Leuven: home to Stella and many, many students

After class on Monday I jumped a train to Leuven, a small Flemish city a mere 25 minutes from Brussels known primarily for two things: beer and students.

Sure, Belgium in general is known for beer, but Leuven is the home of Stella Artois. It’s true, though, that many Belgians don’t actually drink Stella, writing it off as a touristy beer or the Belgian equivalent of Coors Light. It’s common, it’s everywhere, it’s cheap, and there’s way better.

Nonetheless, Stella is Stella, and those Wes Anderson commercials give Americans a real sense of class when they consume it. And Leuven actually seems really proud of Stella, even sponsored by Stella with its red sign literally everywhere. The city houses Stella’s monster of a brewery along with its parent company, AB InBev, the largest brewer in the world.

The city is also home to a ridiculous number of students — about 40,000 attend the Catholic University of Leuven alone, nearly half of the entire population.

Leuven feels like a true college town, with students rushing off to class in every direction and no one over the age of 25 in sight. At the same time, the city is the university’s campus, with gorgeous old buildings spread out all over. Student housing is everywhere, too, even in an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Seriously. The picturesque Groot Begijnof — a beguinage comprised of homes for religious women back in the day — is actually a living area for students and university staff.

And the library?

Don’t even start on the library.

Like any college town, though, Leuven offers trendy shopping and cheap eating for the fast-paced student lifestyle. I’ve never seen so many small sandwich stands, to-go coffee signs and take-away pasta shops in one place, and I haven’t seen so many cafes with free wi-fi since the USA. With all the students and beer, nightlife is obviously rumored to be sweet as well. The Oude Markt is referred to “The Longest Bar in Europe,” because basically every building in the plaza is a bar. With about 30 in one small area, pub-crawls have never been so easy.

But this does not mean Leuven is only a travel destination for youngsters. The city center is still old, beautiful, and can be covered on foot in no time. Natural sights, like the Keizersberg Abbey, elevated above the city with sweeping greenery, and the highly impressive Kruidtuin botanical garden, are definitely worth a family picnic, too.

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