by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:19th March 2024

A delightful treat in Flanders

Visiting the charming city of Mechelen in the heart of Belgium is a true Flemish treat and a delightful location to add to your Flanders itinerary.

The beautiful city of Mechelen often floats under the radar of overseas travellers. Therefore, you gain an honest local experience when you visit. We loved visiting Mechelen because you frequently felt like a fly on the wall while Flemish was being spoken all around you; however, their English was perfect, too.

It’s incredibly easy navigating Mechelen’s historic cobbled-stoned streets and a perfectly sized city for a relaxing European mini-break.

There is plenty to see and do in Mechelen, from climbing St Rumbold’s towering Belfry to the Skywalk above, heading off on a calming boat trip, sampling the local brew at Het Anker Brewery or a little culture at the Het Kunstuur.

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Mechelen is a treat for all, so let’s don our comfy shoes and explore our 8 must-sees in Mechelen, although I’m sure you’ll discover some little gems for yourself.

If you’re visiting Mechelen as part of a Belgian road trip, ensure you also visit the historic cities of Ghent and Leuven.

Where is Mechelen?

How to get to Mechelen

- By Train
Start creating your own Mechelen adventure by train and discover the cultural delights of this picturesque city at a relaxed pace. Explore the sites amongst the charming city streets.

In under 2 hours and 45 minutes from the UK, you can hop on the Eurostar to Brussels, change onto a Belgium National Rail train to Mechelen, and your Flemish fun begins.

- By Car
If you’re venturing from the UK, jump on Le Shuttle and tour Belgium under your own steam.

Alternatively, it’s so easy to visit Flanders on a road trip. Rental Cars search multiple well-known car hire brands and find the best deals that suit you.

Our 8 things to see and do in Mechelen

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A fascinating way to be introduced to any historic town or city is to head off on an informative walking tour with a local guide.
An ornate wooden sign with figures from Mechelen's history with St Rumbold's Tower in the background.
The historic city of Mechelen

Our Mechelen Burgundian walking tour was organised by Visit Mechelen and started at the tourist office in the historic Alderman’s building, the Schepenhuis. Our guide, Marie-Louise, was passionate about Mechelen and incredibly knowledgeable about the picturesque city.

The walking tour lasted a couple of hours. It took us all around the historic city centre, through the magnificent Grote Markt and along the Dyle River to admire the merchant’s houses. Our guide explained the architectural impact on Mechelen due to WWI and how the buildings have been sensitively restored.

Mechelen's historic City hall and Cloth Hall on the edge of the Grote Markt
Mechelen's City Hall
We passed through charming squares, old and new, visited magnificent churches and tracked the route of the hidden waterways beneath the streets of Mechelen. This tour was a captivating insight into Mechelen’s incredible past.

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Ascending St Rumbold’s Tower in Mechelen certainly became a sense of achievement, particularly since it was a climb of 538 steps to the Skywalk at the top of the 97.5 metres high tower, and it was towards the end of a long day.

Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral, with the statue of Margaret of Austria in the foreground.
St Rumbold’s Cathedral

Mechelen’s towering Belfry is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site and forms one of the Belfries of Belgium and France. St. Rumbold’s Tower, is Belgium’s highest Gothic tower and the aches in our legs certainly reflected that at the bottom.

The climb to the top of the tower was made slightly easier as there were five floors to stop at along the way, where you could read about the history of the belfry from the informative storyboards.

The verdigris bronze bells of Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen, with the contrasting red mechnisms to strike them.
St Rumbold's Tower Bells
The view down from the crane chamber to the pipes of St Rumbold's Cathedral's organ below and the stained glass window behind.
St Rumbold's Cathedral organ

You’ll pass through the Crane Chamber, where you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the cathedral organ below. As you ascend further, you’ll enter the Bell Chamber, where 49 bells were once rung by hand, the Clock Chamber, and the New Carillon Chamber.

The final 48 steps will guide you to the top of the Belfry the Skywalk, where you can enjoy the 360-degree views from the top of St Rumbold's Tower. It was certainly worth the climb.

The view from Grote Markt in the centre of Mechelen with Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral in the background.
St Rumbold’s Tower from the Grote Markt
Ensure you allow time to visit Mechelen’s beautiful St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, which sits at the feet of the tower. This Gothic cathedral stands proudly in the city near the Grote Markt and is magnificent inside and out. Take a seat in the church after your climb; you’ll appreciate it even more.

Maneblussers, the Moon Extinguishers

I always love a little bit of folklore, and still today, the people of Mechelen proudly hold the nickname Maneblussers, the Moon Extinguishers.

The delightful tale shared amongst visitors is that on one night in January 1687, a slightly inebriated local stumbled out of an inn in Grote Markt.

As he glanced at St Rumbold's tower piercing into the hazy skies, he noticed the tower was ablaze. He raised the alarm, and the city came out in force to extinguish the fire with hand-to-hand buckets of water.

Before the chain of buckets reached the top of the tower, the moon slipped away, and the reddish glow disappeared along with it. The loyal citizens of Mechelen were trying to extinguish the moon.

To really appreciate the history and the past of the Inner Dyle in Mechelen, we recommend jumping aboard a boat tour with Rederij Malinska. The 45-minute cruise starts and finishes at Haverwerf, offers a unique viewpoint of the city, and is brimming with fascinating tales and intriguing snippets of information.

The peaceful electric boat guides you through the marina, passing by some charming riverside homes and onto Keerdok. Here, you’ll see the lock, which eventually leads out to the North Sea and beyond.

Keep a lookout for the low bridges you’ll need to duck down.

Two tour boats boarding opposite the fish harbour in Mechelen
Taking a boat trip in Mechelen
The historic city of Mechelen has evolved over the centuries along the River Dyle. The enjoyable meandering waterways once flourished from its malt and grain industries and its productive fish trading from the 16th-century Vismarkt.
Historic buildings along the edge of the River Dyle, as seen from the boat trip in Mechelen.
Floating through Mechelen
Many years ago, Mechelen was alive with snaking canals through the city; however, the waterways were filled in due to sanitation and health reasons. Although in recent years, the hidden canals and brooks are gradually being revived.

Where to stay in Mechelen

Hotel Martin’s Patershof

Hotel Martin’s Patershof is a beautifully restored church hotel located along the quiet street of Karmelietenstraat. It was an incredibly peaceful day and night.

This beautiful hotel was a former 19th-century neo-Gothic convent converted into a Martin’s Hotel in 2009. The accommodation and recreational areas are tastefully blended with the historic church and modern-day amenities.

The Hotel Martin’s Patershof is only a five-minute stroll to the Fish Market and 10 minutes to the Grote Markt in Mechelen, so perfect for a weekend getaway.

We visited Mechelen as part of a Flanders road trip, so the on-site car park was perfect and was chargeable at €30 per day.

There’s always time for a brewery tour, and the Het Anker Brewery tour was fascinating.

The founding of the Het Anker Brewery began within the Beguines hospital in the Large Beguinage in Mechelen, which forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Beguines were a group of single ladies who lived within a self-sufficient community and took no religious vows.

Glass jars containing the raw ingredients used for crafting belgium beers at the het anker brewery in mechelen, belgium
Ingredients for brewing beer

While the Beguines cared for the sick, they used to boil the local water and add flavourings to improve the taste. This evolved into them brewing their own beer, and so, in 1471, a brewery was founded.

The hospital, along with other 15th & 16th century buildings, is now part of the Het Anker Brewery, and is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium.

The Het Anker Brewery tour lasted two hours. You were guided through the historic buildings, and our cheery guide explained the entire process, from grain to glass. In 1872, the Van Breedam family purchased the brewery, and five generations later, its legacy still remains.

Three copper tuns at the Het Anker brewery in Mechelen
Copper brew kettles
Het Anker Brewery produces delicious beers and distils its own single-malt whiskies. During the tour, you can sample one of their whiskies and two beers, the Gouden Carolus Tripel and the Gouden Carolus Classic.

Tourist Information

If you’re tempted to visit Mechelen, the local tourist office provides some highly useful information and handy pointers for around the city. They can be found at Vleeshouwersstraat 6 in Schepenhuis, the old Alderman’s House.

We also found that the Visit Flanders website gave some extremely handy pointers when planning your trip to Ghent.

This unique art experience at Het Kunstuur returns to Mechelen for the sixth time as it is incredibly popular with locals and visitors alike.

The distinctive Art Hour tour celebrates the works of Belgian artists from 1887-1938. The unusual aspect of this delightful tour is that each of the 32 masterpieces is explained in detail from a vision of a Flemish celebrity projected next to the masterpiece.

Bikes outside of the Het Kunstuur gallery in Mechelen with Saint Rumbold’s Tower in the background.
Het Kunstuur

When you arrive, you are escorted in groups into a dark room, and the exhibited original paintings are lit up one at a time. Each Belgian celebrity has chosen a piece of art that they have a personal connection with, and they explain what the painting evokes within them or how it relates to their individual circumstances.

Many of the paintings are from private collections and other pieces are on loan from museums. The exhibition is held in the 13th-century "Chapel of Holy Spirit" opposite St Rumbold's Cathedral.

If you’re heading off on a Belgium adventure, then grab a copy of this DK Eyewitness book. I love planning road trips and these guides are so helpful.

I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of the back roads.

Mechelen is a fantastic city to explore on foot. The cobbled streets offer many historical delights.

There are some extraordinary churches to visit in Mechelen, and they are quite unique as they house magnificent and rare pieces of artwork. In the ‘Church of Our Lady across the river Dijle’, a large Rubens triptych entitled ‘The Miraculous Draught of Fishes’ can be found.

Three historic guild buildings on the river's edge in Mechelen

We loved strolling along the River Dyle. Along Zoutwerf, we spotted the three fish merchant buildings with beautiful wooden façades; the "De Steur" (the sturgeon), "De Waag" (the scale), and the Renaissance-styled building, "De Zalm" (the salmon).

A little further along the river at Haverwerf are three more ornate houses built during the 16th & 17th-centuries. From right to left, they are named Het Paradijske, Little Paradise; the middle is De Duiveltjes, The Little Devils, and to the left, Sint-Jozef.

Tables and chairs are laid out on the Fish Market in Mechelen, home to the restaurant Emiel.
The Fish Market in Mechelen

Ensure you cross the river at Van Beethovenbrug and wander around the Vismarkt. Today, the fish market is a bustling square with restaurants and bars. However, evidence of the fish merchant houses can still be seen on the water’s edge.

There are a couple of museums that I recommend visiting in Mechelen. The first is the Museum Hof van Busleyden. This charming museum is located in a majestic Renaissance palace in the heart of Mechelen.

Retrace the footsteps of the Hiëronymus van Busleyden and Margaret of Austria during the 15th & 16th centuries and the influences that the Renaissance period had on the city. Dig deeper into Mechelen’s Burgundian history and take a stroll around the attractive courtyard gardens.

The white brick building that was once part of the Nazi complex to deport those it deemed sub-human to Auschwitz and other concentration camps from Mechelen.
Kazerne Dossin Memorial & Museum

The second museum I urge you to visit is the Kazerne Dossin Memorial and Museum. This museum is extremely poignant to Mechelen and is dedicated to the holocaust when Germany occupied Belgium during World War II.

Mechelen built the first railway on the European continent and continued to develop its railway network during the early 20th-century; unfortunately, this led to the Nazis using Mechelen as a transit hub to concentration camps.

During WWII, thousands of Jews and Roma were transported from Mechelen to Auschwitz. The site of the camp is now the touching Kazerne Dossin Memorial and Museum, which remembers this horrific period of history.

It’s not all about the chocolate in Belgium.

In the evenings, we ate in a couple of delectable restaurants in Mechelen. The first was at Lam’eau, located along Haverwerf in the old, converted Lamot Brewery. Lam'eau was a lovely restaurant; the surroundings were very modern and stylish, and the atmosphere and food were delightful.

The second restaurant, Emiel, specialised in fish and seafood and was located in Vismarkt. The seasonal menu changes monthly, and Emiel has a set menu, although you can choose to have four, five, or six courses.

This restaurant was exceptional, and the quality of the food was exquisite.

Inside the 'De Vleeshalle' food hall after the peak of lunchtime has passed
De Vleeshalle

Our lunchtime stop was at De Vleeshalle, a vast food hall that was once occupied by butchers and where they sold their produce. Today, De Vleeshalle is a culinary hotspot in the heart of Mechelen and offers dishes from around the world.

All the food in De Vleeshalle looked amazing, and it was a struggle to decide which cuisine to try. We wanted to sample a little bit from every vendor.

Our video of Mechelen

We have created a little YouTube video of Mechelen.  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?


This article was produced in partnership with Visit Mechelen and Visit Flanders in exchange for an honest review and an account of our personal experiences.

* This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.

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