The students create a young, vibrant atmosphere and a pleasant bustle in the venerable city centre. Thanks to the university, Leuven has been an innovative city of knowledge for centuries. The historic city centre’s beautiful monuments and rich heritage are a great showcase, as are the modern, urban renewal projects. Culture and creativity reign. Moreover, Leuven is home to Stella Artois, a hot spot for beer buffs and gourmands. Plus, it’s a shopping Mecca for demanding shoppers. In short, Leuven has all the advantages of a big city in a charming setting with a small-town feel.
University city: knowledge and innovation
KU Leuven has been a defining part of the Leuven cityscape for almost six centuries. The brand-new university was housed in the impressive clothmakers’ hall in 1425. In the years after, the number of students and faculty grew steadily. The prestige of Leuven’s university was further emphasised by its famous students, including the humanist Erasmus, the cartographer Mercator, and the anatomist Vesalius. It was no surprise that Thomas More had his famous Utopia printed here in 1516. Numerous colleges appeared around the city in a variety of architectural styles, so that they now decorate the city centre. KU Leuven grew into a famous university with a highly attractive appeal. It is the oldest of all the existing Catholic universities in the world. Knowledge, innovation, and scientific research are central here. The fact that the university is innovative is made clear by the ground-breaking research projects and inventions created here. Over 100 spin-off companies make Leuven the heart of progress in health, high tech, and creativity.
Historic and contemporary
The pride of Leuven is the impressive Gothic Town Hall, with its ornamental towers and 236 statues, making it one of the most famous town halls in the world. The Great Beguinage is a UNESCO world heritage site and an oasis of peace, where the ambience of bygone times shimmers among the cobblestone streets and picturesque houses. These are now inhabited by professors and students. Peace and quiet also permeate Belgium’s oldest Botanical Garden. You will find many historic university-colleges and other buildings, like the former Cloth Hall and the Anatomical Amphitheatre, spread out around the city. The new University Library and carillon tower rose again after WWI. There are over 1.5 million volumes stored behind the impressive Reading Room. There are also many monumental churches and no less than four abbeys: Park Abbey, Keizersberg Abbey, Saint Gertrude’s Abbey, and Vlierbeek Abbey.
In addition to historic buildings, you will find many pieces of modern architecture in Leuven, including the M-Museum Leuven (Stéphane Beel), the Arenberg campus library (Rafael Moneo), and the CERA banking building (Robbrecht & Daem). The old Vaartkom industrial zone near the canal and harbour is undergoing a complete metamorphosis. Renovated factory buildings have been converted into shops, restaurants, contemporary apartments, and office spaces.
For art lovers
Leuven is also a city for art enthusiasts. M-Museum Leuven brings together old and new in surprising ways. Leading Belgian architect Stéphane Beel integrated the historic properties and contemporary architecture into a single, sleek whole. The museum brings the visual culture of the past and present together under one roof. The combination of ancient masters and contemporary art, presented throughout the permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions, makes the M unique in Flanders. Just a little bit up the road, Saint Peter’s Church hides a great many art treasures. An absolute masterpiece is ‘The Last Supper’ by the Flemish Primitive Dirk Bouts. This triptych is still hanging in the chapel for which it was painted well over 500 years ago.
The home of Stella
While in Leuven, be sure to enjoy a refreshing pilsner or regional beer at a pleasant sidewalk café or in one of the many authentic pubs. The first Stella was brewed here, at De Hoorn brewery, in 1926. Today, Stella Artois, now a part of AB Inbev, the world’s largest brewery concern, is still firmly rooted in its hometown of Leuven. You can tour the brewery during the weekend while it’s in full operation. The contrast with local brewery Domus, where the beer flows straight from the brew-kettle to the tap, couldn’t be greater. You will also find several artisanal breweries in the Leuven periphery that are also definitely worth a visit. During the annual Leuven Beer Weekends in April, Leuven does its name as Belgian’s beer city even prouder. For three consecutive weekends, you can enjoy beer festivals, beer workshops, surprising beer tasting sessions, and interesting brewery tours. It’s a must for every beer buff.
Compact, cozy, something for everyone
All of Leuven’s sightseeing stops are either within walking distance or cycling distance from each other. Renting a bicycle is also a handy way to take a ride around the green city periphery. The wide and diverse selection of restaurants and shops will round out your trip to Leuven. Head into the streets around the Grote and the Oude Markt for a tasty lunch or dinner. There are plenty of choices, from Leuven’s ‘haute dogs’ to vegetarian dishes, from traditional Flemish specialities to gastronomically refined cuisine. And you won’t want for a trendy coffee bar. Stroll through the shopping streets, lined with fashionable design shops, unique boutiques, larger chain stores, and any number of speciality shops. You can also come shop here till you drop every first Sunday of the month. Experience the delightfulness of this compact city together with Leuven locals.
Centrally located, easily accessible
Leuven lies right in the centre of Belgium, around 30 km to the east of Brussels. The trains will bring you comfortably from the neighbouring countries straight to the heart of our city. There’s a regular train running from Brussels National Airport (Zaventem) that will bring you to Leuven in under 15 minutes. And no matter where you drive across the Belgian border, you’re always just a stone’s throw from Leuven. You can also quickly and easily travel from Leuven to other Flemish cities.
Info: Travelling to Leuven?