Leuven is the Cambridge of Belgium, with 25 000 students making up two thirds of its population who attend the oldest Catholic university in the world.
Combining an energetic student vibe with the birthplace of one of the most famous beers in Europe, Stella Artois, and you are guaranteed a party with intelligence.
There are over fifty restaurants and bars in the Oude Markt (Old Market) alone to drink the golden nectar from Leuven’s breweries and this collection of haunts form the “longest counter” in Belgium. Every week day evening the city is heaving with people out eating, drinking and students preparing to party the night away in their respective subject’s own bar. Bar Ekonomika is a regular as it is the university department with the biggest budget holding huge parties with free food and beer especially at the beginning of May during Kiesweek (election week).
Places to ponder in quieter moments. The compact city is all quaint cobbled streets, tall Flemish style terraced houses and balconies mixed with magnificent monuments such as the Town Hall, The University Library, St Peter’s Church and the mystical beguinage of Leuven.
If possible time your visit around the famous Leuven Carillon Cantus. Students, and the lucky few to get tickets, all sit down in rows of tables drinking beer and singing traditional songs all set to the bells of the grand Town Hall. Dares and forfeits abound for March’s Beiaardcantus such as not being able to leave your seat for an entire night: not easy when the bathroom calls after copious amounts of Stella.
Whether you are looking for a quick and quiet sightseeing trip of some of the beautiful places this historical town has to offer, or you are wanting to immerse yourself in the buzz of student antics and traditions, it is worth noting the time of the week when planning your visit. In term time, the week is a lively student domain but at the weekend the young people migrate back to the comforts of their respective Flemish
hometowns leaving the city centre rather empty. Perfect for uncluttered browsing of landmarks and having a queue-free frites lunch at the 2011 award-winning Frituur Fonske, but a vital part of this small Belgian town’s culture feels like it is missing.
The atmosphere of one of the oldest universities is not intellectually overbearing or elitist but lives harmoniously with Stella Artois, the minefield of exquisite architecture and the new generation of dynamic young minds who add charm and modern spirit to this little model-like and picturesque town.
All images and text copyright of Diana Patient.