*Invited for a press trip – all opinions are my own
Students zipping pass on their bicycles, the streets come alive with the bustle of the after-University and work crowd. I stood in the heart of Leuven taking in the grandeur of the town hall architecture, the cafes and beer bars around me, I know I’m going to like this little picturesque city.
From beer and chocolate tasting to waffles, I had 48 hours to immerse myself in the Leuven culture and these are the 12 things you can do in Leuven in 48 hours.
1. Great for a weekend getaway
Getting to Leuven was a very simple affair. It’s an hour away from Newcastle with BMI Regional then another 20-minute train straight to sunny Leuven from Brussels airport. The city centre is around 15-minute walk down this street, you can join the locals and hire a bike but both are much faster than taking a taxi unless you have a lot of luggage.
2. Visit the majestic & iconic Stadhuis (Townhall)
Within the heart of Leuven town centre, you can’t help but be in awe of Leuven’s most iconic building – the town hall or Stadhuis as it is known. A fine example of gothic architecture with its stunning stonework, flags and surrounded by a total of 235 statues, honouring past residents of the city.
Stadhuis survived World War 1 and was very nearly destroyed during the Second World War where, fortunately, the bomb just missed its exterior. There are daily guided tours at 3 pm to explore the interior.
3. Take a look at the Last Supper
A hop and skip away across the Stadhuis is The St Pieterskerk. Enter here to see the painting of the Last Supper.
4. Climb up to the top of Universiteitsbibliotheek
Or you can call it the University Library and bell tower. I wouldn’t have guessed this building was part of the University. You see, in the beginning of the First World War, Leuven was destroyed by the Germans including the University Library as well.
Sadly over three hundred thousand books were destroyed and this library was entirely rebuilt. The statues have meanings behind them if you notice one of the statues is an Eagle (middle) to represent the Americans who helped fund the construction of this new library, the snake (left) is to represent German and the lion (right) represents the Belgians.
Do venture in and explore the building but more importantly, get your exercise this holiday and climb up their spiral staircases to a balcony above and just take in the 360 degree view over Leuven.
See if you can spot the Stella Artois factory!
A hint did you say? It’s on the right side of this picture!
5. Put your shoes on and go for a walking tour
One of the best things to do in Leuven, a 3-hour walking tour guided by Leuven Leisure which covers everything you need to know about Leuven.
Jacob (our guide) took us all over the city in a story like manner introducing us to Leuven’s history and entertaining us with stories of the places we visited most of it featured in this guide. Starting at the University tower.
Walking around a city gives you a gorgeous view of the Stadhuis from a different angle.
Jacob has the best stories for us. Meet Fonske or formally known as Fons Sapientiae. He represents a student studying a book full of formulas whilst pouring water into his head at the same time. A symbol to the students in this University town to let remind them that having fun is a way of student life but also study! As you know, moderation is key!
6. Stroll around the UNESCO site Groot Begijnhof
Venture out of the Grote Markt (Grand Square) and explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Groot Begijnhof.
You will get the feel of what Leuven was like 300 years ago. Filled with houses, alleyway was and a church, it is fully restored historic quarter founded in the 13th century by the Beguines. Initially used to house women who promised not to marry as long as they lived in the beguinage and they have the choice to leave whenever they wanted.
Currently, the houses are being used as residential housing for the lucky students and professors of Leuven University.
7. Put your love lock on
For you romantic souls or a friendship you cherish, Leuven has their very own ‘Love Lock’ bridge in the middle of Groot Begijnhof. Try and find it while you’re here!
8. Indulge in a Beer and Chocolate tasting
From a Unesco heritage site to a different kind of culture. Beer and chocolate tasting! This is quite possibly one of the most life-changing moments in my existence. Here’s the deal, you are provided with a beer and an accompanying chocolate from Bittersweet Chocolate. Take a sip of the beer, don’t spit out…just gulp it down then take a bite of the chocolate pairing. And savour the taste.
I’m not a huge fan of beer and this seriously converted me. It’s completely mandatory now to take Belgian chocolates with me every time I go for a drink, right?
This combination was to die for! One of the best pairings, in my opinion, the beer intensifies the passionfruit chocolate. Mindblowing!
The yellow lego block is a rice pudding chocolate with Earl Grey chocolates on the right -a pairing which reminds me of childhood days or an English afternoon tea perhaps?
9. Eat Belgian Waffles
What else can I say, when in Belgium, you have got to try their waffles. It’s so delicious plain but if you can’t resist like me, go for all the toppings. Mine was topped with whipped cream, a generous slather of Nutella and a sprinkling of speculoos crumbs. Please excuse me, I need a moment to myself.
Tip! Get them before 6 pm – they sell out fast!
10. Sample all the Belgian Chocolates
Walking along the cobbled streets, you can find a chocolate shop almost at every corner. The whiff of chocolate as you enter the store. Willy Wonka had better watch out. This is serious competition! From hedgehogs, autumnal chocolate to sophisticated flavours, they have it all.
11. Drink Beer and visit a local brewery!
Guess what! Leuven is home to Stella Artois, one of the most famous beers in the world! Their name is literally printed everywhere in the city. You can visit their factory, book online a couple of days prior.
OR! do what I did and visit a local brewery like Hof Ten Darmaal, which is a family brewery just outside of Leuven, and experience a more homely, personal and authentic brewery experience. You can see and touch the Hop plants and learn the process how they make the beer in this charming country cottage.
A real hop plant! I have never seen one till now. Hops are a vital ingredient to make beer!
And of course, you have to taste their beer. This was the chocolate and raspberry beer. I’m definitely a convert now.
12. Take in the nightlife at Europe’s Longest bar – Oude Markt
A huge square all lined with bars and clubs with outdoor seating! Coming here during the day is certainly nothing in comparison to evening especially on a Thursday when it is student night! Beers are reasonably priced and you can order food too! Can’t think of a better way to immerse in a culture than a drink with the locals!
And don’t forget to say hello to De Kotmadam. My new friend is a lady who rents out rooms in her house to students so they can stay during the week to attend their classes and go back home in the weekend. Hence that is why Thursday is a student night and you will see students and their suitcases heading to the train on Friday!
Leuven is very much known for their University, one of the oldest in Europe and a place where students go to for their Erasmus. It’s a very atmospheric town away from the bustle of Brussels. The people here are so lovely and friendly also amused with our crazy picture taking and the ‘ooh ahhing’ at the sight of the chocolates.
Since I have 2 hours before my flight back, plenty of time to enjoy a last cold glass of Stella. Cheers!
How would you spend your 48 hours?
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