Visiting Leuven is always a good idea! What to do in this historic Belgian student city? These are the best things to do in Leuven.
Leuven is a university town and is located not far from the Belgian capital, Brussels. A city trip to Leuven is definitely a good idea because there is plenty to do in this beautiful historic city. There are several historical landmarks and fascinating museums to visit, as well as plenty of great places for food and drinks.
Things to do in Leuven
What to do in Leuven? Here are 15 great things to do and the most beautiful sights.
Historic City Hall of Leuven
The most striking structure in the city and perhaps the most beautiful is the Leuven Town Hall. The first stone was laid in 1439, so it is centuries old. It is one of the most famous Gothic buildings in the world and is only used for ceremonies.
With a guided tour (these are given daily) you can learn more about this amazing building.
Just south of the center is the Great Beguinage (Groot Begijnhof) of Leuven and this is also known as the Beguinage Ten Hove. It dates back to the thirteenth century and is one of the largest remaining beguinages in Flanders. The river Dijle flows right through it and there are several beautiful old houses to admire. A wonderful place to take a stroll through the narrow streets and discover some beautiful places.
In addition, Leuven has another beguinage, this one is called the Small Beguinage (Klein Begijnhof) and is, therefore, a lot smaller than the Great Beguinage. Located just north of the center, the Small Beguinage consists of two dead-end streets and still has about thirty houses of traditional Flemish architecture.
St. Donatus Park
Leuven has several lovely city parks and the Sint-Donatus Park is one of them. It was laid out in the second half of the nineteenth century in an English landscape style. In the park, you can still see several ruins of the historic city walls from the twelfth century. Very interesting!
Old city walls
Long ago, Leuven was a very prosperous city and therefore had a substantial city wall. This had as many as 31 towers and 11 gates. The wall was built in the twelfth century and replaced by an even larger wall in the fourteenth century. Although the wall is no longer there, you can still see pieces of it in various places around the city.
In the previously mentioned St. Donatius Park there are still two towers and a piece of the city wall, in addition, you can also admire a tower on Karel van Lotharingen Street. Also, in the Handbooghof you will find two more towers and a section of wall. It’s always special to discover these kinds of remains in a city!
Old Market (Oude Markt)
One of the most pleasant squares in the center of Leuven is the Old Market. The square has existed since 1150. This is the place to get some food and drinks. A lot of fun events take place on this square, such as the Leuven Kermis (first three weeks of September) and the Beleuvenissen concert series (every Friday in July).
Going out in Leuven
Leuven is a real student city. As a result, you’ll find lots of cozy cafes, especially on the Old Market. It is even said that the Old Market has the longest bar in Europe with no less than 30 contiguous pubs. Going out in Leuven is therefore not a problem, especially on weekdays since the students leave the city from Friday to Sunday.
Abbey of Park
The Park Abbey is one of the most impressive buildings in Leuven located just southeast of the city center. It is a monastery from the twelfth century and is beautifully situated in the greenery. You can visit the monastery and admire the historic rooms and unusual ceilings. An audio guide is included, so you can learn something about its history. Your admission ticket also gives you access to PARCUM. This is a museum of religious heritage and culture.
Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis (Kruidtuin)
Do you want to take a break when you’re exploring Leuven? Make sure to visit the Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis (Kruidtuin), a peaceful oasis. This botanical garden was laid out in 1738 by the University of Leuven for its medical students. It is therefore the oldest botanical garden in all of Belgium.
In addition to ponds and paths, you will find several greenhouses with unusual plants. A great place to walk around for a while. Admission is free.
Biketour in Leuven
What is the most fun way to get to know a city? With a guide! A wide variety of guided city tour options are available to you in Leuven, such as a walking tour. However, it is even more fun to discover Leuven by bike with a bicycle tour, because then you can see even more of this beautiful city.
The well-known bicycle organization Baja Bikes offers various bicycle tours in Leuven, such as a tour of the highlights.
Tip! Is it hot and you don’t feel like biking? You can also go on an awesome 2 day Packrafttrip on the Dijle river and see Leuven from the water.
University library and library tower
Do you enjoy a good view? Then you have to go to the university library. Say what? Yes, you read it right! In fact, the university library has a tower and from the top, you have a great view of the city. During your visit, you will be given an audio tour, in this way you will learn a lot about the history of the library. There are also several photo exhibits on display. A fun way to discover another piece of Leuven’s history.
St. Peter’s Church
Right next to the town hall you will find the great St. Peter’s Church, the most impressive church in Leuven. Although the church suffered considerably during the World Wars, it is still a picture to behold. Inside the church, you can admire several beautiful works of art, such as the mausoleum of Henry I and the Last Supper, part of a polyptych by the famous Dutch painter Dirk Bouts.
It’s not a problem if it rains when you’re visiting Leuven, because there are plenty of activities you can do inside. One of the most important museums in Leuven is the M-Museum. The museum is located in the center of the city and has been in existence since 2009. The building has a special mix of modern and old elements and is worth a visit for that reason alone.
In the museum, you can admire many artworks from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. There are also temporary exhibitions that showcase a specific subject or artist.
Would you like to visit something even more impressive during your trip to Leuven? Then head to Arenberg Castle in the southwest of the city. Arenberg Castle was built in the sixteenth century and is owned by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. It is now a campus (Science and Technology) and you can visit it with a guided tour (until the end of August 2022). The surrounding castle park can also be visited.
Stella Artois Brewery
Belgium and beer, it’s always a good combination. Did you know that the famous beer brand Stella Artois comes from Leuven? The brewery is located just north of downtown and you can take a fun interactive tour here on Saturdays and Sundays. Of course, you’ll get to drink a glass of Stella Artois when you’ve finished the tour. Cheers!
Where to stay in Leuven
As you can see from this list full of beautiful Leuven sights, you can have a great time for a few days in Leuven. Therefore, it is wise to spend a night (or two) in this pleasant city. These are some great places to stay in Leuven:
- B&B Lodgingat8 – Cozy B&B with luxurious rooms in a 1918 mansion.
- Martin’s Klooster – 4* hotel in a monastery from the sixteenth century, right in the center of Leuven.
- The Fourth – Tafelrond – A 4* hotel in a gorgeous building next to the town hall.
Check Booking.com for more options, prices, and availability.
Book your trip to Leuven
- Train travel is easy in Belgium. You can travel to Leuven by train from cities like Antwerp and Brussels which have good international connections. Check Rail Europe for European train tickets.
- Are you already in Brussels? It’s easy to book an organized tour from Brussels to Leuven and Mechelen.
- Flying to Belgium – Brussels has a large international airport. Check Skyscanner for prices and tickets.
- Don’t forget about Travel insurance. Check Insubuy for options and prices.
- Want to do some fun tours and visit great attractions? Check Get Your Guide and Viator.
Read more about Belgium
Want to discover more beautiful places in Belgium? Here are some great travel guides:
Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg
DK Eyewitness Belgium and Luxembourg
In addition, you can also read more about a trip to Belgium on this website. For example, also read one of these articles:
- Bucket list: 15 beautiful places in Belgium
- Visiting Bruges | 19 fun things to do
- 10 fun things to do in Ghent
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