Mechelen – a Hidden Gem in South Limburg

Have you ever heard of Mechelen? Not the Mechelen in Belgium, of course. There is also a Mechelen in the Netherlands, which is not that famous as its Belgian counterpart, but absolutely worth visiting. If you enjoy hiking and quaint little places, Mechelen (Limburg) is just the right place for you. It could be the perfect day trip if you are staying in Maastricht or anywhere in Limburg.

Read more:
How to spend one day in Maastricht
Best day trips from Maastricht

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a half-timbered house at the background and at the foreground a dandelion out of focus, Mechelen

How to get to Mechelen (Limburg)?

Mechelen is located in the southernmost part of the Dutch Province of Limburg, some 20 km to the west of Maastricht. The best way to access the village is by car. Not only it takes less time, but you will be driving through the lovely hills with beautiful views.

If you decide to take the public transport, bus line 57 from Maastricht to Gulpen stops in the village. It takes about an hour to get from Maastricht to Mechelen by bus.

a half-timbered house in the foreground and a church at the background at the end of a street in a village, Mechelen Netherlands

Mechelen can be visited quite easily if you are staying in or near Aachen (Germany), as it’s at less than 15 km. Liege (Belgium) is at just 40 km.

The nearest airports are Maastricht-Aachen (22 km), Eindhoven (111 km), Cologne-Bonn (98 km), Brussel-Charleroi (128 km).

Things to see and do in Mechelen

The best way to discover Mechelen and the surroundings is on foot. If you are travelling by car, leave it at one of the designated parking places in the village and hit the road on foot.

a street in a village with a tree and a few house on both sides of the road, Mechelen in Limburg

1. See Herenhof and learn about the Johanniters

The origins of Mechelen are to be found in the late 12th century, when the first settlement appeared at the place where the Mechelder stream meets the Geul river. In 1215 the Duke of Limburg, Henry III, donated his manor in Mechelen to the Order of St. John (Johanniter Orde).

a long building with a turret amidst a green lawn and a church next to it, Herenhof in Mechelen Limburg
The Herenhof with the Church of St. John the Baptist

In 1579 and 1588 the monastery and the manor were destroyed by fire and the Johanniters left the place for good and moved to Aachen in Germany. The monastery was never rebuilt. Through the centuries the manor was rebuilt a few times as it kept being destroyed by fires.

Today, the manor Herenhof, which was the Commandery of the Johanniters, functions as a holiday home for seniors. However, you can walk around and see the lovely building, which is listed as a Dutch national heritage site.

2. Check out the Church of St John the Baptist

The Church of St John the Baptist (Sint-Jan de Doperkerk) is perched on a hill next to the Herenhof. The church was built at the beginning of the 19th century at the place where the medieval church stood, which was destroyed in a fire in 1568.

a side view of a church and a graveyard, the Church of St John the Baptist in Mechelen, the Netherlands
The Church of St. John the Baptist

The oldest part of the church can be recognized by the two-tone striped masonry, which is typical for South Limburg. Layers of red brick alternate with limestone to create stripes, which are called locally speklagen (to refer to the layers of meat and lard in streaky bacon).

a half-timbered house with green window frames, Mechelen Limburg

3. Spot the medieval half-timbered houses

Hidden in the rolling hills of South Limburg, Mechelen is one of the few villages in the Netherlands with half-timbered houses. While this architecture is quite popular in Germany, in the Netherlands there aren’t many places, where you can find houses with exposed timber framing. You can spot the half-timbered houses everywhere in the village. Some of them have courtyards, so you can peek inside, but be respectful, as you don’t want to trespass.

a large half-timbered house in U-shape with a inner courtyard and some tulips in bloem in the front, Mechelen Netherlands

4. See the Panhuis and learn about the medieval banality rights

When walking along the main street of the village you can’t miss the Panhuis (1655), which is located opposite the church. It’s a large, manor-like building, which used to be the village brewery. Mechelen belonged to the Lordship of Wittem, an imperial county within the Holy Roman Empire. The Lords of Witten possessed the beer brewing rights and according to the feudal banality system, beer could be brewed only at a designated place by a designated brewer.

a large white building with a couple of trees in front a person walking in front and a few parked cars, the Panhuis in Mechelen
The Panhuis

So, the Panhuis was the only place where beer could be brewed in the village and only the beer brewed there could be sold to the people in the village. It wasn’t allowed to import beer from the nearby villages or from Maastricht.

5. Stroll in the Green Heart of the village

trees in blossom with a church spire at the background and an insect hotel to the left, the Green Heart in Mechelen
The Green Heart park

The Green Heart is the village’s park – a patch of green in the middle of Mechelen, where you can take a walk. What once was weed-grown piece of land, in 2017 was turned into a lovely park that blends with the surrounding hills.

a memorial about WW2 consisting of a board with the US and British flags, a memorial stone with a plate and a concrete block, the WW2 memorial in Mechelen, Limburg
The WW2 monument

6. Pay respect to the heroes at the WW2 monument

When you walk along the main street of the village you will probably notice the British and the American flag on the bank of the river just after the bridge. These two flags are as a remembrance of a British and an American airplanes which crashed in the woods near Mechelen in 1943 and 1944, respectively. Behind the information board you can see casemate #7, which was part of the Defensive Geul-line during WW2. To the right, there’s also a memorial plate for the veterans form Mechelen.

subtitle green hills with cows grazing on, people hiking arounds and a few farm houses, South Limburg near Mechelen

7. Wander the hills around Mechelen

As the Netherlands is as flat as a pancake, the rolling hills of South Limburg bring this much necessary excitement in the landscape. This is also the main reason why the southernmost part of the country is a popular travel destination among the locals.

There are many walking trails starting at the village with different lengths, that you can wander for days. If you have limited time, just make a short walk around the village, climb the hill all the way up to the Höfke hamlet, cross the Geul river and return via the Helle hamlet to the village. This walk takes about hour and a half in total.

a river with a wooden bridge and a small village at the background, Geul River at Mechelen
The Geul

Where to stay in Mechelen

As I have already mentioned, the area is quite popular among the locals for both short trips and long holidays. In the village you can find numerous cute bed-and-breakfasts and lovely hotels, and just outside of the village there are a few holiday villages and campings. Most of the hotels and the B&Bs are in those charming half-timbered houses, so this is your chance to stay in one of them, when visiting the Netherlands.

Here is a small selection of the best accommodation in Mechelen:

Restaurants and cafes in Mechelen

Although Mechelen is very small place (a bit shy of 1500 people), there are quite a lot of restaurants, cafes and brasseries in the village.

  • EetCafé ‘t Pintje (Hoofdstraat 25) – lunch and drinks
  • Vino e Cucina (Hoofdstraat 21) – an Italian restaurant
  • In de Kroeën (Hoofdstraat 23) – lunch, dinner, drinks, beer pub
  • Broodjeszaak Im Cardinal (Hoofdstraat 49A) – fresh sandwiches
  • Restaurant PROEFF! (Hoofdstraat16) – lunch and dinner
  • Restaurant De Oude Brouwerij (Hoofdstraat 53) – lunch and dinner with local farmers’ produce
  • De Paardestal (Hoofdstraat 57) – a pub
  • Brasserie Charlemagne (Hoofdstraat 40) – lunch and dinner
  • Geulhof Mechelen (Eperweg 9-11) – lunch and dinner, Dutch-style pancakes, ice-cream parlour

Places to visit near Mechelen

South Limburg is quite a popular tourist destination with lots of things to see and do. Whether you are visiting with kids, travelling solo or as a couple, South Limburg will not bore you. Check out these posts about other attractions and sites in Limburg:

Final words

Mechelen is so charming that you have to visit it! It can be an easy stop on a road trip in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, or a day trip from any major city in the neighborhood (Maastricht, Aachen, Liege). However, Mechelen deserves more time and attention. Why not even use it as a base to explore South Limburg and stay longer!

Do you need some extra help to plan your trip to the Netherlands? Join the dedicated Exploring the Netherlands Facebook Group, where you can get tips from other travellers and locals. Or perhaps you have questions or comments? Join the group and I’ll be happy to answer them.

About Daniela

Daniela has been living and travelling in the Netherlands since 2009. She has actually been to all the places she writes about. A linguist by education and a writer by profession, Daniela is on a mission to help you plan the perfect trip to her home country - the Netherlands.