Less than an half an hour from busy Brussels is the charming, peaceful haven of Mechelen.
So close, yet so far
Mechelen is just a 20 minute train ride from Brussels, but it feels like a world apart. Replete with Flemish architecture and charming churches, Mechelen packs a lot within its borders. And for just seven euros return, it belongs on every Belgian itinerary.
A small town with a long story
In the late 15th century, Mechelen was home to the supreme court of the Low Countries, most of what is now the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. It won the status of capital city under Margaret of Austria in the 1500s until the beginning of a tumultuous period for the region in the 17th century. The original building of the Great Council now contains the town hall and is still open to tourists. Mechelen was also the start of continental Europe's first railroad in 1835.
Public art paradise
Antwerp and Bruges may be the more well-known for their postcard-perfect scenes, but Mechelen isn't far behind. What it lacks in size it makes up for in character, with eight churches full of Flemish Baroque art. St. John's Church is even home to a triptych by Peter Paul Rubens, one of the masters of Flemish painting.
A side of history with your food shopping
The Grote Markt is the central square of Mechelen, where architecture from many different epochs in Flanders' history blend together. Every Saturday, an open-air market is held in the square that's frequented by locals and tourists alike.
The tower of St. Rumbold's Cathedral is the most noticeable structure in the Grote Markt, and it dates all the way back to the late 1400s. Even though it was left unfinished, that didn't stop it from being used as a watchtower and a clock over the centuries, or from being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From one grain to another
Once home to a thriving oat trade, Mechelen's Haverwerf is lined with colorful houses typical of the region. Eateries and bars serving typical Flemish fare and international specialties abound along the Vismarkt, the renovated fish market. You'd be remiss not to stop in and try some of Flanders' diverse and famous beer before you go.