Leuven is the biggest University city in Belgium. It’s home to the KU Leuven, the largest and oldest university in the Low Countries and the oldest still existing Catholic university in the world. Leuven is a vibrant city with beautiful architecture, historic charm and lots of fun bars and restaurants. Until my family moved to Leuven a couple years ago, I wasn’t very familiar with the city. I remembered a field trip with school back in the days, but other than that Leuven remained undiscovered territory for me. Now after a of couple visits, I got to know the capital of Flemish Brabant so much better! And on that note I’m eager to share with you my tips for a visit to Leuven.
COFFEE TIME AT THELMA COFFEE & DESIGN
As coffee is always a good idea, we’ll start our day at one of my favorite hotspots in the city; Thelma Coffee & Design. Here you can try on some trendy clothes, have a cup of the local coffee blend ‘MOK’ and read a book or magazine, all at once. No better way to start a relaxing weekend getaway right?!
CLIMB THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY TOWER
After our cup of black gold, it’s time for some sightseeing! A visit to the neoclassical University Library and climbing the library tower is a must. If you want to learn more about the university library’s turbulent history and its impact on the city, you have to climb the five floors of the library tower. On the top floor you will be rewarded with a fantastic view over the city.
EXPLORE THE GROTE MARKT
A trip to Leuven is not complete without spending some time at the Grote Markt! The historic City Hall is the pride of Leuven. It is also one of the most famous gothic town halls in the world and for sure one of the most beautiful ones. The gorgeous façade is very detailed and features 236 images of people who once were important to the city. The first stone was laid in 1439. It took three architects and thirty years to build it.
Across the square lays the Saint-Peter’s Church. The 15th-century church is another classic example of Late Gothic architecture. The church suffered greatly during the two world wars. In 1914 the roof burned down and in 1944 the northern aisle was bombed. In 1999 the Saint-Peter’s Church with belfry was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage. Inside you can discover a unique collection of art treasures. The most famous being ‘The Last Supper’ by Dieric Bouts, one of the Flemish Primitives and city painter of Leuven.
LUNCH AT BAR LOUIS
Our lunch spot Bar Louis is also located on the Grote Markt. Bar Louis is a hip spot with a very varied menu (pasta, salads, tapas or soup). The interior is modern and warm; think dark walls, gold accents, mirrors and an impressively high bookcase. I loved it, but as the weather was nice, we picked out a spot on the terrace with a lovely view upon City Hall.
WANDER AROUND THE GREAT BEQUINAGE
The Grand Beguinage of Leuven is just outside the historic center, which is perfect to walk off lunch. The Great Bequinage dates back to the 13th century. During its glory days about 360 beguines lived there. I honestly couldn’t help feeling transported back in time while wandering the cobblestoned alleys, courtyards, gardens and parks. Another must visit if you ask me! Nowadays the beguinage is used as a residence for foreign students and staff of the KU Leuven. Imagine living there… how cool must that be!
VISIT THE M-MUSEUM AND ENJOY AN APERO AT BAR A MUZE
The M-Museum brings together old and new in an impressive way! The collection is mainly focusing on the art production in Leuven and Brabant from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. During summer there is also a fun rooftop bar ‘Bar A Muze‘. Not only can you enjoy some tasty cocktails there, the views upon the city from up there, are wonderful to say the least!
DINNER AT BARACCA
If I have to choose an absolute favorite place to be in Leuven, it would be Baracca! This restaurant brings the authentic Italian cuisine, that we all know and love with a modern twist. The decor is robust and the pizza ovens are beautifully integrated into the interior. At Baracca it’s all about food sharing. I have been to Baracca a couple of times now and the food has always been to die for! Another reason why I also love to go to Baracca, is the genuine friendliness of the people that work there. This truly is one of the very best Italian restaurants in Belgium, so I’m seriously counting down the days till my next visit. If you like to go to Baracca too, make sure you book a table in advance. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Leuven and you won’t be able to get a table otherwise!
NIGHTCAP AT THE OUDE MARKT
The Oude Markt is known as “the longest bar in Europe.” It is a square full of cafés, bars and restaurants. This is the place to be if you like to party. It goes without saying that the square is particularly loved by students. But hey, you are only as old as you feel, so why not enjoy a delicious Belgian beer in one of the many cafés?
STAY AT PENTA HOTEL LEUVEN
As I kind of outgrown that ‘party all night’ thing I finished my drink and went back to my hotel. Penta Hotel Leuven is a hip and trendy hotel with a central location. The check-in is a bit different from the ones I am used too. The motto at Penta Hotel is: “Who needs a receptionist for check ins? Our bartenders do it with cocktails!’. Being a passionate, former receptionist I can totally say that the check-in went as smoothly as in other hotels, so please bring on the cocktails.
The guest rooms are very spacious and equipped with all modern features, (say hello to free blockbuster movies in the room) and a full set of chic toiletries (I mention this because the quotes upon the packaging were so funny – like for example on the soap; we only want you for your body)! Hilarious right?!
In the morning you can enjoy a fantastic breakfast, where there is basically everything your heart desires (well mine did)! And if you are really feeling that ‘Easy like Sunday morning’ vibe, you can stay in bed, order room service and watch a movie. There is no need to hurry, because on Sundays check-out is until 3pm. Ain’t that great?! Especially if you were out partying late the night before…
RELAX AT THE BOTANICAL GARDEN
If you are more the ‘Rise & Shine’ type and feel like exploring some more of Leuven, I can highly recommend a visit to the botanical garden. Leuven’s botanical garden is the oldest one in Belgium. The university of Leuven created this green oasis for its medicine students in 1738. Walking around the garden is a very relaxing activity.
LATE LUNCH AT ZOFF
Another Italian restaurant I like to frequent when I’m in Leuven is Zoff. Maybe two Italian restaurants in one trip, might be a bit much for you. Me on the other hand, I could eat pasta and pizza all day, every day! Zoff is located in the Mechelsestraat. Besides the restaurant, there is also the store ‘Gigi’ where you can buy Italian delicacies. Both in Gigi & Zoff the passion for qualitive, Italian products is clearly visible and testable in the dishes.
VISIT THE STELLA ARTOIS BREWERY
The Stella Artois brewery, part of the world’s biggest brewery concern AB Inbev, finds its roots in Leuven. I visited the brewery during my Hotel Management training and really enjoyed the interactive tour. Not only do you learn a lot about beer brewing, you also get to see the brewery in action, which was a lot of fun! I guess it goes without saying that you get to taste a beer at the café afterwards too!
- Direct trains from Ghent to Leuven leave every 20 minutes to half an hour. From Brussels even more. This means that you can just show up at the train station and there should be a train leaving soon.
- Currency: Euro (€)