Mechelen

Mechelen travel guide

Mechelen is definitely one of our favorite cities in Belgium. While the famous cities of Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp often steal the spotlight, the enchanting city of Mechelen undoubtedly has its charms as well. From historical heritage and stunning architecture to great restaurants, Mechelen has so much to offer! And since this is an often overlooked gem, the city isn’t packed with tourists like with the other “big guys”. We absolutely love it! Explore our favorite things to do and some of the best restaurants in this Mechelen travel guide.

🇧🇪 Language: Dutch, English widely spoken
💰 Currency: Euro
⏳ Best time to visit: May to September

What to do in Mechelen

Grote Markt

Mechelen travel guide: Grote Markt

The Grote Markt in Mechelen is the central square in the historic city center. For Belgian standards, this is quite a big square and it really has a charming vibe! The cobblestones and authentic, historic houses really add to it. Some of these houses even go back to the 16th century! The styles of the houses range from renaissance to rococo, and are so beautiful to see. On the Grote Markt, you can find the City Hall on one side, and the tower of the Sint-Romboutskathedraal (St Rumbold’s Cathedral) on the other one. We’ll go more in depth about the Cathedral later in this post, no worries. 😉

What we’re always looking for in a city center is coziness, and more importantly: fun things to do. Luckily for us (and you!), there are countless bars, restaurants and shops located in the city center of Mechelen. On Saturdays (when we visited), there’s even a weekly fair where you can buy food, flowers, kitchen utensils, and so much more! We always love strolling through a fair like this, even if we decide not to buy anything! So if you plan on visiting Mechelen, make sure to do so during the weekend.

The thing we maybe even liked the most was that the city center was made (almost completely) traffic-free. No need to worry about cars hitting you when crossing the street! It really took us back to our time at Palm Springs VillageFest, where all the streets were cordoned off. Other than that, you’ll notice that it’s a quite peaceful square, with countless side alleys where you can find even more bars and shops!

Sint-Romboutskathedraal

Sint-Romboutskathedraal

We briefly mentioned the Sint-Romboutskathedraal before, but wanted to devote a separate section in our Mechelen travel guide for this. It’s probably one of the most iconic sights you’ll see in Mechelen, and for good reason! More on that later with a funny story. 😉

The Sint-Romboutskathedraal is an architectural masterpiece that goes back all the way to the 13th century! They started construction in 1200, can you imagine? 😮 It was finally consecrated 112 years later when parts of the Cathedral became usable. With its 97 m height, you’re bound to spot this amazing landmark on the Mechelen skyline. A visit to the church-part is free, but if you’re looking to climb your way all the way to the top you will have to buy tickets. Tickets will set you back € 6 if you’re older than 26, otherwise you’re looking at € 3. In return you get an amazing, panoramic view over the city!

On to the funny story, then. In Belgium, there are countless villages and cities that have nicknames. These nicknames often refer to a trade that took place in the region, or can be about the vegetation that flourished at that time. To give you an idea, inhabitants of the city of Aalst have the nickname “Ajuinen” (Onions) because that was a very present vegetable in the region. 

The inhabitants of Mechelen, on the other hand, have a very different nickname. Their nickname is “De Maneblussers” (The Moon Extinguishers). You’re probably wondering what that has to do with the Sint-Romboutskathedraal? Well, legend has it that sometime in history, the people from Mechelen thought that the Cathedral was on fire. Quickly, they ran up the stairs of the Cathedral with buckets of water in order to try and extinguish the fire. When they arrived, they noticed that there wasn’t a fire at all! It was just the the moonlight through the clouds that made it seem like the Cathedral was on fire. Hence the nickname “Moon Extinguishers”. Little history lesson on Tasting Sunsets! 😉

Haverwerf

A nice little detour from our hotel to the Vismarkt (up next) brought us to the Haverwerf. The name stems from a time when oats and grains were traded here, hence the name “Haverwerf” (Oatwharf). It is a fun location to transport yourself back in time and spot some authentic and historic houses.

More specifically, three different houses near the bridge will definitely get your attention here. These houses are called “Het Paradijske”, “De Duiveltjes” en “Sint-Jozef”. These houses date from the 16th and 17th century, and all three are just gorgeous. Definitely worth a stop if you’re planning on visiting the Vismarkt that’s right at the other side of the bridge!

Vismarkt

Probably our favorite square in all of Mechelen: the Vismarkt (Fish Market). Once again, this place goes back quite some time (16th century) and is one of the most bustling places in Mechelen. It is a kind of “secluded square” where countless bars, restaurants, shops, … can be found. The square has great restaurants, but is also a great location if you’re looking for a party. We really loved the vibrant atmosphere! Even though it was raining non-stop, all the terraces were full. There were people from all ages having fun outside, they didn’t let the rain ruin their day.

This is definitely the place to be if you’re looking for a fun night out. This square has it all, you can start by having an appetizer at a cozy bar. Once you finished your drinks you can move to a delicious restaurant for dinner. After that, it’s time to get your groove on in one of the Vismarkt’s many dancing cafes! The ideal date night, all in one place. 😉

Where to eat in Mechelen

Grá

Mechelen travel guide: Grá

Grá is a trendy breakfast spot, located on the Grote Markt. They offer delicious coffee and homemade pastries, and from 11 AM you can also try their seasonal food. Their terrace is amazing, it is one of the best people-watching spots in town! When the weather’s good, you also get a full day in the sun, too. We arrived at opening, and less than 10 minutes later the terrace was packed. This was of course the case because Grá is really good, but the terrace had something to do with it, too! Be sure to arrive on time if you want a spot, since you can’t make reservations.

We ordered two juices, a cinnamon bun, and a piece of almond cake. Since we planned on eating a lot that weekend, we decided to start off lightly. 😉 The star of this breakfast was definitely the cinnamon bun! For this alone, we would definitely come back to Mechelen. A warm pastry with delicious cinnamon filling, it doesn’t get any better! You could really feel all the love and care they put into this pastry. The only downside was that we finished it so quickly, it was THAT good. The homemade almond cake was also really delicious, but couldn’t match the delicious cinnamon bun! You can’t go wrong with either, but our fave is definitely the cinnamon bun! The juices were very tasty too, although we found € 5 way too expensive for such a small portion.

Where: Bruul 1

Croque ’n Roll

Croque ’n Roll Mechelen

Croque ’n Roll is heaven for grilled cheese lovers. This trendy spot offers offers numerous variations on grilled cheese, one more delicious than the other. From classics with cheese and ham to specials with mozzarella and chorizo, the selection here is amazing! We really wish we could’ve tried them all. They also have several veggie varieties, so there really is something for everyone. If you really can’t choose, you can combine 2 variations of your choice! Definitely recommended for the doubters among us. 😉

Thysia tried the Madonna with bell pepper, tomato, green olives, and parmesan cheese. This one was so flavorful! The food came with ketchup and mayonnaise, but this grilled cheese really didn’t need any sauce. It was just oozing with flavor! Kelvin tried the Red Devil with arrabiata sauce, mozzarella, red onion, and chorizo. This one was also really delicious, although it wasn’t as spicy as expected. But Kelvin had a solution to fix that lack of spiciness, by eating the chili pepper that came with it. He ate the whole chili pepper in one bite, and regretted it immediately after! It was the most spicy chili pepper he ever ate, so beware if you’re planning on doing the same. 😂

Croque ‘N Roll surely knows how to make surprising and delicious grilled cheese. We actually weren’t planning on visiting Croque ’n Roll, but once we walked past its terrace we knew we just had to pay a visit. And we were so glad we did! We’ll definitely be back for round two!

Where: Ijzerenleen 12

De Vleeshalle

Mechelen travel guide: De Vleeshalle

Our favorite place in Mechelen is undoubtedly De Vleeshalle. This former butcher shop is now Mechelen’s culinary hotspot, and therefore could not be missing from our Mechelen travel guide! It’s an indoor food market with different stalls, each offering different dishes and cuisines. The interior is just gorgeous, there are fancy velour seats everywhere, and in the back they also have a more “beach vibe”-lounge. There are plenty of secluded areas, too, if you’re looking for a more intimate setting. The food options themselves are also to die for. From delicious burgers and pizza to tapas and croquettes, there is something for everyone!

Where: Huidevettersstraat 7, 2800 Mechelen

Want to know more about De Vleeshalle? Read all about Mechelen’s culinary hotspot here.

Carbon

Mechelen travel guide: Carbon

Carbon is a cozy restaurant that offers all day street food and cocktails. So no appetizers, main courses, and desserts here, but rather delicious sharing dishes! If you read some of our other posts, you’ll know that this is what we like the most. We really like sharing dishes to try as many things on the menu as possible. From tacos and nachos to spring rolls, the entire menu at Carbon sounds delicious! We ordered the halloumi bao and pork belly bao, veggie gyoza, and loaded fries (Vietnamese style). We also ordered a Pornstar Martini and Dark ’n Stormy to start our lunch of right.

The first thing we noticed is that they charge an extra € 1,5 for a shot of cava with your Pornstar Martini. This is Thysia’s favorite cocktail so we’ve had this at countless places already. Never before have we had to pay extra for a shot of cava though! We found this quite disappointing, so we didn’t order an extra shot. The cocktails themselves were nothing special, just okay. We have had much better ones, especially if you compare them to the cocktails at De Vleeshalle for example.

The food, on the other hand, was great! The loaded fries with ginger-lemon mayo, crispy onions, and sriracha, were incredible and definitely took the cake. We have eaten loaded fries many times before, but not in such a special way. The flavor combinations pleasantly surprised us! It had enough sauce, different flavors and everything went so well together. We also loved the veggie gyoza, just too bad there were only 4. 😞

The only thing we wouldn’t order again is the halloumi bao. This one was topped with avocado and pomegranate, which sounded really delicious, but just lacked a bit of taste. Not that it was disgusting, but the taste was nothing special really. The bao with pork belly, on the other hand, was delicious! It was slow-cooked pork, with a Korean “varnish” sauce that tasted a little sweet and went super well with the meat. Definitely recommend it!  

Where: Désiré Boucherystraat 4

Local

When we strolled through the Vismarkt, we found a cozy little restaurant: Local. There was a lovely atmosphere on the terrace, so we decided to have a drink here as well. It offers amazing views of the bustling Vismarkt, we absolutely love the vibe here!

We ordered a Mai Tai and Lazy Red Cheeks for drinks. The cocktails were not bad but way too expensive, especially because they didn’t put any effort in the presentation. Both cocktails came in the same type of glass, which makes us believe these are pre-made. The taste was fine, nothing out of the ordinary here, but next time we’d rather opt for a wine or beer. They do have a cool type of soda here, made by the Belgian brand Ritchie. Ritchie has their own twists on and recipes for cola and lemonades, and the bottles have that vintage look, too. We tried the Cola version and were pleasantly surprised.

The reason we do mention Local in this Mechelen travel guide is because they serve delicious spare ribs here! You could tell they were slow cooked, and had a nice little marinade too. The meat was so tender, it almost fell off the bone! These were so delicious that we would come back just for them. If there’s one dish you should try at Local, it’s definitely the ribs! If you’re hungry, make sure to order 2 portions or more, as they only come in multitudes of 6.

Where: Vismarkt 16

Where to stay in Mechelen

Martin's Patershof Mechelen

Looking for a unique stay in Mechelen? Martin’s Patershof is a former church that has been transformed into a gorgeous hotel. It’s a place where original church details have been lovingly restored, offering guests a one of a kind experience. Each room is unique, featuring original church details such as arched vaults or stained-glass windows. It is one of the most original and breathtaking hotels we have stayed in! 🥹 Prices start from € 100 per night, which we find very reasonable for what you get in return.

Read all about Martin’s Patershof: a unique church hotel in the heart of Mechelen.

Below are some hotel recommendations for every budget:

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