Located just outside of Antwerp, Lier and Mechelen are two small villages filled with their own history and charm. Separately, they can be seen in half a day, but due to their proximity I decided to combine my journey and visit both towns. For anyone looking for things to do outside of the city, it is absolutely worth it to visit these places.
Transportation: Get a day pass for €7, which includes access to all city buses and trains. Lier and Mechelen are in the same province as Antwerp, so transportation is included under the same ticket. From Antwerp Central Station, Lier is a 15-minute train ride and Mechelen is a 20-minute train ride.
De Lijn is Belgium’s railway service, plan your trip with their route planner here.
After arriving by train, the best way to get to the center of town and explore Lier is by foot. Just follow Antwerpsestraat over the bridge until you reach a big open square, here you will find Grote Markt and Town Hall, all of the other sites are just a short walk away.
Town Hall and Belfry Tower: The Belfry was built in 1369 and is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Lier, the Town Hall was later constructed in 1741. Inside there is a tourist information center and a free public restroom, which is kept very clean. Access can be found on the left side of the building.
Stadsmuseum: €4 entry. Upon entering the staff warmly greeted me and gave me an information card in English, though much of the museum is in Dutch. The museum consists of three rooms and displays a nice collection of Pieter Bruegel’s works. In the last room you will see a 3D printed replica of the Woolly Mammoth skeleton discovered in Lier in 1860, the real skeleton can be found at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Located just up the street from Town Hall, this is a great place to stop in and learn about the city’s art, history, and traditions.
Gevangenenpoort: Also known as the prison gate, this Medieval structure was built in 1375 and is the only remaining gate of the original city wall. It was used as a prison until 1930, but now stands next to a hotel and opens up to a lovely street filled with cafes and restaurants and the Zimmer Tower and Museum.
Zimmer Tower: Originally built in the 1400’s under the name of the Cornelius Tower, this monument was restored by astronomer Louis Zimmer, who also added the Jubilee clock in 1930. The clock is quite a wonder, with 12 unique dials all representing different astronomical events, like the phases of the moon and the solar cycle. The tower was listed as a protected monument in 1980 and the Zimmer Tower now stands next to The Zimmer Tower Museum.
Begijnhof: Also known as the Beguinage, this enclosed collection of buildings was built for spiritual women (beguines) to reside in during the Middle Ages. These women were able to lead self-sustaining and unrestricted lives within these walls for hundreds of years, from the 13th century until 1994 when the last beguine died.
This is 1 of 13 Beguinages that can be found across Belgium, and are such an integral part of the country’s history that they are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the walls you can find St. Margaret’s Church, a garden within Calvary Hill, an old convent and more.
When I visited in the middle of February, I felt lucky that the quaint little neighborhood was virtually empty, only to see a few locals leaving and entering the buildings. I was able to take photos of the cobblestone streets and old houses while enjoying the history of this site.
To get to Mechelen from Lier, there are multiple buses that will take you, but the 560/561 to Mechelen are the most consistent lines and come every 30 minutes. All buses pick up at Lier Markt/Grote Markt across from Town Hall, the bus stop is easily spotted and the ride is about 35 minutes.
Like Lier, I found Mechelen to be very walkable, although it is a little more car friendly and has a decent transportation system. When I arrived in Mechelen I started off in Grote Markt, which was steps away from the main sites I wanted to see and gave me a chance to take some photos, relax, and read about the town mascot.
Obsinjoorke: Right in front of City Hall, is a small bronze statue with the most adorable and quirky background story. He represents drunkards and womanizers, and is shown being tossed in the air as a form of punishment. As I continued on, I was excited to see a large, bright yellow version of this statue across from St. Rumbold’s and again on a nearby post. I don’t know if there are more Obsinjoorkes around town, but he can also be seen in Mechelen’s Ommegang, their annual religious procession.
Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral and Tower: Named after the Christian missionary Saint Rumbold, this gothic style cathedral began construction in the 13th century, and the tower was added during the final phase from 1452-1520. The tower was never completed due to financial deficits, although there were structural concerns as well. Currently the tower stands at 97 meters with 514 steps to the top and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral and tower are usually open to visitors, but have closed their doors indefinitely due to the Coronavirus.
Beguinages: I have to confess that I stumbled upon this place by accident while I was on my way to the brewery and only walked through briefly. The Beguinage that existed outside the city walls of Mechelen was destroyed in 1560, the Beguines moved on to make a new neighborhood within the walls, and that’s how the Large Beguinage came to be. Although it is included as a UNESCO site with the other Flemish Beguinages, I found this one to be quite unextraordinary, though it has it’s own unique history.
Het Anker: With records dating back to 1369, this is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium. Being founded by a group of Beguines, it makes sense that it is located on the Northern side of the Large Beguinage. The brewery was managed by these women until 1872, when the Van Breedam family purchased and renovated it.
This brewery is the sole reason I decided to come to Mechelen due to it’s vast history. Tours are available, but the spots do fill up quickly, so its best to make a reservation ahead of time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a tour as I waited until the last minute, but I did have a chance to have enjoy a meal and try one of their Gouden Carolus beers at the brassiere upstairs.
Getting back to Antwerp: The best, and most reliable way to get back to Antwerp is by train, which takes between 15-20 minutes. Trains leave from both Mechelen-Nekkerspoel and Malines/Mechelen station.
After returning back to my hostel, I was completely worn out from visiting to two towns in one day. Although it was completely worth it and I fully recommend visiting one or both of these cities. There is so much history and beauty hidden throughout Belgium, getting out of the 4 major cities is a great way to see discover it.