It’s time to get simple. Simple travel; where we just soak up our surroundings and not worry about checking off any bucket lists. This laid back and luscious way of seeing the world can be best experienced in the town of Mechelen, Belgium. And simple does not mean boring either!
How to get to Mechelen
Just 20 minutes on the train from Brussels will get you straight to downtown Mechelen. It’s an easy ride from several other large Belgian cities including Antwerp in the north and Ghent in the west.
Coming from outside Belgium, you can book a train from Amsterdam to Brussels, then to Mechelen from there on the same ticket. Flights from the UK go into Belgium airports direct, in cities like Antwerp and Brussels. You can take the train from London as well in just a few hours. Check flight alert sites like Skyscanner for the best deals. A road trip is always a fun option too!
Morning in Mechelen: Coffee & Tea
It’s an easy stroll from the train station to downtown to a top cafe, Mechelen style. Take the time to orientate yourself and end with a latte at Foom. This pretty café is quiet and just on the corner of the park, with views of St. Rumbold’s Tower. Grab a fresh pastry too if you’re feeling naughty. Your whole crew can get a farm table under the trees and lounge for a while.
From there, have a short walk and say hello to Opsinjoorke. You can’t miss him – he’s super big and super yellow. The entrance to St. Rumbold’s Tower is next door, and something that’s a must in Mechelen. You can climb a couple hundred steps to reach the top of the tower to be rewarded with panoramic views of the town.
Afternoon: More Grazing, Local-Style
One of the best things to do in Mechelen is use their brand new booklet for special treats. It’s great to help you find good spots to eat and sightsee, like a cafe Mechelen find popular or unique. Called “In the Footsteps Margareta, a Passport Book”, this clever offer allows for special discounts all over town (such as 25% of entrance at St. Rumbold’s Tower and Skywalk). But the highlight is the tickets you can use to visit local foodie establishments and receive a sample upon arrival.
There are six stops you can do – I made it to several in about an hour. Two of my treats were a small cheese sample plate at the delectable Kazen Schockaert, and a few moon-shaped chocolates at Bakery Vanderbeek. There’s a couple options for full lunch, Mechelen tips and more in the booklet.
It’s officially called “Sense-sations”, so keep an eye out for it at the tourism office in the center of the city for purchase. The idea was inspired by town icon and hero Margareta, who had a tumultuous history and influenced royal history throughout the Netherlands and Europe. Some call her a femme fatale, as her spouses all fell to their ultimate demises while married to her.
Squeezing in a lunch in Mechelen at this point might be a lot, but it’s well worth making room for fresh seafood at De Cirque. It was my first taste of life along the canal and I was living for it. Have a fruity beer and a hearty fish stew, watching the world go by. The waiter was so kind to explain the menu and recommend his favorites too.
Afternoon in Mechelen: Smooth Sailing and Sun
Now it’s time to get ON the canal! Mechelen has a wonderful, laid-back boat ride from the dock across from De Cirque. For a few Euros, you can enjoy a 90-minute town up and down the Inner Dijle, narrated by an English recording. I loved the modern-looking apartments that lined the canal, with beautiful open concept floors and gardens. Don’t forget sunblock though – there’s no cover and even in the spring it was hot.
I took my Sense-sations passport book out for a final walk through the main square. Café Sava is perfect for people watching, and you can use one of the book’s tickets for a slice of warm apple tart. They have a great wine menu too if you feel like an afternoon drink.
There’s plenty of really interesting and in-depth tours you can take throughout Mechelen to round-out your day. As seen via Margareta’s influence, there’s a great Women leaders in tow tour you can book with your group. Otherwise, have a browse through the lovely boutique shops in and around the center square. Some options include Sneak for shoes (and drinks too!) or Supergoods for sustainable, co-friendly fashion.
Where to Stay Mechelen
Although I did not have the pleasure of an overnight on this experience, there are many places to consider staying in town. They boast accommodations for most budgets, and support hotels from well-known chains to boutique B&Bs. There’s the quaint Corner 24 near the park, as well as the luxe apartments of Atrium 5 that make you feel like a local. One of the prettiest spots to stay is a converted church, now called Martin’s Patershof, staying true to the cathedral-like, grand design in many rooms.
What to do After Visiting Mechelen
You could easily enjoy a whole vacation trip in Mechelen, but most people will want to expand beyond this picturesque place. As mentioned, Brussels is nearby and you can stay there while doing day trips into Mechelen. The easy train network allows you to continue onto France or Germany in either direction. Here’s some ideas:
- Hit up all the top beer spots (including Mechelen) on a giant Belgium 22-stop tour!
- Try a river tour through the rest of Belgium that makes stops in Mechelen.
- You can split a transfer with friends from Amsterdam to Mechelen for an overnight, then continue to Brussels
Enjoy your trip! Have you visited any smaller European towns? What did you think? Would you do this outside of a normal city stop?