1. Picturesque Landmarks
Leuven’s most iconic sight by far is its town hall – an incredible 15th-century late-Gothic building. It’s covered in magnificent stonework and colourful flags. The façade reads as a who’s who of Leuven: the exterior is decorated with 236 (!) statues, each representing someone who earned a spot in the city’s history. And while we’re talking about icons: don’t forget the beguinage. It used to be a series of houses for unmarried religious women, and now mainly functions as student housing. It has a unique atmosphere, thanks to the river Dijle that flows right through it.
2. Knowledge is power
The university has been the backbone of the city since 1425. The many campuses are spread all over town. One that’s especially worth the visit: Universiteitshal. This grand building has been in use ever since 1432 and is still the nerve centre of the university. A five-minute walk away you’ll find the Institute of Philosophy, with its charming interiors and lovely gardens.
3. Arts inside and out
Museum M is Leuven’s state-of-the-art gallery and houses a priceless collection of 15th to 18th-century religious art and some contemporary works. Art is, however, not only found in museums, but also outdoors in the open. Walk around and see if you can find the Totem, by Jan Fabre. Our countryman was the first living artist to exhibit in the Louvre. And in Leuven, you can just bump into his work in the streets. If you see a shiny, green beetle pierced on a 23-metre high needle: that’s the one!
4. Odd and odder churches
Leuven is a city of important cultural heritage. St Peters’ Church is listed as UNESCO World Heritage and is the oldest church in the city. It is thought to have been founded in the year 986. Inside you’ll find The Last Supper by painter Dieric Bouts, one of the Flemish Primitives. Another good example is St Michaels Church. Located on the highest point of Leuven, it’s one of Europe’s leading monuments of the baroque age. The architecture is unique: it looks as if the altar is on the outside of the church. That makes it one of the ‘7 wonders of Leuven’. Others include the St Gertrude Church, which was built without using nails and St Jacobs Church, with bells not hanging in the tower, but outside.
5. The source of liquid gold
Stella Artois: the whole world drinks it, Leuven makes it. Stella Artois was brewed for the very first time more than 90 years ago. The old brewery De Hoorn is definitely worth a visit. Be on the lookout for a nearby bar called De Lantaarn. Legend has it that there’s a direct, top secret underground pipeline from the Stella Artois brewery to their taps. Mister Artois is surely the largest brewer in town, but not the only one. Our personal favourite: the far lesser known Domus, an intimate restaurant and fine brewery in one. Cheers!
6. Living the life
Leuven is a university city in heart and soul. There are more than 50,000 students every year and they help to bring a special vibe to the city. Mingle with them at a ‘kotfuif’ (a party in a tiny student room) or go to the Oude Markt, a square filled with (student) bars such as Den Brosser (‘the slacker’), Café Belge or De Rector (named after the university’s head). Because of the many cafés, the Oude Markt has even earned the nickname of ‘Longest Bar in Europe’. When you’re walking around, look out for the statue of the Kotmadam. She’s a symbol for the many caring, motherly women that rent out rooms to students.
7. Odd bits of nature
Leuven combines the vibe of a city with the cosiness of a village. Spot the peacocks in the park around Keizersberg Abbey, go to Keizershof for a beautiful view of the city and relax in the Dijlepark. Another tip: the Botanical Garden, on a walking distance from the city centre. With its nearly 300 years, it’s the oldest one in Belgium. In the 450 squared metre greenhouse you’ll find a wide variety of breathtaking (sub)tropical flora.