Mechelen, an historic Flanders city on the river Dyle halfway between Brussels and Antwerp, is sometimes overlooked by those looking for some retail therapy and a fun weekend trip, perhaps because of its proximity to those well-known neighbours. But this former Burgandian stronghold, once the capital of all the Low Countries, offers a splendid microcosm of Belgium, from its Renaissance art riches to its baroque UNESCO-recognised cathedral; from quaint outlying villages and farmland that provides the nation’s beloved chicory, to its name as the home of the Malinois dog (the city is called Malines in French). And there’s some great shopping too, making for the perfect spring day out.
To help you make the most of your time in Mechelen and find all the best spots for independent shopping and eating, the city has recently put together a series of themed shopping routes, taking the visitor on a choice of self-guided city tours designed to hit the very best addresses and activities, as recommended by locals. Like a direct-line to an expert local guide all on your phone, it’s your secret weapon for impressing friends or loved ones with an insider itinerary.
1. How do I access the new routes?
Nine different retail routes have been added to the already excellent Visit Mechelen app, available for Android and iPhone, in Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish. With mapping by Mapbox, the app is well-designed and intuitive. Simply scroll through the route options, displayed on tiles, and choose the one that best fits your mood. Of course you can mix and match shopping routes and others, so why not take in the beautiful sounds of Mechelen’s famous carillons or find out more about Mechelen’s surprisingly female history of beer making, in between your treats and purchases?
Each route is described with a brief overview and you’ll be invited to click to download an interactive map (so you might want to make sure you do that while you’re on wifi). You’ll see an overview of the city and your suggested stopping points show up as red pins. You can move between them using helpful “back and “next” buttons and you can click on each pin to expand the detail and read more.
2. What are the routes like?
The routes average around 15 to 20 recommendations each and all include a range of bespoke retail and food options, as well as revealing hidden corners and gems around the city according to their theme.
All stops are optional and the variety is surprising. For people who want to discover how Mechelen has absorbed worldwide influences, for instance, there’s a route including a tiny wine bar, surf shops, Vietnamese street food, Berber specialities and even paddle-boarding.
If you are looking for a romantic weekend getaway, there’s a “just the two of you” route, proposing where to take your beloved for drinks, where to spoil each other with some retail therapy, and where to have that special meal out. On part of this route, you can stroll the Dyle towpath to the Botanic Gardens, in between browsing independent jewellers or quaffing oysters. I particularly fell in love with De Zondvloed, an independent book, comic and stationery store and coffee shop.
Among the other choices, you’ll also find a kid-friendly itinerary on offer of course, as well as a “girl’s day out” and an “exclusive” tour which takes in unique, higher end food and shopping. Whichever route you choose, you’re almost guaranteed to discover something you wouldn’t have found without using the app.
3. Staying overnight?
Mechelen inhabitants are nicknamed “moon extinguishers” because they once rushed to climb St Rumbolds Tower to put out flames – flames that were in fact just the reflection of the moon flaring between clouds. To have the full Mechelen experience then, you must stay the night, watch the moon flaring in the tower’s gothic windows and let yourself relax over a leisurely evening meal and drinks. The city has a great selection of places to snuggle down, from historic bed and breakfasts or fancy hotels, to whole townhouses to rent on the banks of the Dyle.