© Layla Aerts, Mechelen Tourist Board
Often overshadowed by its big brothers Brussels and Antwerp, this small city isn’t short on attractions, boasting more UNESCO-listed sites than any other art city in Flanders.
Mechelen (Malines in French) is one of Flanders’ most underrated cities. Today, it’s overshadowed by its big brothers, Brussels and Antwerp, but in the late 15th century it was the most important town in the southern Netherlands. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, established his Great Council in the Schepenhuis in 1473 and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V lived here as a child in 1501 with his aunt Margaret of Austria in the Paleis van Margaretta van Oostenrijk. The city faded from centre stage when Margaret of Austria died in 1530 and her niece Mary of Hungary – who had agreed to look after the territories for her brother Charles V – moved the royal court to Brussels, her place of birth.
Highlights include St Rumbold’s Tower, the town hall’s belfort, the large begijnhof and the Ommegang Procession; it has a wonderful historic quarter, good museums and restaurants.