Charming Things to Do in Leuven: A Full Guide
Wondering what the best things to do in Leuven are? This post is your full guide to the capital of Flemish Brabant!
Because KU Leuven is one of the oldest Catholic and European universities, Leuven has become known has a real student city. However, there’s much more to Leuven, and it’s perfect for a city break or even just a day trip from Brussels. Culture, museums, fantastic shopping, trendy eateries, historic buildings, relaxing parks, and more… there’s so much to see and do!
It has all the advantages of a big city, but with its village atmosphere it is a lot nicer. Check out this guide on what to do in Leuven!
Belgium Travel Guides
How to Get to Leuven
If you fly to Belgium, the closest airport is in Brussels. You can transfer over to the train station or you can book this airport transfer straight to Leuven.
Leuven is very easy to get to by train. Head to Brussels-Zuid Station and then change to a local train, which will take you to Leuven in about 25 minutes.
Leuven’s actual historic center has been car-free for tourists since 2016. Parking is cheapest around the car parks on the edge of the city. With a P+ Bus parking formula, you can even take a bus to the center and back, free of charge. You can also park near the city center, but you have to have a parking disc or buy a ticket at the nearest meter. For more info, check here.
Map of Things to Do in Leuven
Top Things to do in Leuven
Visit Gothic Town Hall
The Town Hall, a 15th century late Gothic building, can be found on the Grote Markt. The beautiful façade is very detailed and features 236 images of people who once were important to the city.
Wander through Leuven’s Many Abbeys
The Park Abbey, once one of the most important abbeys in the Netherlands, is the best preserved abbey in Belgium. It’s still inhabited by Norbertines and radiates authenticity and peace. Other monasteries in the city are the 19th century Benedictine Abbey, Keizersberg Abbey, and Saint Gertrude Abbey.
Mingle with Locals at the Oude Markt
The Oude Markt is known as “the longest bar in Europe.” It is a square full of cafés, bars, and other catering establishments. This is the place where everyone in Leuven meets in the evening. It goes without saying that this is where the thousands of students from Leuven go.
See the Pretty Homes of Beguinage
The Grand Beguinage of Leuven is just outside the center. The streets are full of colorful 13th century beguines are fun to stroll through. With 300 dwellings spread over approximately three hectares, the Leuven Groot Begijnhof is one of the largest in Flanders. The squares, bridges, narrow streets, and the Dyle ensure that this district is just a village in the city.
Climb the University Library Tower
A visit to the neoclassical University Library and climbing the library tower is a must. On each floor you learn more about the history of the building and the city. The reading room is really beautiful and a photographic exhibition completes it. You can visit the building with an audio guide. On the top floor you will of course be rewarded with a fantastic view over the city.
Pay a visit to the Saint Peter’s Church & St. Michael’s Church
In addition to the City Hall, you will also find the late gothic St. Peter’s Church on the Grote Markt. The church is more than a thousand years old, houses a number of impressive and well-known works of art, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
St. Michael’s Church is made of white sandstone and ironstone. The church has a beautiful façade that gives the impression of an altar outside, iconic columns, and a large domed roof. Like almost everywhere in Flanders, there are, of course, many other churches worth to visit.
Which Museums to Visit in Leuven
The M-Museum brings together old and new in an impressive way through historic buildings that are integrated with contemporary architecture. The museum has temporary exhibitions where both contemporary art are presented as well as works of old masters. There’s also a permanent collection of art from the region of the Middle Ages to the 19th century. When you visit this museum, do not forget the beautiful courtyard and the roof terrace!
Museum Park Abbey, or PARCUM, is a dialogue museum with temporary exhibitions that combine religion, art, and culture. A large part of the collections includes never-before-seen heritage from abbeys, churches, and monasteries. The focus is on the relationships between different religions, young and old, contemporary themes and historical heritage, and believers and non-believers.
Where to Shop in Leuven
The most popular and well-known shopping street is Diestestraat. Here you will find the more well-known shops and various trinkets.
You should also go for a stroll around the Bondgenotenlaan, Muntstraat, Tiensestraat, Oude Markt, Vismarkt, Parijsstraat, Mechelsestraat, Naamsestraat, and Brusselsestraat. There are plenty of shops everywhere that go from big chains to unique boutiques.
The Coolest Places to Eat & Drink
Haute dogs instead of hot dogs. Yes, you read that correctly. This hot dog bar in Leuven is fantastic. The industrial interior and the special combinations made the innovative concept a success. The big eaters among us can always opt for an XL version of their Greek dog, Caesar dog, Chili dog or one of the many other options!
Address: Margarethaplein 1
Koffie en Staal
The name says it all: Koffie en Staal combines good coffee and design. The furniture is designed and made under the name NONO. The coffee and the homemade pastries are fantastic. It stands for quality, sustainability and fresh products.
Address: Mechelsestraat 140, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
Sticks and Bowl
Who has not heard of the Hawaiian food trend the poke bowl? Sticks and Bowls was the very first poké bowl restaurant in Belgium! You can opt for traditional fish, chicken, or tempeh combined in many different ways. Don’t want a bowl? Try it in a burrito instead!
Address: Naamsestraat 45
Thelma Coffee and Design
Scandinavian and local brands, good coffee, good food, books and minimalistic design: Thelma Coffee and Design is the concept store. The motto? Shop, eat, drink, repeat. Sounds good, right? There is hammered on fair trade, sustainability, exclusivity and affordability and everything in the store is for sale.
Address: Vaartstraat 12
In this restaurant, you’ll find fantastic Mexican food. Their fajitas, tacos, and burritos are really to die for . The interior is decorated in such a way that you really feel like in South America and the prices are excellent. You do not have to expect a fancy dinner, but La Cucaracha is a household name in Leuven and I advise you to book in advance.
Address: Tiensestraat 21
This concept store started in December 2016 as a pop-up, but it was so successful that there is now a regular Plek store. At Plek, you can shop, taste, and make. You can find affordable and honest design. In the DIY corner, get started with the puzzling of interior packages, and you can enjoy a break in the cozy coffee corner.
Address: Mechelsestraat 123
Bar Stan once received the prize for “best newcomer” in Leuven and is known for its Sunday brunches, good breakfast, lunch, coffee, and even dinner. The cozy interior gives the feeling of a living room in the city.
Address: Constantin Meunierstraat 2
Balls & Glory
Balls & Glory have branches in Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels. Every day there are other versions of their homemade meatballs on the menu. You can choose from different types (pig, chicken, veggie) balls with typical “stoemp” or salad. You can also choose between fillings such as broccoli and parmesan, three cheeses, mushroom and truffle, bearnaise, tikki masala, etc. The prices are fair, and you do not have to wait long.
Address: Tiensestraat 31
Other Cool Places to Eat in Leuven
Other not to be missed hotspots in Leuven:
- Surlie for everything about natural (Wandelingstraat 2)
- Liv for exclusive French and Scandinavian fashion (Mechelsestraat 16)
- Design District for beautiful Scandinavian design (Justus Lipsiusstraat 18)
- Kalypta for cocktails and tapas (Parijsstraat 21 )
- Nosh for great bagels, salads and smoothies (Naamsestraat 24)
- Soup Away for a wide range of freshly made soups (Tiensestraat 29)
- Noir Koffiebar which was rated as one of the best thirteen coffee bars in Flanders (Naamsestraat 49)
- Mok, a traditional coffee roasting company that supplies various concept stores in the city and also has a super nice bar (Diestsestraat 165).
Where to Stay in Leuven
Ibis Budget Leuven Centrum
The Ibis Budget Leuven Centrum is located opposite the Leuven Train Station. With free Wi-Fi, basic but neat and soundproof rooms and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, the hotel offers everything you need. Check the latest prices and availability here!
The cozy Cube Hostel is situated in the center of the city and is only a few minutes walk from the Oude Markt and St. Peter’s Church. In addition to free Wi-Fi, the hotel also has a games and movie room and a lounge with library. Check the latest prices and availability here!
The 16 e century Martin’s Klooster is less than 300 meters from the Old Market. The interior is cozy and quiet, there is free Wi-Fi, a winter garden, and a fantastic continental and American breakfast buffet. Check the latest prices and availability here!
Tip: With the ILUVLeuven Ticket you can visit some highlights more economically. More information can be found here .
For more hotels in Leuven, check here
If you’re still planning your trip to Belgium, don’t miss my other city guides to Brussels, Bruges, Mechelen, Ghent, and Antwerp!
What are your best tips for Leuven?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe.
This article is written by my Belgian intern, Marilyne, who knows everything about the nicest cities in Belgium!