The city of Leuven appears in historical documents for the first time in the year 884. In that year, the plundering Vikings settled around an old fortification at the Dijle river. Leuven became an important administrative and commercial center, and more or less the capital of the Duchy of Brabant.

In 1425 Duke John IV founded the University of Leuven, which until today has remained the most important university in Belgium.

Given the presence of the KULeuven, much of the local economy is concentrated on spin-offs from academic research. Leuven is also the worldwide headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest beer company on the planet.

The Irish College was established in 1607 to facilitate the education of Irish Franciscans at the renowned University during the penal times in Ireland. It was one of about 34 Irish colleges which were established across Europe. It was here that the font for the printing of Irish was developed, based on the handwriting of one of the friars, which set a standard for Irish printing for 350 years.