A family vacation in Mechelen: What to do, see, and eat

Based on my experience 👇

If you’re a parent, you know all about the challenges of travelling with kids: endless car rides, the chorus of “Are we there yet?” and the struggle to keep everyone entertained. But all this can be avoided by choosing a destination that’s nearby and packed with fun activities for the whole fam, like Mechelen.

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen is a charming Flemish town that often flies under the radar of many travellers. Yet, this picturesque town offers a great mix of history, culture, and fun-filled activities, making it also a perfect destination for families. 

We recently visited the town as a family of four; so let’s talk about how it went. 

What to see and do in Mechelen

Of course, the town of Mechelen (not the larger region!) is like many of the famous Flanders cities, rich with culture and history. You just know that you’re in for pretty sights, historic squares, great beers and delicious waffles and shrimp croquettes. 

But what makes Mechelen so great for a visit with kids?

🧸 Explore the Toy Museum (Speelgoedmuseum)

When I told the little ones that we were going to visit a toy museum, they responded with a “Finally!” But honestly, for this grown kid, it was just as much of a blast.

Housed in a charming old factory building, this museum features an extensive collection of toys from different eras and cultures. 

Obelix made out of Lego? Now we’re talking! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

From antique dolls and vintage train sets to modern action figures and board games, the exhibits offer a nostalgic journey through the world of play. I never had so many “Oh, I remember that”-moments before in life (For reference, I’m 40).

Children will be thrilled to see toys they’ve read about or seen in movies, while parents and grandparents can reminisce about their own childhood favourites. 

What’s more, the museum also features hands-on play areas where kids can interact with various toys and games, making it a perfect blend of learning and fun. The museum plans to move in 2024, so be sure to double-check the address if you’re planning to visit.

📍Location: Nekkerspoelstraat 21, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium
💰Price: €13 for adults, €9 for children

🗼 Climb the Rombouts Tower

One of Mechelen’s most iconic landmarks is the St. Rumbold’s Tower (Rombouts Tower). This Gothic masterpiece offers an exciting climb and a stunning reward at the top: panoramic views of the town and its surrounding countryside. 

The climb consists of 538 steps, but there are several stopping points along the way where you can catch your breath and learn about the tower’s history and construction. (The kids whinged quite a bit but were heel proud when they made it up).

At the top, the breathtaking vistas are a perfect backdrop for family photos. On clear days, you can even see the spires of Brussels and Antwerp in the distance.

The tower is 97 metres high. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

Ascending the winding staircases is an adventure no less. If you’re lucky, you can enjoy the tolling of the ginormous bells and a symphony or two. Mightily impressive! 

Tip: On Saturdays, there’s an enchanting street market near the Rombouts Tower. We thoroughly recommend visiting that!

The perfect place to find a unique souvenir. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

📍Location: Onder-Den-Toren, 2800 Mechelen
💰Price: €8 for adults, €3 for children (families get a discount!)

🐘 Visit the Planckendael Zoo

For a day filled with wildlife and adventure, head to Planckendael Zoo, located just a short drive from the centre of Mechelen.

This expansive zoo is home to a diverse array of animals from around the world, including elephants, giraffes, and penguins.

The kids loved this place — and I can see why. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

One of the highlights for families is the lemur island, where these playful primates roam freely and can be observed up close.

The zoo’s layout comfortably lets you explore the different continents and their respective fauna, making it both fun and educational for kids of all ages. 

📍Location: Leuvensesteenweg 582, 2812 Mechelen
💰Price: €34.50 for adults, €28.50 for children (free for children under 3!)

🌳 Check out Tivoli Park and its petting zoo

The Tivoli Park is a bit out of the centre but it’s such a nice park that it’s definitely worth the journey. 

Anyone want to move here with me? Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

It has a castle, a playground and plenty of little gems to discover in its forests and fields. But the most noteworthy thing there was the Tivoli petting zoo, just the best and cutest kinderboerderij we’ve ever visited.

So much fun! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

📍Location: Antwerpsesteenweg 94, 2800 Mechelen
💰Price: Free

Kid-friendly food recommendations in Mechelen

Let’s be real: eating out with children can be stressful, to say the least. 

Luckily, Mechelen offers plenty of family-friendly dining options. Of course, don’t miss trying some local Flemish specialties like waffles, fries, and delicious Belgian chocolates.

There are two places though, that stand out if you’re with kids (and you know how they can be in a restaurant).

🍴 De Vleeshalle

This monumental hall, which would have been the classic meat market centuries ago, has been transformed into a true culinary hotspot in the city centre. 

Dozens of little stands are ready to serve you the tastiest dishes from all over the world. We had a little assortment of mini-croquettes — just what you want on a Belgian holiday.

Reservations are not necessary at De Vleeshalle. There are plenty of seats throughout the hall where everyone can order to their liking. There are also cocktails and a playroom, so both parents and kids are happy.

☕️ Kafée Kadée

Conveniently located across the bridge from the toy museum is Kafée Kadée. I’d suggest you go there for a coffee break or lunch. 

The food was okay, but the playroom next to it kept the kids busy for the entirety of lunch, and sometimes, that’s just what you need as a parent.

Getting to Mechelen from Amsterdam

Ready for your adventure? Almost — you’ll just need to know how to get there. 😉

🚆 By Train

If you’re travelling by train, your journey starts at Amsterdam Central Station, where you can board a Eurostar or Intercity train to Brussels.

From there, it’s a quick transfer to a local train that takes you directly to Mechelen. The entire trip usually takes about two and a half to three hours. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful Dutch and Belgian countryside along the way.

🚗 By Car

For those who prefer the flexibility of driving, reaching Mechelen from Amsterdam is pretty straightforward. The drive is approximately 200 kilometres and takes about two and a half hours, depending on traffic (there’s always traffic near Antwerp, FYI).

Mechelen is conveniently located just off the E19, making it an easy and enjoyable road trip and also a good point to stop over if you’re en route with the fam for a vacation.

Mechelen may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to family-friendly attractions and activities. And, of course, there is plenty of fun stuff to do if you’re not travelling with children.

For example, we haven’t even talked about going on a boat ride through Mechelen (also great with kids!) or visiting more grown-up places, such as the Museum van Hof van Busleyden or the enchanting Wintergardens of Ursulinen.

To learn more about Mechelen, visit Visit Mechelen or read our old article on Mechelen, which covers some of these suggestions.

But to get back to our initial question of whether Mechelen is the best place for a family vacation from the Netherlands, I’d say it’s definitely up there! Whether your family is interested in climbing towers, exploring zoos, or just enjoying that good Burgundian lifestyle that comes with a Belgian town; Mechelen has something for everyone. 

So pack your bags, gather the kids, and set out on an adventure to this delightful Flemish town! 

Have you ever been to Mechelen? Share your experience in the comments!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱http://www.abuzervanleeuwen.nl
Abuzer founded DutchReview a decade ago because he thought expats needed it and wanted to make amends for the Dutch cuisine. He has a Masters in Political Science and IT but somewhere always wanted to study history or good old football. He also a mortgage in the Netherlands and will happily tell you too how to get one. Born and raised in Rotterdam, Abuzer now lives in Leiden but is always longing back to his own international year in Italy.

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