Mechelen is a historic Belgian city sandwiched between its better-known neighbours Brussels and Antwerp.
This small Flemish city is surprisingly packed with arts, culture, churches, breweries, gorgeous architecture and foodie finds.
There are so many brilliant things to do in Mechelen Belgium that you can spend a good few days experiencing this quaint city.
Things to do in Mechelen Belgium
Exploring Mechelen feels like you have stumbled across an undiscovered city.
Unlike touristy Brussels, there is a calmness to this hugely underrated Belgium city. Especially if you visit during the off-peak season.
We strolled through historic Flemish squares, drank local beers and glided down the pretty river on a boat, without feeling like we were battling for space with other visitors.
Mechelen a fun and interesting alternative to busy Bruges and bustling Belgium. Spend a long weekend in Mechelen and discover a city where history meets hipster.
Disclaimer: Content created from a press trip with Visit MechelenExploring Mechelen feels like you have stumbled across an undiscovered city. Unlike touristy Brussels, there is a calmness to this charming city.
Have drinks on the Grote Markt
Normally when you decide to sit and have a few drinks in a historic square in Europe you will be in tourist central with eye-watering prices.
Visiting the city in November mean the Grote Markt [Mechelen’s central square in the historic centre], was really peaceful. The prices were also quite reasonable considering the location.
Grote Markt architecture
The square is dominated by St Rumbold’s Tower, you can see it from wherever you sit.
You can relax with a drink or two and people watch whilst sat outside one of the cafes and restaurants on the square.
You can also admire the varied historical architecture that includes a gorgeous variety of renaissance, gothic and baroque buildings.
Stroll on a floating walkway on the River Dijle
You can walk on water in Mechelen by strolling on the floating pedestrian esplanade on the left bank of the river Dijle.
Known as the ‘Dijlepad’, this wooden walkway floats above the river and takes you on a picturesque walk through the town.
The walkway leads you along (and over) the River Dyle, between Haverwerf and Kruidtuin.
From walking alongside the water, you can pass by the back of some gorgeous old houses and small backyards. It’s like having a little sneak peek into life in Mechelen.
It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Mechelen if you like walking and photographing old buildings.
Climb St Rumbold’s Tower
Go to the top of St Rumbold’s Tower to experience stunning views of the city. The tower is part of the historic, 13th-century St. Rumbold’s Cathedral.
St Rumbold’s Tower Skywalk
Take a climb up the 538 steps to the top, to access the modern skywalk that is built around this 97-metre tall tower.
You’ll be able to look out over the city and admire the panoramic views from up high.
As you climb up, you’ll also see ‘behind the scenes’ of their gothic bell tower. You can get a glimpse of the bells, carillon and clock-mechanism from up close.
The number of visitors to the skywalk is limited, so it won’t be super crowded when you are up there, which makes for a more pleasant experience.
The climb and skywalk experience should take around an hour and a half in total. Make sure to leave time to explore inside the Catherdral as well.
St Rumbold’s Tower Admission
The current prices for entry into St Rumbold’s Tower are:
- Adults: € 8
- Children and young adults (4-26 yrs): € 3
- Teacher’s card: € 6
Booking is advisable and you can buy your tickets online here.
Try Belgian Beer at Het Anker Brewery
You can take a guided tour and have beer tastings at one of Belgium’s oldest breweries. Founded in 1471 the Het Anker brewery brews award-winning local beers.
When you take a tour of the Het Anker brewery, you will get a behind the scenes look at the beer brewing process and learn more about the history of the brewery and surrounding area.
Het Anker Brewery tour
You can visit Het Anker with a guide as an individual or as a group. Your expert guide will take you through the brewery and the whisky ageing rooms and give you a lot of detailed information.
The tour ends with a tasting session of their brewed beers. A visit to Het Anker typically lasts between 1h30 and 1h45.
Het Anker tastings
The end of your guided tour includes sampling local beers like the Gouden Carolus (Golden Charles) and the Cuvée van de Keizer (Emperor’s Cuvée).
You will be able to try two beers and see how their unique taste brought awards and recognition to this that brought this small family brewery.
The Price for a Het Anker is €9 per person Two beers or one soft drink is also included in the price. You can book a tour online here.
Discover a town within a town at Large Beguinage
Before I visited Mechelen I had no idea what a Beguinage was? Essentially, Beguinages were small towns within a town that were established during the crusades.
They were made up of widowed women who went to live together [known as Béguines], and together they were able to sustain themselves rather than go and live in a convent.
The small community grew to contain breweries homes and shops.
The Large Beguinage in Mechelen has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site due to its unique Flemish character.
These peaceful streets are full of pretty listed houses and the whole area has a real sense of history and tranquillity.
Remember as you stroll around these picturesque streets that there are still people living here, so respect the privacy of the residents.
Don’t take photos right outside their front doors or look in through the windows. You don’t want to be that kind of tourist right?
You can find the Large Beguinage location on Google maps.
Feast on local Mechelen specialities
There are many small stores in the centre selling a range of local and delicious specialities.
If you visit the Tourist Office, [located at Vleeshouwersstraat 6], you can pick up their ‘Sense-sations’ voucher booklet.
This booklet allows you to try out a handful of local specialities, from beer-based cheese to artisan sweets.
Local Belgian food
You can buy this book of tasting coupons for just €5 from the tourism office. You can then go to different places in the booklet to get tasty samples of their products.
My favourite was definitely trying the ‘maneblussers’. These small moon-shaped chocolates also have a little history to them. They are known as ‘moon extinguishers’ in reference to a historic 16th-century event.
in 1687, the St Rumbold’s Tower was shrouded in mist. One of the residents thought that the tower was on fire and sounded the alarm.
The reddish misty glow they thought was a fire was actually the moon shining on the tower. Hence the name ‘moon extinguishers’.
Some of the locations in the booklet include:
- Bakery Vanderbeek & Godiva
- Café Sava
- Schockaert’s Cheese Shop
- Het Anker Brewery
- Bakery Matthys
Boat trip on the Inner Dijle
See the city from the water with a boat trip along the Dijle river. It’s a lovely and relaxing way to enjoy the city scenery from the Dijle river.
Glide along under bridges and through the historic centre on a small and snug vessel.
You will learn all about the various sights you pass on the riverbanks and you’ll also learn a little bit about the history of the city.
The boats depart from the middle of the historic centre, on the pedestrian bridge between the Vismarkt and the Haverwerfn.
The boat trip passes by some of the city’s historic and more modern sights. Some of these include the monastery of Diependael, the Fontein Bridge, Botanic Garden and the Volmolen.
If you are visiting in winter, remember to wrap up warm on your boat trip as it can get quite chilly.
Mechelen boat trip time table
The current timetable for the boat trip is:
- Time: Boats depart every hour from 13:30 – 17:30 during the week
- Departure: Haverwerf
- Duration: 45 minutes
- Cost: €7 for Adults and €5 EUR
More information and booking can be found here.
Walking tour of Mechelen
The tourism office offers a variety of walking tours with a guide in Mechelen.
You can choose from tours such as the River Dyle walk, Historic Women’s Walk, Sculpture Tour and Human Rights walk.
Each tour differs in theme and pricing. You can get more information and book at the Tourism office.
Mechelen City tour
I find that the benefit of doing a guided tour in any city is that you can get so much information and history in a short space of time.
I really feel like it helps to put a city into proper historical and cultural context for me. Plus you can normally get great insider tips on where to eat and what bars are good.
You can do a self-guided walk if you prefer? Go to the tourism office for tips, maps and walking brochures.
Hunt for Mechelen street art
At first glance, Mechelen might not look like a great place for street art, given its historic facade.
There are actually many street art murals and pieces around the city thanks to a big street art project.
The ‘Mechelen Muurt’ is a project by street artist and former city artist Gijs Vanhee.
Ten artists were invited to create street art on the city walls and as a result, there are many colourful artworks around the city.
The artworks actually form a super cool trail and are within walking distance of each other. If you love street art photography, it’s a wonderful trail to get some creative snaps and to get those Instagram shots!
The street art trail is easily followed with a special map created by the tourism board. You can view the map online to hunt down the various murals.
Go to the Visit Mechelen website to download a PDF of the map, or pick up a copy at the tourism office.
Learn history at Museum Hof van Busleyden
The Museum Hof van Busleyden is a modern museum about Mechelen in the Burgundian period and just after.
The museum recently underwent some renovations and has been fully modernised.
You can soak up some history and learn more about this crucial cultural and political period in the history of Mechelen and the Netherlands
The museum has incorporated a range of technology to help you get the most out of the exhibits. You can try interactive displays, multi-touch tables and video displays.
The Museum Hof van Busleyden entrance prices are:
- €12 for individuals
- €10 for 65 +, groups and discount holders
- €7 for people with disabilities
- €2 EUR Young people aged 13 – 26 years old
- Free for children up to 12 years
Drink Belgian beers in lively bars
Try a range of locally brewed beers at one of the many bars and restaurants dotted throughout the city.
Several bars also offer a range of wines, spirits and lunch and dinner menus if you are feeling peckish.
Some of the best beers in Mechelen include:
- DeuS Brut des Flandres
- Pauwel Kwak
- Tripel Karmeliet
- Gouden Carolus Classic
There are many lively bars in and around the city. Some of the best bars in Mechelen include:
Take a night walk through the historic centre
Have a night walk around the city to see of the historic architecture beautifully lit up. The Grote Mark, in particular, looks gorgeous when illuminated.
As you wander through the city you can see many sixteenth and seventeenth centuries buildings, especially in the ‘Oat Yard’ area.
You can also pass by many historic churches as you walk around. There are eight historic churches in the city centre.
Each church has its own style, size, feel and architecture including Gothic and Baroque architecture and features.
You can always grab a local beer or two after your night walk, after all, you deserve it!
Places to eat Mechelen
There’s a huge range of restaurants and cafes in the city to suit all tastes and budgets. You can try typical Flemish food or feast on a range of international cuisines.
Some of the best restaurants in Mechelen include:
For gourmet Belgian dining, in a stylish homish setting, make sure to visit De Fortuyne.
I would really recommend their chef’s choice sharing menu for delicious dishes specially selected by the chef.
Their innovative food-sharing concept in a beautifully restored historic building makes it a perfect location for a dinner date.
Het Anker Brasserie
You can sample traditional Flemish dishes and a range of foodie offerings in the Het Anker Brasserie, located inside the Het Anker Brewery.
Typical dishes include Flemish stew with Gouden Carolus Classic, fries and chicory salad. Mechelen Cuckoo with Gouden Carolus Tripel and croquettes and Pork leg roast.
This cosy wine bar is where you can come to sip a lovely glass of vino and relax. Unwined also serves tapas-style plates that feature ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ bites, that go well with their huge range of wines.
The bar is warm and inviting and has an industrial style that still manages to feel homely.
Bokes & co
Bokes & co is a relaxed cafe that has a surprisingly diverse clientele. Here you can see students, families and older people all gathered to enjoy their tasty offerings.
Whilst the menu may appear a little basic, consisting of offerings such as soup, sandwiches, croquettes, paninis and hamburgers, the food is actually very well made and incredibly tasty.
There is a large range of hotels in Mechelen to suit all budgets and requirements.
Some of the best hotels in Mechelen include:
- VixX Hotel
- Best Western Hotel Gulden Anker
- Mercure Mechelen Ve
- Hotel Brouwerij Het Anker
- B&B De Lachende Engel
Mercure Hotel Vé
We stayed in the centrally located Mercure Hotel Vé. It’s a unique 4-star hotel that is housed inside a former fish smokehouse and cigar factory.
The hotel has an incredibly stylish and luxurious feel, with many of the original features still in place.
Mercure Hotel Vé Rooms and suites
You can choose from a junior suite, deluxe room or superior room. All the rooms come with a range of amenities including:
- Free WIFI
- Free entrance to the Vé wellness facilities
- Laptop size safe
- Flat-screen TV
- Espresso coffee/tea machine
How to get to Mechelen
Mechelen is well connected by an extensive rail network. You can easily reach cities such as Brussels and Antwerp.
You can even buy your Europe rail tickets in advance, online. It’s easy to get the train on the extensive and reliable Belgian rail network.
Brussels airport to Mechelen train
You can buy rail tickets and rail passes for Belgium and the rest of Europe online on the Eurail website.
If you are flying, the closest airport is Brussels Airport. There are train links from the airport. The approximate journey time by train between Brussels-Airport-Zaventem and Mechelen is 22 minutes
If you’re travelling from London or Paris, you can also travel in style on the Eurostar to Brussels and catch a local train to Mechelen.
Mechelen is a perfect city break in Europe for couples, family and friends. If you are looking for an alternative to busy European cities such as Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam then Mechelen is begging to be found.
It manages to balance both historic charms with modern restaurants, street art and boutique stores and cute cafes.
Definitely add this brilliant underrated city to your Europe bucket list. Would you consider visiting? Let me know in the comments below.
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Planning your trip to Mechelen
Ready to book your trip to Mechelen? Use these awesome travel resources to get you started:
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- Get the best destination recommendations from TripAdvisor
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Disclaimer: This content was created from a press trip with Visit Mechelen, all opinions remain my own as usual. This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission but come at no additional cost to you. By clicking these links you are supporting Pip and the City and helping to keep the content free. Massive thanks for your ongoing support.