Leuven is a small Belgian town located some 30 km from the capital, Brussels. It’s charming, picturesque and still undiscovered by the hordes of tourists. I’ve spent a weekend there recently and completely fell in love with it!
So, I’ve compiled here an Ultimate Travel Guide with some tips, tricks and places you shouldn’t miss when in Leuven!
Leuven – Ultimate Travel Guide
How to get there
Leuven is well connected with the Brussels’ Airport. There are trains raiding from there every 15 minutes. Train station is located some 10 minutes away by foot from the City Hall and Leuven’s main square.
How to get around
Leuven is quite a small city 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 you’ll see a lot of people commuting on the bikes. You can rent it on a train station or in one of the shops close to the main square.
*TIP: With its cobbled streets, Groot Begijnhof area is not really suitable for wheelchair, prams or bicycles. So if you’re planning to go there, you’ll need to leave your bike somewhere at the entrance of the area.
What to eat?
There is only one correct answer to that question: local food.
Belgian food is so delicious, that you shouldn’t even think of eating anything else while there. I would suggest you to try some mussels (of course if there is a mussels season while you’re visiting) or to go to any traditional Belgian restaurant there and order a menu of the day.
And, since I’m a huge fan of Belgian fruit beers, I would pair it with one made of cranberries or cherries. Or, since you’re in a home town of Stella Artois, having a glass of it should also be a good choice!
What to see
# – City Hall
Address: Grote Markt 9
Definitely the most remarkable building in Leuven is its City Hall, located on the Grote Markt. Built in the 15th century as a rival to the one in Brussels, built at the same time. It’s famous for the numerous sculptures on its facade. You can recognize some of Leuven’s or Belgium’s most important citizens among its sculptures.
*TIP: There is a guided tour every day at 3 PM and this is the only way to see it from the inside. You can get more info in Leuven’s Tourist Office, placed just around the corner of it.
# – Saint Peter’s Church & Treasury
Address: Grote Markt 1
Just across the City Hall, you’ll find another Leuven’s gem, Saint Peter’s Church, built at the same time. It’s a beautiful Gothic building and I’m really urging you to take a look inside of it, as well. It also has a nice Treasury with some 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, but if you would like to visit Treasury as well, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee.
# – University Library
Address: Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein 21
I have a thing for libraries, so this place was such a gem to me. I can’t really decide what I liked the most; building from the outside, its interior or a view from its tower. I definitely wouldn’t mind spending a few hours thereby reading some old books.
# – M – Museum Leuven
Address: Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28
M – Museum Leuven is definitely ‘to go’ place for contemporary art lovers. I loved the way they are displaying art by mixing older traditional exhibits with really modern abstract ones. Its architecture is also gorgeous and although I haven’t visited it, I heard great things about its roof terrace.
However, I wouldn’t go here if you are not really into contemporary art and without a guide.
*TIP: All those four sights are included in the ILuvLeuven combi ticket which costs 16 euros only. You can buy it in the Tourist Office and save some time and money when visiting those places.
# – Sint-Donatus Park
Leuven is a university city and it’s home to many students. You’ll see a lot of young people on its streets which is giving it that nice lively feeling.
That’s also a reason you’ll see a lot of young people in its parks, studying or just hanging out together and I had a feeling that Sint-Donatus Park was their favourite place. It’s a nice green area in a city center, a perfect place for a picnic or to just enjoy the sun for a few minutes.
# – Oude Markt
The old square (don’t mix it with the Grote Markt) is a great place for a coffee or lunch during the day. Or a glass of a Belgian beer in the evening. It’s a nice square where you can also sit for a few minutes and enjoy looking at the old facades on the buildings there.
# – Groot Begijnhof
Groot Begijnhof looks like a Medieval village inside the town. It was founded back in the 13th century as a home to unmarried religious women. With around 100 houses it is one of the largest beguinages in Belgium. The site was purchased and restored by the University of Leuven in the 1960s and after the last beguinage sister died in 1988, became home to visiting professors and students.
# – Vaartkom neighbourhood and the Old Stella Artois Brewery
Address (Opek Restaurant): Vaartkom 4
I always love visiting those upcoming, a bit hipster neighbourhoods when travelling. Vaartkom is that kind of neighbourhood in Leuven. Close to the canal, it was once home to the old Stella Artois brewery. You can still see its old buildings over there. However, today is a modern neighbourhood with smart apartments and some nice restaurants. We had lunch on a terrace of Opek, the cultural centre with a nice view on a canal and the old brewery.
# – Botanical Garden
Address: Kapucijnenvoer 30
Leuven has a very beautiful Botanical Garden which is also close to the city centre. It has such a nice sense of history with its sculptures, the old fountain and a cute little wooden bridge. I loved how they even recreated a farm garden in it, which is, I believe, quite educational for the city children (and some older visitors, like me).
# – Stella Artois Brewery
Address: Aarschotsesteenweg 20
Leuven is home to the World’s largest brewery! If you’re a beer lover then this is definitely a place to go. They have guided tours in English each Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM.
Where to buy souvenirs?
# – Belgian chocolates
There is no better souvenir from Belgium than its chocolates! And there is no better place to buy them than in a local supermarket. This is where the local people are buying them, so you’ll find the best price and quality there, as well.
# – Comic books
Belgium is home to some of the best comic book’s authors. There is even a Comic Books Museum in a nearby Brussels. So, there could also be nice to check some of its comic book stores while there.
# – Local stores
There are so many nice local stores, with toys, clothes or product design in Leuven. I would suggest you to walk through the Mechelsestraat and take a look in the stores there.
Start your trip in Leuven’s Tourist Office. You can get all the brochures and info there and also buy the tickets for the sights you’d like to visit! They are located just next to the City Hall on the address: Naamsestraat 3 and are open daily 10 AM – 5 PM.
*Many thanks to Leuven’s Tourist Office for helping me organize our trip and providing me with tickets and all the info about the city!