As a father of four, my reviews of places to visit are often seen through the eyes of parents with young children (although mine are now well beyond that stage). I often ask myself whether a place is child-friendly; buggy-friendly; safe for children to run in; good places for a family picnic?
While walking through the Keizersberg Abbey Park, just inside the Leuven Ring, I put on my ‘Dad Goggles’ and this is what I discovered.
It certainly has a number of positive aspects to it.
- It’s ideally positioned for an urban park, which is presumably why it was opened to the public in 2010.
- It’s easy to get to. There is a spacious free park at the Mechelsestraat entrance (the main one). And Leuven City has recently installed a brand new set of steps to access it from the Vaart (a small canal harbour), the railway station and the shopping centre. Although you’ll struggle to get a buggy up them, they are so steep.
- There are well-maintained gravel paths through the park, along with well mowed paths through the grass.
- There are a number of wooden seats and picnic benches.
So it’s ideal for a family picnic then? Well, not exactly.
- Off the paths, it’s a wilderness, with long grass and stinging nettles creating a jungle; not the kind of area you want your toddler wandering into.
- Some of the picnic benches are very close to stinging nettles.
- The perimeter walls are crumbling – especially dangerous on the southern side where there’s a steep drop.
- Metal fences have been erected around the most dangerous bits of the wall and a sunken part of the park, but these have been pushed to one side so are ineffective.
- One metal fence actually had a sharp bit of metal protruding from it at knee height.
- Some sort of bandstand is seemingly used as a student drinking/smoking centre, and the floor is sprinkled with tin cans and glass.
So the overall feeling of the place is one of neglect, and not a safe place to take young children. It’s a shame, because this video made when the park was opened to the public shows a completely different environment to the current one. All the areas of short grassland that you can see in the video are now totally overrun.
So unfortunately the Keizersberg Abbey Park gets a big thumbs down as a place to take children.
Now, of course it could be that it’s not designed for children – to preserve the peace and quiet of the working monastery. But this goes against Leuven’s own headline when the park was opened: “Groene zone Keizersberg open voor iedereen” (Keizersberg green zone open to everyone).