If there is something that I’ve learned in the last few months, it’s that you don’t always need to travel far from home to have a great experience. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when spending one day in Leuven (Belgium) recently!
I visited student city Leuven for the space-themed “KNAL! Festival” (“BANG! Festival”), of which you can read more about over on The Space Tester. Did you know that the city was the birthplace and scientific playground of Professor Georges Lemaître: the founder of the revolutionary “Big Bang” Theory? Now you do!
Here on The Travel Tester, I will share some of my other cultural and gastro-tips with you, so when you visit Leuven, you’ll have a great time exploring.
MORNING IN LEUVEN
BREAKFAST AT LEUV
I TRAVEL FOR FOOD
While hotel breakfasts are great, I still prefer to start the day in a new city exploring the local options. I stumbled upon Bar Leuv, and this was a great choice! While it is called a bar, this is the go-to brunch spot in town it seems. They do all-day bowls, salads, big plates, coffee & tea , eggs… and waffles (just sayin’). The staff was super friendly too, which is always a good sign.
Parijsstraat 6, Leuven – barleuv.be
TIP: Stock up on snacks for the day over at Färm, an organic supermarket that lets you support independent producers and family businesses and avoid multinational agricultural companies.
EXPLORE LEUVEN’S HISTORY ON FOOT!
I TRAVEL FOR HISTORY
The city of Leuven dates back to the 9th century. Its history is rich in terms of religious art as well as world-class architecture and infrastructure. Today, the city continues to renew itself with contemporary projects integrated into the age-old settings.
And the best thing? It’s super easy to explore Leuven on foot!
KU Leuven – The University of Leuven (KU Leuven) has influenced the cityscape for over six centuries with a variation in architectural styles in the otherwise mainly Gothic inner city. The students and people of over 155 different nationalities bring a buzz to the city where culture and creativity reigns.
De Oude Markt – With no less than 182 restaurants and 240 cafés, Leuven has perhaps the biggest concentration of food and beverage outlets in all of Flanders. And that in the inner city which only spans about 2 kilometers! They call the Oude Markt (Old Market) in Leuven the “Longest Bar in Europe”. The square is surrounded by pubs and restaurants and truly forms the beating heart of the city’s nightlife area. No wonder Leuven is so popular among students!
Stadhuis Leuven – The City Hall of Leuven is one of the most famous Gothic city halls in the world. Decorated with 236 statues and consisting of three floors, it took almost 30 years to complete the building, with the help of three architects.
TAKE A COFFEE (AND CHOCOLATE) BREAK
I TRAVEL FOR FOOD
After all that walking, it’s time to relax a bit and have a (coffee) break! Of course I’ve also included a chocolatier, because we are in the #1 country in Europe for chocolate of course!
Here are some options for you:
GET CULTURED AT M LEUVEN
I TRAVEL FOR CREATIVITY
M Leuven (“Museum Leuven”) houses a collection of both historical and contemporary art. The unique building, combining the historical buildings with modern design, was designed by the Belgian architect Stéphane Beel.
At M Leuven, I visited an exhibition that was part of the KNAL! Festival (BANG! Festival), you can read more about it over at The Space Tester.
TIP: From the roof terrace you have a beautiful view over the city. Also don’t skip the inner courtyard!
Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28, Leuven – mleuven.be
AFTERNOON IN LEUVEN
HAVE LUNCH AT BAR JEROME
I TRAVEL FOR FOOD
Together with Simone, a freelance writer from The Netherlands, I visited Bar Jérôme for lunch and had such a great meal here. We went for a sharing platter made out of a few starter dishes and topped it off with a slice of their homemade cake. Yumm!
Bar Jérôme also has a deli section and is great to visit for either breakfast, brunch/lunch or just a cup of coffee with some cake (definitely have cake). All in a super casual atmosphere. Can recommend it!
Wandelingstraat 10, Leuven – barjerome.be
Looking for more tasty hotstpots in Leuven? Have a look at:
VISIT THE SINT-PIETERSKERK
I TRAVEL FOR INNOVATION
The Sint-Pieterskerk (Saint Peter’s Church) in the heart of Leuven did not have an easy time growing up. Built in 986, in Romanesque style, it is the oldest church in the city, but it was twice destroyed by fire.
Demolition of the Romanesque building began in the 15th century and the construction of the current Gothic church started, but a number of towers continued to collapse during construction due to the unstable ground. They were never rebuilt. Fortunately, I suppose, because an earthquake in 1750 caused problems again.
The biggest blow however came during the two world wars, in which the roof and a large part of the interior were reduced to ashes. As a result, many precious works of art were lost forever.
Over the past century the church has undergone a number of thorough restoration campaigns, which means that it can now be admired again in its full glory. The church with belfry was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
One of the highlights in the church is Dirk Bouts‘ painted triptych: The Last Supper. It dates from the 15th century and was extensively restored in the 1990s. Bouts is considered one of the most important Flemish Primitives and city painter of Leuven.
Was is unique about your visit to the church is that you can rent a so-called “hololens” for a mixed-media experience. With some sort of a ski-helmet with glasses, you will see 3D images projected onto artworks in the church, along with spectacular animations and storytelling. A brilliant way to discover the stories behind the church, its art treasures and the bustling Leuven of the past and present!
The church is open every day and there is free entry. You pay extra to rent the hololens.
Grote Markt 1, Leuven – mleuven.be
GO SHOPPING AT LOCAL & VINTAGE SHOPS
I TRAVEL FOR GOOD KARMA
Let’s be real: shopping is fun. But at the same time I’m not a fan of massive overconsumption and definitely not of fast fashion culture.
Luckily, Leuven offers a wide choice of local, conscious and sustainable shops where you can shop guilt-free!
Have a look at:
DISCOVER UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE LISTED BEGIJNHOF
I TRAVEL FOR HISTORY
Escape the busy city center for an oasis of peace at Het Groot Begijnhof (The Great Beguinage). This area filled with historical houses has been named UNESCO World Heritage since 1998. It’s a great place to wander around in silence.
A begijnhof is a collection of individual and/or communal dwellings owned by beguines, usually in the vicinity of a chapel or church and often surrounded by a wall with one or more entrance gates.
Beguines were single women who emerged throughout Western Europe around the end of the 11th, early 12th century. They pioneered by establishing a new lifestyle and being the inventors of a new literary genre; vernacular theology.
The women who lived in the beguinages had consciously chosen this form of cohabitation, because it preserved their personal freedom alongside their religious and daily practices. Unlike those who entered the often closed monastic orders, beguines were able to keep their personal belongings and rights and use them within the constraints of the precept. Many owned their homes and also had personal belongings outside of it.
TIP: On this website you can see Het Groot Begijnhof in 360° >
EVENING IN LEUVEN
TASTE BELGIUM BEERS IN THE PUB
I TRAVEL FOR FOOD
Beer is synonymous to Belgium and in Leuven, visiting the local Stella Artois brewery is a must for beer lovers. It’s open every Saturday for visitors.
Aarschotsesteenweg 20, Leuven – breweryvisits.com
While I’m personally not a huge beer drinker, I did enjoy my visit to Domus, a so-called “house brewery”, which serves home-made beers in a cosy atmosphere. The craft house beers run through a copper tube straight from the brewery (across the street) to the tap!
I’m sure you’ll find something you like here, especially paired with a comforting meal.
Tiensestraat 8, Leuven – domusleuven.be
Some new locations to check out are Maltz Craft Beer (Indi 100% Craftbeer Bar) and Brouwerij De Coureur (Taproom with new beers on tap each month).
GO FOR DINNER
I TRAVEL FOR FOOD
There are plenty of dinner options in Leuven and with the two nights that I spend here, I can recommend visiting De Hoorn if you’re looking for a casual night out (their burgers are amazing). This restaurant is located in a former brewery, where they produced the first Stella back in 1926! The kitchen uses organic meat and seasonal veggies. Closed on Mondays and Sundays.
Sluisstraat 79, Leuven – dehoorn.eu
If you’re looking to really spoil yourself, make a reservation over at restaurant trente. You won’t regret it! Just have a look at the photos below to see the amazing dishes that we got served. All paired with wine and explanations from the chef. Definitely a memorable experience. You can also go for lunch here. Pay attention that they are closed on Sunday, Monday and Saturday afternoon.
Muntstraat 36, Leuven – trente.be
GOT MORE TIME IN LEUVEN?
CYCLE TO ABDIJ VAN PARK & PARCUM
I TRAVEL FOR PERSONAL GROWTH
Abdij van Park (Park Abbey) is one of the best preserved monasteries in all of Belgium and continues to be inhabited by Norbertines. The buildings, gates, church, watermill, barn and walled vegetable garden have remained practically unchanged since the 17th century!
You can spend an entire afternoon here and special exhibitions and performances are presented throughout the year.
Museum Parkabdij, or PARCUM, showcases temporary exhibitions combining religion with art and culture. The focus lies on starting a dialogue between people of different religions, beliefs and ages, as well as contemporary themes and historic heritage.
TIP: Visit the Abbey by bike! There is a special cycle route that takes you past all four Leuven abbeys, if you have the time.
Abdij van Park 7, Leuven – visitleuven.be/abdijvanpark and parcum.be
CLIMB THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY TOWER
I TRAVEL FOR HISTORY
Start your visit at the University Hall, originally the cloth hall of the city. The anatomical amphitheater, the herb garden (Kruidtuin – one of the oldest botanical gardens in Belgium) and the Arenberg castle are also part of the rich past of the university.
Climbing the tower of the university library in Leuven is spectacular! As you go up the stairs, a photo exhibition shows the turbulent past of this building.
Once you reach the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the balcony. Hope you have nice weather of course!
TIP 1: During the academic year, the carillon in the tower is played twice a week. You can go upstairs for a unique concert.
TIP 2: Download the Heritage App (App Store / Google Play Store) and discover the known and lesser-known sides of the building at your own pace with the audio tour, or visit the university on a 360° virtual tour >
Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein 21, Leuven – bib.kuleuven.be
Are you excited to visit Leuven after reading our travel stories? Make sure to check out the practical tips below that will help you plan and book your trip with ease.
FLIGHTS TO LEUVEN
The closest airport to Leuven is Brussels Airport. Make sure to check out Skyscanner for the best deals on flights >>
Are you flying through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam? Make sure to download this € 5,- voucher for a nice discount at See Buy Fly. A great airport hotel at Schiphol is CitizenM (did you know that Nick’s architectural firm designed the concept of these hotels all across the world?!), or go for the budget option with YOTELAIR.
Save money by looking at reserving other airport extra’s such as parking, airport transfers or lounge access on Holiday Extras.
Flight delayed, canceled or overbooked? You may be entitled to €600 in compensation!
TRAIN TRAVEL TO LEUVEN
Leuven is best reached by train. I travelled from Amsterdam to the city in under three hours, which was easy and comfortable. You can take the Intercity (IC) or the Thalys from Amsterdam or Rotterdam and change at Brussels South for a local train, which will take you to Leuven in under half an hour.
For the best deals on train travel, have a look on: either NS International, Trainline, Omio Trains or Eurail.
CAR RENTAL IN LEUVEN
The city of Leuven has been car-free for a few years now, so if you’re arriving by car it’s best to park it on the outskirts. There are so-called “P+Bus” parking options, where there is a bus service between a public parking spot and the city. More info here.
For the best (airport) car rental options, we recommend Hertz and Sunny Cars.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN LEUVEN
There is a tram and bus service in Leuven, but to be honest, it was so easy to walk everywhere that I don’t see why you would need this. The city center is compact and the small side-streets make for a great day of exploring on foot.
Another tip is to rent a bike, which you can do right next to the station over at Leuven Leisure or Fietspunt Leuven (more info here). Great if you’re looking to visit locations on the edge of the city!
TOURS & ACTIVITIES IN LEUVEN
Make your trip extra memorable by booking a tour or activity from one of our following partners:
Get Your Guide / Tiqets / Viator / Isango!
TRAVEL GUIDE TO BELGIUM
RECOMMENDED TRAVEL PRODUCTS [CITY BREAK]
MORE ARTICLES ABOUT BELGIUM
DISCLAIMER: This was a hosted visit by Visit Vlaanderen.