‘What to see in Mechelen: Mechelen child-friendly weekend guide’ blog post was first published on Culture Tourist on December 21st 2018 and updated on May 6th 2022.
Belgium is one of my favourite weekend destinations, and I often visit towns in Flanders. Its architecture, charming towns, comic books, and Belgian chocolates are just some of the things I love there the most. If you’re wondering about which town to visit in Flanders, consider Mechelen. With its great vibe and many fascinating cultural spots, it’s a great destination to visit. Check out this travel guide with tips about what to see in Mechelen for some inspiration.
What to see in Mechelen
I visited Mechelen on a press trip organised by Visit Mechelen and Visit Flanders in December 2018. Because of that, you’ll find some ideas for winter activities in Mechelen in this article about What to see in Mechelen, too.
This post contains some affiliate links.
⤷ Read more: The best weekend trips to Flanders (Belgium)
Weekend in Mechelen
Saturday at Mechelen
I visited Mechelen with my family, so, you’ll find here some child-friendly tips for visiting Mechelen. We drove from the Netherlands and arrived at Mechelen later in the morning, around 11 am. After leaving our car in a garage for the rest of the weekend, we headed to our hotel. It’s something I love about the small Belgian towns – you can walk everywhere.
We stayed at the Novotel Hotel during our weekend in Mechelen, right in the city centre. It was a perfect location for exploring the Christmas market. Stalls and an ice skating rink were right in front of our hotel. That put us immediately in the Christmas spirit.
⤷ Child-friendly TIP: I’m a big fan of Novotel hotels because they are usually in a great location, have spacious rooms and are so child-friendly. Our hotel had a small play area for kids in a lobby, with an Xbox with Kinect Sensor, a massive hit among children.
Saturday brunch at Mechelen
I started to like brunches so much during the last few years that I don’t remember when was the last time I had a proper weekend lunch. We started our visit to Mechelen at Sister Bean, a cute little restaurant with a buffet brunch. We ate a delicious shrimp salad, bruschettas and one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had.
⤷ TIP: Well, this is a tip for all the restaurants in Mechelen. Belgian food is delicious, and people like to eat outside. That’s why it’s recommendable to book a table in advance. We had tables booked both for our lunch and dinner, and there won’t be a chance we would get a table if we would just walk in.
Climbing Saint Rumbold’s Tower
The best way to start a visit to the city is to get a panoramic view of it first. In Mechelen, you can do that by climbing the 514 steps of Saint Rumbold’s Tower. Although really impressive and visible from all over the city, Saint Rumbold’s Tower is actually unfinished. By its original plans, it would be much higher. However, it’s so impressive that it got listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
Mechelen is famous for its carillon school, and one of the best places to hear it is inside the tower itself.
It was fascinating to see the old stonemasons’ signs carved in the tower’s interior walls while climbing to its top. It makes you wonder how they built such an impressive building back in the 15th century.
Once on its top, we enjoyed a beautiful panoramic view of Mechelen. Apparently, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Brussels. We weren’t that lucky, but the view was still worth climbing all those stairs.
If you’re wondering what to see in Mechelen, put climbing the Saint Rumbold’s Tower on your list.
⤷ Child-friendly TIP: We climbed the tower with our four-year-old son, and it was quite doable. There are six rooms your can visit on your way to the top. You can learn a bit about the tower’s history in each of them. There is a large yellow statue of the town’s mascot Opsinjoorke in front of the cathedral on which kids can play and climb. A few steps away is a small playground, too.
Mechelen Market Square & Town Hall
After climbing to the top of the tower, we continued exploring the historical centre of Mechelen. We wandered around the cobbled streets and felt like we had stepped into some passed times. Once at the Market Square, we explored all the different gables on the houses there. It’s so fascinating to see all the different animals on them: a cat, a pig, a deer, all of them were there.
Could it be that back in a time, you wouldn’t go to a friend that lived on a Market Square no. 5, but instead on the Market Square in a house with a pig on it?
As in many Flemish cities, the Town Hall is a piece of art. Those small towns were competing who would have the most beautiful one. Mechelen was definitely high on that list.
⤷ TIP: There is a statue of a town mascot in front of the Town Hall. It’s called Opsinjoorke, and it originates from the 17th century wooden mascot that was pulled around the city during some major events.
Toy Museum in Mechelen
One of the reasons for our trip to Mechelen was the Lego Exhibition organised at Mechelen’s Toy Museum. That institution is a place with one of the largest toy collections in Belgium. After walking through the permanent exhibition, we visited the Lego exhibition on the third floor. It was lovely seeing the first wooden Lego bricks and old commercials from the 1960s.
However, my favourite part was seeing the first Lego set I had as a kid. I got so nostalgic seeing some Legos from my childhood. The Toy Museum in Mechelen is such a great place to visit, we stayed in it until the closing time.
⤷ Child-friendly TIP: Art workshops are often organised at the museum, so ask about them at the entrance. We’ve joined one and have created some lovely Christmas cards there. The museum also has a special wooden suitcase, with which kids can explore the museum while playing at some stations or doing little tasks. The museum has a lovely cafe on the ground floor with a large play area for kids.
⤷ TIP: Get your online Toy Museum ticket on a link here.
Het Anker Brewery
I already mentioned that Mechelen is one of those lovely small towns perfect for strolling around and exploring on foot. I really enjoyed those slow walks on which we would laugh and talk and enjoy exploring some hidden corners of that charming town. Mechelen has a historical town atmosphere, but you’re going to find street art and some modern art installations, there, too. That combination of traditional and urban gives Mechelen such a great vibe.
⤷ TIP: If you’d like to explore more of the street art there, you can follow the Mechelen Muurt Walk. Take a look at the link here for more info.
We wanted to see the live Nativity scene in the courtyard of Het Anker Brewery. It was organised during our visit as a part of the Christmas market, so that’s where we headed afterwards. Mechelen was home to many breweries in the past, but today the oldest still existing one is Het Anker. It’s famous for its dark and quite strong Gouden Carolus beer. You can try it at the bar inside the brewery.
⤷ TIP: If you’d like to try some local products, get yourself a tasting booklet called Sense-Sational Mechelen at the Tourist Office. It includes some beer tasting at Het Anker, but also an apple pie and cheese with Gouden Carolus beer at some other places. The price of it is six euros only. However, I strongly recommend it because we had so much fun visiting some small shops and restaurants and trying local delicacies.
Dinner at De Cirque
I mentioned this a few times already – food in Belgium is big. One of the things I love the most when travelling to Belgium is exploring its restaurants and local food.
We had dinner on Saturday at De Cirque Restaurant, and it was delicious. I really liked how the restaurant had an elegant and classy interior, a fine dining menu, but, at the same time, it was so child-friendly. It’s spacious, and there were some crayons and paper for kids to draw. Little details like that make Mechelen such a great town to visit with kids.
Christmas Market at Vismarkt
Despite the shorter days, December is an excellent time to visit Mechelen. After our dinner, we stayed at Vismarkt, explored Christmas market stalls, listened to Christmas music, and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere.
⤷ Read more: Things to do at Mechelen Christmas market
Sunday at Mechelen
I don’t know if it’s just me but waking up in a new city is always exciting. And I never have any problem getting up early (in contrast with waking up in my own bed). First things first, we started our day with a hearty breakfast. My son was thrilled to find out they have delicious chocolate milk in Belgium. So, he treated himself to one for breakfast. While enjoying some delicious pastries and coffee, the adult part of the family made plans for the day.
We decided to explore the city more and went to some local food shops. After that, we planned to visit the Hof van Busleyden Museum, which I was really looking forward to.
Mechelen sends you on a way & Food tasting
We’ve got a booklet from the Tourist Office with a map so we can take a child-friendly self-guided tour and explore the city more. We’ve made it our task to look for images of animals around the city: from some on the houses in the Market Square to the cathedral and the Large Beguinage. Karlo led our way, so it probably took us much more than initially planned. However, we had so much fun along the way.
The first stop on our tour was at a wonderful Cheese Shop Schockaert. If I lived in Mechelen, this would definitely be my local shop. As a part of our Sense-Sational Mechelen booklet, we’ve got coupons for some cheese with Gouden Carolus beer there. And we liked it so much that we also bought a piece to bring home with us.
⤷ Child-friendly TIP: There is a table with some children’s books in a shop, where kids could sit and play while grown-ups are tasting all those beautiful cheeses.
A few steps further was another lovely place, the Vanderbeek Bakery. Filled with a wonderful smell of freshly made bread, it was so busy inside you could tell it’s one of the most popular bakeries in town. People were buying delicious bread for their Sunday lunch or some cookies for dessert afterwards.
While wandering around Mechelen, I enjoyed spotting small details on buildings and streets. Beautiful Art Noveau windows, coats of arms in the gables or little shells marking the path to Santiago de Compostela, they were all there.
The city was so peaceful in the morning (well, besides the bakery and a cheese shop) that we felt like we were the only people in some streets. I wanted to see the Large Beguinage, which is basically a town within a town. It’s a place where, centuries ago, the beguines lived.
It’s something so typical for Flemish (and some Dutch towns) that I always love exploring them when travelling around those countries. During the Crusades, men often went to war without returning, leaving many widows and orphans behind. That’s why those women started supporting each other and living together. Soon, small communities grew and became city neighbourhoods with their own breweries, nursery homes and stores. Today, many of those beguinages are beautiful architectural areas, often protected by UNESCO.
⤷ Child-friendly TIP: The whole area of the Large Beguinage is a pedestrian zone. So, it’s great for kids to run around and explore it themselves.
Hof van Busleyden Museum
Mechelen was a vital art centre during the Renaissance time. A significant person from that time is Jeroen van Busleyden who built Hof van Busleyden as his home at the beginning of the 16th century. He was a scholar, diplomat and politician, and he was crucial for founding a Collegium Trilingue at a nearby Leuven.
Today it’s home to a museum where you can learn a lot about Mechelen’s history, its importance as a location of the high court, capital of the Low Countries and some of its famous inhabitants.
⤷ Child-friendly TIP: If you’re visiting with a child, ask for an activity booklet at the entrance. Special golden boxes are located all around the museum, and in each of them, you’ll find different tasks kids have to do. It’s quite nice because they are going to create their own art piece out of it in the end.
Lunch at Sava
Still under the impression of all the art we’ve seen and the beautiful buildings we noticed during our walk, we decided to relax and have lunch. We followed our booklet’s recommendation and went to the local tapas Sava Restaurant where we had some delicious seafood. For dessert, we had an apple pie seasoned with Gouden Carolus beer. And although it may sound like a weird combination, it worked really well!
⤷ Read more: Where to see Pieter Bruegel’s paintings in Belgium
We went ice skating as a treat for the end of our trip to Mechelen. Two out of three members of our family are huge fans of it (you can probably guess by the pictures above which ones). Mechelen has a very special floating ice skating rink at the River Dijle. We had a lot of fun there, and it definitely made the end of our visit so enjoyable.
⤷ TIP: If you’re going to visit during the spring or summertime, take a walk alongside the Dijle River. It’s a beautiful area filled with some beautiful houses. So, perfect for relaxing a bit after the whole day of exploring Mechelen.
Some fun facts about Mechelen
⤷ Mechelen was the capital of the Low Countries (roughly today’s the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in the first half of the 16th century
⤷ First train service on the European continent was between Mechelen and Brussels. And the first train departed in 1835.
⤷ First postal service between Mechelen and Innsbruck was established in 1490.
⤷ Margaret of Austria lived there – She was a regent of the Habsburg’s Low Countries between 1507 and 1530. Her residential palace was the Hof van Savoje, the first Renaissance building in the Low Countries and the new style spread from there. She had a turbulent life. She was 24 when her third husband and the love of her life died, and she refused to remarry after that (well, who could blame her). During her reign, arts and sciences flourished. And some notable artists and phylosophers stayed at the palace. Its garden is open to visitors on Saturdays between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm.
Useful tips before visiting Mechelen
How much time to spend in Mechelen
Although I’ve spent a weekend in Mechelen, you can definitely add a few more days to it. There’s so much to do and see there, you won’t have a problem with finding things to do in Mechelen. The town is still relatively undiscovered by large groups of tourists, so you can explore it at a slower pace. Because of that and many child-friendly restaurants and activities, it’s a great place to visit with kids.
How to get to Mechelen
Located right between Antwerp and Brussels, Mechelen is easily reachable from both cities. The closest airport is Brussels Airport, so you can also fly and catch a train to Mechelen then.
⤷ By train: Mechelen is well connected by train. It has a direct train connection with Amsterdam (you can check the schedule on a link here). If you’re travelling from London or Paris, you can take Eurostar or Thalys to Brussels, and catch a local train to Mechelen then.
⤷ By car: We travelled to Mechelen by car, and it took us a bit more than two hours to get there from Amsterdam. The city has many public garages located in the city centre where you can leave your car.
How to get around Mechelen
Mechelen is home to around 80,000 people and is a relatively small town. The majority of its city centre is a pedestrian zone, so it’s best to explore it on foot.
⤷ TIP: Although those cobbled streets are lovely, they could be a pain if you’ll have a suitcase with wheels on it. I would definitely recommend you travel with a backpack, instead of a suitcase. Also, if you’re going to visit with a baby or a toddler in a stroller, consider taking a baby carrier instead.
Mechelen is kids-friendly
Mechelen is one of the most child-friendly places I’ve ever been to. Each museum we visited had a lovely children’s program and activities. You’re going to find an image of Rommy, a blue character made after the St. Rombold’s Tower, in front of the child-friendly restaurants and cafes. Mechelen Tourist Office offers booklets with child-friendly activities filled with ideas about what to see in Mechelen, so start your visit at their office at the address Vleeshouwersstraat 6.
With its beautiful architecture, interesting history, many lovely things to do and a great foodie scene, Mechelen is a great place to visit. Hopefully, this guide about what to see in Mechelen will make your visit even more enjoyable.
I visited Mechelen on a press trip organised by Visit Mechelen. Many thanks to them for organising such a lovely weekend trip for us. The article What to see in Mechelen was created as a part of it.
This post contains some affiliate links.