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Anything wonderful in Leuven?

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My daughter is spending 6 months in Leuven and we will be visiting in September. We arrive in Brussels early afternoon on a Saturday, had anticipated spending the afternoon around there, then going with her to Bruges on Sunday and visiting her apartment and workplace in Leuven on Monday before our early Tuesday flight to Venice.

I've searched here and nothing comes up for Leuven except a comment about it being heavily student frequented. Now I'm wondering if we should just do a short visit to Leuven then head to Ghent for the afternoon/evening and dinner.

I also worry that everything in Bruges may be closed on Sunday (as seems to be the case in Leuven, or so she said after today) and also that the trains supposedly don't run on Mondays due to some labor strife which would affect our original plans as well.

Thoughts, suggestions?

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  1. Depends a lot on what you want - it is a university town and there plenty of places which attract students.
    Nevertheless plenty of grown-ups live there and Belgians are usually serious about where they eat. Bretoense Hof has a good Franco-Belge classical menu, a good local reputation and a very fine terrace. Faculty Club is in a historic building (Grand Beguinage) and has a good menu - but often fills up with groups. Bistot Sud is very popular and recommended although I have not eaten there myself.
    Leuven is worth visiting for it's own sake. All will take reservations by phone in English. Getting to Ghent probably involves heavy traffic on the Brussels ring (and again on Tuesday morning for the airport).

    2 Replies
    1. re: kerriar

      Thank you. I'm thinking Ghent won't happen this time UNLESS my daughter gets there first and thinks we should do it. Appreciate your comments.

      1. re: SueFH

        Bruges is a very touristic town. It is also quite pretty in places. Gent is not so touristic, and it is, in my opinion, a more interesting place to visit.

        I just looked in a Belgian newspaper. The rail strike in September does not yet have a specific date nor is it certain as the government may settle with the union in the meantime. You can also take a bus from Leuven to Gent. You can see the information here: http://www.delijn.be/index.htm
        The travel time in the bus is not much longer than the train.

    2. I am currently living in Leuven (and I am well past student age) and I agree with previous commenters that it is indeed true that there are quite some places targeting students and serve cheap student fare.
      However, it also has quite some good restaurants, varying from a whole in the wall to Michelin quality places so it really depends what you are looking for.

      Shops in Belgium are closed on Sundays, however, restaurants (with a rare exception, typically student places as students tend to leave the city in the weekend) will be opened. I can certainly recommend some places if you specify more what you are looking for.

      I personally do not like Ghent, although it has a nice historic centre but I would not recommend to do both Ghent and Bruges as both are quite similar. Bruges is very tourist oriented whilst Ghent is a city with "real" people living there.

      Other towns to consider are certainly Brussels or Antwerp, both closer to Leuven (and I prefer both over Ghent, but again, that is a personal opinion).

      3 Replies
      1. re: catharina

        Thank you. I think we will probably skip Ghent and stick with Bruges on Sunday, then Leuven Monday. I do not want to remortgage the house but since this is likely our only trip there, I wouldn't object to nicer, higher end options. If it is great I'd consider it regardless of price. I guess something in the €40-65 range would be pretty special. But something great for €25 would be good too. Point being, I'm pretty wide open.

        On TA there was a place in Bruges with a prix-fixe and wine for all 4 courses for 65, that seemed very reasonable (though maybe a bit too fancy for our full day of touring around Bruges).

        I welcome any and all suggestions. Thank you.

        1. re: SueFH

          If you would go the Michelin route I am guessing your budget will be too tight as you will probably looking at around 100 EUR a person for dinner, but maybe you can do lunch at one of these places, budget is around 35-45 eur (not including drinks but including tip) for a menu fixe. Good recommendations are Couvert couvert, Arenberg (albeit a bit old fashioned) and Luzine . You will need a reservation upfront

          A bit below this level some good restaurants in the city center (the Michelin ones are typically outside the centre and require a car/taxi): t Zwart Schaap, Trente and Essenciel... To me these have the same standard, are much affordable and typically are easier to get into.

          Even more casual but still good is De Wiering which has a nice atmosphere and serves decent Belgian fare and has a good selection of beers (with a English menu, something you see in quite a lot of restaurants in Leuven of this category, as they aimed for an international public who just want to have a nice nofuss dinner).

          All restaurants have a menu on their website, mostly in Dutch, let me know if you are particularly interested in a specific one and you want me to translate.

          Also note that Monday can be a typical day for restaurants to close so I would advise to check upfront and give them a call... Honestly,there are sooo many good choices, it is hard to say without too much details but when I move to the US later this year, the good food within walkable distance is one of the things I'll miss most!

          1. re: catharina

            Thank you for the translation offer! And if you happen to be moving to Chicago you can definitely walk to wonderful places to eat!

      2. Dear Suefh,

        Food wise Ghent is very much the happening city. More so than Bruges. Leuven inner city is not a foodie destination.
        In the price bracket you quote you ought to have a look at

        De Vitrine - www.indewulf.be/devitrine/
        Jef - www.j-e-f.be
        Volta - www.volta-gent.be

        Getting to Ghent from Leuven takes just under an hour by train and is very easy. Bruges takes longer.

        4 Replies
        1. re: hblnk

          Totally agree. My wife and I spent some time in Leuven, Ghent and Bruges and Ghent is our favourite for food (and many other things as well) Leuven seemed to be mostly about large quantities of food and beer for a reasonable price=student friendly.

          Check out Etablissement Max, 't Vosken, De Klokhuis, etc, etc in Ghent. I'd also make a special recommendation of In De Gloria if heading to Antwerp at all. Bruges is very pretty but Ghent has the "steak" to back up the "sizzle".

          1. re: currycue

            I actually now work in Leuven (but live in Brussels), and while it's fair to say it's a student town, I'm discovering restaurants that are not necessarily as you describe. I will hold off on my recs for now until I've had a few more months to get a better sense of what is consistently excellent.

            1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

              I agree with BlackMambaSommelier!

              I have been living in Leuven for quite a while now and I really enjoy the food scene, although there are some restaurants which are geared to the student population, there are many many gems to discover in the city centre!

              In addition, there is a food festival the first weekend of August which is certainly worth the visit (but it can get crowded!).

              In any case, hope you'll enjoy your visit to Belgium! It is a great place for food.

              1. re: catharina

                My daughter has a friend visiting Leuven from Boston for the food festival, hoping she gets some ideas for our visit! I will still be routinely checking on CH!

        2. Gaunt.

          Not "Ghent", Gaunt.

          Read your Shakespeare.

          1. Thought I'd follow up with a few comments about our eating in Brussels, Bruges and Leuven. Essentially we didn't eat anything in Leuven except waffles. Amazing waffles. And apparently my daughter is working on the Heverlee campus and there are a bunch of Michelin starred spots there but she didn't know about any of them and the waffles were pretty satisfying.

            We had a pre-dinner snack at Nord Zee, lived it and wish we'd gotten there earlier as they ran out of stuff. The croquette was a revelation!

            In Brussels we had dinner at Fin de Siècle and it was pretty great. Great energy there, the food (carbonnade, and a lamb steak in port sauce) was delicious and I'd both return and recommend it. Really good chocolate mousse.

            We also ate at Scheltema on a friend's rec. My husband and daughter loved everything, my bouillabaisse was underwhelming. Absolutely outstanding chocolate mousse.

            Ended up having lunch in Bruges at Al Gastro. I'm not sure how we ended up choosing that one, I think it was higher priced than others, the food was all tasty but pretty uncreative and service was perfunctory. Wouldn't return or recommend it particularly. Chocolate misuse was pretty good.

            If you see a pattern with the mousse, it is my husband's favorite thing. He loved Belgium.

            1 Reply
            1. re: SueFH

              Nord Zee is already one of my favorite casual spots in Brussels. Love it. Man, the seafood across Belgium is exceptional. I feel like I'm just discovering it for the first time after the bleak offerings in Toronto. The best fish I ate in Ontario were freshwater species I caught myself.

              I wish I could have been more helpful with dining suggestions but I just moved to Belgium less than 3 months ago and I prefer to dine multiple times at a place before I recommend it.