is held on Saturdays on the Grote Markt (Great Market quare). Locals get their weekend treats here. Saturday morning and yes, the Belgians are already eating oysters and drinking bubbles haha ​​That’s pure culture right here!

During a city trip to Mechelen, a visit to the 13th-century St. Rumbold’s Cathedral is a must (Onder-Den-Toren 12, adult entrance EUR 8). In good spirits we start to lick the worn stone steps of the 97-meter high tower.

St. Rumbold's Cathedral and St. Rumbold's Tower city trip Mechelen
St. Rumbold’s Cathedral and St. Rumbold’s Tower
In the wheel of the Sint-Romboutstoren city trip Mechelen
In the wheel of St Rumbold’s Tower

But halfway through I’m done with it, muscle pain! The carillons blare just above us and the spiral staircase makes my head spin a bit. Tip: walk to the other side of the tower to get out. Saves another 150 steps back up…

Outside, the bright yellow Opsinjoorke is lying on his back, laughing at us that we didn’t make it to the skywalk of St Rumbold’s Tower. Those 538 steps were really crazy for me pfff… Still a shame, because the panorama on top should be really breathtaking!

As a consolation we get – with our incentive package coupon booklet from Visit Mechelen – a few crunchy cookies at the Broodbroeders (Bread brothers). Super cute in the shape of canal houses. Yum!

Via the Refugie of Saint Truiden, the Silent Garden, Small Begijnhof and Big Begijnhof we walk to The Anchor Brewery. This is the city brewery that every beer lover should not miss during a Mechelen city trip. Award-winning Mechelen beer has been brewed in this family brewery for five generations. Tours possible (book in advance).

We walk back to our hotel via the wooden Dijlepad. For lunch we go to Lief! (Sweet!) at the Graaf van Egmontstraat (closed Tue/Sun). This hip lunch place has a mission: local and healthy food with as little waste as possible. I love their Mexican salad.

Maneblussers – as inhabitants of Mechelen are also called – are cordial, open and love good food and going out for a drink. Our multicultural society works and we have the best mayor in the world!

Local Lente de Vil

City trip Mechelen day 2 – afternoon: shopping and street art

After lunch the sun carefully breaks through. We stroll along the so-called ‘shopping triangle’ Bruul- Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat. There are many nice boutiques and unique little shops, such as Olala and My Ex Boyfriend. After two murals – Fish wives and the Pelican – we enter The Cacao Project (Bruul 89). At this chocolate shop, the skull bonbons with tiramisus flavor are eagerly waiting for you at the counter.

At Simon Lévelt (Guldenstraat 1) we score Mechelen black tea with a hint of lavender. Mechelen coffee beans are also possible. They have a dozen special flavors of egg liqueur here. At the beautiful IJzerenleen we walk into Schockaert cheese shop. Here they have at least as many types of cheese as years of experience: a hundred! I taste the Brewer’s cheese Golden Carolus – delicious!

Facades at the IJzerenleen in the center of Mechelen
Beautiful facades at the IJzerenleen
Golden Carolus cheese at Schockaert Mechelen
Golden Carolus cheese at Schockaert

We continue via the Schoenmarkt, Grote Markt, the town hall of Mechelen, the Saint Peter & Paul Church and the Stadsschouwburg, to the Palace of Margaret of Austria. You know, that lady who ruled The Netherlands for a while (which was Belgium and Holland together more or less). The Court of Savoy is now used as a court of law. The courtyard garden is public and freely accessible, but unfortunately closed on weekends.

The nearby Museum Hof ​​van Busleyden is undergoing a large-scale renovation at the time of writing this article. There is, however, an interesting exhibition, Hidden Pearls, with seven centuries of masterpieces from Mechelen (until the end of June 2022, closed Mon, entrance fee EUR 12 for adults). Further down the street is Cinema Lumière Mechelen, a cinema in a classic building with three cinemas. Unfortunately, the film Presque was not available (highly recommended movie, like Intouchables).

Court of Savoy Palace of Margaret of Austria city trip Mechelen
Court of Savoy – Palace of Margaret of Austria
Evening falls on the Schoenmarkt Mechelen
Evening falls on the Schoenmarkt (Shoe Market Square)

Spanish cat and Belgian balls

We settle down at Sava, a cozy tapas bar on the Grote Markt. This can be recognized by the cat on the facade and the front door. Inside are all mini cats in the wood blocks on the wall. Nice! We eat, drink and chat in this cozy Spanish bar.

Then we continue to the Vleeshalle on the Huidevettersstraat. Butchers used to offer their merchandise here. Today, the monumental hall is a culinary hotspot. At twelve different places you can try all kinds of different cuisines. Spanish, Mexican, Vietnamese, Italian, etc. The Belgian wild boar balls were my favorite! Tip: the last Friday of the month is Cocktail Night.

Finally, we have a glass of wine at Unwined – wine with a story – with a view of St Rumbold’s Cathedral. The Belgian Chardonnay Elegant from Wijndomein De Steenberg is very tasteful. The place fills with the sweet smell of dates with bacon from the oven. But we hold back and return to our hotel. If a brown café is more your thing, Café De Wei is recommended, according to a tip we received from a local.

City trip Mechelen day 3: books and images

After breakfast at our hotel, we walk through the Botanic Garden. January is not the most colorful month to visit this city garden. Nice bridge, that’s it!

We walk on to Het Predikheren, the city library in the north of the center of Mechelen. We are not surprised that this library is one of the five most beautiful in the world! Still, it is quite busy on a Sunday morning. Understandable; the shops are only open on shopping Sundays, in Mechelen the first Sunday of the month.

Visiting Mechelen with kids? Add a game element by doing the Sherlock Holmes Mechelen City Game together.

The adjacent Kazerne Dossin really gets us quiet. This impressive WW2 museum served as a transit port for Jews and gypsies, among others. Thousands were sent here to various Nazi death camps. That puts you back on the ground with both feet. Horrible.

Before lunch we want to see two more street art murals: the Underwater Dog and Alice in Wonderland on De Langhestraat. See the photos at the bottom of this article.

We conclude our city trip to Mechelen with lunch at Coffice on the IJzerenleen. The toast with avocado and chicken tastes good, as does the refreshing raspberry lemonade with bubbles. Well the bellies are full again, time to go home!

Mechelen thank you, we enjoyed it and will definitely come back.

Train carriage at Base Dossin WW2 museum Mechelen
Train carriage from the 2nd World War at Kazerne Dossin
Identity cards and registration of Jews Kazerne Dossin WW2 museum Mechelen
After registration, the Nazis took away your identity

Street Art Mechelen

Like many other cities, Mechelen also has a variety of street art. These are often placed in the context of the Mechelen Muurt project, which has been organized several times. Many municipal electricity boxes on the street are also decorated with graffiti. My favorite mural, which we saw during our city trip to Mechelen, is the Underwater Dog on De Langhestraat.

Fish wives street art mural Mechelen
Street art in the Rik Wouterstuin city trip Mechelen

City trip Mechelen: accommodation

Looking for a nice, attractive B&B or hotel for a city trip to Mechelen? Then I can recommend the following accommodation in the center:

Martin’s Paterhof
Have a good night's sleep in Mechelen city trip
Spend the night in Mechelen

Map city trip Mechelen

This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.

Don’t feel like walking everything during a Mechelen city trip? Then rent a Blue Bike or a Hoppy e-step. For the first, you must have a Belgian address.

City trip Mechelen: best time to visit

We did our city trip to Mechelen in a weekend at the end of January. The weather varied somewhat between cloudy, sunny, windy and calm. It was chilly, but gloves and a scarf will get you a long way.

Places such as the Botanic Garden, the terraces, etc. are a lot more fun with sunnier, warmer weather. A city trip to Mechelen is an excellent idea for spring, summer or early autumn.

Have you ever been to Mechelen? If not, I hope that with this article I have inspired you to do so sometime soon. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article, for example if you have a question or additional tip.

Crossroads Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat, Hanswijkstraat, Vijfhoek and Graaf van Egmontstraat city trip Mechelen
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat and the Pentagon

Read more

Last year we also went on a city trip to a Belgian city, namely to the student city of Leuven. Read all about it in the article 7x fun things you should do when you’re in cozy Leuven.

Mechelen is slightly smaller than my hometown Alkmaar, which is also definitely worth a visit. You can read all about it in the article Alkmaar: beautiful cheese city surrounded by windmills and tulips.

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This article was created in collaboration with Visit Mechelen and reflects my own opinion and personal experience.

Cinema Lumière Mechelen
Cinema Lumière
The Mother sculpture by Ernest Winnarts (1878-1964) city trip Mechelen
Statue in the courtyard of the Town Hall

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Last Updated on 02/04/2023 by Elisa Flitter Fever

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