Leuven Things to Do

  • Beguinage Leuven
    Beguinage Leuven
    by FilipDemuinck
  • University Library - Leuven
    University Library - Leuven
    by FilipDemuinck
  • Saint Peter's Church - Leuven
    Saint Peter's Church - Leuven
    by FilipDemuinck

Best Rated Things to Do in Leuven

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    "Stadhuis" - the Gothic town hall

    by Christophe_Ons Written Mar 13, 2004

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    The first Town Hall of Leuven was situated on Old Market Square, the second was located on the Great Market Square. It had its place in a row of houses in front of St. Peter's Church, but outside the present building line. The construction of the present Town Hall started in 1439.

    The spacious cellars of the houses were retained when the building of the façade began. These cellars have been restored and can now be reached through a small door, at the left bottom part of the building.

    The belfry-tower that had to be built at the corner of Naamsestraat was left out so that the building got its flamboyant Gothic character with four corner turrets, two ridge turrets and a balustrade all around the building.

    There are three floors. Between the windows there are oriels each of them with two niches; three corner-turrets also have niches.

    The carved bases of these niches represent biblical subjects. The motif 'sin-punishment' is often repeated. These scenes had a didactic and admonishing function, not only for the common people but for the judges who resided in the building as well.

    The 236 statues in the niches were only placed after 1850. The whole set has become the Leuven pantheon! Unlikely to the figures in the bases who wear Burgundian clothes, the persons in the niches wear the clothes of the period in which they lived. The two rows of the ground floor represent artists, scholars and eminent citizens of the Leuven past. The first floor displays figures who symbolise the municipal privileges and the patron saints of the parishes. On the second floor the Counts of Leuven and the Dukes of Brabant can be noticed; the turrets represent biblical figures.

    Since the nineteenth century three restorations have taken place. The latest was finished in 1983 and repaired the war damage, suffered when a bomb scraped the façade and did not explode...

    note :
    Check my travelogue "A closer look at the Gothic town hall" for more pictures.

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    Stadsschouwburg (City Theater)

    by Christophe_Ons Updated Mar 31, 2004

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    Stadsschouwburg (City Theatre) in Leuven

    There are quite a few theaters and cultural centers in Leuven, but the most striking one, especially when it comes to the lavishly decorated interior, is the "Stadsschouwburg" (City Theater) - an 800 seater in the heart of town. On the schedule are plays, music, cabaret, etc ...
    The building looks really nice when lit at night, and through the windows you can see one of the huge chandeliers in the foyer.

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    Het Tafelrond (The Round Table)

    by Christophe_Ons Updated Jul 31, 2005

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    Tafelrond, view from the west
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    The original building was erected by order of the Municipality in 1479. Strictly speaking it was three houses in one building. The various premises were let out to guilds, drama societies, etc.

    In 1817 the dilapidated building was pulled down and replaced by a construction in the Empire style. However, the name was kept. After this building had been burnt down in 1914, the National Bank decided in 1921 to reconstruct the original Gothic building.

    The statues in the niches represent the Governor and the Administrators of the National Bank and regional trades as well.

    *Update* : it may sound hard to believe, but for some reason the city actually SOLD the building for 3 million Euro in June 2005. I'm not sure who owns it now, so I have no idea what the new purpose for the Tafelrond will be. However, I guess it's safe to assume the outside will remain unchanged so it won't make much of a difference... I certainly hope so.

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    Groot Begijnhof (Great Beguinage)

    by Christophe_Ons Updated Mar 20, 2004

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    The Great Beguinage in Leuven
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    This 'Begijnhof', or 'garden of the Begijns', was founded in the 13th century outside the town wall of the time. The oldest houses date from the 16th century when the original houses were replaced by brick structures. The 72 houses are generally named after a saint or a Biblical event.

    The church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is early Gothic. The date of construction, 1305, is carved into the right buttress of the north portal. Approximately 300 'Begijns' lived in the 'Begijnhof' in the 17th century. The 'Begijns' or 'Beguines' were women who lived a religious life but kept their own property and supported themselves. They did not make perpetual vows. The movement was very strong throughout the Low Countries.

    The 'Begijnhof' was taken over by the Welfare Commission in 1925. Except for the church, it was sold to the University in 1962 under the condition that the entire complex was to be restored. A year later the Restoration began under the direction of Professor R. Lemaire.

    The 'Groot Begijnhof' is now a University residential quarter for students, professors, and employees of the University. Foreign guests are also housed here. There is room for 500 people.

    The Infirmary of the 'Begijnhof' has been converted into the Faculty Club, a place for the academic, scientific, administrative, and technical staff of the University to meet. The Chi?vres Convent (Nr. 39) has been converted into a congress center.

    On 31th March 2000, it was officially recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage site.

    note : see my travelogue "A walk in the great Beguinage" for more photos.

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    St-Michael's Church

    by Christophe_Ons Written Mar 20, 2004

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    St. Michael's church in Leuven
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    This baroque building was designed by the architect and Jesuit Willem Hesius and built between 1650 and 1670. Its impressive façade with its rich, baroque decoration illustrates the spirit of the counterreformation; the church building had to make an unforgettable impression on the believers so that they would persist in their Catholic faith. In the church there is a permanent exhibition about its history.

    For more information: 'Friends of St-Michael' phone + 32 (0) 16 23 12 45.

    Open: from 1st April to 30th September: from Tuesday to Sunday from 01.30 p.m. to 04.30 p.m.

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    'Sint Geertrui Hof' (St-Gertrude Court)

    by Christophe_Ons Updated Mar 30, 2004

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    St-Gertrude Court in Leuven

    These are the houses behind the St-Gertrude church/abbey, the entrance is to the right of the church. The facades look a bit strange, don't they ? Like a mix-and-match of styles. The reason for this is that they were made out of rubble during the first World War.
    You can't tell from this picture, but Sint Geertrui Hof is actually a little park, with a good view on the Geertrui Abbey tower. Nice to take a stroll in. Check out the gate and pedestrian bridge at the back.

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    Sint-Gertrui Abdij (St-Gertude abbey)

    by Christophe_Ons Updated Aug 9, 2005

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    St-Gertrude abbey in Leuven
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    The church was constructed between the 13th and 15th century. The late Gothic tower, said to be one of the seven wonders of Leuven because its tower was built without securring pins, dates from 1454 and was constructed by the master builder of the Brussels' town hall, Jan van Ruysbroeck. In the church noteworthy late Gothic choir stalls can be admired.
    The abbey belonged to the Augustinian Order. The buildings, built between the 14th and 17th centuries, have been recently restored and found a new purpose as a housing complex.

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    University Library at the "Ladeuzeplein"-square

    by Christophe_Ons Updated Mar 14, 2004

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    university library at night
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    Leuven's history is very much one of building, rebuilding and preserving the past. The city suffered tremendously during both world wars - also this Library building of its world renowned university was bombed and later restored/rebuilt with the aid of the international community - especially the United States of America.
    It's a stunning building, both from afar and up close. If you walk past the walls you can read several commemorative plaques which testify the generosity of other communities which helped rebuild this important institution.
    The "Ladeuze" square where the building is located is in the heart of town, every friday morning there's a market there (and in other parts of town as well) but most of the time it's just a peaceful, quiet square. Enjoy the sight of the building and its calm, charming surroundings any moment of the day from one of the brasseries at the opposite side of the square (angle from which this picture is taken) while you're tasting one of those infamous Belgian beers, which is probably why you came here in the first place ;-)

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    Saint Peter's church

    by Christophe_Ons Written Mar 13, 2004

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    St. Peter's church in the heart of Leuven
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    Saint-Peter's Church is the oldest in Leuven. It was presumably founded in 986. The first church burnt down in 1176. A new Romanesque church was built with a crypt, an extension, at the back of the choir. The Westwork was flanked by two towers as can be seen the old town seal.

    The construction of the present Gothic building, much larger than the Romanesque church, started in 1425. Work began at the choir, under the supervision of architect Sulpicius Van Vorst. Several architects succeeded him. Jan Keldermans II and Mathieu de Layens played an important part in this respect. The church was practically completed in 1497. Of the three towers that were planned and of which one should reach a height of 170 meters, only the bases remain. In 1541 when the height of 50 meters was reached, work was stopped. The subsoil was not stable enough to support a higher tower. After some collapses, the tower was lowered to its present level. The successive architects did not change the original plans and this brought about a fine example of pure Brabantine Late Gothic Style.

    The church was severely damaged in both World Wars. In 1914 the roof and nave burnt down and in 1944 the north aisle suffered bomb damage.

    The Treasury of Saint Peter is housed in the church. Two masterpieces (15 C.) of the Flemisch Primitive Dirk Bouts, i.e. "The Last Supper" Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus" are on display.

    Opening times Saint-Peter's Church
    Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.
    Sun and public holidays: 2 p.m. - 5 p.m.
    Mon: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.(15-03 / 15-10).
    Admission: Treasury of Saint-Peter (The admission ticket is also valid for the Municipal Museum Vander kelen-Mertens - combination ticket)
    € 5,00 for individuals
    € 2,50 for groups (10 or more), for young people between the ages of 12 and 18, students and senior citizens
    children - 12 y: free

    note : see my travelogue "A closer look at St.Peter's church" for more photos.

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    Not your average University Library

    by Norali Updated Feb 28, 2004

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    A city hall?

    Here we are..

    The central University Library was built like a monument. This was the first guided tour we had in Leuven, that day. Thanks, BM, for having put it together.

    Well, I' ve never thought a library would be something to visit. In Leuven, it is really worth the detour.

    At some points, you would think it is the City hall. All elements for that seem to be there: the Flemish neo- Renaissance style, the belfry.

    Not that the Flemish neo-Renaissance would grant it with the status of City hall. I was rather thinking of its place in a city like Leuven: an outstanding landmark built as the traditional landmarks one would find in any Belgian major city (city hall, church). Nowhere else, i have found such a defined archirecture for a Univ Library.

    In fact, this one on Mgr. Ladeuzeplein replaced another building that was blown away during the first World War. Buildings, books, works, fruits of research, documents ... blown away, with very few exceptions. I was not born at that time, not even my parents were. Still that, sure, was a shock for the international community: German bombings destroying the central library of a prestitgious university.

    An international solidarity, led by the USA in which France, UK, Japan.. (and other Allied and neutral countries) took part, allowed the rebuiliding of the library after the bombings.

    Indeed, how can you believe that the oldest Catholic University that is still present wouldn't have its main library?

    How would you stand that a multicentennial university (founded in early 15th century), the oldest in then Low countries area, wouldn't have his library anymore?

    That same solidarity and friendship enabled the quick restoring of the book collection. Indeed, what would be a University, center of knowledge, open-mindedness without books and archives?

    I know, internet exists but it was not developed, let alone vulgarized as today in the 1920s.

    The visit we had, led by Jan, a great guide, started out as a moving tour. Started with windy morning on Mgr. Ladeuzeplein...

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    Ypres- Brugge- Brussels- Louvain

    by Norali Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Town Hall, details (Suri)

    The Louvain city hall... reportedly to be built as Louvain's answer to Brussels' Gothic city hall, that, in its turn, got into rivalry in elegance, with Brugg City hall. At last, the latter had borrowed from Ypres' city hall (the Cloth hall, in fact) its style... dixit our guide at the City Hall.

    Now, between Brussels and Louvain... a rivalry dating back to the 15th century. The construction of Brussels city hall epitomized the ever-increasing power of Brussels as the capital of the Dukedom of Brabant. Thing is, also Louvain aspired to the title of 'capital of Brabant' and had constructed a massive and prestigious city hall.

    And yes, beautiful it was. A facade that resembles some lacework. I noticed even more impressive work on it than on Brussels' town hall. Still, Brussels' is my favourite... I'm used to it, to the Grand-Place.

    Facade of Louvain city hall: lots of "nests" where are housed historical characters, artists, geniuses (Mercator with his globe), popes, guilds officials. The upper nests' layers are dedicated to both local and foreign dynasties that ruled the country (French, Dutch, Belgian ones)... plus a saint.

    Oooh! "The capital of Brabant" thingy... after centuries of existing as a whole province, Brabant province was divided in 3 distinct areas (two Brabants and Brussels region) in 1995.... with Leuven as the capital city of Flemish Brabant. So far, Brussels was the capital city of the Brabant. Please, check below website to know more...

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    A place not to miss...

    by Norali Updated Mar 1, 2004

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    beguinage

    Would say, you may skip the Great Market Square but don't miss this one: the Beguinage area.

    This 'Begijnhof', or 'garden of the Begijns', was founded in the 13th century. At that time, it was an area located outside the town wall.

    When we entered there, we could easily soak up the ambience. Serene, silent with the charm of deserted area. Yet, this beguinage serves as residence for KUL's personnel, students, local and foreign alike. It was around 5pm but there, seems like time doesn't matter. Was it 11am? 2pm? 4pm? At a time, only darkness would remind you of time going by.

    Well, what are some hours compared to centuries of existence? I can hardly believe but seems some of the buildings date back to the 16th century.

    Like many beguinage areas, Leuven's beguinage has its church (!): this one, dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
    The date of construction is not kept secret: 1305. An old lady.

    Approximately 300 beguines were reported to have lived in the 'Begijnhof' in the 17th century. They were not nuns, did not make perpetual vows. Yet, lived a religious life. Most of times, they were widows who went into commitment in helping others, take care of sick people...

    Nowadays, the whole area but the church belongs to KUL since 1962. The beguinage is large enough to house 500 people. Where were they when I visited the area? I saw their bikes but saw anyone, except a girl who was studying on her desk... and yes!! A guy on his bike, trying to park it near where we stood.

    On March 31 2000, the Groot Begijnhof (Beguine convent) was inaugurated as an UNESCO world heritage site.

    Here I am advising you to visit the beguinage. Not because it is part of UNESCO World Heritage, rather I felt a different ambience strolling in the area. A city in the city.

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    Soaking up the ambience

    by Norali Updated Mar 1, 2004

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    Oude Markt area

    The "biggest pub in the world" is worth the detour.

    This uses to be a place of interest if it didn't have those works on when I was there, this time...

    The "biggest pub in the world" is in fact the ancient market square (Oude Markt). With lots of pubs. Only pubs and cafés would you find there.

    So easy to go there and soak up the ambience (and sun) in the cafés or on terraces in spring and summer.

    I think this would be "Leuven for lazy" activity. Not that I am a rush-and-run tourist type either. :) Sometimes lazy, other times hectic...

    I really think soaking up the ambience with locals, in their favourite hangouts is worth the walking tours. So far, I like when it's a bit of this and a bit of that.

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    Groot Begijnhof, Great Beguinage

    by ATLC Updated Nov 6, 2010

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    Great Beguinage, Leuven, entrance
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    Much can be found about the 'Groot Begijnhof' here on VT as well as the internet in general.
    I experienced a huge step back in time. The quiet cobbled streets, hardly a soul around (it is summer time after all and most inhabitants are away). The Great Beguinage is populated by students and professors of the Leuven University. In fact, the area is owned by the university, who restaured it and made the houses habitable for modern living.

    The Groot Begijnhof is free of charge.
    A mere detail: Groot Begijnhof is a World Heritage Site.

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    WW memorial

    by Norali Updated Mar 1, 2004

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    A belfry for a U Library

    As I said earlier, both Leuven city and the University paid huge tolls of wars.

    However, Leuven resisted and Allied countries paid homage to her for that. Hence, the building of its University Library as a monument and War Memorial.

    As said earlier, style is Flemish Neo-Renaissance. But, adornments include elements that commemorate three major themes.

    First, busts of Cardinal Mercier (it is a Catholic University, remember?) and Belgian King Albert and Queen Elisabeth to celebrate Belgian patriotism.

    Second, elements on its facades would remind of Allied victory. Also, I spotted the helmeted Madonna piercing the head of the Prussian eagle with her sword (on the facade). If that is not a sign of victory, what else would be? Oooh! by the way, it is Our Lady of Victory.

    Third, the adornments also include the American Eagle... I hadn't seen the 63 bells whose first 48 epitomized the then 48 states of the USA. As for why are there 63 bells now, i don't know...

    You know what? Go there to see more. Plus, I didn't have any telelens for the close-ups.. It's better you go there, book super-guide, Jan. he would be glad to show you around.

    One thing though: better go there in spring or summer, less windy :) You wouldn't mind staying a long time outside, then.

    Also, when entering the Library, you can't miss engraved here and there the names of American universities who had donated to help Leuven University. You can see them on the facade wall, under the arcades. And of course, you wouldn't miss the plaque in front of you, once you pass the portique either.

    Even remembered having seen the name of Bill Clinton somewhere, or was I dreaming?

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