In Belgium you never have to look far to see a castle or an abbey. In Leuven, we have both: the Arenberg Castle and Park Abbey or Abdij van Park, as we say which is on the outskirts of the city.
Park Abbey Leuven was founded in the 12th century under the influence of Duke Godfrey II (the Bearded). He owned a large park in Leuven and asked the Norbertines to occupy a small church he had on his grounds, hence the name Park Abbey/ Abdij van Park.
The buildings were enlarged and the Park Abbey became a place of agriculture and academic study.
The history of Park Abbey isn't without trouble, the Abbey suffered during the religious wars between the Netherlands and Spain and was confiscated by the French during their Revolution. Fortunately, it survived and today a small number of Norbertines still live there, the church itself is also still in use.
There's a path leading around the Abbey ponds and from some points, you can see the view of the water and the Park Abbey buildings. It was very nice walking there in the first spring sun. I'm sure you can find plenty of shade here in summer and maybe do some people watching.
Park Abbey has gathered a large collection of art throughout the centuries, as well as over 6,000 old prints. A small part of the art and print collection is already on display at the “locatorium”, now a small museum at Park Abbey (free entrance).
Park Abbey/ Abdij van Park is still being painstakingly restored which means it is not possible to visit all parts of the abbey building at the moment. Completion is set for 2025 (more info here).
Abdij van Park 7, Leuven
Guided tours of Park Abbey are available, they are 45 minutes and cost 5EUR. A visitor info guide in Dutch, English, French, German or Spanish is included in the price.
You will be shown behind the scenes of the various abbey buildings currently under restoration and learn about the history over the years. Check the official website for more details.
Where to stay
If you're looking for an apartment in Leuven rather than a hotel, I recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and receive a discount on your first stay!
Leuven can easily be reached by train from other cities as well as from Brussels Airport, which is the best airport to fly to if you plan on visiting Leuven.