Brussels and Bruges are the most famous cities in Belgium, but this little country has many more interesting cities. In between Brussels and Antwerp you will find Mechelen, a small city that due to its history has a lot to offer. With a brewery, historical buildings and inviting squares, Mechelen has something for everyone.
GUEST POST BY SHARON
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Best time to visit Mechelen
The best time to visit Mechelen (and the rest of Belgium) is in Spring or Summer. In summer, there are weekly free concerts in the botanical garden and a big festival Maanrock in the last weekend of August. Beer lovers have to go to Mechelen in the beginning of October for the beer festival.
A few facts about Mechelen
Mechelen is often referred to as the City on the river Dyle where it was settled during the Galo-Roman period. Due to the wealth gained by the cloth trade, it became the capital of the Low Countries (The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) in the Late Middle Ages. The first railway on the European continent connected Brussels with Mechelen in 1835. However, this extensive railway network led the Nazi’s in choosing Mechelen as their transit camp.
A lot of the cities in Belgium have a nickname for their inhabitants. It is said that people in Mechelen used to run up their great Tower with buckets of water to extinguish a fire behind the perpendicular windows. It turned out to be only the moonlight through sprightly clouds. Therefore, they are called Maneblussers (Moon Extinguishers).
One day in Mechelen itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Mechelen.
Visit the St. Rumbold’s Cathedral and the Market Square
When arriving at the Market square, the dominating tower of St. Rumbold’s Cathedral is visible immediately. The tower, which is actually a belfry, with its 514 steps offers a fantastic view from a skywalk over the city. But don´t forget to also take a look inside the Cathedral.
At the Market Square, you can also find the Gothic Town Hall, one of the country’s first to be built. And the restaurants and cafes around the square invite you for a drink to enjoy the view and listen to the bell music from the belfry. If you visit Mechelen on a Saturday morning, this is the place of the farmers market.
Discover the large and small beguinages
When you were a widow or a woman who couldn´t find a suitable husband in the time of the crusades, you were going to live either in a convent or a beguinage. Because many convents only took in aristocratic women, living together in a beguinage was the most suitable solution for many. Beguines didn´t take the life-long vows of chastity and weren’t bound to the beguinage for life, although many of them did stay there. The picturesque small and narrow streets are a relaxing place for a nice stroll. Because of its typical Flemish character and remarkable architecture, the Large Beguinage was declared a UNESCO World heritage site. The small Beguinage, which is next to the Large Beguinage, was the first in Mechelen.
Learn more about beer
Het Anker Brewery was founded by a community of beguines and is located at the edge of the Large Beguinage. Here they brew Gouden Carolus (Golden Charles), once the favorite tipple of holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was raised in Mechelen. He ruled one of the first world empires of the Modern Era, an empire on which the sun never sets. The most popular is Gouden Carolus Classic, a 7.5% dark beer that won the gold medal at the World Beer Awards in 2012. Since 2010, they also produce Gouden Carolus Single Malt whisky from the mash of Gouden Carolus Tripel.
You can visit both the brewery and the distillery, although the latter is not in Mechelen, but in Blaasveld. And of course, at the end of the tour, there is the opportunity to taste the beers/whisky.
Remember history at Kazerne Dossin
Kazerne Dossin is a very important part of Belgian history and a special place of remembrance. The Dossin Barracks where used by the Nazis as a deportation center, where over 25000 people were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The barracks are now a memorial and across the road there is a new museum: Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights.
Soak up the atmosphere at the Fish Market
If you want to mix in with the locals, head on over to the Fish Market and soak up the atmosphere at one of the bars or restaurants. Especially in summer, this is the place to be for some good ice-cream and a cocktail or beer. Also take a look at the Haverwerf, where initially oats (of which Mechelen had the exclusive staple rights) were unloaded and traded here. Don’t forget the three beautiful houses near the bridge that originate from the 16th and 17th century.
Walk along the river Dijle to the Botanical Garden
To see a different part of Mechelen, you can walk over the floating part of the Dyle Path which runs between the Haverwerf and the Botanical Garden. This is the perfect ending for your one day in Mechelen.
Entertain the children
The Toy Museum has one of the biggest collections of games, toys, and dolls in Europe. Children of all ages can enjoy some Monopoly or old-fashioned games while the not so young can discover the history of toys and be nostalgic about the toys they played with as kids.
When visiting Technopolis, you can experience how it is to sleep on a bed of nails, or how to land a plane safely. With over 350 experiments, exhibits, and workshops everybody can discover how things work.
Planckendael is more than just a zoo. Of course there are a lot of animals, but you can also walk amongst the penguins or walk between the treetops.
Where to stay in Mechelen?
Hotel Brouwerij Het Anker
Guido Gezellelaan 49, 2800 Mechelen
Hotel Brouwerij Het Anker provides a unique hotel experience since it’s located in a 15th century brewery. The hotel has an authentic brasserie where you can taste a variety of beer produced by Het Anker and they also serve local specialties. All rooms boast modern furniture and offer a super comfortable stay. The hotel is perfectly located, only a 10-minute walk from the Grote Markt.
Stassartstraat 26-28, 2800 Mechelen
Hotel Elisabeth is offering nicely decorated, modern stay in the center of Mechelen, only a short walk from St. Rumbolds Cathedral. The hotel features a bar, a terrace and a library. Bright, modern and spacious rooms provide a super comfortable stay.
Extra tips for visiting Mechelen
– The best way to go to Mechelen is by train from Antwerp or Brussels. But, as mentioned before, in Mechelen itself everything is reachable by foot.
– Don’t forget to buy some chocolates or beer while you’re there.
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Sharon grew up in Belgium and after stops in Lausanne (Switzerland) and Eindhoven (The Netherlands) she is living again in this little country. After finishing her PhD, she is working as a medical writer. She started traveling at a young age and recently began sharing her passion for food, travel, and photography in her blog.
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I’ve never heard of Mechelen thanks for sharing the highlights!