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From Calais, take the A26, A216, E40, E314, N26 and R23.
Leuven is home to Belgium’s oldest university, with great food, fantastic shopping, lively bars and an über-cool music scene are all packed into this easy-going university city.
Shops and Boutiques
A leisurely stroll around the bustling streets, squares and quiet cobbled lanes will help you get your bearings and there are plenty of tranquil green areas in which to stop and watch the world go by such as the botanical gardens – the oldest in Belgium, having been founded in 1738. Department stores line the main shopping street Bondgenotenlaan, but what Leuven is really renowned for is its vast array of independent shops and boutiques located on Mechelsestraat, Wandelingenstraat and Vismarkt which range from fashion and food to design and interiors.
Not To Be Missed
Other highlights include the Grote Markt, home to the Stadhuis and St Pieterskerk, and the Oude Markt, informally known as the “longest bar in Europe” for all its licensed premises. Not to be missed is the Unesco-listed Groot Begijnhof, which lies to the south of the city. This was once a beguinage – a community of women, known as beguines – and is now on one the city’s most eye-catching neighbourhoods, with what must be some of the best student accommodation in the world.
As is so often the case wherever you are in the world, what is cool about Leuven is its "hidden" side; The city’s inhabitants enjoy a rich cultural life and STUK is its focus: a modernist complex that contains exhibition space, a cinema and a café packed with books – some of them English language – to browse over a coffee. For gigs, head to Het Depot, the city’s premier music venue.
Check into B&B Keyser Carel, previously a monastery, which has truly palatial interiors and a huge private garden. The Klooster Hotel, tucked away down a quiet little street, is possibly Leuven’s most atmospheric hotel, based in a 16th-century listed building that was once home to Emperor Charles V’s private secretary. Both make the perfect base for exploring the city, as well as being welcoming sanctuaries at the end of the day.
University students lend this medieval marvel a lively edge. This compact and easy-going university city is a fascinating fusion of old and new.
Art & Architecture
There is a wealth of art and architecture to be found in Leuven. From the whimsical Gothic Town Hall to the UNESCO listed St Peter's Church with its 50 metre high tower.
The city is full of impressive university buildings such as Van Dale College, which was founded in 1558; the University Library on Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein; and the Linen Hall on Naamsestraat, which is early Gothic with a Baroque second floor and is now used as an administrative centre by the University.
Art lovers should visit the Treasury of St Peter's Church where two of the greatest works of Dirk Bouts, The Last Supper and the Martyrdom of St Erasmus are to be found.
STUK is Leuven’s Centre of the Arts and is the focus of its cultural life. It boasts a varied cultural programme with theatre, dance performances, music, new media, film, festivals and many other activities.
M for Museum Leuven is the newly-opened sequel to the Vander Kelen-Mertens municipal museum. It’s a completely new building and concept which houses early and modern art inspired by the city's diversity. It’s Leuven’s largest cultural institution and an important new landmark. M opened in September 2009 with a remodelled permanent collection of work by Rogier van der Weyden.
Mechelsestraat is full of great little shops tucked away from the main streets; it's here that you will find Profiel, which sells garments from Belgian designers such as Dries van Noten, Kaat Tilley and Chine. There are also individual boutiques selling linens, gifts, flowers and speciality cheeses.
The music scene is very prominent in Leuven; Great bars are dotted throughout this university city and many of these play live music; Café Blauwe Kater is good for jazz and blues fans. Café Apero prides itself on being the cosiest and coolest bar in the city with a free jazz jam on Mondays and dance friendly DJs playing soul, funk, electro and techno the rest of the week.
Food & Drink
Leuven is renowned for its vast array of eateries and breweries. You can choose from a number of superb restaurants, such as Kokoon, for traditional Flemish cuisine, and the plush Improvisio, which is in a renovated 1735 building, and offers classic modern Belgian/French cuisine as well as the irresistible frites.
It is the brewing of beer that played an important role in the Leuven’s prosperity. Two centuries ago, Den Horen brewery became the city’s most important commercial enterprise. It was eventually to come under the control of a master brewer, Sebastien Artois and is today known as Stella Artois. Nowadays, the variety of beer on offer in Leuven is so plentiful that you can even be forgiven for substituting wine for beer with your meal!
"Lovely Leuven, Belgium's No 1 beer town, is the perfect place for a weekend break away. Magnificent medieval architecture, an amazing number of lively bars and superb restaurants, and a young, friendly atmosphere. What's not to like?" David Williams, Travel Writer
Good to know
Leuven’s university was founded in 1425 and attracts students from all over the world; its science library is one of the largest in Europe.
Beer has been brewed in Leuven since 1366. Today it is home to Stella Artois of Anheuser-Busch Inbev and the family brewery pub Domus as well as some 178 restaurants, 241 cafes and a claim to the “Europe’s longest bar”.
In 2000, Leuven’s Beguinage was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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