15 Things to Do in Mechelen, Belgium in 2024

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Mechelen, a charming city nestled in the heart of Flanders, Belgium, offers a captivating mix of historical grandeur and contemporary culture.

As you wander through its picturesque streets, you’re greeted by the majestic silhouette of St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, an architectural marvel that towers over the city’s skyline.

Mechelen is not just about its impressive past; it’s a vibrant community where the old and new harmoniously blend, from its ancient carillon school that still fills the air with melodious chimes to the trendy cafes and boutiques that dot its historic center.

This city, once the capital of the Burgundian Netherlands, today stands as a testament to the enduring beauty and resilience of Flemish culture.

S.NoAttraction/ActivityDescription
1St. Rumbold’s CathedralVisit the iconic cathedral known for its architecture.
2Beguinage CourtyardsExplore the historic courtyards in the city.
3Shopping in NokerstraatShop in the popular local shopping street.
4City Waterway CruiseEnjoy a scenic cruise through Mechelen’s waterways.
5Toy MuseumDiscover toys from various eras at the museum.
6Coffee RoasteryExperience local coffee culture and sampling.
7Café TerracesRelax and people-watch from various café terraces.
8Concept ShopsDiscover unique and innovative shops in the city.
9Margaret of Austria’s PalaceVisit the historical residence of Margaret of Austria.
10Belgian ChocolatesEnjoy the famous Belgian chocolates.
11Historic ReenactmentsAttend reenactments depicting Mechelen’s history.
12Mechelen City HallExplore the historical city hall and its architecture.
13Cathedral MuseumVisit the museum located within the cathedral.
14Carillon LearningLearn about the traditional Belgian carillon.
15Overall CharmExperience the unique charm and location of Mechelen.

Whether you’re exploring the lush greenery of its Vrijbroek Park, delving into the rich tapestry of its art and history museums, or enjoying the warmth and hospitality of its local markets, Mechelen invites you to discover its unique charm. Through this guide, we’ll introduce you to 15 essential experiences that showcase the best of Mechelen, ensuring your visit is both memorable and deeply enriching.

Admire the Magnificent St. Rumbold’s Cathedral

Name and Location:
St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, located in the heart of Mechelen.

History and Significance:
This Gothic cathedral, dating back to the 13th century, is famous for its towering spire and as the seat of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts remarkable religious art.

What to Expect:
Visitors can admire the stunning architecture, beautiful stained glass windows, and artworks. The climb to the top of the tower offers panoramic views of the city.

Visitor Information:
Open to visitors year-round with guided tours available. Entrance fees apply for tower access.

The centerpiece of Mechelen is the awe-inspiring St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Brabantine Gothic architecture. Take time to notice intricate details like the ornate pulpit, elaborate choir stalls, paintings by Rubens, and the huge tower with carillon. Getting to see this cathedral and river views from the soaring tower on a guided visit makes for an unforgettable experience.

Wander Through Cozy Beguinage Courtyards

Name and Location:
The Beguinages of Mechelen, scattered throughout the city.

History and Significance:
These are former homes of beguines, religious women living in community without taking vows. Recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they showcase unique medieval architecture.

What to Expect:
Experience tranquil courtyards, charming houses, and serene atmosphere, offering a glimpse into a bygone way of life.

Visitor Information:
Accessible year-round, free of charge. Some areas may be private.

Mechelen’s serene 13th century beguinage, home to a community of lay religious women in the Middle Ages, makes for a peaceful stroll with its inner courtyards, whitewashed houses and St. Catherine Church. See the tiny “silent chapel” for solitary prayer and marble plaque recalling when condemned women on death row once stayed here before executions. An oasis close to the city sights.

Browse the Quirky Stores of Nokerstraat

Name and Location:
Nokerstraat, a bustling street in Mechelen.

History and Significance:
Known for its eclectic mix of shops and local businesses, representing the vibrant commercial history of the city.

What to Expect:
Discover a variety of unique shops selling everything from vintage clothing to artisanal products. Perfect for finding unusual gifts and souvenirs.

Visitor Information:
Most shops are open during regular business hours. Weekends can be particularly lively.

Away from mainstream shopping, the charming Nokerstraat and connecting side alleys burst with creative flair thanks to the many independent boutiques, galleries and cafés filling repurposed medieval buildings decorated with eye-catching murals. Browse artisan chocolates, ceramics, jewelry, clothing and more while soaking up quirky atmosphere. Stop for lunch alfresco to people watch.

Cruise Along the City’s Waterways

Name and Location:
Boat tours along the Dijle River in Mechelen.

History and Significance:
The river has been an integral part of Mechelen’s history, shaping its development and trade.

What to Expect:
A relaxing boat ride offering unique views of the city’s historical buildings and natural landscapes. Commentary often provided on the history and significance of sights along the way.

Visitor Information:
Boat tours are seasonal, typically running from spring to early autumn. Ticket purchase required.

Mechelen grew wealthy in the Middle Ages thanks to river trading. Get out on the water yourself and admire great views of the historical center, cathedral tower and medieval architecture from low arched bridges during a relaxing boat tour. Different options from one hour to full days trips allow you to see the city and verdant landscapes along the Dijle River and Willebroek Canal at a calm pace.

Step Back in Time at the Toy Museum

Name and Location:
Toy Museum, located in Mechelen.

History and Significance:
A museum dedicated to the history of toys and childhood, housing a vast collection of toys from various eras.

What to Expect:
See a wide array of toys, from antique dolls to vintage train sets. Interactive exhibits often delight both children and adults.

Visitor Information:
Open year-round. Admission fee applies. Family-friendly with facilities for children.

Travel back to your childhood at Mechelen’s wonderful Speelgoedmuseum (Toy Museum) situated in a former 17th century convent. This trip down memory lane displays a vast collection of vintage toys, dolls and dollhouses, tin soldiers, model train sets spanning 1840-1960, plus pedal cars, rocking horses, stereoscopes, zoetropes and magic lanterns that visitors can play with firsthand. Absolutely delightful!

Sample the Heavenly Aroma of the Coffee Roastery

Name and Location:
Local coffee roasteries in Mechelen.

History and Significance:
Mechelen has a rich tradition of coffee roasting, with several local roasteries continuing the craft.

What to Expect:
Visitors can enjoy the aroma of fresh coffee, learn about the roasting process, and taste different coffee blends. Some roasteries offer workshops or tours.

Visitor Information:
Open to visitors, though hours may vary. Some roasteries may require advance booking for tours.

One aroma that will lure you off Mechelen’s streets is the divine scent of fresh coffee wafting from family-run coffee company, D.E. Master Roasters. Join a workshop to learn about sourcing, roasting techniques and preparing artisanal coffee. Best perk? Tasting your workshop results along with pralines pairings afterward!

People Watch from a Cozy Café Terrace

Name and Location:
Cafés throughout Mechelen, particularly in the central squares.

History and Significance:
Café culture is an integral part of life in Mechelen, offering a window into the daily life and social fabric of the city.

What to Expect:
A relaxed atmosphere perfect for enjoying a coffee or local beer while watching the world go by. Many cafés serve light meals and snacks.

Visitor Information:
Cafés are generally open daily. Outdoor seating is seasonal.

Embrace laidback Belgian culture and watch daily life unfold from a sunny outdoor café lining the elegant main square, Grote Markt. Order Belgian beers or coffee accompanied by the country’s best crispy frites, decadent chocolates and maybe even some Belgium’s famous waffles oozing melted chocolate. An indulgent way to recharge while marveling at the incredible architecture framing the square!

Discover Creative Concept Shops

Name and Location:
Concept stores located throughout Mechelen.

History and Significance:
These shops reflect the city’s growing reputation as a hub for creative and innovative retail.

What to Expect:
A blend of shopping, art, and design. These stores often feature unique products, from designer clothing to handcrafted home decor.

Visitor Information:
Mostly located in the city center. Opening hours vary, with many closed on Sundays.

Several innovative concept stores have recently popped up, giving visitors fresh modern options for shopping in Mechelen alongside quaint boutiques. Some of the coolest include Vicino for trendsetting sustainable Belgian fashion and homewares, the FAVV Shop brimming with products from local Belgian artisans and foodies, as well as four floors of original gifts to treasure at uber-stylish Bruut by Standaard Boekhandel.

See Where the Composer Margaret of Austria Once Lived

Name and Location:
Margaret of Austria’s Palace, also known as Hof van Savoye, in Mechelen.

History and Significance:
This Renaissance building was the residence of Margaret of Austria, a significant political figure in European history.

What to Expect:
Visitors can explore the historical rooms and learn about the life of Margaret of Austria, as well as the broader history of the region.

Visitor Information:
Open to the public, with guided tours available. Admission fees apply.

Mechelen’s illustrious history means palaces and prestigious buildings dot the city. Within the former 16th century Palace of Margaret of Austria, this formidable Renaissance woman and diplomat cultivated musicians, writers and thinkers while ruling the Low Countries. Although the interiors are closed to the public, the impressive facade wedged between buildings hints at the luxury found inside during its heyday.

Indulge in Delectable Chocolates

Name and Location:
Chocolate shops and ateliers throughout Mechelen.

History and Significance:
Belgium is world-renowned for its chocolate, and Mechelen is home to several fine chocolatiers.

What to Expect:
A paradise for chocolate lovers, with a wide range of handmade chocolates and truffles to sample and purchase.

Visitor Information:
Many chocolate shops are open daily. Some offer workshops or tastings.

As Belgium manufactures some of the world’s silkiest, creamiest chocolates, visitors to Mechelen simply must indulge while in town! For sublime fillings made with organic local ingredients coated in premium chocolate, Chocolatier Van Tichelen comes highly recommended. Award winning chocolatier The Chocolate Line also pushes creative boundaries with surprising flavors combos that become irresistible addictions.

See Mesmerizing Historic Reenactments

Name and Location:
Historic reenactments at various locations in Mechelen, often in historical settings.

History and Significance:
These events bring to life the rich history of Mechelen, from medieval times to the Renaissance.

What to Expect:
Spectacular displays of historical events, costumes, and traditions, providing an immersive experience into the past.

Visitor Information:
Events are usually scheduled annually or during special festivals. Check local event calendars for dates and ticket information.

Fans of medieval pageantry and living history will love Mechelen’s Ommegang Cultural Heritage Festival that transports spectators back to the 15th century with splendid costumed parades, horses, falconry, music, theater and games. Other festivities bringing historic Mechelen alive include a lively spring carnival, theater performances in the Market Square or at the former Palace of Margaret of Austria and summer street entertainment.

Explore the Ornate Interiors of Mechelen City Hall

Name and Location:
Mechelen City Hall, located in the city’s main square.

History and Significance:
A historic building that combines Gothic and Renaissance architecture, representing the political and cultural heart of Mechelen.

What to Expect:
Ornate interiors with historical art and artifacts. The building often hosts exhibitions and cultural events.

Visitor Information:
Open to the public with guided tours available. Some areas may have restricted access during official functions.

While Mechelen’s striking city hall anchoring the market square dazzles from outside,venture within to admire lavish halls decorated with monumental paintings by local artists paying tribute to the city’s prosperity and key historical events. The Gothic Chamber still boasts original 15th furnishings like the aldermen benches used by former city councilors. Guided tours allow access on certain days for memorable photos.

See Rare Masterpieces at the Cathedral Museum

Name and Location:
The Cathedral Museum, located within St. Rumbold’s Cathedral.

History and Significance:
The museum houses a collection of religious art, including works from the Flemish Primitives.

What to Expect:
An impressive display of paintings, sculptures, and liturgical items, highlighting the artistic heritage of the region.

Visitor Information:
Open year-round. Admission fee applies, often included with the cathedral entrance.

Next to St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, the underrated Cathedral Museum safeguards precious religious treasures plus paintings removing during cathedral renovations. Chief highlights include the miraculous 13th century wooden sculpture called Our Lady of Hanswijk, priceless metalwork relics, rare liturgical vestments and manuscripts dating back a thousand years. An absolute must for appreciating the full glory of Mechelen’s impressive cathedral.

Learn the History Behind the Carillons

Name and Location:
The Royal Carillon School and various locations in Mechelen.

History and Significance:
Mechelen is renowned for its carillon culture and has played a pivotal role in the development of carillon music.

What to Expect:
Learn about the history and mechanics of carillons. Visitors can sometimes witness live performances and even try playing.

Visitor Information:
The Royal Carillon School offers guided tours and demonstrations. Check for scheduled performances and opening hours.

As a long time carillon capital thanks to its bell founding history, Mechelen honors this musical tradition at the Belgian Carillon Heritage Center. See demonstrations of carillon musicianship, exhibits outlining bell casting, clock mechanisms and sound phenomena plus the chance to create your own carillon music! Gain insight into this unique Flemish art form best experienced live when cathedral carillon concerts ring out across the city.

Conclusion

With atmospheric medieval lanes, museums and historic sights galore, along with indulgent cafes, chocolatiers and quirky shops, the charming city of Mechelen makes the perfect weekend escape. Its central city location between Brussels and Antwerp means it often gets overlooked but our 2024 bucket list reveals why Mechelen deserves more travellers’ attention. Come experience the magic for yourself!

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