For those looking to skip the crowds of Amsterdam, even while experiencing 17th-century architecture at its very best, a trip to Leiden is the perfect chance to avoid it all and take a step back in time. And while the university city has lots of well-known locations that are a must-see on any visit, you may still find lots of hidden gems to discover. Here are the very best secret spots in Leiden!
Poems around the walls (Muurgedichten Leiden)
While not so much like a ‘secret’ and more of an observation, there’s no denying the beauty of larger than life-sized poems dotted strategically through the city are hard to miss. In total, on the hundred hand-painted poems grace the walls of Leiden. Most of the great names in poetry are represented; Shakespeare, E.E Cummings, and Sappho to mention but a few…
Poems are typically painted in their original language, with English or Dutch translations also painted near to hand. The project began within the 1990s and had been completed through the mid-2000s. Today, you can find a self-guided tour of the poems (albeit in Dutch) around the www.muurgedichten website.
Sweat Room (Het Zweetkamertje)
Located within the very heart of the University of Leiden’s main campus, the sweat room is usually closed to the public, though the nearby botanical gardens and buildings of the university can nonetheless be admired. So-called because it’s said that students used to wait in the room while waiting to defend their theses, today it’s become a rite of passage when you have passed their doctorate to scribble their names on the walls.
If you’re looking to visit Leiden, you might be amazed to find out the iconic Dutch painter, Rembrandt, was actually born in the city and lived there until he was 18. Consequently, there are many Rembrandt locations across the city, including the place where he once visited school.
The Latin School in which the Great Dutch Master once studied can still be seen and it is marked by a red door on the Lokhorststraat. At the age of just 14, Rembrandt was signed up for the University of Leiden, though he probably didn’t attend classes as he had not even finished his Latin School.
The location where Jan Steen lived
For those people who are spending at least a day in The Hague, I recommend visiting the Mauritshuis. Home to jewels of the Netherlands such as the iconic Girl Using the Pearl Earring, the museum collections also includes a number of paintings through the artist Jan Steen.
However, what you may not know is the fact that one of the best hidden gems of Leiden is the hofje in which Jan Steen once lived. For those unfamiliar with the word, a ‘hofje’ is really a hidden courtyard that was first constructed to serve as charitable housing.
The most famous illustration of a hofje within the Netherlands is probably the Begijnhof Amsterdam. If you wish to see where Jan Steen once lived, then you definitely only need to go to a certain passage on the Liefdepoort. You’ll know you’re within the right place whenever you spy a plaque dedicated to the truly amazing painter himself.
Café de Vergulde Kruik
If you’re visiting Amsterdam, then no doubt you’ll realize that the world-famous beer, Heineken, comes from Holland. However, whatever you decide and well not know is that the star around the Heineken logo actually originated from a pub register Leiden.
Café de Vergulde Kruik is quite literally translated into English as ‘the Gilded Jar Café’ also it was allegedly here where the bar's original logo was purchased by Heineken for the amount of 35 guldens. Today, this traditional wooden bar is the best place to head to for any pint and also to meet up with friends.
Seek out Miniaturist Filming Locations
Though the Miniaturist is really occur Amsterdam, the Dutch capital was deemed to be ‘too modern’ for filming to actually take place there! As such, the postcard-perfect town of Leiden was utilized, especially for several of the canalside scenes. Wander round the city today and you may soon anticipate finding quite a few backdrops from the movie, dotted around Leiden.
Though not technically within the boundaries of the town of Leiden itself, Duivenvoorde Castle is a straightforward excursion in the city. Located approximately The Hague and Leiden, you can either reach the Kasteel on a bicycle or via public transit.
Constructed out of brick within the 17th-century and surrounded by a moat, the park entrance costs just EUR1, though a tour from the castle (in Dutch) costs quite a bit more. Inside the grounds, you’ll soon discover some very beautiful views as well as a café to enjoy fresh lunches and funky beverages.
Greccio Museum of Devotional Items
Of all the unusual things you can do in Leiden, a vacation to the Greccio Museum of Devotional Items may be the strangest of them all. Located in a basement in the middle of the city, this cultural space showcases a collection of Christian Remembrances which would otherwise be lost around the world.
Things to know before visiting Leiden for that first time
Although Leiden can easily be reached as a excursion from The Hague, if you're looking for a quiet weekend break within the Netherlands, somewhere away from the crowds of Amsterdam, then you need to think about a longer remain in the city. Check accommodation prices here.
Thanks to the abundance of cobbled lanes little nature, Leiden is better explored on foot, and thus comfortable walking shoes are mandatory! As well as for people who wish to become familiar with Leiden on a more local level, then this 2-hour guided walking tour will highlight a few of the city's best sights throughout a relaxed wander around Leiden.