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A Local’s Tips: 10 Things to Do in Leuven, Belgium

By sofie - April 28, 2015 (Updated: February 2, 2016)

10 things to do in Leuven, Flanders, Belgium

Our expert local contributor, Sofie, shares her top tips for visiting the pretty city of Leuven in Flanders.

I’m a born and raised Belgian and although I have friends all over the country, the city that has played the biggest role in my life so far has to be Leuven.

As a kid, my grandparents would take me to the carnival or the fair there. As a teenager, Leuven was where I went to the movies and on countless shopping sprees. Later, it became the city I studied in, but also where I met my boyfriend. At the moment, I’ve been living here for five years and I don’t think I’ll leave soon. Leuven might not be a world city, but it’s a charming little place.

It’s also just a 20-minute train ride from Brussels and, as such, is perfect for a day trip. To make sure you get the most out of your time there, I want to share my insider tips with you.

1. Avoid the main shopping streets and head towards the Mechelsestraat

Mechelsestraat, Leuven, Belgium

Mechelsestraat, Leuven, Belgium

When you exit the train station, you immediately walk onto the Bondgenotenlaan. Together with the parallel street Diestsestraat this is the main shopping street of Leuven. All you’ll find here are chain stores, though, so avoid these and head to the Mechelsestraat, a cobblestone street with small boutiques and specialty food stores located between the St. Peter’s Church and the Vismarkt.

2. Don’t just take a photo of the university library, visit it!

The University of Leuven Library.

The University of Leuven Library.

Beautiful large halls, a shiny wooden floor… The university library is a sight to see, and not just from the outside. You’d hardly believe this place was built after WWII, such class it has. The library and the library tower can be visited in small groups, but you do have to make a reservation in advance. More information on this can be found on the university’s website.

3. Take a stroll through the Grand Beguinage

Leuvens UNESCO listed beguinage

Leuven’s UNESCO listed beguinage

Leuven’s beguinage is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightly so. The origins of the beguinage date back to the 13th century, when it served to house women who’d promised not to marry as long as they lived in the beguinage, but who were also free to leave it whenever they wanted. Today, the beguinage is owned by the University of Leuven and used to house academic guests and students.

4. Have a drink at the longest bar in the world

The world's longest bar, sort of, Leuven's Oude Markt

That’s right, we have the longest bar in the world! Well, sort of. The Oude Markt is a big market square where all the buildings, except for one, hold a restaurant, bar or something else involving food and drinks. There’s a rock cafe, a fancy bar, a reggae bar, a meat restaurant, a Chinese restaurant and so on. This is the perfect place to sit down on one of the many terraces in summer and just watch other people pass by.

Personal tip: I love the homemade Ice Tea at Café Apero.

5. Get artsy at Museum M

The M Museum, Leuven, Belgium

The M Museum, Leuven, Belgium

Museum M is an architectural beauty with an inner garden and a temporary rooftop bar in summer. The permanent collection consists of 15th-century, early 16th-century and 19th-century art, but there’s also always, at least, one temporary exhibition featuring anything from classical to contemporary art and from paintings to video and photography.

6. Visit the breweries

Domus Café and Brewery in Leuven

Domus Café and Brewery in Leuven

As a kid, I loved visiting the Domus Café as they have great spaghetti, but Domus is actually a brewery making Domus beer. You can visit the brewery if you can create a group of at least eight people and do some tasting afterwards. For more information, check the website of Domus.

If you’re more into the big brands, Brewery Stella opens its brewery to individual visitors each Saturday and Sunday. Groups can also visit on other days of the week if they make a reservation. You can find more information on the Stella website.

7. Have lunch at De Werf

Lunchtime at De Werf restaurant in Leuven

Lunchtime at De Werf restaurant in Leuven

De Werf, at the Hogeschoolplein, is a student restaurant, but such a charming and delicious one that I still love going there. They serve warm sandwiches in special sandwich boxes, huge salads in what appear to be bowls of wax and cute desserts like Petit Beurre pie (Petit Beurre is a kind of cookie) and chocomousse for two. They have a huge terrace, where you can always find fleece blankets to keep you warm, and their prices are adapted to the student crowd. A large wrap with chicken will only set you back €5!

8. Get out in nature

The Heverlee Woods, near Leuven

The Heverlee Woods, near Leuven
Go for a walk in the woods

Go for a walk in the woods

If you want to take a break from the city, get on bus 1 to Heverlee Woods. It’s only a 15-25 minute ride (depending on where you get on) to reach a large forest where people love to go for a run or to walk their dog.

9. Visit the Abbey of the Park

The Abbey of the Park, near Leuven, Belgium

The Abbey of the Park, near Leuven, Belgium

Another nice place to go for a walk is Abdij van Park, or “Abbey of the Park”, located just outside the city center. Here you can walk around the large ponds, which make great ice-skating rinks if it freezes enough in winter. You can visit the abbey from Tuesday until Sunday (April-October) and from Friday until Saturday (October – March). This information is also available on the website of Abdij van Park, but unfortunately only in Dutch.

10. A practical tip: take the train there

Leuven train station

Leuven train station

I’ve mentioned the station before because you should definitely take the train to Leuven. The city has a very strict parking policy and parking tickets are handed out generously. If you do want to come by car, park in one of the underground parking lots and expect to pay around €2/hour.

[Editor’s Note] We love Leuven and agree it makes a nice day trip from Brussels, or elsewhere in Belgium. Have you been to Leuven? Leave your tips in the comments below.

Top 10 Things to do in Leuven, Belgium

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Sofie
Sofie had a steady career, but then she decided to quit her job to explore her home country Belgium, and the rest of the world while she's at it. As a freelance writer and travel blogger she searches for the things that make a destination great, not just as a destination, but also as a home. Read all about her findings on her blog WonderfulWanderings.com
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I visites 6 food hot spots in #urbancgn today and now @thalys_nl hits me with cheese and chocolate mousse. #thestruggleisreal 😂 - 36 mins ago
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17 comments

  1. Comment by Emma

    Emma April 29, 2015 at 13:56

    Hi, as being an expat in Leuven for the past 2 and half years, I think you have pretty much covered most stuff that is nice to do in this little city. However, there are three things that are missing 🙂

    1. Kruidtuin – The oldest botanical garden in Belgium and a real gem at most times of the year; however, I really do love it in the summer when it is in it’s full glory! It’s not the biggest garden but it is a decent enough size for a nice stroll and I love nothing more than finding a bench and reading my book in the sun.

    2. Castle Arenberg – You had mentioned the forests around Heeverlee and the Abbey; however, Arenberg Castle is really pretty! It belongs to the University and is one of the faculties (I think engineering) and it can be accessed by booking in small groups.

    3. De Fiere Margriet Cafe – As Leuven is the ‘Beer Capital’ of the world, it does have numerous pubs; however, this little quirky cafe is probably my favourite! It is located at the end Diestsestraat facing Sint Peters Church and houses over 400 beers (and 50 different types of tea)! This place is super cozy and has such a weird interior e.g. stuffed animals, etc. It fills up quickly on most evenings with locals and expats a like, whats even better is that students tend to avoid it as is a bit pricey for them. Also, it is the older but smaller sister of the new ‘Capital Bar’ in Leuven that stocks about 2000 beers.

    • Comment by Sofie

      Sofie May 6, 2015 at 01:39

      Hey Emma,

      Thanks for your contribution. I didn’t actually forget these things, I just wanted to have a nice list of 10 🙂

      Concerning the Arenberg Castle: I still can’t cope with the fact they built that ugly IMEC tower behind it! Completely ruins the view!

  2. Comment by Sofie

    Sofie April 29, 2015 at 15:57

    Thanks for having me guys! I’ll try to keep the country safe while you’re away:)

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison May 5, 2015 at 09:44

      We have no doubt we’re leaving Belgium in good hands!

      • Comment by Sofie

        Sofie May 6, 2015 at 01:40

        Ooooh you guys! You’ll be missed:)

  3. Comment by Ine

    Ine May 5, 2015 at 14:47

    Hi there,

    What a lovely project!
    I left my hometown Leuven for Chicago last summer. Both GREAT cities.

    De Werf is my favorite as well!

    I’d like to add:

    The petit beguinage; my international visitors were more impressed with that quaint little street than with the grand beguinage.

    The Abbey of Vlierbeek in Kessel-Lo has a great pub called ‘In the Rozenkrans’ and a great setting of course

    Also ‘OPEK’ at the canal is rather special to visitors.

    Greetings from Chicago, Ine

    • Comment by Sofie

      Sofie May 6, 2015 at 01:42

      Hi Ine,

      Thanks for sharing some of your favorite places!
      Of course Leuven has more than 10 great spots and new nice bars, for example, appear every week. Interesting that your visitors liked the petit beguinage better!

  4. Comment by KasiaM

    KasiaM May 5, 2015 at 18:09

    There is much more to Leuven than that! I would add:
    Muntstraat (plenty of small restaurants, so cosy), Provinciedomein Kessel-Lo (beautiful park with lakes, animals, play grounds, boats, open air swimming pool, etc.), Notre Dame restaurant on Grote Markt (serves big and tasty Belgian dishes in really good prices), Kruidtuin (very pretty botanical garden, free entrance), Arenberg Castle with the gardens (free of charge), Ladeuze Plein and Hoeverplein with their sculptures (gigantic beetle on the needle and a metal balloon), City Park (not big but very nice), Kesselberg (with the view on the whole Leuven and Brussels behind it, when the air is clear even the Atomium is visible), Leuven’s Fonske on the Fochplein, City Hall on Grote Markt (such a beauty, also inside, when opened it’s free to enter it), Vaartkom (the Leuven’s port), STUK Cafe (inexpensive cafeteria where a lot of cultural events take place including the open air cinema in the summer), St. Peter Church on Grote Markt (majestic from the outside, stunning from the inside, even if one does not really like churches, the architecture and art inside simply wows), Kot Madamme on the Oude Markt (the symbol of students in Leuven), the Central Station (out and in – especially now after the renovation) and the monument in front of it, a walk along the Dijle river, uffff I can keep going 🙂 PhD student living in Leuven for 5 years now.

    • Comment by Sofie

      Sofie May 8, 2015 at 12:41

      Hi Kasia!

      I agree that there’s much more to do in Leuven than that, but as I said above, I couldn’t create an endless post:) Thanks for contributing your recommendations as well!

    • Comment by Jan

      Jan July 25, 2015 at 11:52

      I agree with the Muntstraat being an excellent place to go dine! Many cosy restaurants.

  5. Comment by Yasmine

    Yasmine May 5, 2015 at 20:57

    Concerning point 2: I don’t know which rooms the tour of the university library covers but the highlight is the main studyroom at the first floor. This you can visit for free during opening hours! No reservation needed. Just ask if you can visit it at the reception, you get a sticker and they let you in.

    • Comment by Sofie

      Sofie May 8, 2015 at 12:42

      Oh really? That must have changed then. I think before you needed to get a day pass or something. Good to know!

  6. Comment by Ranee

    Ranee August 10, 2015 at 10:41

    Going to visit Lueven next month. This post helps! Thank you.!

    • Comment by Andrew

      Andrew

      Andrew August 10, 2015 at 15:11

      Enjoy your trip to Leuven, Ranee! Thanks for visiting.

    • Comment by Sofie

      Sofie August 14, 2015 at 15:46

      I hope you have an amazing time! Feel free to check out my blog here I have an extensive guide on Leuven:-)

  7. Comment by Fred & Gail Huntley

    Fred & Gail Huntley October 5, 2015 at 03:59

    Hi Sopfie, We are staying at the Hotel La Royale on the square across from the train station May 5th, 2016 for 7 nights, thanks for the article on The Cheese Web, it gave us a lot of info for our stay there, it seems to be a lot cheaper and more convenient to stay in Leuven then Brussels, we are spending 3 1/2 weeks in the Benelux countries next spring, starting in Netherlands to see the bulbs in bloom, we are from Nova Scotia, Canada, and really excited to visiting. Thanks again for the great article which will help us to make better use of time on our trip, Fred & Gail Huntley

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison October 5, 2015 at 14:45

      Hi Fed & Gail. Leuven is one of our favourite little cities in Belgium and we’re sure you’ll love it. Don’t miss the fantastic M Museum and a stroll through the Beguinehof.

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