School’s out for summer in the beautiful and ancient Belgian university town of Leuven and to celebrate you’re invited to join some of the best summer events on offer anywhere this season.
1. Free concerts in July and beyond
Het Groot Verlof, or ‘the Grand Departure’ is a summer-long festival program that ironically will make you never want to leave the city. Hosted in various places across the city, like the velodrome, the Grote Markt (Main Market), Oude Markt (Old Market), the Vismarkt (Fishmarket), Hogeschoolplein (College Square), green Keisersberg park and Arenberg castle grounds, as well as two Abbeys, you’re bound to find something to suit your calendar and your taste.
July offers consecutive TFI Friday moments with free live gigs coming up on 14 July and 21 July from 8pm long, long into the evening, well past usual last orders. Travel Tomorrow’s top picks in July are: the ‘Baron of Techno’ that is Dave Clarke at the Vismarkt; NoordKaap, with their instantly recognisable and wistful interplanetary ode Satelliet Suzy at the Oude Markt; and fantasy farmhands Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, who will bring their high octane brand of Irish bluegrass folk to Hogeschoolplein.
Check out the rest of the brilliant program and don’t miss the closing nights of Het Groot Verlof halfway through August, when none other than Sister Sledge will play and the absolute legend that is Junior Marvin and his original Wailers will be making sure everything’s Irie.
2. Take a bite al fresco
Leuven’s annual August 1 culinary extravaganza Hapje Tapje (or ‘Take a Bite’) returns with a mouthwatering gastronomic trail giving you just the excuse you need to eat your way from the Oude Markt all round the historic city centre. The city’s restaurants take part by preparing their signature dishes, everything from hog roast to salt cod and dahl, and serving them up to hungry hordes.
3. Beer Market and world’s only bartending race
Leuven is at the heart of Belgium’s amazing brewing scene and there’ll be no shortage of Belgian beer to pair with your food choices at Hapje Tapje, because there’s also a Beer Market and – wait for it – the extraordinary spectacle of the world’s one and only bartender race.
This event is older than the food festival and involves plucky bartenders defending their respective drinking establishment’s honour by racing to pump six glasses of the city’s very own Stella Artois, hoisting the full tray above their shoulders, and running through the streets with it held proudly aloft.
4. Lazy like Sunday Morning
Apart from beer, there’s little that’s more Belgian than brunch and a good chill-out. On Sundays throughout the summer and into October, Alfons Smetsplein will be transformed from midday to 5pm into a ‘Grasse Matinée’, or ‘Lie-In’ Sunday session venue, with activities to keep the kids entertained, artists’ stalls, and the all-important range of snacks and dishes from traders around the city. Come along and enjoy the vibe.
5. Summer Bars and Films
What’s not to love about a pop-up summer bar? Leuven’s fresh-air drinkeries are already open, with MLeuven museum inviting you not just to their bar, but to a whole two-month program of events, soundtracked by Radio Willy.
Meanwhile at the aforementioned velodrome, you can party the summer away with event maestros INUIT, lounge with a drink, watch a film, or get jazzy on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 August.
On the subject of films, a whole program of free summer viewing is showing across the city, including ‘Back to Nature’ – a selection of short films from the International Short Film Festival focused on wildlife and the thrills and wonders of the natural world.
6. Should I stay or should I go?
Staying the night in Leuven opens up all these sunshine possibilities and more. Great summery places to stay include 500-year-old former convent Martin’s Klooster on the banks of the Dyle; and the The Lodge on the green outskirts of the city at Heverlee. Or why not take your camper van?