University library- Leuven ©Layla Aerts

World Heritage Day is not only about the sites on the UNESCO list, but all cultural heritage places and landscapes of international, national and local significance. In Flanders we have a lot of hidden heritage gems that are certainly worth visiting, but are not (yet) included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Exploring university heritage in Leuven

Each academic year, the Flemish university town of Leuven attracts more than 40,000 Belgian and international young people who create a vibrant and lively atmosphere. There’s no point in asking for directions to the university, however, because the university is everywhere: it is a network of faculties and institutes based in old and new buildings spread throughout Leuven. Here are our top five hidden gems you’ll find within the university grounds:

1. For romantics

In the courtyard of the Arras College stands ‘The Tree of Sorrow’. The college used to be just for girls, so boys were not allowed to set foot inside. This meant that under this beautiful honey tree – (Sophora Japonica to give its official name) – countless girls said goodbye to their sweethearts before returning to their rooms.

Het Atrechtcollege in Leuven - © Toerisme Leuven - copyright always obligatory

2. For adventurers

Over 5,000 stuffed animals are exhibited in the Zoological Institute. Highlights of the collection include a Bowhead whale, the American migratory pigeon and the supposedly extinct Coelacanth. This cabinet of curiosities is open to the public during college opening hours.

Skelet van een Groenlandse walvis - Museum voor Dierkunde Leuven ©KUL

3. For Photographers

Leuven Library Tower, which stands 80 metres (262 feet) high, is the highest point in Leuven’s skyline and is accessible to the public. During your climb to the top, several exhibitions tell you more about the history of the library and you'll begin to understand its importance for the city. Once you’ve reached the top, you're treated to a unique and magnificent view of the city of Leuven. For photographers, it’s the ideal place to get that postcard-perfect panoramic shot of the city.

Universiteitsbibliotheek en -toren Leuven - CC License - Photo credits Rogiro

4. For art lovers

In the heart of the city, academics gather regularly at Holland College to debate social issues. The onsite chapel here is beautifully decorated in resplendent Louis XV style, exuding a unique charm. Though the college is not open to the public, you can attend a music concert from one of the college’s associated musicians that takes place in the college lounge or chapel.

Chapel Hollands College - Catholic University Leuven - Photo credits LIV (Source 'Het Nieuwsblad')

5. For bookworms

Now home to over a million books, the Campus Library Arenberg was built on the site of a former castle and convent that was destroyed by the Duke of Arenberg and repurposed as stables for over a hundred horses. To preserve this building’s unique history, the monastery and library were rebuilt by famous Spanish architect Rafael Moneo and inaugurated in 2002. This unique learning centre is one of the largest and most contemporary libraries for science and engineering in Europe. The library offers students, academics, alumni – and even visitors – the opportunity to work in an environment that houses a rich history.

Campusbibliotheek Arenberg - CC license - Penn State University Libraries Architecture & Landscapes - © Henry Pisciotta

Enjoying a break in Limburg

The Hoge Kempen National Park is a unique nature reserve full of extensive pine forests, purple flowering heather, glistening lakes, and hill tops with uninterrupted views of the area. A stone’s throw from the National Park, you’ll also find a former mining site in Genk, which is packed with interesting activities for all ages.

6. For nature lovers

Everyone is welcome for a beautiful day of hiking, cycling, horse riding and relaxing in the Hoge Kempen National Park. However, there is more to this area than meets the eye. How about a trip to space in the Cosmodrome or why not travel back in time to the Middle Ages where you can meet knights and noblemen at the Water Fortress? For those hoping to literally get in touch with nature, you can follow the ‘barefoot path’ – a unique hiking trail you do without shoes!

Connectera Maasmechelen - Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen

7. For the ‘bit of everything’ seekers

Now called C-mine, the former mining site of Genk offers a wide range of cultural and tourist activities: from a culinary discovery tour to exhibitions, concerts, and much more. Highly recommended is the C-mine expedition, a unique sensory experience, which culminates in a climb to the top of the authentic mine shaft. The view from the 60 metre (197 foot) high tower is certainly worth the effort.

C-Mine Genk - © Stad Genk (copyright always obligatory)
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