The vibrant city of Leuven has got over 100.000 inhabitants, a large part of which are students. So expect to find many cafes and restaurants, but also lots of contemporary shops and several third wave coffee bars. But Leuven is certainly not all shiny and new, the biggest part of the city is ancient and atmospheric with beautiful architecture and many impressive sights.
In this city guide I will share my travel tips about:
What to see and do in Leuven
Leuven's Town Hall is one if a kind! It took 30 years (from 1439 to 1469) to build this Gothic style masterpiece. In the 19th century 236 statues were added to the facade which makes it even more detailed. Around the corner (on the right side) you will find the office of Visit Leuven where you can get a map of the city, and lots of information to help you plan your visit.
'Fons Sapientiae' (source of wisdom in Latin) is probably one of the most well known statues in town. Fonske (as the inhabitants of Leuven call him) was gifted to the city of Leuven in 1975 because of the 550th birthday of the University. He stands at the end of the Bondgenotenlaan, close to the Town Hall.
The Kruidtuin (Botanical Garden) was created by the University in 1738 for its medicine students and is the oldest in Belgium. The area of over 2 hectares contains a wide range of trees, (water) plants, herbs, and a greenhouse with tropical and subtropical species. It's a public park, so you can admire it free of charge.
Every day from 08:00-20:00 (opening times may vary)
The collection of M Leuven stems from a cabinet of curiosities from Leuven's Town Hall of 200 years ago. During the time it has grown into a collection of more than 52.500 objects, showcasing a mix of classical and contemporary art. Here I only share a couple of artworks which caught my eye, but this gives only a glympse of the total collection.
☞ Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28
Opened from 11:00 to 18:00 (on Thursday until 22:00), closed on Wednesday.
In front of the entrance you already encounter the first artwork. The staircase sculpture in concrete was made by the Belgian artist Hannes Van Severen.
Artwork 'Optical Denim' from 2019 by Belgian artist Michael Van den Abeele.
I found this a refreshing way of showcasing busts. Because to me in some way they seemed like an audience patiently waiting for something to happen. And I was wondering, who's looking at who?
This wine fountain was made in 1887 for a former mayor of Leuven. The statue was connected to a barrel of wine in the cellar, so he and his wife (both wine merchants as well) could entertain their guests during receptions and dinners.
'Young Woman with Poppies' from 1897 by the French painter Gaston Darbour.
Take a step back in time at the 13th century Great Beguinage while roaming through its charming cobbled streets. The 'village in the city' was inhabited by a community of unmarried and semi-religious women, called beguines. During its heyday in the 17th century about 360 beguines lived and worked in this beautiful area. Nowadays this UNESCO heritage site is owned by the University of Leuven. Who transformed it into an international and multicultural residential area for students, guest lecturers and employees of the University.
Best coffee bars of Leuven
The story of Koffie Onan started in 2004 when owner Hans Onan decided to start his own coffeehouse focussed on quality and direct trade (of over 70%). Besides specialty coffee (roasted in their own micro-roastery) there is tea and brewing equipment on offer.
Monday to Saturday 08:30-18:00, closed on Sunday.
Owner Jens of MOK LVN attaches great importance to integrity and quality. Therefore he decided to work with the same producers year after year to build a valuable and strong relationship. Jens is two times 'Belgian Cup Tasters Champion' and got the award of 2nd 'Best Specialty Coffee Roaster in Europe & Middle East'.
The nitro cold brew coffee was perfect to kick start my day at the sunny terrace,
Monday to Friday 09:00-18:00, Saturday 10:00-18:00, closed on Sunday.
In a charming corner building you will find madmum, a coffee roastery and bar owned by Pieter, who has won awards for 'Belgium's Best Coffee Roaster' (2014 and 2015) and was 'Belgian Cupping Champion' in 2013. At this bustling place there is a wide range of coffees and teas as well as breakfast, lunch and sweets on offer.
Monday to Saturday 08:00-18:00, Sunday 09:30-17:00.
Spore Nursery is a coffee bar and beautiful plant shop in one. Above mentioned Coffee Onan created a special house blend for them, which is aptly named 'Jungle Blend'. There is a pleasant enclosed terrace at the rear where you can enjoy your coffee away from the city noise.
Tuesday to Friday 09:00-18:00, Saturday 10:00-18:00, closed on Sunday and Monday.
At NOIR coffee is served from Tāne Roasters Collective, their co-owned coffee roastery based in Leuven. Expect to drink single origin coffees which are traceable from bean to cup. The main values are sustainability, quality and collectivity as Tāne is a cooperative company.
To me visiting NOIR was a memorable experience as you can feel (and taste) the passion owner Kris has for coffee. I was amazed by the great taste of the two AeroPress coffees we've tried from two Columbian coffees, from the same variety (Pink Bourbon) but from different origins and processing techniques.
Monday to Friday 08:30-18:00, Saturday 10:00-18:00, Sunday 10:30-16:30.
Plant based lunch in Leuven
Life Bar is a plant-based breakfast and lunch bar. On the menu is (smoothie/salad/buddha) bowls, a seaweed/soy burger (with a chlorella bun), pancakes, a soup of the day, sweets and lots more.
Monday to Saturday 10:00-17:00, Sunday 10:00-16:00, closed on Tuesday.
Next to the little harbour you will find Noordoever, a place where you can get fresh, plant based and local dishes from morning to evening. While sitting at their terrace and looking out over the boats, it felt a little bit like holiday to me.
Monday 09:00-18:00, Tuesday + Wednesday 09:00-22:00, Thursday + Friday 09:00-23:00,
Saturday 10:00-23:00, closed on Sunday.
At Nicely I have had this delicious 'nice cream bowl', solely made of plant based and vegan ingredients.
No added sugar, no soy, no dairy and no gluten, only fruits/vegetables and completely natural.
A very refreshing (and guilt-free snack) on a hot summer day.
☞ Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 29 (they will probably move to new building in the summer of '21)
Monday + Tuesday 11:00-20:00, Friday + Saturday 10:00-18:00, Sunday 11:00-18:00,
closed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Local shopping in Leuven
Thelma is a concept store with fashion (Scandinavian and local brands), design, furniture, food, sweets and coffee from Tāne. Their focus is on fair trade and sustainability.
Monday to Saturday 10:30-18:00, closed on Sunday.
Visit PLEK for interior items (like textile, mirrors, objects and vases), lifestyle accessories, bathroom and kitchen necessities, furniture and lighting.
Tuesday to Saturday 10:30-18:00, closed on Sunday and Monday.
Harvest Club is the place to buy fair, eco, handmade and recycled fashion and accessories from small scale producers. There is a wide range of (women's, men's and children's) clothing, sneakers, organic and vegan skin products, bags, jewellery and lifestyle products.
Monday to Saturday 10:30-18:30, closed on Sunday.
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How to get to Leuven
Leuven is situated in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant.
You can get there by train within:
30 minutes from Brussels or Liège
45 minutes from Antwerp
50 minutes from Hasselt
1 hour from Ghent
Please note: this post is not sponsored.