A university town, through and through, Leuven is home to more than 100,00 people, 1 in 4 of which are students. Leuven is the capital of the Flemish Brabant province and one of the ten largest cities in all of Belgium. It is unofficially known as the capital of beer, which is quite the feat in a country that prides itself on its plethora of breweries and unique brews.
Situated along the banks of the River Dyle, historians believe that people have been present in Leuven and the surrounding region since around 130,000 B.C.E., with permanent habitation in the area occurring around 35000 B.C.E. However, the first mention of Leuven didn't show up in writing until the 800s,
Nowadays, Leuven is known worldwide as an education powerhouse, housing more than 25 schools and universities within its city limits. This means (as you might have guessed) that Leuven is also known for its energetic nightlife scene, thanks to the predominately college-aged population of the city.
Leuven is one of Belgium's last hidden treasures for fans of history, with architectural wonders to behold around every corner. And, the city is a haven for young backpackers looking to explore the charm of small-town Europe without losing the creature comforts of being close to the city.
Luggage Storage near Train Stations in Leuven
As a relatively small city, there are only a few railway stations in and around Leuven. If you're travelling by rail to the city, then, in all likelihood, you'll need to be familiar with the following two stations: Leuven Railway Station and Brussels-South Railway Station.
Leuven Railway Station
Leuven Railway Station is one of Belgium's top ten busiest train stations. And, with more than 30,000 weekday passengers annually, it's the primary station for visitors and locals alike. Located in the centre of the city on railway lines 35, 36, 36N, and 139, the station provides eight intercity services, four local services, and three Brussels RER services.
The area the station occupies started being utilised in 1837 when it consisted solely of a wooden structure serving horse-drawn trams. In 1879, the current building opened its doors to passengers for the first time. Now, the station is widely considered to be the magnum opus of Belgian architect Henri Fourquet.
Since then, the Leuven Railway Station has undergone vast efforts to modernise its interior and preserve its historic features, such as its facade, hall decor, and first and second class waiting room. Perhaps the most notable renovations, though, occurred in the Martelarenplein, or Martyr's Square, the open square in front of the station that's often used for large-scale public events and is home to the Peace Monument (see more below).
The Leuven Railway Station contains 13 platforms serving 15 tracks, four of which are end tracks (also known as head tracks). In addition to serving as a railway station, Leuven Station is the city's main transit centre, connecting passengers with bus and taxi services to travel throughout the city and beyond.
Brussels-South Railway Station
Also known as Brussels Zuid and Brussels Midi, Brussels - South Railway Station is the busiest railway station in Belgium and one of Brussel's three core railway stations. Leuven is 31.8 kilometres (under 20 miles) west of Brussels-South Railway Station; or, in other words, it's roughly a half-hour away by train.
The third station to occupy the site, the Brussels-South Station, was built after Payen's Terminal Station was demolished in 1949. In the years since, especially during the 1990s, the station and surrounding area of the city underwent substantial development, including the integration of office space to create the business centre.
Brussels-South Railway Station directly links passengers to the Ouibus, Metro, premetro, local buses, shuttle buses, and taxis. The station consists of a dozen platforms and 22 tracks that provide high-speed services, 25 intercity services, and 10 Brussels RER services.
More than 75 trains travel from Brussels-South Railway Station to Leuven each day either directly or as a stop on routes ending elsewhere in Belgium and abroad. The first train of the day to Leuven Station leaves at 00:20, and the last train of the day departs at 23:30 on most weekdays.
Luggage Storage at Leuven's Airports
Currently, there are no airports in Leuven, but there are multiple airports within an 80 kilometre (just under 50 miles) radius of the city.
The Brussels Airport, located in Zaventem, is Belgium's largest and busiest airport. The international airport is located 22.6 kilometres (just over 14 miles) east of the Leuven city centre and is easily accessible by virtually all forms of public transportation in the country. At least 23 million people pass through Brussels Airport in a typical year, cementing the airport's position as Europe's 24th busiest airport.
The airport has undergone extensive modernisation initiatives since it first opened during World War II, including the incorporation of one of the city's busiest metro stations. The Brussels Airport has a single terminal building with facilities divided by level: -1 is the railway station, 0 is on the ground level and serves as a taxi and bus pick-up area, 2 is for arrivals, and 3 is for departures.
For parents travelling with children, the Brussels Airport boasts a plethora of play areas throughout the facility. Children can play in these spaces and participate in a range of entertaining games and burn off surplus energy before boarding their flights or upon arrival. Plus, the airport contains over 40 duty-free shops to browse in and over 30 restaurants, bars, and cafés where tourists can relax and refuel.
Antwerp International Airport
The Antwerp International Airport is a minor international airport in Belgium's Flemish Region. Serving the city of Antwerp and its surrounding area, the Airport is about 64 kilometres (approximately 39.8 miles) north of Leuven. Antwerp International Airport provides charter, seasonal, and regularly scheduled flights, as well as general and business aviation services.
The Antwerp International Airport, which first opened its doors in 1923 as a flying school, now has a museum dedicated to its nearly 100-year history. In the same structure that initially serviced the airport in 1930, the Museum Stampe-Vertongen showcases 20 aeroplanes and reproductions, some of which date back as far as World War I.
Thanks to Antwerp International Airport and its primary tenant, TUI fly Belgium, which provides the bulk of scheduled flights, customers may now fly to 10 different locations across the world. Antwerp International Airport is a single-terminal facility featuring a single bistro/bar and a VIP Lounge.
Located 77.9 kilometres (about 48.8 miles) away from Leuven by car, Liège Airport is an international airport in the city of Liège, Wallonia. Although the airport primarily provides air freight services, it does offer regularly scheduled charter flights and passenger flights to four destinations year-round and four additional destinations seasonally.
Previously known as Liege-Bierset Airport, the airport was converted from a military installation into a cargo facility. Now, Liège Airport is the largest cargo airport in Belgium and the 7th largest in Europe, handling more than 800,000 tonnes annually.
Liège Airport has two runways and one passenger terminal with a capacity of one million passengers per year. However, in a typical year, the airport often sees less than 350,000 travellers.
What to do in Leuven
- Sample some of the world's best beers, locally brewed and served fresh from "the longest bar in the world," the Oude Markt. Or, take a guided tour of the Stella Artois brewery, a source of pride in Leuven for almost one hundred years.
- Take a walk on the hidden footpath along the brook between Mercator Statue and Romaanse Poort to see the ancient runes of Leuven's city walls, built during the Middle Ages.
- Marvel at more than 230 statues on the facade of one of the world's most iconic examples of gothic architecture, Leuven City Hall or Stadhuis van Leuven.
- Enjoy an evening stroll through Belgium's oldest botanical garden, the Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis, or as the locals call it, Kruidtuin.
- Visit the Great Beguinage, a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses several traditional sandstone alleys, gardens, parks, courtyards, convents, and houses that date back to the 13th century.
Classified as an oceanic climate, Leuven experiences precipitation year-round and has four distinct seasons. In a typical year, July is the warmest month, with average temperatures of 23� Celcius (73.4� Farenhieght), and January is the coldest month in the city, with temperatures averaging around 5� Celcius (41� Farenheight).
When planning your visit to Leuven, try to schedule your arrival from June to August, if possible, to ensure you can experience the best weather possible during your trip. Doing so will minimise the chance of your vacation getting rained out and ensure you see the city during its most temperate months.
Fun Facts About Leuven
- During WWI, German troops set fire to The University of Leuven Library in the University Hall. After the library was rebuilt, it suffered severe damage during World War II and caught fire again on May 16th, 1940, during the Battle of Leuven. The building was again rebuilt and has since gained protection as a monument.
- The Peace Monument, or Vredesmonument, in Martelarenplein, was erected in 1925 and restored in 2004 to commemorate the victims of war crimes and the lives lost during World War I under German occupation.
- In 1691, during the Nine Years War, the people of Leuven mistook a herd of cows in the night to be enemy soldiers and opened fire, earning the nickname Koeienschieters, or Cow Shooters, as it directly translates to in English.
- Leuven is home to 30 statues (not including those found on City Hall), but its most famous piece, Fons Sapientiae, sits outside the university. The statue depicts a student pouring water, or perhaps beer, into his head and is said to symbolise the thirst for knowledge shared by the students and the city at large.