Things to do in Leuven article was first published on Culture Tourist on 20 June 2017 and updated on 18 April 2023.

Are you looking for fun things to do in Leuven? That small Belgian town located some 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the country’s capital, Brussels, is charming, picturesque and still undiscovered by many tourists. I spent a weekend in Leuven and fell in love with it! If you are planning to visit Leuven, here is Culture Tourist’s travel guide with tips, tricks and places you shouldn’t miss in Leuven.

Things to do in Leuven

Leuven is a small town filled with beautiful architecture, cultural sites and many fun things to do. First mentioned in the 9th century, it has a fascinating history that you can still spot around the town. Leuven is home to the oldest and largest university in Belgium. During the 16th century, the town was one of the European art and science centres. Many painters lived in the city during that time. Being home to an important university, Leuven attracted scientists and humanists from all around Europe. One of them was Desiderius Erasmus, who was teaching at the university.

Leuven has around 100,000 inhabitants today, almost half of whom are students. Although a historical town, Leuven is filled with life, many shops, cafes and restaurants. And it’s a beautiful place to visit! So, here are some things to do in Leuven during your visit to that charming town.

Read more: The best weekend trips in Flanders

Leuven Town Hall

Address: Grote Markt 9, Leuven

Leuven Town Hall, located on the Grote Markt, is the most fascinating building in the city. It was constructed during the 15th century in the local Brabantine Late Gothic style. The edifice is famous for 235 sculptures on its facade. You can recognise images of some of Leuven’s and Belgium’s most influential citizens among the statues.

You can see the Town Hall’s interior and learn a lot about the building during one of the daily guided tours. Check out this link for the guided tours‘ time slots and online tickets.

Saint Peter’s Church

Address: Grote Markt 1, Leuven

Opposite the Town Hall, you’ll find another Leuven gem – Saint Peter’s Church. It was built around the same time in the 15th century. Even some of the same architects worked on two buildings simultaneously. The church is a beautiful Gothic building with bell towers inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Its interior has numerous fantastic artworks, from the wooden Baroque pulpit to statues and paintings. That’s why, be sure to peek inside it, too. If you want to see more of them, visit the Church’s Treasury, home to many fascinating medieval paintings and sculptures. You can also see its crypt (a church below the church) there.

TIP: Entrance to the church is free of charge. However, if you’d like to visit the Treasury, you must buy an entrance ticket.

Read more: 20 Most iconic churches in Europe

Leuven University Library

Address: Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein 21, Leuven

As you have already noticed by now, Leuven is a student town. So it comes as no surprise it’s home to one of Belgium’s most beautiful library buildings. It’s a beautiful place and still a hidden gem. You can explore its architecture from the outside, visit its interior and reading room and even climb its tower. The view from it is fantastic!

Although you wouldn’t say that by its appearance, the building’s history was quite turbulent. It burned down during the First World War. It was rebuilt after that but, unfortunately, demolished again during the Second World War in 1940. After the second restoration, new books were donated, and today, it has around four million titles in its collection.

M – Museum Leuven

Address: Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28, Leuven

M – Museum Leuven is a place to visit for contemporary art lovers. Exploring their collection by seeing historical and modern exhibits beside each other is fascinating. The architecture of the building is gorgeous. After exploring all the artworks, be sure to have a drink at its fantastic roof terrace.

However, as with many contemporary art museums, I recommend you visit them if you’re into modern art and accompanied by a guide.

TIP: All those four sites are included in the ILUVLeuven combi ticket, which costs 16 euros. You can buy at the Leuven Tourist Office or online and save time and money when visiting those places. I used the ticket during my visit and loved it!

Sint-Donatus Park

Address: Tiensestraat, Leuven

When tired of exploring all those Leuven cultural sites, take a break at Sint-Donatus Park. It’s a lovely green tranquil oasis located right in the town centre. Besides all the beautiful trees and nature, you’ll find some of the remains of the original medieval Leuven town walls. Being a University town, Leuven is home to many students. Many of them study and hang out at that beautiful park.

Read more: 15 Best exhibitions in European museums in 2023

Oude Markt

The Oude Markt (the ‘Old Square’ in English) is a great place to have a coffee or lunch during the day or a glass of Belgian beer in the evening. There are so many bars and restaurants there, the square got the nickname ‘the longest bar in the world’.

It’s a lovely pedestrian area where you can sit for some time and observe typical old house facades. Each has a different gable and decoration, almost as if their owners competed who will create the most beautiful one.

Groot Begijnhof in Leuven

Address: Groot Begijnhof, Leuven

When entering the Groot Begijnhof area, you have a feeling as you walk into the medieval village located in the city centre. Founded in the 13th century, it was home to unmarried religious women. With around one hundred houses, it is one of the largest beguinages in Belgium.

The University of Leuven purchased and restored the site in the 1960s. After the last beguinage sister died in 1988, it became home to visiting professors and students.

Hotel tip: I stayed at the Begijnhof Hotel in Leuven. With its location and beautiful garden, it felt as I travelled back in time to when the beguinage sisters were living there. If you’d like to stay in a lovely hotel close to the city centre, I recommend you book your stay there.

Vaartkom neighbourhood

Address (Opek Restaurant): Vaartkom 4, Leuven

I always love visiting interesting residential neighbourhoods when travelling. Vaartkom is that kind of area in Leuven. Close to the canal, it was once home to the old Stella Artois brewery. You can still see its historic buildings there.

However, it’s a trendy neighbourhood with lovely apartments and nice restaurants today. I had lunch on the terrace of Opek, the cultural centre with a nice view of a canal and the old brewery. It’s a great place to feel a bit of local life and explore the modern side of Leuven.

Leuven Botanical Garden

Address: Kapucijnenvoer 30, Leuven

Founded in 1738, Leuven is home to the oldest botanical garden in Belgium. It was established by Leuven University to plant some special herbs medicine students used in their experiments.

With its sculptures, an old fountain and a cute little wooden bridge, Leuven Botanical Garden have such a unique historical feel. You can visit it free of charge.

Read more: 15 Best museums in Europe you have to visit this year

Stella Artois Brewery in Leuven

Address: Aarschotsesteenweg 20, Leuven

If you have ever visited Belgium, you know it’s a beer country. It’s home to more than 300 breweries. And even the largest brewery in the world is located in Leuven. If you’re a beer lover, that’s a place to go.

Guided tours around Stella Artois Brewery in English are organised each Saturday and Sunday. During them, you can learn more about beer production, why it is vital in Belgium and even taste some beers. Sounds like a wonderful cultural experience, right?

Wander around Leuven town centre

The last tip on my list of things to do in Leuven is to just wander around its city centre. Often it’s the best way of exploring the place. You’ll stumble on some old buildings, architectural details, hidden corners, cute shops, and things you won’t find in travel books.

Sit at the cafe among the locals and listen to the language. Try some local food you haven’t heard of before. That’s the best way of experiencing the town. So be sure to leave enough time to stroll around the city and enjoy exploring it.

How to get around Leuven

Leuven is quite a small town, and it is easy to walk everywhere. However, you can always rent a bike for a few hours and cycle around the city. It’s very bicycle-friendly, and many people commute on bicycles. You can rent it at a train station or in one of the shops close to the main square.

TIP: With its cobbled streets, the Groot Begijnhof area is unsuitable for wheelchairs, prams or bicycles. So if you plan to go there, leave your bike somewhere at the area’s entrance.

How to get to Leuven

The easiest way to get to Leuven from abroad is to first travel to Brussels and take a local train to Leuven from there. Brussels Airport is well connected with many international destinations. And you can quickly arrive in Brussels by train from the Netherlands, France (Paris and Lille) or London.

Located in central Belgium, Leuven is easily accessible by train from Brussels. Trains are fast and depart each ten to fifteen minutes. The journey between Brussels and Leuven takes around 25 minutes. You can buy your ticket at the machines at the station or in the train office. You can check the timetable at the Belgian Railway official website on this link.

The train station is around ten minutes from the Town Hall and Leuven’s main square.

What to buy as a souvenir in Leuven?

Comic books

Belgium is home to the world’s largest number of comic book authors per capita. Some famous comic books, like The Adventures of Tintin, Spirou et Fantasio, The Smurfs or Lucky Luke, were all created in Belgium. You can even visit a museum dedicated to comic books in nearby Brussels. You’ll find some great shops specialised in selling comic books in Leuven. Some of them could make great souvenirs to bring back home from Leuven.

Belgian chocolate in Leuven

There is no better souvenir from Belgium than its chocolates! The history of chocolate production is long in Belgium, and over time they mastered the production of that fine sweets. You’ll find some specialised stores selling chocolate in Leuven. However, you can also look at a supermarket and buy some nice chocolates there.

Mechelsestraat – Leuven shopping street

If you’d like to do some shopping while in Leuven and look for nice local products, go to Mechelsestraat. It’s home to many lovely shops selling toys, clothes or specialising in product design. 

With its old town centre, beautiful buildings and many things to do, Leuven is a wonderful place to visit. This guide to Leuven will help you get the most out of your visit.

Have you been to Leuven? Or do you have any questions about it? Let me know in the comments!