Visit Leuven: a guide to the best of Belgium

Ah, Leuven! This blog post is long overdue! I was a student in Leuven en got to know the city that way. Later on I went there to meet up with friends or family. However, after not having been in a while I got to show two friends around this summer! That encouraged me to compile this post celebrating one of my favourite cities in Belgium!

How to get there

  • By train: it really is the easiest way. Only half an hour or less from Brussels, and well-connected with the other big cities in Belgium through the rail network. Besides, arriving by train means you get to have a look around the renovated train station.
  • By car: getting to Leuven by car is fine, but a) driving into Leuven isn’t the easiest with all it’s one-way streets, and b) finding a place to park can be a pain. Doable for sure, but I would always recommend taking the train over the car.

How to get around

  • On foot: apologies if you read my posts regularly and I sound like a broken record, but definitely consider walking around Leuven (like in most other Belgian cities). Distance-wise it isn’t very big – about 30min to get from one side of the city to the other – and parts of the centre are pedestrianised.
  • By bike: As you will notice soon enough when roaming around in Leuven is that cyclists rule the city. It’s a fun and easy way to get around – and cheap when you’re a student! But if you’re not on a bike yourself make sure to carefully look out for them at every crossing.
  • By bus: There are a good number of busses to get you to your destination and the large bus station is conveniently located right next to the train station.

A Univer-city

Ladeuzeplein

Leuven is know around the world for it’s university. It doesn’t have a separate campus but you can find the university buildings scattered across the city, like the Central University Library on the Ladeuzeplein as pictured above. The university dates back to 1425 and is the biggest Dutch speaking university in Belgium and the Netherlands (thanks Wikipedia!). I really enjoyed my time there as a student and have memories on many a corner, square or bar from my days as a student. 

European Capital of Innovation 2020

Grote Markt

Leuven is a medieval city and full of beautiful old buildings like the Town Hall. But in September 2020 the city won the European Capital of Innovation 2020 award, so don’t judge a book by its cover! Leuven is the sixth city to win this award – yet another reason to pay it a visit.

Cozy shopping streets

Leuven is also a great place for shopping. There are some cute shopping streets like the Parijstraat or Oude Mechelsestraat, in addition to the two main shopping streets Bondgenotenlaan and Diestsestraat with your mainstream brands and shops. Everything is located close together and connected by quaint streets and squares filled with restaurants and bars to quench your thirst or whet your appetite.

Religious history

If you are interested in religious history you’ll find some grand examples in Leuven, and that in three categories: ‘begijnhoven’ or beguinages, abbeys and churches. A beguinage is a collection of houses in which Christian lay unmarried women lived, often in the vicinity of a chapel or church and sometimes shielded off from the outside world by a wall. Leuven has a two: the larger one is almost a little village in itself and classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. A street and some small alleys is all that remains of the smaller one.

Botanical gardens

Kruidtuin

If you would like a break from the crowds of shoppers or grand buildings then head over to the botanical garden. This is the oldest botanical garden in Belgium and absolutely stunning as you can see from the picture above. For other green spots you can check out the Sint-Donatuspark in the city centre or the one of the many other parks outside of the city.

Vaartkom

Sluispark

This old industrial site had been redeveloped with new squares and parks, making it a lovely area to wander through and even more so to live in I imagine. You can see the innovation element shining through here, with lots of other exciting things to come I’m sure!

Food

Muntstraat

There are some fantastic places to eat in Leuven, and many of them can be found along the Muntstraat and Tiensestraat. When I lived there as a student I wouldn’t go out often for food and many places have changed since then. But a few that are still around now and that I would recommend are: 

  • De Werf: for breakfast, hot chocolate with cake… They also used to do this amazing hot apple juice with cinnamon… Ah, the memories! 
  • ‘t Galetje: the place to be for ice cream in Leuven
  • Bar Berlin: My friends and I had an amazing lunch here – we ordered the wraps and they were so good I didn’t even take a picture!
  • Baracca: I haven’t been myself but my sister raves about there food – so it’s on my list as well to try out on my next visit!

I wanted to make this list a lot longer, but many of the restaurants I recall have been long gone, or didn’t survive corona which is quite sad. So support your local restaurants if you can during these difficult times, and hopefully I can update this list soon and add many more to the list

Drinks

Oude Markt

In Leuven there is a type of bar called ‘fakbar’ aka each faculty has its own dedicated bar that is run by students. Think: cheap beer, crazy parties, fun memories. During our final year at uni we felt like we had outgrown those a bit and spent more time on the Old Market Square, which is often also referred to as the longest bar – as almost the entire square is filled with bars. And even then it can be tricky to find a place to sit in summer!

Two coffee places definitely worth mentioning also are Swartehond (with a lovely terrace) and Punto (because I used to there often as a student and order coffee with Maltesers in it).

As I mentioned above I hoped to make this post a lot more personal, but corona is making that a bit more difficult. I do hope that in a while I can revisit this blog post and add more places I would warmly invite you to support. In the meantime: support local businesses to the best of your ability, stay safe and healthy and take care of each other!

If you’d like to read more about spots in Belgium, please have a look at my posts about:

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