Mechelen is a historically important city located on the river Dyle in the center of Flanders, one of the three regions in Belgium. It lies about halfway between Antwerp and Brussels and has approximately 80,000 inhabitants.
Though now in the shadow of Brussels, Mechelen is a historically important city in its own right. From 1506 to 1530 it was the capital of the Netherlands under Margaret of Austria. In 1559 it became an archbishopric, a sign of great importance. It was famous for its wood carvings, some of which can still be seen in the churches of the city, and for lace and tapestry manufacture.
Today it is a vibrant town, mixing trendy and traditional. Its carillon school is world-renowned, training students from all over the world in the art of playing carillons, sets of 24 or more bells hung in church towers. Shops downtown are often housed in buildings with the old-style Flemish architecture, but offer edgy fashions sure to appeal to the younger generation.
Mechelen is developing into the center of non-profit or non-governmental organizations for Flanders. Some famous examples are Natuurpunt, AFS, and the Red Cross. This is mainly because it's very easily reachable (by train or by highway) but not as expensive as Brussels.
Inhabitants are called "Maneblussers" (moon-extinghuisers). The story goes that one day long time ago the moonlight was shining on the unfinished St.-Romboutstoren and that some people thought it was burning. The whole city was mobilized to extinguish the fire but there was no fire to extinguish.
You can also reach by taking a bus from Antwerp.
Mechelen lies at the E19-highway.
Just outside the main train station you'll find a bus station with connections to many places in the vicinity.
The city center is about 15 minutes walk from the train station. Mechelen is a very compact city, so you can reach most places on foot. There are a few bus routes through and radiating from the city center in case you need them.
- Sint-Romboutskathedraal (St. Rumbold's Cathedral). The largest of the 8 churches in Mechelen, with a high tower (though not as high as originally planned - construction stopped early due to lack of money). Notable works of art include the carved wood pulpit from 1723, painted triptychs dating to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and an image of "Our Lady of Miracles" which has been in the cathedral since the early 16th century.
- Grote Markt (The Market Square).
- Hof van Savoye (Palace of Margaret of Austria). An unassuming set of buildings on Keizerstraat that was effectively the seat of government during Mechelen's time as capital of the Netherlands. Today it houses government offices, but the interior courtyard is worth a brief visit to admire the tranquil and well-organized gardens.
- Hof van Busleyden. Temporarily closed. Hieronymus of Busleyden afforded himself this eponymous Court in a rich renaissance style, making it one of the most beautiful buildings in Mechelen. Destroyed during the Second World War, it was rebuilt to house the municipal museum, which as of 2013 is undergoing refurbishment.
- Sint-Janskerk. Open 1:30-5:30 PM except Mondays and during services.. One of the 8 historic churches in Mechelen, with a notable Reubens painting/triptych "Adoration of the Magi". The painting of the crucifixion by Wauters is also very impressive.
- Begijnhofkerk. Another of the churches, is known for the two statues above the door, one of Saint Catherine and one of God the Father.
- Refuge of the Abbey of Tongerlo. Historically the refuge for the abbey in times of attack, it is now the home of De Wit, royal manufacturers of tapestry. There are guided visits on Saturday mornings at 1030.
- 16th Century Houses (cross the river in front of the Vismarkt and turn right.). The three surviving timber houses have elaborate carvings on the front elevations. The houses are privately owned.
- The Museum of Toys (Speelgoedmuseum).
- Clocks and watches museum (Horlogeriemuseum), Lange Schipstraat 13. Privately run museum where the owners, both watchmakers, give you a very interesting personal tour. Do come an hour before closing time to be able to have the full tour and explanations.
- Technopolis, Technologielaan, ☎ +32 15 34-2000. Open every day from 9h30 till 17h00. Hands on science museum for kids of all ages. Adults or children over 12 years old: €9.50; Children (3-11 years old): €7; Children under the age of 3: Free.
- Maanrock. On the Grote Markt and in the IJzerenleen. End of August. A 2-day free festival featuring several stages of music and DJs, starting early in the afternoon and running till early morning.
- Take a boat cruise along the waterways. The 45 minute trip costs €6. Departures are every hour on the half hour, from Haverwerf.
- Weekly one-hour carillon concerts on the Sint-Rombouts tower carillon occur Saturdays at 11:30 am and Sundays at 3 pm all year. During the summer (roughly June to September) there are additional concerts on Monday evenings; for these, carillonneurs from all over the Low Countries, as well as overseas, are invited to play.
- Get to the tourist information center on the main square or Grote Markt and follow one of their recommended walking tours.
- The main shopping streets are Bruul and IJzerenleen, both radiating out from the Market Square.
- There are several chocolate shops near the Grote Markt, but try the local one, Gauthier, on the IJzerenleen; it's very good and not as pricey as Neuhaus. They also have some spice cakes and cookies.
- If you're around on a Saturday morning there's an open market in the Grote Markt and the Botermarkt. There are a lot of food stands (cheese, meat, seafood, produce, some prepared food) but also some others (basic clothing, shoes, linens).
- There's a Match supermarket on Haverwerf, if you need supplies for self-catering. The Smatch on the Blauwhondstraat (between IJzerenleen and Bruul, near the Grote Markt) is smaller but is open Sunday mornings.
- Soep Sjop, Bruul (not far from the river). Home-made soups and sandwiches.
- De Maneblusser, Onder Den Toren 7 (just opposite the cathedral tower). Offers filled sandwiches at €2-4 each.
- Hete Patat. Has some Turkish inspired cuisine. They specialize in stuffed potatoes of many varieties. They are conveniently located just behind the Cathedral off of the Grote Markt.
- De Cirque, Vismarkt.
- Intermezzo, IJzerenleen. Nice Brussels waffles and other desserts.
- Brewery Het Anker. Features locally brewed Mechelse Bruynen and Gouden Carolus. Don't miss the opportunity to try some of their own jenever called Ouwe Klare or the beer chocolates. They also have a small shop where they sell their products. Guido Gezellelaan 49 (on the ringway around the city center). They have tours some weekends. The restaurant/brasserie is closed for most of July 2008 due to the owners vacation. It is wise to call ahead and ask specifically what will be available during your trip.
- De Stille Genieter Café with 350 different kinds of beer, has the feel of a brown café not far from the Vismarkt.
- Various cafes on the Vismarkt
- Zandpoort Youth Hostel, ☎ +32 15 27-85-39, fax: +32 15 27-85-40. Zandpoortvest, More info and online booking on. 20 min. from the main train station, 15 min. from the city center. €17-31.
- Hobbit Hotel Mechelen - far from the city, from €50
- Bed and Breakfast Luna Luna, ☎ +32 486 296-798. Jef Denynplein 4-6. A very spacious suite, situated along a city canal, in the historical heart of the city.
- Mercure Mechelen Vé, Vismarkt 14, ☎ +32 15 200-755, fax: +32 15 200-760. A stylish hotel on one of the most ancient markets of Mechelen: the fish market. The hotel is constructed in a factory where they used to smoke fish, but has a trendy, modern feel. Starting at €79.
- NH Mechelen, Korenmarkt, 22-24, ☎ +32 15 420303. In the historical part of the city. Rooms from €65.
- Hotel Malcot - on the outskirts of the town, from €100
- Park Hotel Montreal - in a park surrounded by lakes out of town, but close to the A1 motorway, from €130
- Martin's Paterhof - in a former church (!), from €89
- The Red Spot - self-catering suites, from €129
- Hotel VixX - featuring unusual design, from €85
- Hotel Den Wolsack, ☎ +32 15 569-520, fax: +32 15 560-505. Wollemarkt 16. A comfortable hotel in the centre, behind St Rumbold's Cathedral. Staff are most helpful and very friendly. From €94
While Mechelen used to have one of the highest crime rates in Flanders, it is safe to walk through Mechelen now. The city has improved much over the last years, especially in the tourist areas. You may want to keep out of the outskirts at night, though, but there is not much to do there anyway.
The city phone code for Mechelen is 015.
- Planckendael Animal Park (Dierenpark Planckendael) , +32 15 41-49-21, is just outside Mechelen city in Muizen. Located on the road towards Leuven, or in summer take a boat from Mechelen (follow signs from the train station).
Mechelen has his own local encyclopedia, called Mechelen Mapt, written in Dutch with short translations in English.