Leuven is a small town in the centre of Belgium, best known for its historical centre and large student population. With Brussels only 25 kilometres away, most tourists skip Leuven’s cultural sites and head straight for the big names in the capital. Here‘s a list of six museums that are well worth staying around in Leuven for.
This art museum in Leuven’s inner city has a collection of some 52,500 works, which range from late-Gothic paintings and sculptures to pieces by 16th-century local artists, with a special focus on post-1945 Belgian art. M-Museum was designed by renowned Belgian architect Stéphane Beel in 2009 and is a work of art in itself with its white pillars, glass accents and majestic entrance. The museum has three floors and measures 13,500 square meters, so you might want to take some time to cover it all.
The exterior of the Parcum museum in Leuven, Belgium.
Parcum is situated in an old abbey a stone’s throw from the centre of Leuven, and is one of the best-preserved abbey complexes in Belgium and the Netherlands. The museum offers temporary thematic exhibitions at the crossroads of religion, art and culture, focusing on heritage from churches, abbeys and monasteries. A visit to the museum takes you along the former chapter house of the abbey, past the reception halls of the abbot and through the attic of the abbey’s west wing.
The academic hospital in Leuven is one of the biggest academic hospitals in Europe and has a rich history dating back to 1080. Histaruz displays the historical archive of the hospital and holds over 9,000 items and as many photos and documents. It shows how the medical world has evolved over the past 100 years. Some of the old medical instruments on display will give you the shivers, such as an amputation saw, a hand-powered drill for the skull and a small plug with a blade on a spring which would be inserted into the bladder to cut up stones.
In 1980, the impressive ambulatory of the Saint Peter’s Church in Leuven was turned into a museum housing numerous statues, paintings and a collection of gold and silver pieces such as reliquaries, monstrances and chalices. The Last Supper, painted by Dirk Bouts, is on display here, which is an absolute masterpiece in Early Netherlandish painting.
This museum holds the zoological collection of the Catholic University of Leuven. The objects have been collected since 1850 with the purpose of giving students an overview of the diversity of the animal kingdom. The museum is open to visit during the university’s operating hours and has free entrance. On display are lots of (partly) dissected animals in formaldehyde and the complete skeleton of a bowhead whale.
The scout movement is big in Belgium, so it’s only fitting its history would get its own museum. Located in a former abbey, this institution is widely considered to be one of the top scouting museums in the world and lets you discover the history of the Scout Movement through insignia, flags and documents. Only open on Sundays.