48 Hours in Leuven, Belgium

The Flemish region of Belgium lies to the north of the country nestled between the Netherlands and France.  Most visitors head to Bruges or Ghent but Leuven is equally beautiful and less crowded than its more famous neighbours.  The city is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities (KU Leuven) with many of its historic college buildings to be found around the city centre.

Leuven, Belgium
Leuven, Belgium

Getting there: 

We travelled on the Eurostar service from London St. Pancras to Brussels taking just two hours, arriving into Leuven at 14.50.

Taking the Eurostar from London to Brussels
Taking the Eurostar from London to Brussels

Tickets can be purchased to include onward destinations and we enjoyed a quick connection on to Leuven taking only 28 minutes.

Accommodation:

Lying close to the station yet very tranquil is the Park Inn by Radisson Leuven.  This modern hotel is in an ideal location for exploring the city on foot, being only 15 minutes walk from the city centre.

Park Inn by Radisson, Leuven
Park Inn by Radisson, Leuven

Day 1:

We started with a visit to the beautiful Grote Markt (main square) which is dominated by the Town Hall.  The square has been restored to its former 15th century appearance and is the focal point of the city.

St. Peter's Church, Leuven
St. Peter’s Church, Leuven

Next, we explored St. Peter’s Church, the main section having been recently restored (admission free).  The church is a classic example of Late Gothic architecture but its towers were never completed due to an unstable subsoil.

The Last Supper. St. Peter's Church, Leuven
The Last Supper. St. Peter’s Church, Leuven

Inside are some fine artworks, notably The Last Supper by Dieric Bouts (1410-1475) which is still located in the chapel where it was originally placed 600 years ago.  He was one of the Flemish Primitives and a renowned Leuven artist.

St. Peter's Church, Leuven
St. Peter’s Church, Leuven

Also of interest is the elaborate oak pulpit dominating the nave and carved with a life sized representation of St. Norbert of Xanten falling from a horse.  Both the church and belfry received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999.

Great Beguinage, Leuven
Great Beguinage, Leuven

Continuing, we moved on to the Great Beguinage, lying to the south of the centre.  This walled, medieval village is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Beguinages date back to the 12th century and were created to house religious women who lived in enclosed communities.

Great Beguinage, Leuven
The Great Beguinage

This is one of 13 sites of its type in Belgium and consists of houses, churches and green spaces with their sandstone buildings looking particularly beautiful in the fading daylight.  The beguinage is now owned by the university and utilised as student accommodation.

CHCO Coffee Company, Leuven
Delicious hot chocolates at CHCO Coffee Company, Leuven

Leaving there, we popped into the CHCO Coffee Company to warm up with mugs of their hot chocolate.  With 16 flavours to choose from, we were spoilt for choice but finally settled on their 70% dark chocolate which we stirred into the hot milk and which tasted smooth and delicious.

Leuven's attractive city centre
Leuven’s attractive city centre

There was then time to explore some of the cobbled streets of the city centre lined with attractive shops, bars and restaurants before heading to dinner at De Hoorn a restaurant located in the city’s former Stella Artois brewery.

De Hoorn. Leuven
De Hoorn bar,  Leuven

We weren’t able to participate in a brewery tour as these only take place on Saturday afternoons so instead enjoyed a meal in the relaxed atmosphere of its urban chic designed restaurant.

De Hoorn, Leuven
De Hoorn, Leuven

We ordered starters of fried whiting and rilettes of trout and were surprised at how large the portions were as we hadn’t realised they were actually sharing plates.  For our mains we tucked into a Flemish stew and steak tartare with salad and fries.

Dining at the De Hoorn. brewery restaurant, Leuven
Dining at the De Hoorn brewery restaurant, Leuven

Dining in the former brewery we felt duty bound to accompany our meal with glasses of the locally brewed Stella Artois which hit the spot nicely.

The De Hoorn brewery restaurant, Leuven
At the De Hoorn brewery restaurant, Leuven

The restaurant is located in the Vaartkom district which was once a dilapidated industrial area close to the canal but has since been transformed into a trendy neighbourhood just a 20 minute walk from the city centre.

Small Beguinage, Leuven
Small Beguinage, Leuven

On our way back to the hotel we wandered through the Small Beguinage comprising one street and two alleyways of 30 white buildings that once served St. Gertrude’s abbey which looked very charismatic in the moonlight.

Day 2

We started the day with a 25 minute walk to Park Abbey, one of the best preserved monasteries in Belgium.  Set in large grounds with a church, watermill, pond and walled garden, it has remained relatively unchanged since the 17th century.

Park Abbey, Leuven
Park Abbey, Leuven

Our first stop was to Parcum, a museum containing an extensive collection of religious art housed in a grand building (standard admission €12).  We followed a self-guided audio tour around the cloisters, refectory and beautiful library complete with stucco ceiling.

Park Abbey cloister, Leuven
Park Abbey cloister, Leuven
The library at Park Abbey, Leuven
The library at Park Abbey, Leuven

We were then able to look inside the adjoining Abbey which is also beautiful.  Please note that the Abbey is only open to visitors at certain times so if you are wishing to look inside please check beforehand.

The interior of Park Abbey, Leuven
The interior of Park Abbey, Leuven

Leaving there, it was just a 15 minute walk to the Botanical Garden, the oldest in Belgium (admission free).

Botanical Garden, Leuven
Botanical Garden, Leuven

The garden was created for the use of the University’s medical students in 1738 and includes several large glasshouses and an orangery containing medicinal and tropical plants.

Inside one of the Glasshouses, Leuven Botanical Garden
Inside one of the Glasshouses, Leuven Botanical Garden

I was pleasantly surprised to see how colourful and well tendered the gardens were during the winter.

KUp KU Leuven in the historic Cloth Hall, Leuven
KUp KU Leuven in the historic Cloth Hall, Leuven

We were then ready for a light snack so headed to KUp KU Leuven, part of the historic KU University and open to visitors.  The cafe is located in the former medieval Cloth Hall and is a lovely place to sit and relax (open Monday-Friday only).

Leuven Town Hall
Leuven Town Hall

Feeling rested, we made our way to the Grote Markt to join the 3.00 p.m. guided tour of the Town Hall (tours €4).  This is one of the most beautiful Gothic town halls anywhere in the world.

Council Chamber, Leuven Town Hall
Council Chamber, Leuven Town Hall

We learnt that it took 3 architects 30 years to construct the majestic building which was completed in 1459.  The façade is adorned with 255 intricate statues but these were a later addition and not added until 1850.

Inside of Leuven Town Hall
Inside of Leuven Town Hall

Our guided tour explored the history behind the biblical sculptures and led us into several of the rooms including the Great Hall and Council Chamber.  Tours are conducted in two languages including English and are highly recommended.

M Leuven. Belgium
One of the galleries of the M Leuven Museum

From there, it was just a short walk to M Leuven, the city’s art gallery.  In addition to its historical collection, there are temporary exhibitions featuring old masters and contemporary artists.

Contemporary art work at M Leuven. Belgium
Contemporary art work in M Leuven

The permanent collection focuses on the late Gothic period with 15th and early 16th century art work and 19th century works by renowned local artists.

Oude Markt, Leuven
Oude Markt, Leuven
Oude Maarkt, Leuven
Oude Maarkt, Leuven

We followed up our visit to the gallery with a drink in one of the many bars in the Oude Markt, the so-called longest counter in Europe.  It’s  a vibrant square lined with pubs and bars popular with locals, tourists and the city’s large number of students.  It was then on to the University Library where we were heading next.

Leuven University Library
Leuven University Library (photo taken earlier in the day)

Every Tuesday evening and Wednesday lunchtime live carillon concerts take place up in the library tower (€5).  We gathered by the entrance and when the carillonneur arrived he took us for a glimpse into the library’s stunning wood panelled reading room before guiding us up the five floors of the library tower.  On each level we paused to view photo exhibitions covering the five significant periods of the library’s turbulent history and viewed the tower’s bells.

Reading Room entrance, University Library Leuven
Reading Room entrance, University Library Leuven

Positioned above the 5th floor is an external balcony where we enjoyed panoramic views across the city skyline.  There was then just one narrow staircase to navigate before reaching the library’s carillon.

Reading Room, Leuven University Library
Reading Room, Leuven University Library

The tower is home to one of Europe’s largest and finest carillons consisting of 63 bells weighing 35 metric tonnes.  Seated on wooden benches surrounding the instrument we spent the next 45 minutes enthralled by the melodic sounds of the carillon played by the talented carillonneur Marc Van Eyck.

View from the University Library Tower Balcony. Leuven
View from the University Library Tower Balcony. Leuven

From classical music to tunes reflecting the nationalities of those present including national anthems of the Ukraine and Romania, Flower of Scotland and You’ll Never Walk Alone, it was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve attended.  A definite ‘must do’ if your visit to Leuven coincides with one of the concerts taking place.

Carillon Concert. Leuven University Library Tower
Carillon Concert. Leuven University Library Tower

To conclude our final day in Leuven we enjoyed a delicious meal at Restaurant Gloria in the old cigar factory of Vander Elst where Gloria cigars were once rolled.

Restaurant Gloria, Leuven
Restaurant Gloria, Leuven

Restaurant Gloria, Leuven

The restaurant is tastefully furnished and from our comfortable window table we selected local specialities of Flemish stews and Chicken vol-au-vent which were both very flavoursome and accompanied by side salads and unlimited fries.  To round off our meal our chosen desserts of crème brûlée and chocolate brownie with whipped cream were both irresistible.

Flemish stew, Restaurant Gloria
Flemish stew, Restaurant Gloria

The next morning it was time to say cheerio to Leuven, leaving with a smile on our faces after two wonderful days exploring this beautiful Flanders art city.

Grote Markt, Leuven
Grote Markt, Leuven

During our visit we were guests of Visit Leuven and as always, all views and opinions are entirely my own.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:

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48 hours in Leuven, Belgium

 

57 thoughts on “48 Hours in Leuven, Belgium

  1. Nice writing, informative post, although a lot of information has been given in your post, but the two things which surprised me the most 1. Apart from Oxford and Cambridge University, there are some other old universities in Europe, I did not know. 2 – Didn’t even know Belgium is a two hour train journey from London.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ThingsHelenLoves

    Lovely Leuven, what an interesting place. I love that so many old places have been preserved and repurposed. Especially The Great Beguinage, a beautiful and historic place. But also, what a place to call home while you study. A far cry from my old student digs!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So nice to have so many travel alternatives so close at hand Marion, thanks to the Eurostar. Our 1984 trip to Brussels from London by train and ferry was so much more painful. Leuven looks well worth the visit and the food and beer are bonuses. Thanks for taking us along. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leuven sounds like a fascinating city to explore. The Town Hall looks gorgeous. How neat that you can even take a guided tour of the inside of the building, which looks just as fancy inside as it does outside. The food all looks and sounds delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Years ago I took an art history class and I remember my teach absolutely loved this city and used it as a prime example of Flemish art and architecture. After seeing your post I can see why he loved this city so much. What stunning architecture everywhere! I loved seeing it with the Christmas lights too. A delightful post Marion 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How wonderful Meg that you recalled your art history teacher using Leuven as a prime example of Flemish art and architecture. We adored our two days there in every respect and climbing the university tower to listen to the carillon being played was an unforgettable experience. Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, and Mechelen form the five art cities of Flanders and my next posts will be featuring two more of these beautiful cities so I hope you enjoy these too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I very much enjoyed this look at Leuven, with so many familiar sights and plenty of new stuff that has sprang up in the years that have passed since I lived there. The photo captioned “Leuven’s attractive city centre” is Parijsstraat (Paris Street) and I’m delighted to see that the second hand record shop ‘Sax’ is still going. This is where I built up much of my blossoming album collection back in the day. You have definitely showcased what an architectural delight Leuven is. I had an apartment on Muntstraat, just behind that magnificent wedding cake of a town hall. You have got me thinking whether perhaps, one of these years, Sladja and I can take our digital roadshow to Leuven for a month. Would be sure to stop by Gloria Restaurant a few times if we do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t realise that you had once called Leuven home. What a beautiful city to spend some time in. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there with everyone very friendly and welcoming. Climbing to the top of the University tower to listen to the carillon being played was an unforgettable experience. Do try and take Sladja to dine at Gloria as we spent a very happy evening there. Thanks so much for your detailed comments, they are much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve heard of Leuven, but I never went, as I chose to visit the more-popular cities of Bruges and Ghent. What a shame, because Leuven has a lot to offer! Belgian chocolate is really divine, and I can imagine it is very decadent in hot chocolate form. Glad you had a wonderful time, and especially during the holiday season with all of the festive decorations!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love Belgium. We have been to Brussels and Bruges. Haven’t been to Leuven yet but adding it to our list. I see you had sone of their delicious fries with Mayo. Only way my husband will eat them now 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we covered most of the city in our two day stay Lyssy. Leuven is utterly charming with its Gothic architecture and yes, it was nice to have an opportunity to warm up in the botanic garden hothouses. Thanks for your interest.

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  9. What an interesting insight in to a little known place. I’d not come across it before. I’m currently reading a book about medieval mystics and it makes regular references to anchorholds but I hadn’t heard the term Beguinage before. It looks lovely in the lamplight.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Looking at your wonderful photos from Leuven and seeing a tight web of cobbled alleys, narrow bridges and red-brick gables feels like stepping into an old master’s painting. Having visited Antwerp and Ghent earlier on in the year, I am more than determined to return to Belgium once more to explore its gothic towns such as Leuven which has remained Belgium’s best-kept secret. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting to read about the unfinished towers of the St. Peter’s Church – it is a lovely building. But then again, the architecture here is just beautiful. And I love their cobbled stone walkways – it’s so typically European. Also enjoyed the stroll through Park Abbey … and wow, the Leuven Town Hall is a magnificent building! Leuven looks beautiful, especially so during the evening. A lovely tour through a beautiful city, thanks for the treat Marion!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. It largely depends on the day of the week and time but the costs are broadly similar. With Eurostar you don’t have to pay for luggage which can add to the cost with airlines. We usually fly to European destinations as we live in northern England and have to factor time and transport costs in getting down to London for the Eurostar service. I’m sure we would use it more if we lived nearer London. The trains are very comfortable and you are only in the channel tunnel for 20 minutes also we were able to bring some Belgian beer home with us! Hope your week goes well. M.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s very interesting! I wouldn’t mind taking the train (I wish we had that option here in SA). We started the new week this morning with hard and continuous rain – not cold, but extremely wet! But only a few more days before we fly to the sunny (and windy) West Coast 🙂. Hope your week is also a good one!

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