Due to its proximity to the Belgian Capital Brussels, Mechelen is often overlooked by tourists. This is really a pity, because Mechelen has much to offer and it is not quite as expensive a city as Brussels. It also has a very rich history: perhaps richer than its big sister, Brussels. You don’t, for instance, have to dig very deep into history to discover that, at one point, Mechelen was actually the capital of Netherlands!
In the recent years though, we have tended to see situations where folks view Mechelen as a place they just pass through (on trains, cars or buses), as they move from the airport in Brussels to their real destinations. That notwithstanding though, it is worth noting that Mechelen is a vibrant city, which has found a way of synchronizing its history with its present. It is, in other words, one of the historical cities that have resisted the temptation to be held hostage by their rich historical heritages. It is a living, historic city.
Getting around Mechelen
Public transport within Mechelen is mostly by bus. The buses ply routes originating from the city center to the slightly outlying parts. There are, however, just a few of these: thanks to the fact that Mechelen is what can be best described as small, neatly packaged city.
There is a train station in Mechelen (from where you can get a connection to Brussels and other places). You will notice, however, that the train station is not exactly in the city center. It is a few kilometers a way, but still within a distance you can comfortably walk.
Like most smallish cities, Mechelen offers the option of being explored on foot. This is indeed the option to take, if you want to fully and genuinely tour Mechelen: where the past and the present (in terms of history) seem to co-exist without major conflicts.
Things to see and do in Mechelen
You can start your Mechelen tour with a brief visit to the information center (which is conveniently located in the main square). This will add value to your visit, as you will have a chance to obtain comprehensive information on the city’s attractions. Moreover, there are folks from the tourist information center giving guided tours.
Even if you don’t have a chance to see anything else in Mechelen, you should, at the very least, see St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, dating as far back as the year 1200. It is an amazing edifice, even by today’s standards – especially given its natural looking beauty.
There is also the Refuge of the Abbey of Tongerlo, whose construction seems to have taken extreme ingenuity.
In the old city of Mechelen, you will encounter several cute buildings from as far back as the 1500s, and the fact that they have managed to remain in solid form to this day will surely awe you. Their beauty is in another class altogether (and you will be amazed at the lengths people in generations before ours were willing to go to manually decorate their dwellings).
The Palace (which was at one time where the Queen of Austria ruled the Netherlands) will also surely take your breath away, especially when you get to see its amazing gardens.
While in Mechelen, you may also consider paying a visit to the Museum of Toys (yes, there is such an entity) and the clocks and watches museum.
Mechelen is a city blessed with extensive waterways, and if you can spare a small amount of time and money, you can get a chance to cruise in the said waterways, and in the process get to savor more and more of Mechelen’s sights.