A little off the beaten tourist track and somewhere between the Hague and Amsterdam, you’ll find one of the very most beautifully preserved historic city centres in all of the Netherlands. Oozing with charm, visit Leiden and you’ll be guaranteed the opportunity to truly step back in time in this medieval time warp.
After all, once in Leiden, you’ll get the chance to wander along endless waterways, soak up architecture dating back to centuries, escape the crowds of Amsterdam… And that’s not every! Here are a few of the why you should visit Leiden and why you must add the Dutch city to your bucket list ASAP!
A brief history of Leiden
Home towards the oldest university within the Netherlands, along with the oldest botanical gardens in Holland, Leiden doesn't have shortage of historical and cultural attractions. And while the best of Leiden can probably be seen per day, you’ll likely wish to spend an extended weekend within order to truly take in the historical ambience.
If you need to take full advantage of your time in Leiden, then it’s well worth following a Leidse Loper (Leiden Loop). This self-guided, self-paced walking trail traces 24 historical attractions and points of interest in the city centre. The trail can be downloaded using a free app. If you’re looking for a tour with a guide, then it may be worth booking this 2-hour walking tour of the city.
The Miniaturist was filmed in Leiden!
For those who have not seen the Miniaturist, it’s a period of time drama based on the book of the same name. Set in the 17th-century, it follows the story of happily married Nella Oortman and took it's origin from a doll’s housed now located inside the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The historic nature from the city, in addition to filming incentives which were simply not available in Amsterdam in previous years, have drawn numerous film crews to the small university town. In fact, little has changed on the street plan of Leiden because the 17th-century.
Today, it’s possible to wander the streets of Leiden and find out several filming locations from the movie. While some of the movie was filmed inside the iconic Pieterskerk, most of the waterway scenes were shot within the Rapenburg Canal area of the city.
Leiden is less touristic than Amsterdam
If you want to go to a city which has the feel of Amsterdam and yet skip the crowds of the Dutch capital, then Leiden creates an ideal avoid Amsterdam. Easy to understand like a excursion from Amsterdam or the Hague, Leiden is home to several windmills, countless waterways, and lots of churches.
Pieterskerk and also the Pilgrims in Leiden
By far the most famous building which Leiden has to offer is St Peter’s Church. Dating back to some nine hundred years, no one is quite sure regarding the good reputation for the church. Although no longer consecrated, and as such, no longer used for services, the previous ecclesiastical building has played a remarkably important role within the good reputation for the town.
For it was here in which the symbol for that keys from the city’s crest were taken; one key signifying heaven, another earth. For all those with an interest in American history, it’s also important to note that the church has a Mayflower connection.
After all, it had been in Leiden where some of the pilgrims settled to flee religious persecution in the English before voyaging to North America around the Mayflower. However, due to several factors, such as businesses open during normal hours on Sundays in Leiden, the Pilgrim Fathers discovered that holland was not pious enough, thus contributing to their eventual departure.
University of Leiden
The University of Leiden is the oldest in the Netherlands and dates completely to 1575. Legend has it that in exchange for defending Leiden against Spanish attacks, the residents from the city were given the choice between failing to pay taxes for any period and the founding of the university. The residents find the university.
And thus, the University of Leiden began. The Leiden Observatory can also be found in the city, began in 1633, and it is the second oldest university observatory on the planet. Another highlight of the university may be the sweat room, so-called because, in previous years, the students would be left within the room to await their diploma results. Today, it’s a right of passage for graduating students to sign their names on your wall of the room.
Water and Canals
So iconic may be the water in Holland the nearby town of Delft originates from the term ‘delven,’ meaning delving or digging. Canals are an essential part of virtually every Dutch city and Leiden is no exception. On the sunny day, there’s no better activity than to wander around, camera in one hand, seeing where your feet take you…
Established shortly after the university, the oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands remain free for students from the University of Leiden to visit even today. And, for a small charge, the public can click on the extensive gardens and greenhouses too. Open on a daily basis, the gardens date all the way to 1590.
While an element of numerous a city within the Netherlands, one of the things that Leiden is best-known for would be the boat terraces located along the city’s main canal. As such, among the best things to do in Leiden on the warm summer’s evening is to sit by helping cover their your pals and drink some local beer… On a ship!
Plenty of Cobbled Lanes
From the architecture of the waterfront houses towards the bars spilling out onto the lanes, there’s no denying that Leiden is completely adorable. Actually, pretty as a postcard, Leiden is really picturesque that once you’ve removed your camera, you’ll discover that it’s hard to place it away again!
Leiden has lots of hofjes
And while we’re about cobbled lanes, it’s worth noting that Leiden is home to some of the best-preserved and historic hofjes of any city in the Netherlands. For those unfamiliar with the word, it’s important to note that this term may be the Dutch word for any courtyard encompassed by almshouses.
Hofjes are available in several Dutch cities including the settlements of Haarlem, Amsterdam, not to mention, Leiden. Many have been in situ in Leiden for centuries and 36 courtyards remain to this very day. From these 17 hofjes are available to the general public and supply an oasis of calm in the heart of the city.
Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden
While one of the best small museums in Amsterdam is Rembrandt’s studio and house museum, whatever you decide and not know is that the iconic Dutch painter was really born within the pretty university town of Leiden before he left for the Dutch capital of Amsterdam as he was raised.
Rembrandt was the son of a miller now, it’s easy to visit the district where the iconic Dutch painter was created (that is round the late Gothic Pieterskerk Church). Highlights of el born area include Rembrandt Bridge and the site in which the painter was born. As the house where Rembrandt was born no more stands, a gablestone marks his birthplace.
Beer Culture in Leiden & the Heineken Star Bar
Belgium and also the Netherlands are well-known for his or her beer culture. However, what you may well not know would be that the red star around the Heineken logo was literally ‘discovered’ on the bar register the centre of Leiden. Because the Middle Ages, the star has been used on many a beer logo because it represents the five elements/ ingredients of brewing; water, yeast, hops, barley, and also the ‘art of brewing’.
The Café de Vergulde Kruik (the Gilded Jar Café) are available in the heart of Leiden and opened within the late 1800s to students, locals, and tourists alike. The place to find wooden panels, stained glass windows, along with a charm which can be found in few places to this day, the bar’s original logo was purchased by Heineken for that amount of 35 guldens.
Poems on the streets
Leiden is the kind of place you’ll enjoy visiting, even if you’re not necessarily a ‘museum person’ by itself. While there are many interesting museums (the Rijksmuseum is home to a remarkably impressive Egyptian collection), the real charm of Leiden is available in the form of wandering along centuries-old streets. In stating that, in additional present times, poems have been painted to the sides of numerous from the buildings throughout town.
Events are always happening in Leiden
Due to the status as a student town, Leiden has some kind of event going on. Should you actually want to experience a local tradition, then it’s worth going to the city around the 3rd of October. At the time, many shops are closed and people are given the day off work.
Leiden Sundays are pretty laid back
Whether you want to enjoy brunch with friends or stroll across the city’s many canals looking for filming locations and hidden gems, then Sundays in Leiden are as relaxed as you like. Though most businesses maintain the same hours as the rest of the week, the town includes a cool and laid-back ambience about this.
You can take an excursion to Keukenhof Gardens
The largest flower gardens on the planet are that of Keukenhof, which are only open for a few weeks every year. Though most tourists opt to go to the tulips and hyacinths like a day trip from Amsterdam, if you’re seeking to spend less and enjoy a lesser-known Dutch city, then you might choose to instead visit Keukenhof like a excursion from Leiden.
During Keukenhof opening hours, there’s a special bus that goes from Leiden Centraal straight to the doorway of Keukenhof. Public transit takes around half an hour. Purchase your Keukenhof skip-the-line ticket here and save money on precious exploration time so as to explore the gardens.
How to visit Leiden, the Netherlands
Leiden has easy to use and incredibly navigable transport links towards the rest of the Netherlands and beyond. When it comes to flights, there’s an immediate train which matches completely from Schipol airport straight to the Leiden Central Station.
For those looking for the perfect Dutch escape with no hustle and bustle of larger Dutch cities, then it’s worth booking a longer remain in Leiden. Though less crowded than Amsterdam, or even The Hague, you’ll still want to book your stay well in advance for the greatest deals. Check the very best accommodation prices and availability here.
If you want to begin to see the nearby tulip fields from March to May, then Leiden makes for an ideal base from which to explore the wider region of Holland. And for those who would like to get to know Leiden on a more local level, this 2-hour guided walking tour will highlight some of the city's best sights during a relaxed wander around Leiden.