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krisek Leuven - A travel report by Krys
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Leuven,  Belgium - flag Belgium -  Brabant
14623 readers

krisek's travel reports

Delightful little gem in Belgium's Flanders.

  8 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Leuven is a small place, and although other, more famous, cities of the Flanders might offer more obvious attractions, it has something thrilling about it.

Grote Markt
Grote Markt
I cannot even remember how many times I passed by Leuven in the last ten years. Without making a stop! In 2000 alone, I must have whizzed by the city about 200 times. And while I was staying in Diest for a few months for about 30 weeks in a row, some of the people I was working kept booking accommodation in Leuven raving about the place. And yet, this never persuaded me to give it a try. Only after reading a book about the city and seeing a few photographs about a couple years ago, my appetite to check the city out stroke me hard. So, while visiting my friend in Gent, I twisted his arm and convinced him that we ought to go to Leuven for lunch and a few drinks afterwards. And it was such a good day. Weather was great, and the city was packed with people.

The trip by train was easy. The station was a short walking distance away from the heart of the old town, the food was great and the drinks were cold. The atmosphere of Leuven was extraordinary. The city exceeded my expectations. I did not expect to see so many historical buildings. They were exceptionally attractive, dating back to the 'golden' Medieval times - in terms of architecture of course, and Renaissance, and a few other periods. Many of them even now cater for the four most important and timeless aspects of life - worship, eating, drinking and entertainment. The abundance of spots to enjoy all this was staggering. And there was so much variety - literally feet from each other. It was impossible to get bored in Leuven!

Favourite spots:
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
My favourite spot was the Grote Markt, squeezed between the superb cathedral, the townhall with its flamboyant facade, and a magnificent guildhouse. At one of its ends were a few cafes and little restaurants leaning against the cathedral. They were heaving and buzzing with visitors and locals chatting, sharing jokes, and clinging and ringing their beer glasses and cuttlery. The place emanated with ambiance, which seemed to be telling a story 'the facades of these great historical buildings had been witnesses to both glorious and terrible events, and now, at the cafes, people having a great time, did not all realise that', which was a liberating feeling how the world moved on.

What's really great:
Oude Markt
Oude Markt
The city looked like a perfect spot for a midday meal under the open skies. The Oude Markt, the widest street in the old town, with countless cafes, restaurants and bars appeared almost surreal. I sat at one of the cafes, ordered a meal and one of Belgium's white beers, and started wondering how great the city was. And there are so many superb historical town around Europe and yet every single one of them has its special, unique spot that makes the town unforgettable! Sipping my ice-cold beer, listening to the people's chatter and admiring the red facades of the buildings around, I was convinced that the Oude Markt was Leuven's calling card, sort of speak. But of course this is a very personal point of view. The city had a few superbly attractive places, and each of them had a potential to be the 'calling card' in their own right. It depends who likes what...

Leuven's historical centre has been inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1998. The main reason for the listing the Great Beguinage, a part of town representing the Netherlandish B├ęguinage, a collection of small buildings used by Beguines, a sisterhood of religious women founded in the 13th century in the Benelux. A separate listing was for the belfry of the St Peter's Church, dating back to the 15th century, inscribed under the 'belfries of Belgium and France'. The church is also famous for its The Last Supper painting, from the same century. Leuven's other qualities include: the late Gothic townhall, the University's Linen Hall and University's Library, and a good number of churches e.g. Saint-Anthony's Chapel, The Church of Saint Quinten, The Church of Saint Michael, each representing a completely different style of architecture.

I did not stay in the city over night, but in the core of Leuven, inside the ring road comprising of Tiensevest Street, Rennes Singel Street, Tervuursevest Street, and Naamsevest Street, I passed by the Theater Hotel, Martin's Klooster, Ibis Centrum, Binnenhof, Holiday Inn Garden Court, Begijnhof Congreshotel, Hotel Biestpoort, the Gasthof De Pastory, and Hotel New Damshire. And one hostel, too: Leuven City Hostel. Some looked better than others. A couple looked like standard business hotels, and a couple appeared like little boutique accommodation options, but might not have been...

Oude Markt
Oude Markt
Many start their night out at the Oude Markt, in one of the many cafes and pubs. The night scene of this university city changes dynamically as places to boogie go out of fashion or enter the mainstream rather irregularly, becoming a hot spot or not spot, depending on the trends. It makes sense therefore to seek advice from a local student. The three dance clubs I became aware of were: the MusiCafe at 5 Muntstraat, otherwise known as the MC, the Machine Klub at 34 Naamsestraat and the Silo, at 39 Vaartkom (the northern side of the canal). Silo had a great reputation, as its dark room - an authentic silo - attracted crowds hopping and swaying to rather eclectic selection of musical genres, including electro-rave, techno & house, and drum'n'bass, carefully selected by Belgium's well known DJ's like Matthias Tanzmann, Martinez, Nick Curly, Christian Burkhardt.

Meringstraat canal
Meringstraat canal
As I went in the summer, I was lucky with weather, which meant that I could experience one of my favourite hanging out activities - people watching. In my opinion, it is best carried out from an open-air cafe by sitting at a small round table sipping a cold beverage or digging into a large cup of ice-cream. And Leuven had so many of such spots catering for people watching. And I did that a lot. At some point, however, I needed to get some exercise, so I went on a stroll along the canals. There were some great views of the city's prominent sights from the many bridges, offering interesting vantage points.

Tight architecture
Tight architecture
To recommend just two places t eat in Leuven might be unfair to many other excellent restaurants and cafe scattered around the city. I saw so many great looking with professional service restaurants like the Ming Restaurant (the Oude Markt), Il Pastaio (Parijsstraat), O Sole Mio (Kortestraat) so close to each other and seeing happy faces of the customers, made it a doubleplusdifficult choice to make, where to dine. So, I am not going to reveal, where I re-charged my fuel tanks. I will just say that the three streets mentioned above, are amongst the best to pick a place, and I would even suggest to look further along the Brusselsestraat, Muntstraat, Grote Markt all just yards from one another.

Other recommendations:
Leuven train station
Leuven train station
Leuven is well connected with the rest of Brussels, and even the world, this is due to the proximity of Brussels National Airport (BRU), which is only about 15 kilometres away to the west, and a large railways station linking the city with the capital, cities further to the west all the way to France, and to the east all the way to Germany, and north to Antwerp and the Netherlands... The trains are frequent and some of them are fast, taking to Brussels only a few minutes. If one takes a Eurostar from London, the ticket is actually valid to any station in Belgium - both ways, so there is no need to buy additional domestic tickets from Brussels. The ticket is valid only on the same day as the London connection (the connecting trip needs to commence on the same date). Everything, including the main train station, are walking distance to the old town.

Published on Saturday February 20th, 2010

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Wed, Mar 24 2010 - 01:39 PM rating by rangutan

A picturesque place but a report is well needed *****

Sat, Feb 20 2010 - 06:00 PM rating by pesu

Your report and the beautiful pics present us with a great setting for people watching. :)

Sat, Feb 20 2010 - 03:10 PM rating by porto

Blue Skies, great architecture and cold beer, sounds delightful to me Krys. :)

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