Amidst all of the student hubs and buzzing bars in the city centre of Leuven, there are still plenty of pockets of calm to be found, including that of the Kruidtuin Leuven (i.e. the Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis), the oldest botanical garden in Belgium.
Wander out to the fringes of the historic city centre of Leuven and you can expect to find hidden gems such as a secret beguinage and a forgotten Roman door. Other highlights include many a vegetarian restaurant, as well as the kind of bars that serve drinks all night long and the kind that you don’t leave until the sun comes up. However, if you make it your mission to frequent just one spot on the edge of Leuven, make it the botanical garden!
Kruidtuin Leuven Address | Kapucijnenvoer 30, 3000 Leuven
A brief history of the Leuven Hortus Botanicus (Kruidtuin)
Founded as early as 1738, the gardens were founded by the University of Leuven, before Belgium was its own independent nation. Thought to be founded with the intention of growing herbs to be used in a medicinal manner (indeed ‘Kruidtuin’ literally means ‘herb garden’), the garden was then transformed to be used to grow ornamental plants and shrubs for university studies.
Though the gardens passed into the ownership of the city of Leuven in 1835, even today, student life dominates the city, with ancient college buildings being dotted around the city, and even the Grand Beguinage and Kasteel van Arenberg being owned by the University.
Today, the garden covers an area of 2.2 hectares, including greenhouses, countless benches, and sprawling green lawns. Popular among tourists and locals alike, unlike most other Botanical Gardens, there is no entry fee and you can simply wander in at your own leisure during opening hours, free of charge. Exhibitions and contemporary art is often displayed within the gardens, meaning that no two visits are ever the same!
Highlights of the Leuven Botanical Gardens
For anyone who loves snapping photos (or, indeed, is looking for an Instagrammable location in Leuven), the wisteria wall is an absolute must. Typically in flower around mid to late April, the mature wisteria plants bloom purple flowers, can be found on the Southern wall of the Orangery, and are surrounded by benches, providing the perfect place to relax with friends or simply chill with a book.
Picture perfect and traditionally where the ‘orange trees’ were kept in decades gone by, hence the name, today the orangery remains a haven of plants. After all, this is where the less hardy of the potted shrubs and trees are overwintered during the colder months of the year. During the rest of the year, the orangery of the Kruidtuin is often used to house contemporary art shows so keep an eye out on your next visit!
The bright yellow bulbs of the daffodil usually flower from the end of February through to the end of March and are one of the first signals that spring is well on its way. Well, at the Kruidtuin of Leuven, these yellow blooms are in many of the borders around the outdoor areas of the gardens, providing the perfect framing for the well manicured gardens.
Truth be told, one of my favourite spaces in the garden was actually closed to the public during my visit. However, I still made sure to peer through the misty glass, only to be rewarded with views of the mass collection of succulents and cacti that are in the possession of the Leuven botanical gardens.
For those who are looking for a little bit of wonder during their time in the oldest Botanical Garden in Belgium, a stroll around the Greenhouses are an absolute must. Filled with larger than life leafy greens, winding pathways, and many a flowering Bird of Paradise plant, you can’t help but snap a photo and smile when wandering around. In total, the greenhouse complex covers some 450 m².
The greenhouses of the Leuven Kruidtuin also house a series of sub-tropical and tropical specimens. Perhaps most impressively, there’s also a number of aquatic plants that are happy and at home within the indoor area!
How to visit Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis
Situated around a ten-minute walk from iconic Leuven sights such as the Grote Markt (where the Stadhuis is to be found) and the Oude Markt (i.e. the longest bar in the world), the botanical gardens are open on a daily basis, though they’re closed on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The best time to enjoy the gardens are in late spring or early summer when the crowds are still fewer than in the summer, and yet the weather is at its best, while pretty much everything is in bloom!