Leuven, on the River Deuil, 30 km from Brussels, is called the most “Dutch” city in Belgium, and also one of the leading educational centers of the country. Here, in Leuven, the capital of the Flemish Brabant province, is the oldest university in the Kingdom, the Catholic University of Leuven, known worldwide. Just imagine: there are 35 thousand students here, which is almost 40% of the entire population of 90 thousand people. The city is as revered by Belgians, especially young people, as the British are by Cambridge and Oxford, and Americans by Boston and Stanford.
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Leuven is notable not only for its glorious university past (and similarly present). Previously not much favored by travelers who preferred to visit Bruges, Ghent or Brussels, it has now become one of the most visited tourist centers of the state. There are so many monuments and wonderful places for a variety of leisure here, that even a large metropolis could envy.
The unique medieval town hall, a few old churches, compactly spaced university buildings, which share a city park – all this defines the modern face of Leuven. Leuven has something of an ideal package for tourists: exciting sightseeing and two shopping streets during the day, but once the sun goes down, the nightlife is brisk…
The first written mention of a settlement in this place goes back to the ninth century. In 891 the Vikings conquered and sacked a Roman fortress in the valley of the Dale, whose Latin name was Luvanium. Two centuries later, the peaceful history of the city began and made it famous as an important trading center. Until the 14th century it was known for its linen clothes, which were bought throughout Europe. It had a consonant name: “lewyn”. However, by the end of XIV century trade with it completely stopped.
Map of Leuven in 1775
In 1425, the University was founded in Leuven, thanks to which the provincial Flemish town once again flourished. Jean IV, ruler of the Duchy of Brabant, was at the origin of the alma mater. The University of Leuven is one of the oldest universities in the world. In 1679 it was enlarged by the city merchant rows, gratuitously donated by the authorities. In 1797, after the French Revolution, it was closed, but 20 years later it resumed its activity. In 1834 the college was deprived of state support and was maintained by the church, from which it became known as a Catholic college. In 1968 it was divided because of a conflict between the Dutch and French-speaking communities. The representatives of the latter moved to a new building in Leuven-la-Neuve (Walloon Brabant).
The city is also well known as the brewery center of the country. This industry began to develop in Leuven in the 18th century. And very rapidly: by 1764 there were over fifty breweries. It was here that the production of the famous Stella Artois started. After the merger of Stella Artois and Pideboeuf in the last century, the Interbrew Brewery emerged and rapidly burst onto the market.
But the twentieth century brought not only economic successes, but also numerous sufferings. During World War I the Germans razed the capital of Flemish Brabant to the ground. During World War II it was bombed again, historical buildings were destroyed, the rich university library was burned. After 1945 the city was carefully restored almost from scratch, looking at the ancient drawings.
Leuven at the end of the 19th century Leuven during the First World War, 1914
The Great Beguinage and the Leuven Town Hall are perhaps two of the city’s most striking sights. The former is a former settlement of the Beguinage nuns, located in the southern part of the city, occupying an entire historic quarter with a dozen streets. The Beguinage premises are now used for the needs of the university, and the neighborhood itself is included by UNESCO in the list of World Heritage Sites. The town hall, which was built in 1440-1460, is considered one of the most magnificent constructions of the Middle Ages. The building is decorated with 236 statues, which are famous historical figures, painters, great scientists. It was erected by brilliant masters of the time: Van der Vorst, Keldermans and Matthias de Lowens.
It was named in honor of Paul Ladeuse, the former rector of the university. Before that, it was called “People’s Place” and “Clarisse” (the latter from the Clarisse nuns, who had their convent on this site). The square also bore the name of Napoleon, after the first building appeared there in 1812. Now it is dominated by the University Library: its 87-meter tower is equipped with 48 bells.
In the center of the city, on the Great Square (Grote Markt) is the Church of St. Peter. This is the oldest church in Leuven, which was built from 1425 to 1497, the style is late Gothic Brabant. It replaced a wooden church in the Romanesque style, built back in 986. In the temple there are many works of art (e.g. the triptych “The Last Supper” by Dirk Bauts), precious metalwork and the church’s own paraphernalia. At the eastern end are the tombs of Henry I of Brabant, his daughter Marie and Lady Matilda, whose ashes have been moved here since the 13th century.
Slightly “younger” church of St. Anthony, dating from 1458, and its portal was built even later, in 1572. The interior is not luxurious, on the contrary, it is simple and laconic – even the facade is not decorated, it is covered with simple plaster. Of historical and cultural value are, above all, the marble altar under the arch from the second half of the XVIII century, frescoes by Michele Scaroina and four altars – wooden, with gilt – on the side walls.
The Botanical Gardens of Leuven, one kilometer from the main square, are definitely worth a visit. It was founded in 1738 by the administration of the Catholic University and is the oldest in Belgium. The garden was originally conceived as a place to grow medicinal plants. Later the collection was enlarged and expanded. There was a need for new space, which was satisfied by the territory where the old Capuchin monastery used to be. It is here that the modern Botanical Garden is located, transferred to the ownership of the city of Leuven in 1835. Today there are more than 800 species of trees, shrubs and herbs.
There is something to see in the suburban area as well, namely the late Gothic Arenberg Castle, which is located in the town of Heverle. The majestic appearance of the castle will hardly leave visitors indifferent – its beauty and the true medieval spirit which has survived to this day shocks the imagination. In the middle of the castle there is a large balcony, from which the most august people used to view the surroundings. The castle has belonged to various owners at different times. Today, it belongs to the Catholic University of Leuven.
Video: Leuven from the heights
Leisure and recreation
Do you want to experience the Belgian electronic music, which is actively promoted by the local bands on the world level? Then come to the Silo Club. It is located in the former industrial bunker and has become a true mecca for music lovers. The club has a state-of-the-art sound system that makes the hearts of its patrons, who are mostly clubbers and techno-ravers, beat in full force. Internationally renowned DJs are honored to play at Silo.
But for family recreation we can recommend Domaine provincial de Kessel-Lo. The amusement park has many playgrounds and rides for all tastes, there is even a swimming pool. Here are a few cafes, a terrace for recreation. For those who prefer sports, the Sint-Donatuspark, a park with the opportunity to “drive” on rollers or bikes, is a good place to stay. It is in the center of Leuven but you can have a picnic there or just go for a walk.
As evening falls, tourists flock to Cinema ZED. This popular movie theater shows new movies as well as beloved films of the past. What to devote time to after the movie if you don’t feel like sleeping? We recommend visiting the pubs and bars in Leuven, which are also located in the city center. They are as popular as the nightclubs and even offer an entertainment program. An interesting highlight is the Oude Markt square, which is a beer garden in the evenings.
There’s a market on Leuven’s Great Square at the weekend. From time to time there are interesting fairs with fresh produce, homemade wine, and souvenirs. Active sales are for 3-liter beer mugs Stella Artois (value 55 €), T-shirts with the image of one of the attractions (10 €), a copy of the town hall (7,95 €) – and this despite the high prices. The city also has its own flea market, where you can buy antique figurines, lamps, candlesticks and other household items that will undoubtedly decorate your home.
The male half never passes by the Leuven store “De Blick”. The shop displays accessories for real hunters. There are exclusive things – for example, hunting knives with engraved handles, a camouflage jacket from the manufacturer “Barbour”, branded boots, a stylish cartridge case. Prices, of course, bite: from 120 euros and higher. But for the sake of a favourite hobby any money is worth it, isn’t it?
Tourists appreciate the quality Belgian shoes. You can find them in the store “Mertens”, where there is a wide selection of models for both ladies and men. Good men’s shoes cost from 125 €. Expensive? Then you have to give up something – say, the purchase of hunting equipment – and buy.
Oh, and about safety: Leuven is a quiet enough city, there is no rampant crime on an ugly scale. However, in crowded places – stores, markets, etc. – However, you have to be vigilant, otherwise you will be easy prey for pickpockets. The level of such crimes unfortunately remains high, so don’t take a lot of cash or valuable items (camera, video camera) unnecessarily.
Getting around Leuven has become a lot easier recently, thanks to the installation of new tourist signs and maps of the city. Local residents – very friendly and communicative – will also help to find your way. As for public transport, there is no need for it, given the compact location of the attractions. While there is one in the city, of course, namely transport network of the company “De Lijn”.
In Leuven, there are special areas for bicycles, and there are many of them. It is possible to ride two-wheeled horses on the roads in both directions. Bicycles can also be rented – for example on the Martelarenlaan. The pleasure will cost you 10 euros/day.
You can get to the center of Leuven from the train station by going down Bondgenotenlaan. Or take Diestsestraat – this pedestrian street runs parallel. The large square is not far from it.
Hotels and accommodation
How do you plan to spend your time in Belgium’s oldest city, make the most of it or spend it looking for a place to stay? We believe that with advantage, so before you go you need to take care of the hotel. Online reservation service will help you find a suitable option. You can choose from a variety of low-cost options and three-star hotels. The price of apartments in the latter varies from 60 to 80 euros. A room in a four-star is 80-130 €.
Most hotels are concentrated in the center and you can literally walk to the main attractions. By the way, three-star hotels have a service for tourists: if you want you can arrange an excursion to the old building of the brewery company Stella Artois, with obligatory tasting. There are also mini-hotels in the city: 40-50 euros – and a cozy room for a day at your disposal.
How to get to Leuven
The nearest airport to Leuven is in Brussels, so you should first fly to the capital of Belgium. There are regular international flights here, including those from Moscow. From the capital airport there is a suburban train to Leuven: on weekdays every 30 minutes, on weekends – every hour. Your trip takes only 13 minutes and costs 3 euros.
You can also reach the university center of the country by car: take the E-40 Brussels-Liège highway. Or take the E-314 highway – this transport artery connects it to the Netherlands, namely the city of Maastricht and the province of Limburg, and Germany (Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia). A tourist’s note: In Leuven and the surrounding area there are speed limits – no more than 50 km / h.
There is a possibility to get by train. The railway station of Leuven receives trains from Antwerp, Mechelen, Dist, Liege, Lier, and of course Brussels. And with the capital and cities such as Mechelen, Aarschot, Wavre and Dist, there are also bus connections. But you can get there faster by train than by bus.
Guides to Belgium
The most interesting guides to Belgium, as well as the main attractions of the country.
Number of articles: 15
Bruges is a city in Belgium in the historical region of West Flanders. It is a city of amazing architecture and charm, one of the most picturesque in Europe.
Belgium is a small state in northwestern Europe. Its official name is the Kingdom of Belgium.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the center of its largest urban agglomeration. It is the political center of Europe, which is the headquarters of the European Union.
Namur is a city in Central Belgium in the Walloon Region. It is the capital of the province of the same name and a major transport, educational and cultural center.
Ghent is a city in northern Belgium and the capital of East Flanders. It is a picturesque maze of narrow old streets and canals, framed by quaint old buildings with pointed roofs and magnificent monuments of history.
Mechelen is a city in Belgium in the province of Antwerp. It is known for its old Flemish architecture, splendid sacral monuments, and unique carillon school.
Antwerp is a city in northeast Belgium and one of the largest ports in the world (second in Europe after Rotterdam). It is both a bustling industrial port city and an outstanding historical center of Belgian craftsmanship and art.
Liège is a city in eastern Belgium, located on the Maas River. It has a rich industrial past, which makes it inferior to Bruges and Ghent.
Dinant is a small town in the south of Belgium in the province of Namur. Sheltered by high rocky cliffs, it stretches along the Maas River.
Mons (also known as Bergen) is a city in western Belgium in the Walloon region. It is the historic capital of the county of Gennegau and the administrative center of the province of Hainaut.
Leuven is a city in Belgium, located on the River Diehl in the historic region of Flanders. It is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant.
Leuven is a charming Flemish city located in the north of Belgium in the province of Antwerp. It is known for its magnificent historical heritage and a huge number of interesting sights.
Guidebook “Laying low in Bruges”.
A guidebook based on the cult film “Laying low in Bruges”. I won’t tell the plot, anyone who hasn’t seen it – be sure to check it out before your trip to Bruges.
Tongeren is located in the east of Belgium in the historic region of Flanders. It is considered the oldest city in the country, founded in the Roman period.
Charleroi is a city in Belgium in the historic region of Wallonia. It is known as one of the largest industrial centers in Europe, which flourished thanks to coal mining and steel production.
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