The show-stealer in this town is the almighty 15th-century Gothic Stadhuis, but if you miss the daily tour at 3pm then take a short walk east to the M-Museum (Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28). Currently on display in the museum are the works of Sol LeWitt, the influential American artist, who was an important figure in both minimal and conceptual art (21 June-14 October). The M-Musuem also houses more traditional masterpieces by Flemish masters like Rogier van der Weyden – plus there are great views of the city from the roof.
Soak up the history and tranquillity of the city’s begijnhof, which is the largest and best preserved in Belgium. Founded in 1205, it was home to some 360 béguines at the height of its popularity, but was abolished in 1795 under French rule. It was restored and given to the university which now rents the cottages out to professors and a few lucky students.
Is in an elegant townhouse with a pretty ivyladen terrace and offers a select menu of Belgian classics with a twist. Lighter in mood and easier on the wallet, is student-favourite De Werf (Hogesschoolplein 5, (0)16 23 73 14) selling cheap wraps, salads and generous helpings of homemade quiche. Be warned – when you order the orange juice you have to squeeze the oranges yourself.
The bright-and-cheery Spanishstyle Bar del Sol bistro rustles up tapas and pancakes and serves them with cocktails and glasses of chilled Ricard. Listen out for the clanging bells of Sint Jan de Doper’s carillon from the terrace.
Tours of the Stadhuis are conducted only in French and Flemish; if you don’t speak either then pick up an English-language explanation sheet from the tourist office beforehand.
Is a former monastery turned four-star boutique hotel. The ‘cosy’ rooms are just that (a bit tight on space), so it’s worthwhile upgrading to a bigger room. Be sure to have a drink in the bar which features the monastery’s original wooden-beam ceiling. (rooms from €149)
Opportunities to stay in Belgium’s begijnhofs are rare. Leuven offers not one, but two options to stay in the UNESCO world-heritage sites: the classy four-star Begijnhof Hotel (rooms from €125), and now the brand new B&B Guesthouse Begijnhof (Schapenstraat 97, (0)470 64 54 35, guesthousebegijnhof.be, rooms from €80), which has five smart en-suite rooms with access to a private garden and free internet.
Shop – trendy T-shirts, clothes and bags – is made from organic hemp.
Most of the city’s nightlife centres around Oude Markt, a leafy square lined entirely with student bars. Café Amedee (Muntstraat 4) provides the perfect antidote: a traditional pub with scruffy charm and a wellconsidered selection of local beers – try their beer of the month.