The picturesque town of Mechelen, a hidden Flemish gem, sits between Brussels and Antwerp. Students of the world-renowned Carillon bell-ringing school provide an atmospheric soundtrack for sipping coffee at a sidewalk café in one of the town's charming squares. Many pedestrian areas make this a delightful town to promenade about, admiring hundreds of listed buildings and monuments, many dating back to 16th century. Highlights include Gothic and Baroque churches and the famed St Rumbold's Tower.
Though often overshadowed (especially for tourists) by its much larger and more famous neighbor Amsterdam about ten miles east, Haarlem’s history actually goes back further. And with about 150,000 people, it’s the capital of the Noord-Holland region. The Teylers Museum, with its unique collection of art and artifacts, is the oldest museum in the Netherlands. The fantastic Frans Hals Museum has many works by the artist and other Haarlem schoolers. Grote Markt, the main town square, is a must-see.
At over 2000 years old, Nijmegen has had a pretty full life. Its transition from Roman military camp to modern municipality has not been without growing pains, but today Nijmegen is thriving, largely because of its lively student population and its status as a hub for political activism. Try to visit during the internationally popular Nijmeegse Vierdaagse four-day walking festival and the epic Zomerfeesten summer party. They happen at the same time, because why not?
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