It doesn’t have to be all warm and sunny for Mechelen to be the ideal destination for a city trip weekend. This is why Trot Op! visited the city a second time, to discover seven new interesting places to brighten your darkest winter days with. Let’s get busy!
Yes friends, life can go fast sometimes. Because the folks at Visit Mechelen could barely restrain themselves from jubilantly dancing on their desks after reading my previous post on their destination, they quickly asked me to come over once again this year. This way I could discover their new winter promotion, and immediately treat everything I missed last time on a whirlwind visit. Like Dumbo in a cornfield, I was of course all ears. After all, there’s always something to write about Mechelen. Moreover, after my previous stay I of course didn’t list all of the important places. Nah, I gave you just enough goodies to get your attention (and to win Best City Trip Story on the Belgian Travel Blog Awards – booyah) but secretly kept some of the biggest sights in Mechelen to myself. This as part of a cunning scheme to one day be invited again without having to pay for it. And look, just over a year later I’m back under St. Rumbold’s Tower, smirking with delight. You all fell for it! Ha!
What to do in Mechelen: 7 new tips for the perfect city trip
This time however, I’d come prepared. I didn’t want to go wandering the streets of Mechelen all by my lonesome, so I decided to enlist the help of a local expert. Fortunately I got to know the almost unbearably charming Mechelen native Caroline – known from her blog Veggiewayfarer (take a look). With some culinary bribery and the necessary pleas, I managed to convince her to join me for a day of visits to the hippest establishments in the city. The result is – like Caroline – quite appealing. A number of touristic highlights I overlooked last time, supplemented with a few cool places for snacks and drinks. That should do the trick. Here are seven new tips for a Mechelen city trip. Go nuts!
Editor’s note: don’t forget to check out Mechelen’s new winter promotion at the bottom of the article. If you book a hotel in Mechelen for one night this month, you will receive a second night for free. How’s that for a Christmas present?
1. The Ursulines Winter Garden: visit Belgium’s fanciest school
Ironically, the best tour you can book in the larger Mechelen area isn’t to be found in the city centre, but in nearby Onze Lieve Vrouw Waver. The Saint Ursula Institute is located there, which was built in the mid-19th century as an elite boarding school for girls. Wealthy parents from all over the world dropped their daughters here to have them trained into well-behaved little breeding factories. In order to convince them to do just so, these people first needed to be received with the necessary pomp and ceremony. This is why the nuns built an Art Nouveau school building that could just as well have been a palace – including tower spires and extensive landscaped gardens. On offer: monumental marble staircases, endless colonnades, a small chapel putting most Belgian churches to shame, several frescoed high tea rooms, a hallway full of pianos, a beautiful concert hall and as icing on the cake: the stunning winter garden on the opening picture. Today, the Saint Ursula Institute is a normal secondary school that also allows boys (Caroline herself attended here). On Sunday afternoon, you can come for an individual tour of the premises. If you want to book for a whole group, other days can be arranged as well. This is a must for every visit to Mechelen. You won’t get any closer to an actual Hogwarts.
2. Hof van Busleyden: a new exposition with a lavish past
Hof van Busleyden is not only one of the prettiest buildings in Mechelen, it’s also (with Kazerne Dossin) its most important museum. The permanent collection interactively showcases both Mechelen’s past and present, with numerous paintings, tapestries and the famous “besloten hofjes” in the attic. This winter, a temporary exhibition was opened in the museum’s huge basement. A Lavish Past showcases (with an impressive collection of artworks) how people living in the Romanticism of the 19th century looked back on the Burgundy monarchs ruling the region a few hundred years earlier. From Emperor Charles V to bad boy Philip the Bold and of course Margaret of Austria who made Mechelen the capital of The Netherlands. In the 19th century, these historical figures were used as poster boys to boost national pride. How exactly they were depicted however, differed from country to country and from who actually paid the artist. Through an audio play, you can dive into the exhibition as if they were first setting it up 200 years ago. Several voice actors teach you about each of the 70 works in a playful way. Interesting visit. www.hofvanbusleyden.be/a-lavish-past
3. Cinema Lumière Mechelen: movies for the added value seeker
I hadn’t forgotten about Cinema Lumière on my previous visit to Mechelen, it simply wasn’t there yet. The city banquet hall was recently completely renovated and converted into a cosy cinema with three small theatres. It runs films that you’ll not be able to watch in your average movie theatre – mainly arthouse pictures and smaller productions. The building itself looks great as well, and under the colonnade on the first floor a nice bar can be found. LUX28 is attached to City Brewery Het Anker, and allows you to enjoy some drinks and snacks in a beautiful setting. Speaking of Het Anker: did you know you can not only book guided tours and tastings in the brewery, but also stay overnight (in the country’s first brewery hotel)? Another extra reason not to drive home completely shitfaced later. Please don’t. www.lumiere-mechelen.be, www.hetanker.be
4. Het Kunstuur: a sixty minute art injection
Did you ever find yourself gawking at some painting in a museum thinking: “wonderful work, but what would random celebrity X or Y think of it?” Then you’re at the exact right place in Het Kunstuur. In this small but awesome museum in the shadow of St. Rumbold’s Tower, you are guided through a new collection of Belgian paintings from the 19th and 20th century every six months. Most of these come from private collections, which means usually you can’t see them anywhere else. The tour is automatic, lasts exactly one hour and takes place in darkened rooms where one painting is lit in turn. For each work, a local celeb or other figure (none of which you will know as an English speaker) will tell a personal story through some sort of hologram projection. This makes it seem like their hollow-eyed, revenge-driven spirits haunt the building, but some of the stories are actually quite gripping. A war reporter talking about seeing his first casualty, or an old singer philosophising about the ravages of time for example. The tour ends in the beautiful Chapel of the Holy Spirit (one of the oldest buildings in Mechelen) where a number of top works by (among othes) Ensor and Delvaux are showcased. www.hetkunstuur.com
PS: I honestly have no idea whether or not they have English speaking audio tours. You’ll have to find out for yourself.
5. De Stek: coffee and pot plants
*Look, it’s Caro!
Ever found yourself sipping from a cup in a hipster coffee bar thinking: “Great stuff, but I’d actually like a sturdy pot plant to go with my latte”? No problemo mi amigo: the lovely girls behind De Stek had exactly the same thought. And instead of whining about it like a child, they got to work and realised your dream for you. Located south of the river in a shopping street, they opened a beautiful flower shop where you can also enjoy a steaming cup of coffee and a homemade brownie. Amid the plants and home decoration, you can pull out your MacBook Pro and once again pretend you’re putting the finishing touches on that first novel of yours. And if you strategically hide behind a few sansevierias, no one can see that you’re actually just binging unboxing videos on Youtube. The perfect crime. www.de-stek.com
6. Good bars and restaurants in Mechelen
*By the gods: it’s Caro again!
Mechelen may not be the wildest party city in the country, but the restaurants are always full and there is something for everyone. If you want to enjoy a wide array of exotic flavours without having to walk all over town for it, just go to Oude Vleeshalle. But since it was already mentioned in my previous post, we’ll skip it for now and head to Cosma instead. This is a nicely decorated place in the city centre where you can go for either a standard starter and main dish combo, or a whole bunch of side dishes and finger food to share. If you, like Caro, are not a meat eater, there are a couple of options for you as well. The Kind Coconut for example, is a fun vegan breakfast and lunch bar with a lot of exotic inspiration. LIEF is not completely plant-based, but has many vegan options and only works with local produce. Want go get buzzed? Listen to Caro and head to Kafee Zapoi if you like traditional pubs, to Unwined for a good glass of wine and to Pintxos for a few cocktails. www.cosma.be
7. Technopolis & Insectopia: actually learn something on holiday
My last stop in Mechelen is located outside the centre next to the E19 highway. Technopolis is an interactive science museum full of experiments and tests to teach both young and old the iron laws of physics in a playful way. Some setups are giant and impressive, others are simple puzzles. Sadly, simple is just one way of looking at them. I have three master degrees, and fruitlessly spent about 20 minutes on a five piece wooden pyramid puzzle, before frustratedly looking for the solution on the internet. I am not a smart man. Technopolis will keep you entertained for hours, but there’s something else set up (mostly for kids) outside this year. In the forest next to the parking lot, you’ll find Insectopia. Until September next year, you can go look for 32 giant, moving insects, and then learn about them armed with the notebook and pencil they gave you at the entrance. Enjoy! www.technopolis.be
There you go, you now know what to do in Mechelen for the 2021 holiday season as well. Did I still forget something? Did you like my previous tips more and do you think this article is a piece of sh*t? Did you just go for a city trip in Mechelen yourself? Don’t stop yourself from letting me know in the comments below.
Booking hotels in Mechelen: 1+1 Winter promotion
Your in-laws are a different story, but the city of Mechelen would very much like to see you this holiday season. Just so you get the message, they’ve prepared the following promotion. If you book an overnight stay in Mechelen between 1 December and 2 January, you will receive a second (consecutive) night for free. Can’t go wrong with that, I say. Click on the link for full details and fo a list of participating hotels.
For all touristic information about Mechelen as a destination, surf to www.visit.mechelen.be.