Leuven

Leuven (French: Louvain) is a dynamic and thriving city of about 95,000 inhabitants in Flemish Brabant, Belgium. It's a true university town in which the town is more alive during the academic year (end of September till June), although there are a lot of events in Summer. The university, with about 35,000 students every year, is the oldest Catholic University in the world, founded in 1425. The historic centre is one of the most beautiful in Belgium.

It is also the ideal starting point to discover the rest of the country: Brussels is just around the corner, the Coast is only a 1,5 hour train ride away and Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Liège, Mechelen and Hasselt are nearby.

Lately, more and more tourists visit Leuven as the city has stepped up its efforts to make tourists feel at home.

You may find that the average age of the population drastically changes during the Academic Year, when it often seems only students stroll around the city. In general however, Leuven has everything to appeal to both young and old: A lively nightlife, interesting and sometimes stunning historic sites, the important and world renowned University and two seemingly endless shopping streets.

Understand

Groot Begijnhof, UNESCO.

The city has a long and interesting history, being founded probably in the 9th century. It was particularly interesting because of the location, at the river Dijle and close to Brussels. Most of the city was thrashed and burned to the ground by the German invasion in World War I, and was again damaged during World War II. The historic centre itself however has been preserved and historic buildings like the University Library have been restored, partly with foreign relief funds.

Leuven is located just east of Brussels (20 km). It is the capital of the Province of Flemish Brabant in Belgium. This means it houses a lot of administrative services and the Province Building, where the province council is located. Its main industries are technology (due to the University) and beer. Important companies have their home base in Leuven, such as InBev and Imec

Leuven contains two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Groot Begijnhof (Grand Beguinage) is part of the Flemish Beguinages. The Belfry on St Peter's Church is a part of the Belfries of Belgium and France. The University buildings and the Historic Centre are also on Belgium's tentative list to become a World Heritage site in its own right.

Get in

Grote Markt in Leuven with City Hall.

By plane

Brussels Airport in Zaventem is the main international airport in Belgium and has many direct international connections to North America, Asia and especially Africa. Brussels has connections to all European capitals and most other major cities.

To get to Leuven from Zaventem, you may take a suburban train to Leuven (13 minutes) for €8.80. It runs every half hour on weekdays and every hour on weekends. You may also take buses 616, 651 or 652 from the airport bus station (1 hour, €3). If budget is no object, taxis wait at the arrivals area (c.a. 20 mins, depending on traffic).

More low-cost carriers arrive at Brussels South Charleroi Airport but travel time to Leuven is considerably longer (1,5h). You can purchase a special bus+train ticket for € 11,40 that will enable you to take the bus from Charleroi airport to Charleroi railway station, and from there on to Leuven train station. There is no direct train link between Leuven and Charleroi; you have to change trains in Brussels. More information on the airport's website.

By car

Leuven can be conveniently reached by car. The E40 highway runs from Brussels via Leuven to Liège, whereas the E314 highway links Leuven with the province of Limburg and with Maastricht and Aachen, at about 1 hour distance. The city has recently installed a Parking Guidance System that guides you to the larger parkings in the city centre. Look for the electronic signs on the city ring road.

It is advised not to start looking for a free parking spot on the street, since it's expensive and the many one-way streets can be a real maze when you're driving.

Note that the speed limit around the city is 50 km/h, or 30 km/h inside the ring road and in certain other areas. Your chances of getting a ticket when crossing the speed limit, even slightly, are close to 100%, especially on the ring road.

By train

Train Station in Leuven.

Leuven's railway station is one of the busiest of Belgium. There are frequent direct trains to and from:

Almost all cities can be reached by train through the Brussels North or Brussels Zuid/Midi hub. Thalys and Eurostar trains depart from Brussels Zuid/Midi.

By bus

There are bus lines from and to the cities around Leuven (Brussels, Tienen, Aarschot, Mechelen, Diest and Wavre). Buses are sometimes faster if you want to go to Herentals, Turnhout, Geel or other towns in the Campine region.

By taxi

Licensed taxi's have yellow-and-blue (or the older red-and-white) colors on top. They can be found mostly at the airport. One-way to Leuven usually takes 20' (if traffic isn't dense) and costs about €55.

Get around

Martelarenplein in front of the Station.
Fochplein, next to the St. Peter's Church.

The city has recently installed several new touristic road signs and city maps at several locations, which make getting around in the city a lot easier. Don't be afraid to ask people on the street for information, as they are usually very open and helpful towards tourists - some will even walk you to your destination.

Public transportation

The public transport company De Lijn has a number of bus lines through Leuven. Centre of their network is the Train Station and the stop at the Fochplein. Since distances are not that big, you won't really need public transport unless you're going to Meerdaalwoud, Heverleebos, Campus Arenberg' or the hospital Gasthuisberg. There is no subway or tram line.

On foot

When arriving in Leuven by train, walk to the Martelarenplein in front of the Station and walk down the Bondgenotenlaan in order to get to the city centre: the Grote Markt (Grand Place) where the tourist information desk is situated. Discover the rest of the historic city centre from there. Note that you can also take the Diestsestraat, which is a pedestrian-only street.

By bike

The city has many special areas for cyclers and most - but not all (beware of police controls) - 1-way roads can be accessed in both ways for cycles. It's very easy and comfortable. Make sure to lock your bike to a fixed object or the bike will be stolen. You can also rent bicycles. More information at the Tourist Information Desk (near City Hall).

By thumb

In the city centre, it will prove quite difficult to get around by thumb, since most streets and squares are car-free. If you want to thumb out of the city, pick a spot on the city ring road and hope for a quick pick-up. Be advised most traffic is local or headed for Brussels. The Koning Boudewijnlaan is a good spot as well, since it leads to the offramp to the E40 (Brussels-Liège) and the E314 (Limburg).

Remember to hold up a sign with your final destination, as most people will not 'just' pick up hitchhikers.

By taxi

Licensed taxis can be identified by the blue-and-yellow/red-and-white symbol and can be found near the Fochplein and the Martelarenplein. Although you probably won't need one, given the perfect railway connection, they're probably the easiest way to get to the Airport, for example at night.

See

University Library on the Ladeuzeplein.

You can get more information about these sites and more at the Tourist Information Desk, situated on the Grote Markt, near City Hall.

Castle Arenberg.

Do

St. Peter's Church on the Grand Place.

Culture and Landmarks

Events

Meerdaalwoud in Oud-Heverlee.

Green

Markets

Other

Stella Artois brewery.

Learn

Buy

The end of the Diestsestraat, near St. Peter's Church.

Shopping in Leuven is easy: you can pick one of the two main roads both starting at the Train Station and ending at the Grand Place, near City Hall and St. Peter's Church. Stores usually close around 6PM, and at 8PM on Thursday. Supermarkets are usually open until 8PM, 9PM on Friday.

Eat

The Muntstraat, with a lot of cosy restaurants.

In general, you'd have to really make an effort to find a horrible meal in Leuven. Almost all restaurants are tasty and relatively cheap (for Belgium), given the student population. Many Belgians enjoy French fries and snacks in a Frietkot if they're looking for a quick and cheap bite. Try fresh North Sea Mussels, during their season (roughly August–March). Every year, you'll see the big signs announcing their arrival in front of many restaurants. Smoking is not allowed in restaurants.

The more common, bigger restaurants can be found right next to City Hall on the Grote Markt.

Look for cheaper restaurants on the Oude Markt (Old Market) as that's where the student population mostly enjoys their meal. It has many smaller restaurants and bars (the Old Market is sometimes called the longest bar in Europe), but all of them stop serving food after 22:00.

There are many good eateries and a great atmosphere (eating outside during the Summer is a can't-miss!) in the Muntstraat, very different styles from classical French Belgian cuisine to "Mexican", Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. Consult the brand new website for more information. But these restaurants of this street are quite overpriced.

Parijsstraat has some restaurants with a nice atmosphere.

The Martelarenplein houses a lot of restaurants and bars just a stone's throw away from the railway station.

The cheapest choice are student cantines called Alma, which serve quite decent food for the whole meal less than €7-10 (two in the centre, one in the campus and many small ones). Students of KU Leuven get a discount, which makes each meal €5 cheaper.

Drink

Rock Werchter.

In Belgium, the legal drinking age in bars and cafés is 16 for beers and 18 for spirits.

Festivals

Attend the nearby and world renowned Rock Werchter music festival in late June/early July, or Marktrock in the city centre, around August 15.

Bars and Clubs

Oude Markt, with over 45 bars and restaurants.

Leuven is truly a beer city, with the world's largest brewery Inbev being founded here. Try the many tasty beers, but beware, some have much higher alcohol levels than in the rest of the world! Bars are mostly entrance-free and prices are relatively low.

  • Huis der Rechten. for law students
  • Politika. for social science students
  • Pavlov. for psychology students
  • Dulci. for economics students
  • Fak Letteren. for arts students
  • Délibéré. for the industrial engineers

Other bars filled with young people are

  • Café Belge. Has a wide variety of Trappists, Abbey beers and special beers. In the day it is a normal cosy bar, during nighttime the bar is more filled with a younger and more progressive crowd.
  • Giraf. If you are a fan of shots, this is one of the places to be. With over hundreds of kinds of shots going from classics like a B52 to dared combinations like a Chilly Willy (drink at your own risk!), this is a perfect place to get a little buzz going. Giraf has been mistakenly associated with a left-wing crowd but when you enter you will immediately notice that this is a sad cause of prejudice.
  • Lapaz.
  • The Seven Oaks. located somewhat strangely in an alley, but with a great atmosphere and nice music. Lots of students. "Party hour" varies, but usually Seven Oaks is a safe bet after twelve if you want to have fun.
  • Ron Blacks. You can find drinks at very low rates here.
  • Alegria. (Oude markt, Old market): very popular with college kids and high school students alike.

Most parties take place in clubs in the city centre (and require a small entrance fee, €2-€4):

Larger venues are situated outside the city centre, and have a slightly higher entrance fee (€5-€9) and drinks cost a bit more.

Sleep

Budget

Hotels

Stay safe

Leuven is a very safe and clean city, with very low crime records.

In general, there are no unsafe spots in the city best avoided. The streets are safe, even at night, although you better avoid public gardens at night. Even though most of them have closing hours which vary throughout the seasons. Of course, it is advised to take the precautions tourists are urged to take everywhere (e.g. to avoid pickpocketing). If you have a bike, make sure it is secured with a decent lock as students tend to 'borrow' bicycles. Similarly, jackets left unattended in bars may be at risk.

The city centre police station is located next to City Hall at Grote Markt. Don't hesitate to walk in if you have questions. Police usually patrol by car and on foot, and most of the times anonymously instead of walking around in uniform (especially at night). Try to avoid the area around Sint-Maartensdal and De Bruul (located in between Brouwersstraat and Pereboomstraat). There are also some spots in the suburb Kessel-Lo which are better avoided at night.(Casablanca and Vredespleintje)

Beware that police are especially harsh on traffic violations (also the ones made on a bike!), violent behavior and public disturbance.

Note that Belgium and the Netherlands have different drug regulations! Smoking pot (marihuana) is officially not allowed, although it is tolerated when done indoors. An adult can never have more than needed for 'personal use'. Expect any more to be confiscated if they are found by police and you risk being penalized.

Useful phone numbers:

Stay healthy

UZ Leuven, late 2008.

Leuven has two larger hospitals. The Academic Hospital UZ Leuven Gasthuisberg is the largest hospital in Belgium and is located just along the ring road. The Regional Hospital Heilig Hart is located in the city centre. As always, dial 112 when you are in distress. You will be taken to either of both hospitals.

For smaller health problems, Belgians usually go to their family doctor, who are often in a group practice in city areas. Ask your hotel, hostel or guide for information on the nearest doctor. Going to the Emergency Room for small health problems will not only cost you, it will also take longer to get help (~45 minutes).

Leuven literally has a pharmacy at every corner. You can not buy medication in a supermarket.

Respect

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, February 26, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.