10 Top-rated tourist attractions in Leuven

Belgium’s most famous university city, Leuven (in French Louvain) has a charming location on the banks of the Dijle, east of Brussels. The Catholic university here was founded in 1425 and has grown into one of Europe’s most respected places of learning. The great humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam and Justus Lipsius who both taught here, the geographer Gerhard Mercator who studied here, and one of the university’s chanceries became Pope Adrian VI in 1459. Leuven has also been fortunate to hold on to many of its early architecture, despite suffering heavy bombardment in both world wars. With its illustrious college buildings and beautiful Gothic buildings in the city center, Leuven is a wonderful city to get to know the Belgian architectural heritage.

1 St. Peter’s Church (Sint-Pieterskerk)

St. Peter’s Church (Sint-Pieterskerk)

Standing in the middle of the Grote Markt is St. Peter’s Church, one of the best examples of Brabantine Gothic in Belgium. The prominent features of the main nave are the straight line of sheaf piers and high-pointed arched windows. Among the treasures in this part of the church are the Late Gothic brass font in the chapel, to the left of the west gate, and the beautifully carved Baroque pulpit dating from 1742. The chancel and ambulatory have been converted into a Museum of Religious Art (Municipal Museum of Religious Art) where you can see the exquisite Last Supper by Dirk Bouts, painted 1464-1468. The supper takes place in a Gothic hall and the figures are arranged around Christ; unlike many representations, the betrayal of Judas is not in the foreground, instead it is the symbolic Eucharist, as also depicted in the side panels.

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Address: Grote Markt, central Leuven

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Leuven

2 Town Hall

City Hall
City Hall

Leuven’s lavish, ornate town hall is the city’s most striking landmark. Three rows of sculpture adorn the main facade and both side facades with 236 figures, added in the 19th century, representing eminent personalities in the city’s history. The roof, meanwhile, is richly decorated with small turrets, while along the niche benches you can see biblical reliefs dating from the original medieval building of the hall. Inside, it’s no less decadent in style. In particular the Large gothic council chamber with its carved beamed ceiling dating back to the 15th century and the Small gothic hall with a gothic vaulted wooden ceiling, both are remarkable.

Address: Grote Markt, Brusselsestraat 63, Leuven

3 Naamsestraat


To the right of the town hall is the Naamsestraat where many university buildings can be found, either on this street or nearby, especially the university buildings that were financed by various patrons from the 15th to the 18th century. Watch out for King’s College (Kings College No. 59) founded by Philip II of Spain in 1579, the Premonstratensian College (College van Promonstreit No. 61) founded in 1571, and Arras College (No. 63) founded in 1508 by the future bishop of Arras. St. Michael’s Church (Sint-Michielskerk) 1650-1666 built by Willem Hesius is also worth looking at for its beautiful baroque facade, known as one of the finest of its kind in Belgium.

Address: Naamsestraat, central Leuven

4 Old Market

Old market
Old market

Not far west of the Naamsestraat is the Oude Markt, the bustling old square of the city, which is still the center of Leuven. The whole square buzzes with energy, especially on summer evenings. Although the historic gabled houses burned almost completely to the ground in 1914, they have been beautifully converted and are now home to many cafes and restaurants. A bronze sculpture commemorates the ‘Kottmadams’ of Leuven, the landladies of the student rooms. It is located on the narrow south side of the square Holy Trinity College (Collegium Vauxianum (Holy Trinity College) with a glorious baroque facade from 1657.

Address: Oude Markt, central Leuven

5 Large Beguinage

Grand Beguinage
Grand Beguinage

Leuven’s beautiful beguinage, known as the Groot Begijnhof, where hundreds of endowments once led a simple, null existence, is the enchanting area of ​​the city. This romantic complex, crossed by a tributary of the Dyle, was founded in the 13th century and today consists of more than 1,000 houses and a church; previously it included a hospital and a farm. In the 18th century, when 300 cemeteries still lived in the Begijnhof, the houses were renovated with stepped gables, columns and mirrors, but the French Revolution put a temporary halt to this and only a few béguines later returned. In 1962, the site was purchased by the university and underwent extensive restoration to create student residences and lecture halls. Only the second cottage on the right behind the entrance is still furnished as it was when the last burial died in 1988. The early Gothic Beguinage Church Saint John the Baptistbuilt in the 13th to 14th centuries, today serves the university community as a place of worship

Address: Schapenstraat, central Leuven

6 Vanderkelen Museum

The Vanderkelen Museum houses the municipal arts and crafts collection of Leuven. There are three departments to explore. The painting department keeps good pictures of the Leuven school, including Quentin Massys: Mour for Christand Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s holy family along with other paintings from various periods to the present. The sculpture department is home to the outstanding 12th century Madonna known as the Seat of wisdomand an excellent alabaster relief dating from the 16th century, along with part of a Passion relief from Antwerp. And the crafts department shows glass paintings from the 16th to 20th centuries, ceramics, faience from Delft, porcelain from China and Japan, engravings, coins, goldwork and textiles.

Address: Vanderkelenstraat, central Leuven

7 Abbey Park

Abbey Park
Abbey Park

Southeast of Leuven is the wonderfully peaceful Abbey Park (Abdij t’ Park), founded by Gottfried the Bearded in 1129 and once home to a monastic community. Most contemporary buildings still date from the much later 16th to 18th centuries. You enter through a grand gate, past a windmill on your way to the house of the prelate. From here you can explore the former the abbot’s palace; of chapter house with its mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles; the library and the refectory, both of which have fine stucco reliefs. The monastery church is from the 12th to the 13th century and is redesigned in the 17th to 18th century.

Location: 4.5 kilometers southeast of Leuven

8 Kessel-Lo

The town of Kessel-Lo is known for its beautifully preserved Benedictine abbey – Vlierbeek Abbey – built in 1125. The abbey was destroyed by the troops of William of Orange in 1572 and it was several decades later before it was rebuilt, and the Benedictine community lived here again. The main and adjoining buildings you see today were built from 1642 to 1730, while the abbey church followed later built between 1776 and 1794. Nearby, op Heverlee is the 16th century castle of Castle of Arenberg, which was built directly on the water of the Dijle and is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. The castle itself has two striking corner towers with gabled roofs and is built in the traditional late Gothic style with Renaissance features.

Location: 4 kilometers east of Leuven

9 Louvain-la-Neuve

The university town of Louvain-la-Neuve is a product of the conflict between the Walloons and the Flemish, which reached its peak in 1968 when the Flemish expelled their Walloon colleagues from the Catholic University of Leuven. The Walloons then founded this university town here in the French part of Belgium and named it Louvain-la-Neuve (“New Leuven”). Although there are not many tourist attractions, it is interesting to see how architects adapted the project for the first newly founded city in Belgium since Charleroi was founded in 1666. Their vision to recreate the intimate character of a medieval town is not been quite accomplished, and today this city, which is designed for 35,000 people, has a population of about 4,500 permanent residents and 18,000 students. The central square contains the university hall, the Kerk van St. Francis of Assisiand the Museum of the Archaeological and Art History Institute displaying sculpture from the 12th to the 18th century.

Location: 48 kilometers south of Leuven

10 Chateau de Merode

Countryside Near Rixensart
Countryside Near Rixensart

The municipality of rixensart is worth a visit for the lovely red brick Château de Mérode which was built between 1631 and 1632. It is square with four corner towers and many windows and is open to the public. The interiors offer impressive and very tasteful furnishings, including Gobelins tapestries, Louis XV pieces, pictures (including some by Nattier and Tischbein), as well as a collection of weapons, which the French mathematician Monge recovered from Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. It is located a little outside Rixensart Genval Lake Known for its lakeside restaurants and good fishing, it’s a favorite weekend hangout for residents of Brussels and Leuven. The surrounding countryside here is the picture of picture-perfect, old-fashioned rural landscapes – the perfect respite from time spent amidst the architectural splendor of Belgium’s cities.

Location: 31 kilometers southwest of Leuven

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