Leuven is the capital city of the province Flemish Brabant. It’s a university-city which means there are many young people in town. Dutch is the spoken language, however many people speak English and French as well. The city is famous for it’s historic buildings and the local beer culture. The old market (Oude Markt) is a rectangular square and consists mainly bars. It’s given the nickname ‘the longest bar in the world”.
A brief history of Leuven
Located in the Flanders Region of central Belgium, Leuven has a rich history dating back to the 9th century. It was founded around a fortress built by a German emperor to defend against the Normans and later became significant in the 11th century as the residence of the counts of Leuven and the dukes of Brabant. Leuven was a prominent center for cloth weaving and one of Europe’s largest cities in the 14th century. However, its fortunes declined after the massacre of 17 nobles in the town hall in 1379, causing many weavers to flee and the duke to move to Vilvoorde.
Leuven is also renowned for being home to the first university in the Low Countries, founded in 1425, and is a hub of scientific learning and innovation. Father Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest, formulated the Big Bang theory in Leuven in 1931.
Best things to do and see in Leuven
Sightseeing in Leuven is a must-do activity for anyone who wants to explore the city’s stunning architecture and fascinating history. You can stroll along the picturesque streets of the city center and marvel at the Gothic town hall or the stunning St. Peter’s Church. Leuven is also home to a number of world-class museums, including the M-Museum, which features an impressive collection of Flemish art. Most touristic highlights in Leuven are located within walking distance from the Leuven train station.
The Grand Market square, or in Flemish “Grote Markt” is the heart of every Belgian city. Here you can admire the impressive city hall of Leuven. You’ll notice the market square itself isn’t as big as you would expect from a prestigious historical Flemish city. That’s because the Saint Peter’s Church is prominently placed in the middle.
Ladeuzeplein and Ladeuze Library
The Ladeuze Library is the central library of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) and is located on the Mgr. Ladeuzeplein, which is the largest square in the center of Leuven. The library was a gift from the American people to the city of Leuven after the original 17th-century library was destroyed during World War I. The library houses about 3 million books and is used daily by hundreds of students. The building is relatively recent, dating from 1921, and is a neo-Renaissance style building
Climbing to the top of the tower is a must-do activity for anyone who wants to experience a panoramic view of the city. From the top of the tower, you can see the stunning architecture of the city center and beyond.
The Ladeuzeplein also hosts a weekly farmer’s market on Fridays and carillon recitals on Saturdays
The “Oude markt”
Located in the heart of Leuven, the Oude Markt is a rectangular square that is famous for its vibrant atmosphere and plethora of catering establishments. Dubbed as the “longest bar in the world”, this bustling square is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.
Surrounding the square are several historical buildings that date back to the 18th century, including the classicist wing of the Old University of Leuven’s University Hall. Adding to the charm of the square are two water pumps, the Sint-Janspomp and the Collegepomp, as well as a statue named De Kotmadam.
The square is a popular meeting place year-round, particularly during warmer weather when the numerous terraces fill up quickly.
If you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, take a stroll down the serene cobbled roads of the 13th-century Béguinage in Leuven.
The Leuven Begijnhof, also known as the Groot Begijnhof, is a well-preserved historical quarter and beguinage situated in the southern part of downtown Leuven, Belgium. Founded in 1232, it covers an area of approximately 3 hectares (7.5 acres) and boasts about 300 apartments located in almost 100 houses.
The beguinage has a small town appearance with houses planned along a network of narrow streets and small squares. At its peak in 1700, about 300 beguines resided in the Groot Begijnhof, but the number dropped steadily over time, with the last beguine passing away in 1988.
The Beguines living here were single woman who devoted their lives to Christianity, living their lives in simplicity and took care of the poor and sick. Together with several other Béguinages in Belgium, it’s a protected Unesco World Heritage site;
Kruidtuin Leuven (botanical gardens)
Kruidtuin Leuven is the oldest botanical garden in Belgium, founded in 1738 by the University of Leuven. The garden was initially intended to grow herbs for medicinal purposes, hence the name “Kruidtuin,” which means “herb garden” in Dutch. Today, the garden covers an area of over two hectares and includes a wide variety of plants and trees. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the garden and nearby attractions. The garden is well-maintained and has a great collection of plants and trees in the middle of the city.
Visit the Abbey’s surrounding Leuven:
Abdij van’t Park and Abdij van Vlierbeek are located just outside the city centre.
Leuven Tourist Map
Thursday: Flower Market at the Brusselsestraat, from 1-6PM.
Friday: Foods & Clothes Market at the Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein, Herbert Hooverplein andLeopold Vanderkelenstraat from 7 A.M.-1 P.M
Saturday: Antique market at Mathieu de Layensplein from 9 A.M.-6 P.M. Artisanal Market at Brusselsestraat from 9 A.M.-6 P.M. Atisanal and regional products at Oude Markt from 10 A.M. – 4 P.M
Travel to Leuven
Trains to Leuven
There is a direct train connection between Leuven and Brussels-Airport. The trainstation of Leuven has excellent connections with other Belgian cities as well.
|Brussels-Zaventem Airport||Leuven||4 trains / hour||20 mins|
|Brussels||Leuven||5 trains / hour||25 mins|
|Antwerp||Leuven||5 trains / hour||50-60 mins|
|Ghent||Leuven||4 trains / hour||1h05|
|Liège||Leuven||5 trains / hour||35 mins|
For more information, check the Belgium public transport guide
Travel to Leuven by car
Leuven is located at about 20km east of the capital of Brussels. It’s located near the junction of 2 major highway’s, the E40 and E314.
Most of the city centre can be easily explored on foot or by bike. You can rent a bike at:
Rent A Bike / Fietspunt: http://www.leuven.be/en/tourism/adresses-en/fietspunt.jsp
Leuven Leisure: http://www.leuven.be/en/beercapital/adressen/leuven-leisure-fietsverhuur.jsp
Public Transport in Leuven
The bus will bring you wherever you want to go in and around Leuven. Busses are operated bij De Lijn. The central departure point for the buses in Leuven is at the railway station. For more information on the public transport system in Flanders, check https://www.belgiumtravel.info/en/belgium-public-transport-guide/#flanders
Where to stay in Leuven
Leuven is a hidden gem of Belgium, offering visitors a unique blend of history, culture, and modern amenities. With its picturesque architecture, vibrant beer culture, and delicious cuisine, Leuven is the perfect destination for anyone looking for an authentic Belgian experience. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or beer, there is something for everyone in this charming city.