Driving guides

Drive to Leuven

Combining older architecture with the busy, energetic vibe of a student city, Leuven is the perfect place to visit for a day trip or long weekend.

Visiting Leuven

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes Leuven so special, there are so many layers to this often (unjustly) overlooked city. The streets are lined with intricate, imposing gothic architecture and from September to June, the many bars and restaurants are full of students, taking time out from their studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. In fact, joyful student merriment has been a part of Leuven’s culture for hundreds of years- since 1425, to be exact, when the university was opened.

Of course, Belgium is famous over the world for its beer, and Leuven wouldn’t be the quintessential Belgian city it is without a brewery. Theirs is the most famous of all; the Stella Artois brewery.

If you only have a day to spend in Belgium, Leuven is one of the best places to visit. Everything that makes Belgium the vibrant, quirky, playful destination that it is can be found in the Gothic architecture studded streets.

What to do in Leuven

The Stadhuis is a must see when you come to Leuven- you’ll be missing out if you don’t marvel at its gothic architecture.
The Stadhuis is a must see when you come to Leuven- you’ll be missing out if you don’t marvel at its gothic architecture.

A daily hazard of visiting Leuven, we feel we must warn you, is the risk of hurting your neck from craning to the sky to admire the Gothic archictecture. Of course, the buildings that you’re looking at are so breathtaking, you won’t mind or notice.

One of the most famous (and therefore magnificent) examples of Leuven Gothic architecture is the Stadhuis. This detailed gold and black building has been the centre of politics in Leuven for over 600 years. The exterior is decorated with turrets and statues, interwoven in its elaborate design.

Like the university, the Stadhuis has been a part of Leuven for generations, since its creation in the 15th century. You can learn more about the history of the Stadhuis and Leuven at the permanent exhibition inside.

Another must visit is the beautiful St-Pieterskerk, an ancient church that has stood the test of time.
Another must visit is the beautiful St-Pieterskerk, an ancient church that has stood the test of time.

We aren’t the only ones who want to celebrate the architecture of Leuven. UNESCO World Heritage have listed the belfry of St-Pieterskerk on its coveted list. Once again, this is a building that has been in the heart of Leuven for many years. First built in 1425, people come from far and wide to admire the rood screen and pulpit, a staple of European churches from this era.

The church is also home to Dieric Bouts’ masterpiece, ‘The Last Supper’. This is the only painting by Flemish primitive that is still on display in its original location. As you would have gathered, the history and culture of Leuven is still incredibly important to the locals, and everywhere you go, you will be enchanted by some part of Leuven’s history.

M Van Museum

One of the unique aspects of Leuven, is its mix of old and new. Despite it being an old town, the youthful, vibrant student feel has imbeded itself into the streets and buildings. Almost as a reflection of this, the M Van Museum displays works of art and artefacts from Leuven’s past and present.

15th century art sits with today’s modern pieces, in rooms as breathtaking as the art. The exhibition rooms are decorated with patterned wallpaper and rich oak floors and doors. Or they are more minimal with huge blank-canvas white walls, so all the attention is on the art.

As with all museums worth their salt, M Van Museum always has fascinating art exhibits on, so make sure you check out what they are showing before you visit.

Stella Artois Brewery

When in Belgium, you drink beer. Belgian beer is one of the country’s most famous exports, and naturally they are very proud of their craft. Many towns and cities have at least one brewery, but Leuven is home to the daddy of them all: Stella Artois.

The brewery is open for tours, where you can discover the history of Stella Artois, some of the secrets to its brewing process, and naturally enjoy a cold, frosty glass at the end of the tour. You never know, with all your new-found brewing knowledge, you might detect even more flavours to the beer.

The famous ‘Fountain of Wisdom’, or ‘Fonske’, near the centre of town represents the students of Leuven.
The famous ‘Fountain of Wisdom’, or ‘Fonske’, near the centre of town represents the students of Leuven.

Where to Eat in Leuven

University cities are the places to go to experience fun, quirky, and easy-on-the-wallet restaurants. Leuven has these by the bucket load, but one of the most popular is De Werf. The walls are covered with paint rollers and other decorating equipment, and the designers deliberately left rooms unfinished, to continue the theme.

It’s not just the décor that has the building site theme. Food is served in lunchboxes, and colourful plastic plates- keep an eye out for the little jokes hidden in the menus. As this is popular with the university students, you will definitely experience a fun and lively atmosphere.

Where to Drink in Leuven

To a slightly chicer establishment now. Mattiz Is the kind of bar that looks like it was made for Instagram.

This is a tapas and cocktail bar, where the food and drink are as photogenic as they are delicious. This is a great place to come at the start of the night, and tuck into a couple of plates of tapas so you’re ready to party into the early hours. If you go in summer, try to get a seat on the terrace that overlooks the town.

Where to Stay in Leuven

In a city like Leuven, where its history and energetic vibe makes it so special, the ideal way to experience it is to live like a local. Renting an apartment with Your House Apartments is the way to do that.

Decorated so they won’t look out of place in a home décor magazine, you can stay in the large apartments with modern furnishings and all the amenities you want, including private on-site parking and free Wi-Fi.

Weather in Leuven

If you are planning on spending a few summer days in Leuven, you’re in luck, as the average temperature often reaches around 24°C during June to July. If it’s a winter break you’re after, you will need to wrap up warm to brace the lows of 0°C. But, Leuven is so beautiful, that the frost will only make it prettier.

Getting there and around:

Don’t be fooled by thinking crossing the border will make the drive longer. It’s only two and a half hours from our Calais terminal, and what luck- there are no tolls! Take the A16 to the E40, then leave on Exit 18-Herent from E314. After that, follow the N26a to Mathieu de Layensplein.

There are plenty of places to park, with around ten car parks in the centre of town, and a little less on the outskirts. There is free parking but this tends to include a longer walk to the main points of interest, so it’s probably best to keep some Euros on you for the parking meter.

Save money for parking and souvenirs by booking your tickets with us early- it’s the best way to get our best fares.