The hidden gem of Flanders, Mechelen is one of Belgium's fastest-growing little cities, covering only 65 square kilometres (25 square miles). Perfectly positioned between two of the countries biggest powerhouses, Antwerp and Brussels, Mechelen is home to over 85,000 Flemings.
Nestled on the banks of the Dyle River (Dijle in the native Dutch), the city's inhabitants are known as Maneblussers, Flemish for moon extinguishers. Flemish folklore states that the people of the city earned the nickname more than 300 years ago, in 1687, when a fire broke out in Saint-Rumbold's Tower. The townspeople responded rapidly and in heroic fashion, dashing up the burning landmark to fight the flames. Previously, the tower's iconic gothic windows showcased the moon as it flared through the clouds.
Although informal, many residents of Mechelen speak the Dutch dialect of Mechlinian, distinct among its Brabantic language peers. However, as with the rest of the country, the official languages in the area are German, French, and Dutch, with Dutch and French being the most widely used. English is also commonly spoken through Mechelen, as its recent influx of younger residents has increased the language's use in the area.
No matter which language you say it in, it's undeniable that Mechelen is truly one of Belgium's best-kept secrets. Brimming with natural beauty, deep history, vivid culture, and world-class art, Dijlestad, or "the city on the rive Dilje," is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Luggage Storage near Train Stations in Mechelen
Mechelen is home to several forms of public transit, including trains. However, most travellers use the railway to enter the city and the local bus routes to navigate once inside the city.
Mechelen Central Railway Station
The main station in the area, Mechelen Central Railway Station, opened to the public for the first time nearly two centuries ago in May of 1835. The station is on Lines 53, 27, and perhaps most notably, 25. Line 25 is Belgium's oldest railway line, connecting the country's two major cities at the time, Antwerp and Brussels, with Mechelen as the central point between the two.
The Mechelen Central Railway Station, or Mechelen Railway Station, as it's sometimes shortened, contains a dozen platforms. The station currently offers nine intercity services, five local services, and four Brussels RER services.
Conveniently located in the heart of the city, Mechelen Central Railway Station is within walking distance of the Mechelen city centre. As a matter of fact, it's only a fifteen-minute walk away from one of the city's biggest tourist draws, Grote Markt.
Mechelen-Nekkerspoel Railway Station
A small station with no ticket counters, the Mechelen-Mekkerspoel Railway Station is on Lines 25, 27, and 27B of the Belgian Railway system. Situated less than 3 kilometres (just under 2 miles) from the Mechelen city centre, the station provides passengers access to four intercity services and two Brussels RER Services.
Mechelen-Nekkerspoel Railway Station consists of six platforms for six tracks and does not offer any facilities for travellers. Passengers with limited mobility can request assistance at the station by reservation at least 24 hours in advance of arrival. However, there is no regularly scheduled staff at the station.
A short ten-minute walk from the Grote Markt, Mechelen-Nekkerspoel Railway Station is centrally located in Mechelen. And, it offers free bicycle parking and blue-bike services.
Luggage Storage at Mechelen's Airports
While there are no airports within Mechelen's city limits, there are a number of small and large airports in the surrounding area that serve the city.
An international airport situated on the outskirts of Brussels, the Brussels Airport is the largest and busiest airport in the country. A short distance from Mechelen, the airport is situated less than 14 kilometres (a little over 8.5 miles) away and is easily accessibly by virtual all forms of public transit in Belgium. More than 26 million passengers passed through Brussels Airport in 2019, topping its annual average of over 22 million, and effectively solidified the airport's place as Europe's 24th busiest airport.
Since it originally opened after the end of World War II, the airport has undergone massive modernisation efforts, including the integration of an underground railway station. The Brussels Airport is comprised of a single terminal building, with its facilities separated by level: -1 is the railway station, 0 is at ground level and serves as a pick-up area for taxis and buses, 2 is for arrivals, and 3 is for departures.
For any parents travelling with children, the Brussels Airport is equipped with multiple play areas of varying sizes. Here, kids can burn off extra energy playing engaging games before boarding or on arrival. Furthermore, the airport contains over 40 duty-free shops to browse and more than 30 restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Antwerp International Airport
A small international airport in Belgium's Flemish Region, the Antwerp International Airport serves the city of Antwerp and the surrounding area, including Mechelen. Just 18.3 kilometres (11.3 miles) south of Mechelen, the airport offers charter, seasonal, and regularly scheduled flights, as well as general and business aviation services.
Initially the site of a flying school in 1923, the Antwerp International Airport's almost 100 years of history is so rich, there's an entire museum about it. The Museum Stampe-Vertongen, located to the left of the airport building, displays 20 aeroplanes and aeroplane replicas, some of which can be dated back to World War I, in the same building that first served the airport in 1930.
Today, passengers have access to 10 destinations worldwide through Antwerp International Airport, and its primary tenant, TUI fly Belgium, who provides the majority of scheduled flights. A single-terminal airport, Antwerp International contains only one bistro/bar in addition to its VIP Lounge area.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport
Colloquially known as Charleroi Airport, Brussels South Charleroi Airport is Belgium's second busiest airport, proudly serving more than 7 million travellers annually. Situated in Charleroi, Hainaut, the airport is just over 63 kilometres (a little more than 39 miles) south of Mechelen, the equivalent of about an hour drive by automobile or about an hour and a half away via train or bus.
First opened in 1919 as an aviation school for pilot flight training, Charleroi Airport is now an international airport offering passengers access to more than 75 domestic and international destinations. The airport provides regularly scheduled flights through eight carriers and consists of two numbered terminals, T1 and T2, with a total of 25 boarding gates.
There are more than twenty shops and restaurants within the Brussels South Charleroi Airport terminals, as well as a currency exchange counter and lounge. In addition to taxis and rental services, the airport also offers shuttle bus services and is less than 20 minutes away from several train and bus stations that offer routes to Mechelen.
What to do in Mechelen
- Take a historical tour of the city and get a once in a lifetime peek at the interior of Mechelen's city hall and the Palace of the Grand Council.
- Climb 538 steps to the top of the Cathedral of St. Rombold, a gorgeous Gothic-style church over 500 years old that took over 300 years in the making.
- Spend an afternoon at the Kazerne Dossin Memorial and Museum. After, you can reflect on the exhibits and get a fantastic view of the city from the top floor terrace.
- Embrace your inner child at the Mechelen Toy Museum, where you can find one of the most extensive collections of toys on the continent. And, unlike most museums, the Mechelen Toy Museum makes a point to invite visitors to get hands-on and play.
- Get a taste of the royal life at the Hof van Savoye (in English, the Court of Savoy), a 16th-century palace with the distinction of being one of Europe's first Renaissance buildings.
- Enjoy a day surrounded by the beauty of nature at Planckendael, an extensive zoo of exotic animals situated on the grounds of the Planckendael castle.
Mechelen's climate is classified as oceanic, with generally mild temperatures and significant precipitation year-round. Boasting an average temperature of 11 Celcius (51 Farenhieght), Mechelen sees about 779 millimetres (30.7 inches) of rain each year, amounting to around 157 rainy days a year. That leaves around 208 dry days in a typical year,
According to the locals, the best time of year to visit Mechelen is during the summer months, from mid to late June to mid to late September. In Mechelen, summers bring limited rainfall, especially compared to the rest of the year, and pleasantly warm temperatures averaging around 22 Celcius (71.6 Farenheight).
Fun Facts About Mechelen
- Mechelen is the only city in the world that's home to two UNESCO World Heritage belfries, the belfry of Mechelen City Hall and the Saint Rumbold's Tower.
- Construction on the Palace of the Grand Council in Mechelen's city hall took 400 years before it was officially completed.
- Mechelen offers free wi-fi to all residents and visitors across the city, so no matter where you are, you can stay connected.
- The city gained prominence through the trade of lace, wood carving, furniture, tapestries, cordwain, and sculpturing.
- Opsinjoorke, or "the doll," has been Mechelen's mascot since the 17th century. Check out a bronze statue depiction of Opsinjoorke in front of Mechelen's City Hall.
- Mechelen hosts a parade called the Ommegang every 25 years to commemorate historical events, such as the arrival of Holy Emperor Maximillian I.