A day in Leuven
Everybody knows Leuven as a student city. But it’s also a great place to visit after your academic years! Leuven is located near the village I grew up so I’m very familiar with it. But it’s only in recent years that I started looking for its hidden treasures. Because it’s rather small, I feel very at ease when coming here, since there’s not much pressure in terms of things to do. Hereunder you may find my travel journal of a Saturday spent in this cute, historic, down-to-earth city.
Come to Leuven towards noon and start by taking in the beauty of some its architectural treasures. On the Ladeuzeplein you may admire the University Library as well as the “Totem” by Belgian artist Jan Fabre (one of my personal favourites).
Take the Leopold Vanderkelenstraat to pass by the “M”, which stands for Museum Leuven. Inside you may admire some Gothic art (15th & 16th century) and 19th century art. Personally I find the building itself more interesting than its content, for it’s a perfect mix of modern and ancient architecture and it has a cute inside garden.
Walk further towards the square Leuven is most known for and with reason: the Grote Markt. After all these years, I’m still amazed by the monumental City Hall and the ancient buildings surrounding it. Located right next to it is the Oude Markt with more historic architecture (and countless cafés, which explains why the square is nicknamed the longest bar in the world).
For lunch, head over to Burger folie, a nice little restaurant that offers a large assortment of burgers, including 3 vegetarian ones. The waiters are young and friendly and what you get in your plate is very tasty! Count €16,00 for a burger, French fries (or a jacket potato) and some coleslaw.
Walking straight ahead from the Parijsstraat for 10 minutes will get you to the Groot Begijnhof, located south of the city. A Begijnhof is an historic site where unmarried, religious women used to live as a community. The Begijnhof of Leuven dates back to the 13th century and is one of the largest ones in Belgium still standing. A walk in its quiet little streets feels like a jump into another dimension.
Another 15 minutes’ walk towards West will take you to Leuven’s Botanical Garden (“Kruidtuin” in Dutch). I’m sure not many people are aware it’s the oldest one in Belgium! It’s a true oasis in the city and it boasts a beautiful tropical greenhouse (which I love of course).
After that you’ll be in much need of a coffee/tea/sweet break for which Koffie en Staal is perfect. Walking north along the Dyle will take you to the Mechelsestraat where it’s located. It’s one of the rare “hipster” cafés in Leuven. Besides offering some afternoon delights, the owners create jewels and furniture which are displayed inside. You can end your afternoon with some “alternative” shopping in the Mechelsestraat (whereas on the Bondgenotenlaan and the Diestsestraat you’ll find the chains present in the main cities).
How to get there:
The train will take you from Brussels to Leuven in only 30 minutes. From the station (which has been beautifully renovated) you walk straight ahead towards the centre in just 10 minutes. If you go by car, I recommend the Minckelersparking (Jan-Pieter Minckelersstraat 94) for it’s the cheapest I know.