Typically, it rains in Belgium. In fact, statistically speaking, it rains more than half a year with approximately 200 days of rain annually. Scientifically, it's the warm air, brought on the jet streams from the Pacific, that increases the air's humidity and thus increases the chance of rainfall.
When we checked the weather forecast we were lucky to see that Halloween was to be a rare and glorious 17C degrees with pure sunshine. A delightful way to end the month of October!
So we spent a wonderful day under the sun and blue skies in Leuven, Brussels' neighbour to the east. Just a thirty-minute train ride from Brussels Central Station will bring you to the outskirts of Leuven's bustling downtown, and the perfect walking distance to some of the city's best sights.
In order of walking from the train station, here's my guide to everything to see during a day in Leuven:
Time to walk from train station: 10 mins (0.8km)
This beautiful square is one of the main ones in Leuven and is most well-known for being home to busy markets and - the best of all - Christmas markets! Unfortunately with COVID-19 at the moment, all markets are temporarily cancelled. We plan to come back and visit next year and enjoy this square in all its glory.
In the meantime, we visited our favourite home goods store, Dille and Kamille. There's two locations in Brussels we love, so we enjoyed the chance to visit another one.
2. Grote Markt & Historical Town Hall
Time to walk from Ladeuzeplein: 6 mins (0.5km)
Grote Markt is the main central square in Leuven and is surrounded on all sides by stunning buildings and impressive architecture. Most notably of all is the exquisite Town Hall built in 15th century Gothic style. There's plenty of outdoor food and flower stalls to peruse in this wonderful centre.
Many of the roads in downtown Leuven are for people and bikes only - no cars allowed - so you'll certainly get a taste of how much the Low Countries love their bikes!
3. Saint Peter's Church
Time to walk from Grote Markt: 0 mins (0km)
Opposite the Town Hall sits the majestic Saint Peter's Church with one of the most intricate church exteriors we've seen yet. While it was shut due to COVID-19, we enjoyed wandering the perimeter oggling at the massive spires and beautiful carvings.
4. Leuven Oude Markt
Time to walk from Saint Peter's Church: 2 mins (0.19km)
Another of Leuven's beautiful outdoor squares is the Oude Markt which focuses much less on selling things and much more on outdoor patio and dining culture. Normally, this place is buzzing with activity and Belgians and tourists alike enjoying a bite and a drink in the sunshine. The square is surrounded on all sides by even more beautiful buildings to enjoy.
5. The Roman Gate
Time to walk from Oude Markt: 5 mins (0.4km)
Founded many years ago by the Augustine Sisters, this photogenic location was once a hospital that could support up to 1000 patients at a time. It is now a restaurant and performing arts venue, surrounded by historic beauty.
6. Leuven Beguinage
Time to walk from The Roman Gate: 15 mins (1.2km)
This was absolutely hands down our favourite part of Leuven. The Beguinage in Leuven is one of thirteen now protected by UNESCO (I recently visited another in Mechelen) and was essentially a 'town within a town' built exclusively for religious women (Beguines) who wanted to have their own community but not be completely withdrawn from society as nuns may have been.
They worked, lived and prayed within the Beguinage's walls but still interacted with the rest of the town and often left the Beguinage during the daytime.
Walking through the Leuven Beguinage was totally fairy-tale-like - it was like a step back in time as we wandered the quaint streets and idyllic little hamlets. Built in 1232, Beguines lived here for years all the way up until 1962 when it was purchased by the University of Leuven and renovated to become delightful student residence halls.
You are free to wander all the winding cobblestoned streets, enjoy the church within the grounds, watch the water dance down the canal and meander through the green spaces. Truly magical.
Time to walk back to the train station: 25 mins (1.9km)