Leuven is a Belgian student city where more than a hundred thousand inhabitants enjoy life. The city was founded in 1425 and voted one of the five best European destinations in 2022. Thanks to the compact city center you can reach most sights, nice shops and eateries on foot (or by bike). In this article you will find 7 things that you should definitely do when you are in cozy Leuven. Plus practical tips for, for example, parking and charging if you come to Leuven with an electric car, including a mobile-friendly card.
Leuven is located about 185 km south of Utrecht (about 2 hours by car), east of Brussels, in the province of Flemish Brabant of our southern neighbors. You can reach Leuven Station from Rotterdam Central Station in 1.5 hours by train.
In this article
- 1: University library and library tower of KU Leuven
- 2: Enjoy the Burgundian way
- 3: Visit the Kruidtuin – Botanic Garden of Leuven
- 4: Rent an electric bike and/or do a bicycle tour
- 5: Shopping
- 6: Spotting Leuven street art
- 7: Sleeping at pentahotel Leuven
- Map Leuven (Louvain)
- Tips for parking and charging your car in Leuven
- Tips for wine lovers – Leuven
1: University library and library tower of KU Leuven
Now there are dozens of university libraries in Leuven, but the monumental University Library on Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein is really a sight to see. In contrast to the historic town hall of Leuven, the University Library of the KU Leuven is – in my humble opinion – also worth a visit from the inside. Beautiful wood carvings, stained glass and special book collection.
The stylish, neo-Renaissance building from the 1920s includes a beautiful Great Reading Room. This is the heart of the library, where students study hard during the week. The Great Reading Room is therefore only open to non-students on weekends and public holidays. The rest of the university library, including the library tower, can be visited on weekdays. Entrance is € 7 for tourists.
The library tower of Leuven, inspired by La Giralda in Seville, is 87m high and comprises five floors. There is a small exhibition on each floor, in which part of the history is told. A scary, metal spiral staircase encompasses a multitude of steps, which still give me muscle aches as I write this article haha But the view at the top is – especially on a clear, sunny day like the one we hit – beautiful. The carillon was sponsored by the USA.
- Tickets at the box office or pre-order online (on time)
- Address: Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein 21 in Leuven
- Opening hours: daily 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
2: Enjoy the Burgundian way
One of the things I really appreciate about Belgians is the Burgundian lifestyle they often have. Enjoying good food, drink, the good life. And they can do that in Leuven like the best!
Once the sun breaks through, the terraces are filled. You will find many nice terraces on and around the Oude Markt, the Grote Markt, Mathieu de Layensplein and the Martelarenplein near the station.
For lunch, go to Wasbar, Barboek, Elisa by JAVA Coffee, Bar Berlin, or Ruba for healthy vegans. Madmum has a nice terrace for a cup of coffee. For good cocktails you can go to De Rector and Bar Nine on the Oude Markt, Optimist, Onder den Toren and Martin’s Klooster Bar. You will have to be patient for a spot at the bar at Bar Louis.
When it comes to fine dining, Hop Gastrobar in the hip & happening Vaarkom area is popular, book on time! The nearby Florida Food Bar is more favorably priced. Sud Sud Bistro, Baracca (Italian) and Raffa (Pakistani) can also be on your to-dine list for Leuven. Dinner at De Blauwe Schuit was fine, but nothing special, but central. If you fancy sushi or teppanyaki, go to Muntstraat.
Beer tasting in Leuven
Belgium is of course known for its Belgian beer and the associated breweries. Many beer breweries are located outside Leuven in 2022. Huisbrouwerij Domus is located in the center on the Tiensestraat. The Stella Artoisin Leuven brewery can be visited on Saturday afternoons.
MALTZ Craft Beer Bar is Leuven’s newest beer hot spot. Beer lovers can also indulge themselves at Café Belge, Leuven Central, De Fiere Margriet and De Metafoor. If you are in Leuven with a group of friends or a bachelor party, then there is the FeestFiets (‘party bicycle’). And/or the Leuven Beer Tour from Baja Bikes on Sunday. For wine lovers see tips at the bottom of this article.
3: Visit the Kruidtuin – Botanic Garden of Leuven
The 200-year-old botanical Botanical Garden is an oasis of tranquility in Leuven. A kind of mini Keukenhof, but without hordes of people. In the Botanic Garden you can read a nice book on a bench in the sun. After you have enjoyed, for example, the rhododendrons, violets, tulips that come out in the 1st half of April and the beautiful blooming wisteria trees (wisteria). Wedding photos are also taken here. Admission to the Botanical Garden of Leuven is free.
- Address: Kapucijnenvoer 30 in Leuven
- Opening hours: October to April 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, May to September until 8:00 PM, all Sundays from 9:00 AM
4: Rent an electric bike and/or do a bicycle tour
Walking is wonderful during a city trip, but it can also be very tiring. Especially if you want to visit a number of places that are located outside the old city center. That is why we decided to rent a bicycle the second day. There are several bicycle rental companies in the city, including at Leuven’s central station. An electric bicycle is recommended due to hills.
In addition to the guarded bicycle shed, there is also an Urbee rental station under the central Rector de Somerplein. With the app you can easily and quickly rent an electric bicycle for € 0.05 per minute, with a maximum of € 15 per day. For 3 hours of cycling I lost € 8.80 and that way I was able to see a lot in a relatively short time. You lock the bike via the app.
Tips: download the Urbee app in advance (instead of on the spot), make sure your phone is properly charged, wear a backpack and use a mobile phone holder on your handlebars.
With an electric bicycle you can easily and quickly go to, for example:
- Klein Begijnhof
- Park of Keizersberg Abbey
- Kruidtuin (Botanic Garden)
- Groot Begijnhof
- Arenbergkasteel* (castle)
- Park Abbey*
- Province domain Kessel-Lo*
- Vlierbeek Abbey*
- Stella Artois brewery*
- Vineyards outside of Leuven*
The places marked with a star in the list above are located outside the city ring of Leuven. For the exact locations, see the map at the bottom of this article. If you prefer to go out with a guide, book a bike tour with Baja Bikes. They also rent bicycles.
If you have to choose between Klein Begijnhof and Groot Begijnhof in terms of time, go for the latter. The Groot Begijnhof (‘Great Beguinage’) of Leuven was founded around 1232 and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1998. It is owned by KU Leuven and is mainly inhabited by professors, employees, students and foreign guests of the university. Jealous! You will only be allowed to live there as a student, such a beautiful courtyard…
Just like Ghent and Antwerp, Leuven also appears to be a great Belgian city for shopping. There is a wide range of independent shops, boutiques and other original businesses here. You will find some shop chains on the Brusselsestraat. Please note: the shops in Leuven are not open every Sunday!
The Mechelsestraat was our favorite shopping street in Leuven. Zuut sells delicious chocolate. Down the street I bought a nice new pair of sunglasses at Monocle.
I think the most special store in Leuven is located in the same Mechelsestraat, called Animaux Spéciaux. The owner is an artist. In the shop you will find all kinds of funny cards, candles and plant pots, but the stuffed animals are especially special. From a peacock (€2,400) to a cat split in half as bookends, a rat, ducks, butterfly in a crystal ball (€39), etc. Even a large stuffed dog at the door. Pretty bizarre!
6: Spotting Leuven street art
Leuven has dozens of beautiful pieces of street art. I especially like the work of the artist Bisser. In the map at the bottom of this article I have added a category with a number of street art works in Leuven.
Go for a walk and discover the most special murals. Or take a cycling route along the most beautiful street art in Leuven. Enjoy!
7: Sleeping at pentahotel Leuven
We stayed at pentahotel Leuven, ideally located in the middle of the historic city center. With a bit of luck, it will also be available on Secret Escapes for the dates you want to go for € 88 per night for a double room including breakfast. And otherwise through booking. Address: Alfons Smetsplein 7.
Neat, spacious rooms with comfortable beds and private bathroom with shower. The window can be opened and there are plenty of sockets, which is nice. The breakfast was extensive and of good quality. There were even fried eggs, oat milk and prosecco. Downstairs is a cozy bar with billiard table.
pentahotel Leuven also has a parking garage, but unfortunately without charging points for electric cars. If you come by car and want to park in the hotel garage, please provide your registration number in advance to the reception. Otherwise you will undoubtedly receive a fine of € 58 for entering the pedestrian zone of Leuven.
The following sights, among others, are within a very short walking distance (< 5 min) from pentahotel Leuven:
- University Library and Tower
- Historic Town Hall of Leuven
- St. Peter’s Church
Is pentahotel Leuven full on the dates you want to go? With a comparable or slightly larger budget, I would advise you to look at Martin’s Klooster, where you sleep from € 111 per night. If you’re on a tighter budget, Ibis Leuven Centrum is a smart choice in terms of location, with room rates from €60 per night.
Map Leuven (Louvain)
This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.
Tips for parking and charging your car in Leuven
Unfortunately, there are no parking garages with charging points for electric cars in the city center of Leuven yet. In that respect they are still a little bit behind here… Or I looked wrong, but I seriously looked for it for a few hours and couldn’t find it. The receptionist at our hotel also confirmed that charging points for electric cars in Leuven are currently only available on the street, not in the garages yet.
The center of Leuven, ie the ring road of Leuven, plus a few parts outside it, form a blue zone, which means: paid parking. There are also electric charging points for cars within that blue zone, but then you also have to pay for the parking space. And the costs can add up considerably. You can easily count on 20 euros per day.
The last Sunday of August, the center of Leuven is free of motorized traffic between 10:00h and 18:00h.
There are also parking spaces on the outskirts of the city, where you can park for €6-24 per day. At some of these you can then make free use of the public bus or a shuttle bus to/from the city center. See the blue marked P’s in the first map above (zoom in). This can be advantageous, especially with a family with a petrol or diesel car, partly in view of the bus ticket price.
Free street parking and charging in Kessel-Lo
We chose to park my electric car in Kessel-Lo, a district just outside the Leuven ring road. After the Baron August de Becker Remyplein there is no paid parking anymore. You have charging points for electric cars at the Toekomststraat 56 and at the P3 parking lot of the Provincial Domain Kessel-Lo at the Holbeeksesteenweg 54 in Leuven. And then within 100 meters walk a bus stop for the bus to the city center.
By bus to the center of Leuven
From the area around the Gemeenteplein in Kessel-lo you can take bus 2 within 10 minutes to Rector de Somerplein in the heart of Leuven. You can no longer buy bus tickets in cash from the driver. For a day ticket via the De Lijn app you pay € 2.50 each way. Children up to 6 years free, maximum 4 children per paying traveler. If you are only going to Leuven on a Saturday or shopping Sunday, buy the cheap shopping ticket for the bus for € 2 return.
Tip: install the De Lijn app in advance and put your credit card details in it. Once you have arrived at the bus stop, you can buy a day ticket in the app. You activate this day ticket in the app as soon as you board. You can buy and activate multiple tickets in the app at the same time, so for you and everyone who rides with you, so that your entire group does not have to install the app individually on the phone.
The bus stop sign shows the departure times, at least 2x per hour, more often during the week. Or use Google Maps. When there is a festivity on the Grote Markt, it is possible that bus 2 runs a different route and does not pass Rector de Somerplein. Then it is best to transfer at the central station. Then take into account some extra travel time. Face masks are no longer mandatory on public transport in Belgium since 23 May 2022.
Tips for wine lovers – Leuven
If you are a wine lover like me, I can wholeheartedly recommend making a reservation for dinner at Wine bistro Convento. Do this at least two weeks in advance. On Saturday evenings, Convento becomes a wine bar with snacks. If everything is fully booked, at least visit the wine shop. Various Belgian wines are also sold there. I went home with a Chardonnay Heerenlaak from Wine domain Aldeneyck from the Maas valley (which vineyard is >1 hour drive from Leuven).
In addition to Convento, Leuven has two other wine bars: Surlie and Octobar. Surlie serves unfiltered wine. Octobar was sadly closed when we were there but has a good reputation so would love to visit next time. Octobar is located diagonally opposite the aforementioned pentahotel Leuven.
The only vineyard located within the Leuven ring road is at De Wijnpers, a Provincial Secondary Education Institution. If you really want to visit vineyards and taste accompanying wines, this will be outside the city limits of Leuven:
- Vineyard Chardonnay Meerdael in Oud-Heverlee (approx. 7 km south)
- Wine bistro Victorie next to Wine Castle Vandeurzen in Lubbeek (approx. 7 km east)
- Wine domain Chartreuzenberg in Holsbeek (approx. 8 km east)
- Wine estate Uylenbergher in Sint-Pieters-Rode, municipality of Holsbeek (approx. 12 km east)
- Vineyard ten Gaerde in Beijnendijk (approx. 27 km north)
- Wine domain Kluisberg in Bekkevoort (approx. 30 km east)
It is always wise to inquire in advance whether the vineyard is open for a visit on the date you have in mind. By the way, Wine Castle Vandeurzen is private property; the castle is unfortunately not open to the public.
Have you ever been to Leuven? Or do you want to go there soon? I hope this article helps you to have a good time there. Feel free to leave an additional tip or question at the bottom of this article and/or share on social media. Have fun in Leuven!
Want to read more articles about wine tasting around the world? Then please go to the Wine Blog Archives.
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Last Updated on 08/21/2022 by Elisa Flitter Fever