Less than half an hour by train from both Mechelen and Brussels, LEUVEN offers an easy and enjoyable day-trip from either. The town is the seat of Belgium's oldest university, whose students give the place a lively, informal air – and sustain lots of inexpensive bars and cafés. There are also a couple of notable medieval buildings, the splendid Stadhuis and the imposing St- Pieterskerk, which is home to three wonderful early Flemish paintings, and in the Oude Markt Leuven possesses one of the region's most personable squares. Otherwise, the centre is not much more than an undistinguished tangle of streets with a lot of the new and few remnants of the old. If you stay a while, you may also pick up on the division between town and gown; some of the students see themselves as champions of the Flemish cause, but the locals seem largely unconvinced.
The centre of Leuven is marked by two adjacent squares, the Fochplein, basically a road junction and the wedge-shaped Grote Markt, which is Leuven's architectural high spot, dominated by two notable late Gothic buildings – St-Pieterskerk and the Stadhuis.