Travelling by train in Belgium during the weekend?
You are lucky because during the weekend (from Friday evening 7pm till the last train on Sunday), Belgium train tickets are always half price if you buy a return ticket! Please select the special ‘weekendbiljet’ (weekendticket) button on the vending machines at the station to get discounted tickets or ask at the counter.
The Grand Beguinage is actually one of the city’s main tourist destinations, so you can check that one off your list! Leuven is also known for its impressive town hall, and its Saint Peter’s Church . For more info, see http://www.leuven.be/en/tourism/sightseeing/.
For eating out, see the separate section on that.
Beer brewery tours
Stella Artois factory: Leuven houses one of the country’s biggest breweries, the Stella Artois Brewery, owned by the big company Inbev that also produces Jupiler, Hoegaarden and Hertog Jan beer. The Stella brewery organizes various guided tours and beer tastings. For more info, see http://breweryvisits.com/stella_breweryvisit.php?lng=2. Do note that the brewery is located outside of the city center, in an industrial area. From the train station, it is about a 10 minute walk, see here for directions: http://breweryvisits.com/stella_route.php.
Domus brewery: if you prefer to stay in the center, at Tiensestraat number 8 there is the small brewery ‘Domus’ that produces a lager beer and an amber beer. It offers a 1 hr guided tour with beer tasting for 10 euro per person, or the same with dinner included for 30 euro a person. See here for more information: http://www.leuven.be/en/beercapital/Breweries/Leuven/huisbrouwerij-domus/
Stores in Leuven generally close early in the evenings, at 6pm. Supermarkets are open later, often until 8pm. The big supermarkets in Belgium are named ‘Delhaize’, ‘Carrefour’, ‘Colruyt’ and ‘Albert Heijn’. Delhaize and Carrefour are more upscale, Colruyt, Lidl and Aldi are the budget supermarkets. Albert Heijn offers more ready made products (salads etc.) than others at relatively good prices. Just google and you will find out that many of them have markets located very close to the conference site, and probably also close to your accommodation. Close to the conference site there is also a little bio-supermarket called Biotoop (Zwarte Zustersstraat 16) which opens between 9 and 18h30.
Belgium is a small country and has many lovely cities with historical centres to visit within short travelling distance. From Leuven station you can easily get to Brussels (25 minutes), Antwerp (1h), Gent (ca. 1h15 to Gent St. Pieters Station) and Bruges (1h30). The hilly Ardennes with their forests and little towns are also favourite among tourists and Belgians alike, but they are better done by car. Two easy to reach places certainly not too miss if you have time are the capital Brussels and the tourist favourite Bruges. A bit more on both below.
From Leuven Station, it takes you about 25 minutes to get to the Brussels Central Station (price about 10.60 euro for a return on weekdays, or half during the weekend). There is a wealth of things to do in Brussels.
One of your best online sources of information, as used by locals, is “Brussels this week”: http://www.brusseldezeweek.be/en/node/9137. Their online magazine is written in a mixture of French, English and Dutch. It is published on Thursdays and includes all there is do in the city for the upcoming week, including museum exhibitions, music, films and anything else you can think of.
For the general tourist information, go to www.visitbrussels.be, also in English. If you are an art lover, be sure not to miss out on the city’s range of art nouveau buildings!
Guided tours of the city center in English, Spanish, French, and Dutch are held by New Brussels Tours. They work on a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth basis. More details can be found here: http://www.newbrusselstours.com/daily-tours/free-tour-of-brussels.html. Alternatively, try http://www.brusselsgreeters.be/Bienvenue.php. This is an organization of locals recommended by the tourism office who offer to guide you around off the beaten track. You need to be a planner for this one though: because they are residents who offer their free time, you need to book at least two weeks in advance and agree a time with them.
Bruges is a bit like a gigantic open air museum. The Lonely planet says ‘If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town it would be hard to improve on central Bruges’ and we believe that is quite true. It does not just have lots of canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings, and a big Beguinage – what makes it really special and beautiful to walk around in is that the city enforces very strict regulations that have ensured that the whole city center is in harmony. The city was one of Europe’s first tourist destinations in the 19th century, is a UNESCO world heritage site, and known as ‘the Venice of the North’. You won’t be the only tourist there, but it is definitely worth the trip. Leuven has direct trains to Bruges, which take you there in about 1,5 hour. A ticket costs 35 euro on weekdays or half during the weekend. The thing to do is follow the signs to the Beguinage from the train station, and just wonder around from there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruges. A city map can be found here: http://www.use-it.travel/cities/map/2015_bruges/?zoom=2