Click through to the relevant chapters and skip the rest:
- How to get to Leuven
- How to get around Leuven
- Where to stay in Leuven
- Food and drinks
- Shopping streets
- Performance venues
- Parks and open spaces
- Other sights and activities
- In the surrounding area
- Resources in English
- All Leuven posts
1. How to get to Leuven
The easiest way to get to Leuven from elsewhere in Belgium or even abroad is by train. There are direct and connecting trains from most Belgian cities, as well as from Brussels National Airport. For train timetables, check the website of the NMBS, the National Railroads.
If you're staying in the proximity of the city center or in a nearby village without a train station, taking a bus is an option as well. For bus timetables and routes in Flanders, check the website of De Lijn, the Flemish bus company.
Parking your car is a real hassle in all of Leuven. The city has recently changed its traffic plan, banning almost all outdoor parking spaces for non-residents in the commercial center. For the most up-to-date information on where you can park and drive, check the website of Visit Leuven.
Leuven is a rather small city and especially the center can easily be done on foot. You'll see a lot of bikes here as well. (Foreign) students can rent a bike long-term at a cheap price through Velo, while others can go to Fietspunt (affiliated with Velo) or Blue-bike.
3. Where to stay: hotels in Leuven and more
Like most cities, Leuven has ample accommodation options. You can check Airbnb (get a discount on your first booking by signing up through this link!) to find a nice apartment in the center, opt for something more budget with a hostel or go for a more service-oriented option with a B&B or hotel in Leuven.
Below you can find different places to stay based on your budget:
4. Food and drinks
Although I love to eat and drink – I'm Belgian, after all – I actually haven't written about many restaurants in Leuven yet. That's partly because I'm rather frugal and don't eat out much when I'm at home. So I did a little crowdsourcing among my Leuven friends and asked them which Leuven restaurants they would recommend to anyone visiting. You can find our combined recommendations below, but I promise to do some more reviews in the future and report back to you on whether or not I believe all of these deserve a spot in this list!
Breakfast and brunch
Lunch and dinner
Belgian, French and Mediterranean cuisine
Address: Frederik Lintstraat 5
Salads, pasta and more
Address: Grote Markt 2
La Stanza (no website)
Fresh Italian pasta (no pizzas)
Address: Wandelingenstraat 8
French bar and cuisine. They pride on always having oysters available.
Address: Schrijnmakersstraat 31
Italian food and wine.
Address: Parkstraat 14
Address: Tiensestraat 32
Very extensive menu with especially a wide “light meals” selection.
Address: Vismarkt 16
Address: Sint-Antoniusberg 6
Address: Naamsevest 6
Serves new lunch and dinner menus daily as the only work with fresh ingredients.
Addres: Kapucijnenvoer 48
Located in the historical setting of the old Stella Artois brewery. Menu consists of a choice between three starters, three main courses and three desserts which can be added up to five courses in total.
Add.: Tussen Twee Water Sluisstraat 79
Moroccon and other African cuisine
Address: Parijsstraat 37
‘t Zwart Schaap
Classic French and Belgian cuisine
Address: Boekhandelstraat 1
Highly popular with students (and me!). Delicious salads, wraps and more for low prices.
Address: Hogeschoolplein 5
Osteria Michele XXIII
Address: Tiensestraat 23
House of Lalibela
Small Ethiopian restaurant. Best make a reservation.
Address: Brusselsestraat 59
At the Bebop
Blues, jazz, funk and soul bar in the front, restaurant in the back.
Address: Tiensestraat 82
Address: Vlamingenstraat 55
Beer bars and tasting in Leuven
Wide range of beers, including some local brews.
Address: Parijsstraat 34
Inn ‘t Joor 1
Germaine runs the smallest cafe of Leuven. Hungry? Germaine serves a classic boiled egg with pepper and salt.
Address: Ravenstraat 34
If the wind blows in the right direction (or the wrong one, depending on how you like the smell), you can actually smell the Stella Artois brewery when you enter Leuven by train. This giant brewery is now part of the AB InBev group, but you can still visit it during the weekends.
Address: Brouwerijplein 1
Domus brews three different beers which you can taste in the adjacent Domus café. If you want to know more, you can also visit the brewery. A tasting will be included.
Address: Tiensestraat 8
Try 99 different beers and, if you're lucky and it's a Monday, there might even be a jazz concert going on.
Address: Hallengang 1
De Fiere Margriet (no website)
Old school café with 350 different beers.
Address: Margarethaplein 11
The Capital (website only in Dutch)
This cafe serves over 2,000 (!) different beers. Up to you to make a choice.
Address: Grote Markt 14
Café Belge serves around 100 different beers, including some local beers. At night the music is turned up and it's time to dance.
Address: Oude Markt 35
Cocktails and other drinks
Cocktails and fingerfood
Address: Naamsestraat 53
A new food and drinks cafe that turns into a nightlife music lounge from Thursday until Saturday. A trendy place with trendy prices.
Address: Oude Markt 9
Known for its cocktails but also has an extensive food menu. Try the goat cheese and apple salad!
Address: Naamsestraat 18
Fine rum and great homemade iced tea
Address: Oude Markt 52
Coffee, tea and sweets
A concept bar combining food and drinks with design. Read my review here.
Address: Mechelsestraat 44
Coffee shop and tea room
Address: Parijsstraat 28
Punto Caffè is a concept in Leuven and so popular that the owners even opened a Punto Kiosk which sells magazines as well as offering drinks. Specialties? Coffee and smoothies.
Address: Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 17a
5. Shopping streets
The Diestsestraat is, together with the Bondgenotenlaan, the main shopping street of Leuven. It's where you'll find all big retail chains like H&M, Zara and Footlocker. The Diestsestraat runs from the St. Peter's Church until the train station, but the shopping part is mostly located closer to the church. The last few years, however, the city has been trying to incorporate the station side of the street into the shopping experience as well and you see more and more stores appearing. Eventually, the entire street will be good for shopping.
This street runs parallel with the Diestsestraat and it's the first big street you'll see when exiting the station of Leuven. It has a few of the big retail stores, but also some more upscale brand and smaller boutiques.
This used to be a street I merely passed through to get somewhere else, but now you can find all sorts of bars and restaurants here as well as quirky little boutiques and a carnival store.
Only the start of this street (the part that links with the Grote Markt) is good for some shopping as you can find a few more upscale stores here, but it's mostly a way to get from the Grote Markt into the Parijsstraat. There's also a big HEMA (well-known Dutch stores that sells a bit of everything) on the corner.
Mechelsestraat and Vismarkt
This is where you can find small, locally owned stores with clothing, shoes, toys and more. There are also some nice food shops and cafes here.
Leuven might be a small city, it does have three weekly markets:
- on Thursday afternoons (1 pm – 6pm) there's the flower and plants market in the beginning of the Brusselsestraat
- on Friday mornings (7 am – 1 pm) there's the regular market at the Laudeuzeplein, Hooverplein, L. Vanderkelenstraat and V. Decostertraat
- on Saturdays there's antiques and second-hand stuff at the Mathieu de Layensplein (9 am – 6 pm) and artisanal products in the Brusselsestraat, the Pensstraat and the Parijsstraat (9 am ) 6 pm)
Besides the weekly markets, there are also special markets which always take place around the same time of the year. For the exact date of those, it's best to check the official website of the city of Leuven (unfortunately you can only find the special markets on the Dutch version of the website).
M-Museum and the treasury of the St. Peter's Church
M-Museum displays both modern and old art and combines a permanent collection with temporary exhibitions. Part of the museum's collection can be seen at the treasury of the St. Peter's Church. The M is housed in a modern building by architect Stéphane Beel and for that alone worth a visit. The garden of the museum is the scene of many summer events, like the MidZomer music festival.
HistarUZ (website only in Dutch)
HistarUZ displays photos, documents and objects from the 100-year old archive from the University Hospital of Leuven.
The ILUVLeuven ticket grants access to the M-Museum, the Leuven city hall, the library tower of the Catholic University of Leuven and the treasury of the St. Peter's Church for €16. That is €7 less than if you were to purchase all tickets separately.
8. Cultural centers and performance venues
Cultural Center 30CC (website only in Dutch)
30CC is a cultural center, but not just in one place. It operates in the Schouwburg, the Minnepoort, the Wagehuys, the Romaanse Poort (I take Salsa classes there!) and the Predikherenkerk. On top of that, 30CC often organizes things on other places in Leuven as well and has a ticket office in the Diestsestraat. It's a cultural center for everyone, young and old, regardless of ethnicity and social background. It programs dance, theater, music, literature and comedy, both from well-known names and from upcoming artists. And on top of that it's the founder of some long-term community projects.
Art center STuK
STuK, located in an old university building, has something for everyone. The art center programs concerts, theater, movies, lectures, dance and everything in between, but always a bit on the alternative side. The STuK Café is a favorite not only among students, but among hip locals as well. It hosts parties, jazz concerts and “café dansants”.
OPEK (website only in Dutch)
OPEK is an “art and culture laboratory” which houses different cultural organizations, but also hosts parties, workshops and performances.
The Oude Markt is the center of Leuven's nightlife. It's considered the longest bar in the world, being a square with all buildings except for one housing bars and restaurants. During the day you can have a drink on one of the many terraces, at night the bars turn up the volume to please their dancing clientele.
Leuven has a cafe culture, not a big clubbing culture. MusiCafe is the only exception to that rule. It's a proper club that hosts events ranging from student parties to after work parties.
Address: Muntstraat 5
10. Parks and open spaces
St. Donatus Park
This is the city's main park. It's not that big, but in summer it's often packed with students and families who come to picnic or “study” here.
Main entrance: Tiensestraat
Botanical Garden of Leuven
The botanical garden of Leuven is actually the oldest botanical garden of Belgium. It was founded by the university in the 18th century but is now a property of the city of Leuven. It's a great place to come to if you quietly want to read a book and in the exam season you regularly find students studying here.
Address: Kapucijnenvoer 30
11. Other tourist attractions and activities
Leuven's City Hall is one of the most famous city halls in the world, with 236 statues of historical and religious personalities. Every day at 3 pm there's a guided tour for individual visitors (€4).
Address: Grote Markt
St. Peter's Church
Even if you're not visiting the treasury to see the art collection there, the St. Peter's Church – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is worth a visit.
Address: Grote Markt
The Grand Beguinage is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a patch of peacefulness within the city.
Small Beguinage, St. Gertrude's Abbey with Scouting Museum and the St. Gertrude's Church
The Small Beguinage dates back to the 13th century. The houses there now all belong to private owners. Center of the Small Beguinage is the St. Gertrude's Abbey with the St. Gertrude's Church. Inside the abbey's chapel you can find the Scouting Museum.
This abbey is rather new, dating back to the 19th century. It has a large garden which serves as a public park.
Address: Mechelsestraat 202
Park Abbey website only in Dutch)
Park Abbey is part of a 42 ha large domain with two big ponds, pastures and walking paths. It's located right outside the center of Leuven.
Read about my visit to Park Abbey.
The Sun Train
The Sun Train or “Zonnetrein” is a solar powered sightseeing train that takes you along several of Leuven's must-sees in about an hour.
12. In the surrounding area
Vlierbeek Abbey (website only in Dutch)
Vlierbeek Abbey dates back to the 12th century and now serves as the communal church of Vlierbeek. It's located just outside Leuven center, in the borough of Kessel-Lo
Address: Abdij Vlierbeek 15, Kessel-Lo.
Forest of Heverlee and Meerdaal
I'm lucky enough to be living a 5-minute walk from this 2050 ha (!) large forest. The Heverlee part of the forest has several educational and recreational areas with clear walking paths, while the Meerdaal part of the forest is more left to nature.
Read about my walks in the Forest of Heverlee here.
Provincial Domain of Kessel-Lo
Playgrounds, a pond with boats, a swimming pool, grass lawns, walking paths, an adventure track for kids, tennis, volley and basket courts… Surely you'll find something to do at the Provincial Domain of Kessel-Lo? It's located a bike or short bus ride from the center of Leuven.
Address: Gemeenteplein 5, Kessel-Lo
Park and Castle of Arenberg
It used to be lovely, driving down to the Castle of Arenberg. Now a big sky scraper in the distance kind of ruins the view, but the now university building is still a beauty and the park surrounding it great to spend an afternoon just hanging around. The castle itself can only be visited in group and with a guide after reservation.
Address: Kardinaal Mercierlaan 94, Heverlee