Streets full of bicycles, café terraces full of students, this is the atmosphere I discover when I arrive in Leuven. Located in the heart of Flemish Brabant, Leuven is a small Belgian architectural jewel to visit but also a lively, welcoming and human-sized university town to experience. I spent two days in Leuven with my friend Marine. An escapade between friends, halfway between our homes, Brussels and Liege. In this article, I come back on our weekend in Leuven to share itinerary and tips to visit the city.
How to visit Leuven in a weekend
- Day 1: Going around the city
- Day 2: Renting bikes to discover the surrounding
Walk in the city center of Leuven
Leuven is a city that can be discovered on foot or by bike. Here, you can forget about the car. You can reach the historical city center in less than 10 minutes by foot from the train station. For our first day we decide to walk to stroll in the small vintage and decoration stores, to sip a beer on the Oude Markt, to admire some beautiful architectures and then to visit some monuments. While the city of Leuven seemed quite small in size, it is rather large in activities. I realize that it will not be possible to visit everything in one day, so I will have to come back the next day!
Grote Markt: City Hall & Sint-Pieterskerk
This is the first square that we discover: the Grote Markt – the Grand Place of Leuven. This is where the beautiful City Hall (Stadhuis) is located, a gothic style monument covered with 236 beautiful statues! To appreciate its beauty more, you have to be interested in its history and past. I realize how spectacular this building is during a guided tour of the City Hall. During this visit, Jean, our guide, in addition to being very friendly, manages to capture our full attention by sharing explanations, anecdotes and a good dose of Belgian humor.
I recommend the guided tour, organized by the tourist office. The visit is in French and costs only 4€.
For more information, visit the website Visit Leuven
The University Library (Universiteitsbibliotheek)
The University Library of Leuven is without doubt one of the most beautiful libraries in Belgium. From the outside, the building is very imposing, with its red bricks and its statues. Inside, you will discover the reading room, the large halls and all the history that is hidden behind this building that has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. We walk around while passing students and professors who come to study or to look for a book. We took audio-guides and went up to the tower of the library, where we discovered a photo exhibition and, at the end, the view on the whole city!
This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful surprises of this weekend in Leuven and one of my favorites of the city. I really recommend to go back and visit the interior of the University Library. The atmosphere is really unique.
For more info, please check this page on Visit Leuven
The Grand Beguinage (Groot Begijnhof)
Here is another surprise: the Grand Beguinage of Leuven. A Beguinage was the place where hundreds of nuns lived in the past. Nowadays it’s students and professors who live there. You have to imagine yourself entering a neighborhood where the alleys are too narrow for cars to pass, where all the houses are made of red bricks and where dozens of small alleys form a mini labyrinth by passing over water canals. The roads are paved and the nature makes the place even more mythical. A totally surreal and exotic place, in the center of Leuven. In Leuven, there are two Beguinages, a small one (transformed into a residential area) and a large one. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
The entry is free.
Le Musée M
The M Museum is the meeting point for all lovers of contemporary art, but also of architecture. The exhibitions are renewed very regularly and the program allows to discover many different and surprising styles. We had the chance to visit the M Museum in summer, when the terrace is accessible for an afterwork drink. The terrace (with a view on the roofs of the city) is accessible even if you don’t visit the museum.
For more info, please visit the museum’s website
There are some great grouped tickets to visit the different sites and monuments I’m talking about in this article.
Two packages: the first one for 8€ includes the City Hall + the University Library & the tower, the second one for 16€ gives access to the M-Museum.
More info here
Discover the surroundings of Leuven by bike
For our second day in Leuven, we go by bike! It is very easy to rent bikes and to move around on two wheels in this city. It is also the occasion to discover the surroundings which promise another atmosphere. We find a map proposing numerous routes to discover the surroundings of Leuven by passing by some abbeys: Perfect! We choose a tour of 15 kilometers, which seems possible to us to make in one morning. (We had just not realized that we would take more time following our numerous pauses photos and stops “contemplation”).
Route along the abbeys of Leuven
Total distance: 14,1 km
Departure: city center of Leuven
The Park Abbey
Leaving the city center, in only a few minutes by bike, it is a completely different scenery! In the distance, we can see the bell tower of a church. Without realizing it, we arrive at the Park Abbey. An Abbey which is really worth to be discovered, with a very typical style. On the way we meet some people who welcome us warmly and who are happy to share with us information and secrets about their heritage.
The abbey of Vlierbeek
The tour continues through different districts. After several kilometers we arrive at the gates of a second abbey, that of Vlierbeek. Immersion in the middle of nature and in the middle of fields of flowers!
Other ideas to discover Leuven
Leuven and shopping
Shopping in Leuven is very pleasant. The streets are spacious, there are lots of small local stores and crafts. It is very easy to spend a whole day walking around the stores…
Leuven and beer
Some say that Leuven is the beer capital of the world. Many breweries were born here. Oude Markt is a square with dozens of bars and breweries. The weekday evenings are very lively because there are many students.
Visit Leuven: My tips
Park Inn Hotel
Prof. Van Overstraetenplein 1/001
Itinéraire pour visiter le centre ville de Louvain
On peut visiter le centre ville de Louvain à pieds (environ 5 kilomètres)
Il y a plusieurs cartes thématiques proposées par l’Office de Tourisme
Itinéraire à vélo
Itinéraire le long des abbayes de Leuven
Distance totale : 14,1 km
Départ : centre ville de Leuven
Voir la carte de l’itinéraire ici
This stay was proposed to me by the Ville de Leuven et The Place To Be.
I warmly thank Clémentine and Annick for their availability, the welcome and the superb program.
I want to specify that this article reflects my experience and my personal opinion.
Have you already been to Leuven ?