Leuven is home of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (commonly referred to as KU Leuven), a large educational establishment, well-known for its research expertise in many academic disciplines. The university is still the largest and oldest of any in the Low Countries, and having been founded in the 15th Century, it is certainly the oldest Catholic university still in existence.
The university has long attracted overseas students, due to accessible tuition fees and the fact that some courses are conducted in English. The science and biotechnology research at the university is well-respected, and has led to a series of spin off companies springing up in the city.
There are also a number of secondary and primary schools in the area, as well as vocational universities focusing on technical trades.
The city itself is small enough to be covered on foot, or pedal bike in most instances. Many of the very central roads in Leuven are pedestrianized, and the low speed limits (30km/h) and definite lack of parking spaces are designed to discourage motor vehicles in the center of the town. Nevertheless, the roads out of the city are well kept and tend not to experience extreme congestion. The city has a wide bus network, including the ‘Ringbus’ which travels around the ring road of the city, and provides relatively easy access to any part that you may wish to travel to.
The city offers good rail connections, including direct lines to Brussels, Liege, Ottignies and Schellebelle. Bierbeek, just south-west of Leuven is home to the start of the HSL 2 line, which offers high-speed connections to Liege.
Brussels Airport can be reached easily by road, including via a series of buses departing regularly from the city center.
Leuven has a long and fascinating history — with some of the earliest stories of the city being recorded in 891 when Arnulf of Carinthia defeated an invading Viking army. Beyond that, Leuven became an important waypoint for traders and the cloth and textiles industry flourished as raw materials were brought in to the city.
Brewing also became an important industry for the area in the 18th Century, and the Den Horen brewery gave rise to one of Belgium’s flagship beers — Stella Artois, when Sebastian Artois became the master brewer there in 1717. Stella Artois is still brewed in Leuven, but is now exported around the world. Many of the bars and clubs in the town focus on the distinctive beer heritage the city has, and offer a huge selection of different brews and brands.
Leuven has also come to be well-known for its annual rock festival, Marktrock — which attracts thousands of visitors from around the country and much of mainland Europe. In terms of classical music, the city has some interesting offerings, including the internationally recognized Arenberg orchestra.
A number of Gothic style buildings have been constructed in Leuven over the centuries, including the impressive Town Hall which was finished in 1463. Much later, in the 19th century, 236 statues were added to the outside of the building, celebrating local artists and scholars. This eye-catching architecture is still one of the city’s main selling points.