Renowned for its carillon bells concerts, this laid-back Renaissance gem is only 20 minutes away from Brussels and is made for exploring by foot or bike.
Mechelen began as a lakeside community in prehistoric times but its Golden Age was under the Dukes of Burgundy in the 15th and 16th centuries after Charles the Bold established his Court of Accounts here. However, it was thanks to Margaret of Austria, that the town really achieved fame and prosperity. Margaret, attracted the greatest minds of the time to her court – men like Erasmus, Durer and Thomas More along with distinguished musicians, historians and painters. She built many mansions; one, her palace on the Keizerstraat, is open to the public and well worth a visit. As is the Busleyden museum, housed in a splendid medieval building with a wealth of paintings, furnishings, tapestries and sculptures.
Mechelen has a number of impressive buildings including a large number of churches, famous for their carillon bell playing and their paintings - several have Rubens and Van Dyck masterpieces. The majority of carillons ring out from belfries, but in Mechelen, the most celebrated carillon is in the tower of St Rombout’s cathedral, said to be the most beautiful tower in Flanders.
In recent years, Mechelen's Vismarkt has been developed into the city's chic waterside, a destination for business and pleasure alike. It boasts fantastic shopping venues too with shopping street Bruul being the main focus for high street staples and the adjoining lanes packed full of independent boutiques. Shoppers will gravitate towards Ijzerenleen where Harry Schockaert, a splendid cheese shop, is located as is Gauthier, where sublime chocolates are made-on-the-spot as well as Helga Kordt who sells exclusive jewellery. Mechelen also boasts an array of vintage shops such as Pate du Chef where ‘50’s and ‘60’s ensembles can be purchased
Food & Drink
Beer is something this city is famous, with the former Lamot Brewery being its most recognised landmark. Since its opening in the 19th century till its closure in 1994, the Lamot Brewery was one of the largest in the region. It has recently undergone an impressive overhaul and, while certain aspects have been retained in order to provide an element of historic charm, it has been transformed into a heritage centre offering spacious conference facilities and a superb restaurant which boasts great views over the canal.
A Medieval Web
Opposite the Lamot Brewery stands the new Hotel Ve, which is housed in what was once a fish smokehouse and has contemporary, comfortable interiors. These two new enterprises have really changed the atmosphere of the area, which is particularly fun in the summer when customers sit out on the pavements casually watching the world go by.
This compact city spun in a medieval web around the gigantic Cathedral tower, offers an inviting range of squares, restaurants and shops as well as many impressive architectural gems, all within walking distance of each other.
"If you're a keen cycle tourist, you'll never tire of magical Mechelen. It's a great place from which to explore the beautiful, rolling Flanders countryside. The network of traffic-free cycle paths let you see the woods, rivers, canals and villages at their best." David Williams, Travel Writer
Art & Architecture
It is impossible to miss the city's stunning architecture, which is to be found wherever you wander. The main attraction is St. Rumbold's Tower, which is easily recognizable and dominates the city. The original design called for a 77-metre spire, but only 7 metres of it were ever actually built, hence its unusual shape. There are two carillons which house 98 bells.
Art lovers should pay a visit to the Hof van Busleyden Museum. Not only is the building a beautiful example of late Gothic style, but inside are highlights of the city's artisan crafts, including some stunning pieces of tooled gold leather, intricate lace work and a large collection of art by the city's best-known artist Rik Wouters.
Close to the city centre lies the Toy Museum, which exhibits old and new toys and objects of folk-art, all housed within almost 23,000 square feet. The whole museum has a fairy-like atmosphere that will delight both young and old.
Or why not learn something on your visit to Mechelen and visit Technopolis. This centre for science and technology engages visitors with interactive displays proving that science can be fun too.
In a city renowned for its beer, it’s not surprising that you can even sleep in a 15th-century brewery; Hotel Carolus has an adjoining brewery which produces award-winning Gouden Carolus beer.
Pamper yourself at the luxurious four-star Patershof Hotel; this newly-opened super-chic abode, built in a historic convent, mixes old world charm with ultra-modern standards of luxury and is the perfect retreat after some retail therapy.
Visit the weekly market on Saturday mornings, the perfect way to meet the farmers, grocers, fishmongers, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers who have plied their wares here more or less since St. Rombout first shopped here in the 7th-century.
Stop for a quick tipple at Mechelen’s most popular bar Gouden Vis, which offers its guest an ample terrace overlooking the river Dijle. For a more sophisticated snack, try Restaurant D’Hoogh or Folliez which both have Michelin stars, and at the latter, you can even take your own wine.
Martinique is a charming restaurant that serves an interesting mix of French, Italian and Eastern cuisine. The exotic setting and pleasant background music creates a relaxed atmosphere where you can eat at a reasonable price.
Good To Know
St. Rumbout’s Tower is a World Heritage monument which is 97.28 metres high and has 514 stairs that are visited by thousands of tourists every year, following in the footsteps of Louis XV, Napoleon, and King Albert I.
The cathedral was built in honour of Saint Rombout, a seventh century Irish missionary, and it is rumoured that his remains are buried inside the cathedral.
From the spring of 1513 to the autumn of 1514, Anne Boleyn, future wife of Henry VIII, lived in Mechelen during a formative stage in her upbringing at Margaret of York’s palace.