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 75,000 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 6 or 8 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 organisations for Flanders. Some famous examples are Natuurpunt, AFS, 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-firemen). 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 mobilised to extinguish the fire but there was no fire to extinguish.
Mechelen is easily reached by train. From Brussels and Antwerp it takes about 25 minutes.
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.
St. Rumbold's Cathedral (Sint-Romboutskathedraal) is 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 tryptichs 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.
The Museum of Toys (Speelgoedmuseum)
The Market Square (Grote Markt) has the cathedral cutting across one end and the Town Hall at the opposite end, with restaurants and cafes lining the sides between the two.
The main shopping streets are Bruul and IJzerenleen, both radiating out from the Market Square.
Vrijbroek Park (Vrijbroekpark)
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.
Hof van Busleyden is an eclectic museum with items of local interest. Paintings, sculpture, tapestries, the town mascot, and the chains from the old jail - there's a little of everything. Explanations are in Dutch only, but with free entry it's still worth a visit.
Sint-Janskerk is one of the 8 historic churches in Mechelen, with a notable Reubens painting/tryptich "Adoration of the Magi". The painting of the crucifixion by Wauters is also very impressive. Open 1:30-5:30 PM except Mondays and during services.
The Begijnhofkerk, another of the churches, is known for the two statues above the door, one of Saint Catherine and one of God the Father.
The Palace of Margaret of Austria is 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-organised gardens.
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 of Mechelen. The 45 minute trip costs 6 EUR. Departures are every hour on the half hour, from Haverwerf.
There's a Match supermarket on Haverwerf, if you need supplies for self-catering.
Dumon (with the Kaizer Karel signs) on Veemarkt has reasonable pub food.
Soep Sjop on the Bruul (not far from the river) has home-made soups and sandwiches.
De Maneblusser, Onder Den Toren 7 (just opposite the cathedral tower) offers filled sandwiches at 2-4 EUR each.
Brewery Het Anker. Features locally brewed Mechelse Bruynen and Gouden Carolus. http://www.hetanker.be/ Guido Gezellelaan 49 (on the ringway around the city center).
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
Hotel Vé, Vismarkt 14, +32 (0) 15-200.755 (fax: +32 (0)15-200.760), . A stylish hotel located 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. During the weekends there's a discount of 30-40 EUR off the normal room rates.
Zandpoort Youth Hostel, Zandpoortvest, 27 85 39 (fax: 27.85.40), . 20 min. from the main train station, 15 min. from the city center. 15-20€.
The city code for Mechelen is 15.
Mechelen had some problems with some youthgroups. There is no immediate threath if you stay on touristic routes, but certain neighbourhoods are to be avoided at night.
The city used to have one of the highest criminality rates of Flanders. Since 2003 the city is reviving again. Nowadays, it is safe to walk through Mechelen. The city has improved much over the last years. Don't worry, just enjoy!
Planckendael Animal Park (Dierenpark Planckendael) , +32(0)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).
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