Last winter I visited the beautiful Belgian city of Leuven with a group of fellow students. So where do you have to go in Leuven if you love books?
Booksellers on the street
New books in Belgium aren’t cheaper than in the surrounding countries, but I did find a few cool bookstores, some of them with a great secondhand collection. But besides from these stores, keep your eyes open for booksellers on the street: I bought a beautiful edition of the poems by Rimbaud for only eight euros from a guy on the street who was just standing there with a few boxes full of books. These books tend to be pretty cheap, and if you seems enthusiastic enough, they will give you a discount!
In Belgium, graphic novels are pretty popular, so big bookstores with a secondhand department (like De Slegte) have more to offer in this area than you’ll be used to. Take your time to find the perfect one!
Peeters – Bondgenotenlaan 153
Do you prefer more elitist literature or non-fiction? At Bondgenotenlaan 153, you can find the bookstore Peeters. When I visited they had a small sale on literature (Wide Sargasso Sea for like one euro, yeah!) but their main focus is on classical literature and non-fiction. The sell classical texts by Loeb, a great series if you like Greek or Latin texts, with the ancient texts printed on the left page, and the English translation on the right page. The non-fiction department is especially interesting if you like theology, egyptology, history, etc. Really the traditional humanities.
University library – Rijschoolstraat 4
The best thing in Leuven if you like books is the university library. This building is absolutely amazing. It was destroyed in both world wars, and both times restored with help of the international community. Apparently, the destruction of Leuven was such a big thing in the news that people even named their children Louvain (the French name for Leuven)! Especially if you’re into architecture, visit this library and look for all the American influences in the building: guess which country contributed most. The library holds a beautiful study hall, old maps (I especially liked the astronomical maps) and a big south-east Asia collection. When I first walked into the study hall, I was absolutely amazed. The wood, the books, the globes, it was all so beautiful! I spend a lot of time in university libraries, but the one of my faculty in Leiden isn’t even half a beautiful as this one.
Park Abbey library – Abdij van Park 7, Heverlee
A few miles outside of the city you can find the Park Abbey at Heverlee. This abbey was founded in the 12th century and apart from a beautiful church they also have this amazing library you can visit. The whole building has been restored in 2016 so this is really the best time to visit! If you buy a guided tour you’ll get to see much of the rooms, and be able to goggle at the old books in the library.