Falling in love with Leuven, one of Belgium’s hidden gems

by Jessica Maile
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Leuven or Louvain is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant in Belgium. It is located about 25 kilometres (16 miles) east of Brussels.

It is a very easy 15 minute train ride from Brussels airport.

Arriving in Leuven is quite stylish with its train platforms covered by wing-like glass roofing. But the city itself is much less modern and steeped in history.

Leuven is a university city but it seemed surprisingly quiet and less populated than I had expected.

One of the first thing you notice about Leuven is the lack of cars. Large parts of the city are pedestrianised and this makes getting around so much more pleasurable.

Walking around Leuven is quite easy as it is not a very large city. But even though there may not be many cars in the city centre, watch out for the cyclists. It seems that there are just bicycles coming at you from all angles, so be aware of your surroundings when walking around town.

The most pleasurable part was just how quiet it is at night, as I was expecting a rowdy evening with crowded bars emptying out onto the cobblestoned roads at closing time – but this never happened.

It was refreshing to be able to walk through the market square and surrounding roads late at night and, whilst there were people on the street, there was none of the boisterous activities that you may expect from a city centre.

Picture: Jessica Maile

All about the beer

Belgium in general is great for its beer and Leuven is no exception to this. There are numerous bars where you can sit outside and watch the world on its bicycle go by. The choice of beer in most bars is so numerous that often there will be rather lengthy beer menus to list the numerous varieties of different beers available.

Be warned though as most beer is in the region of 9% ABV, so some may find the offering a little strong. The whole process of ordering a pint is unique in Leuven where is seems every bar has a specific pint glass for each specific brewery.

I visited a rather eccentric bar called The Fiere Margriet on Margarethaplein. The decor seemed a collection of stuffed animals, religious relics and more beer glasses that you could ever hope to use.

The atmosphere was super cosy and friendly. A group of us enjoyed our evening there and would recommend that you stop off there for a pint.

You are spoilt for choice for historic places to visit with many churches and university buildings to visit. St Peter’s Church cannot be missed as it is in the centre of the city. Inside was one of the most spectacular carved wooden pulpits and an alternative painting of Christ’s Last Supper. Both of these magnificent works art were worth taking a look at.

Another impressive building is the university library, KU Leuven Bibliotheken. Whilst the actual library was very impressive, many visitors were there to take the narrow spiralling staircase to the top of the clock tower.

The staircase just keeps on going from stone turret like stairwell to a metal spiral staircase that climbs in between the clock mechanism and bells and leads to the viewing deck.

The view is splendid as you can walk around the top of the clock tower and gaze down and out across Leuven.

Leuven is definitely a great destination for a quick weekend getaway. It’s a city with a big heart, steeped in history and just full of places to explore or just sit and have a beer and watch the world, and many, many bikes go by…

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