Leiden has been my home for the past 7 years. Until my recent move to The Hague this city was my pride & joy. Now that I’ve moved on, I realize how lucky I’ve been to live in this amazing open air museum! Of al the amazing things to do in Leiden, I will miss these 7 the most.
Before we get to these 7 amazing things to do in Leiden, let me explain why you should visit in the first place.
While Leiden gets a decent number of tourists every year, it’s nothing compared to Amsterdam. The capital’s city center is always crowded, full of stag night celebrations, tour groups and people rattling their little suitcases around.
Leiden’s atmosphere feels a bit like Amsterdam, yet smaller and friendlier. The city is filled with students which means there’s always something going on. For night life you don’t really need to come to Leiden though. Most people party fraternity style, meaning you’re not invited!
However, there’s plenty things to do in Leiden that doesn’t involve partying. If you’re from the Boston arena, you’d have to forego your partying for a while but you’ll get to see some really good things in the city. The charming city center is home to a few amazing art museums as well as vintage boutiques and cozy restaurants. Architecture lovers will love Leiden’s churches, narrow alleys and canal houses.
Since I started living there in 2010, Leiden has been a great home. The biggest reason we’re moving is the housing problem in the city. Apartments are increcibly tiny and overpriced, which is a problem in the urban areas of the Netherlands anyway. The Hague, the city where my family is from, has more to offer in that direction, but the best part is that Leiden is only 9 minutes away by train 😉
7 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN LEIDEN
I used to say that Leiden is like Amsterdam, but smaller. And with less tourists. Like Amsterdam, Leiden has those beautiful canals that surround the city center. In summer locals sit around the canals to bask in the sun, or they use a boat to get around the city.
As a tourist you can rent a boat, too! From a canoe to a barge, most rental companies in Leiden don’t require you to have a boat master’s certificate. Simply rent your barge at ‘Bootjes en Broodjes’ (Boommarkt 19) and sail away!
Not sure about your boating skills? Buy a ticket for one of the boat tours around the canals at ‘Rondvaart Leiden’. They have different tour packages, from boats and bitterballen (a famous, Dutch delicacy) to mysterious games on your journey.
In winter locals use the canals for iceskating. Unfortunately the Dutch winters don’t guarantee temperatures below 0 anymore but when they do, the canals are the place to be!
A night walk along the canals on a week night might be one of the best things to do in Leiden, when you want to discover the city all by yourself that is.
Alleys lead to beautiful places!
2.Getting lost in the maze of alleys
As easy as it is to navigate Leiden’s canals, as difficult can it be to find your way through the alleys of the city center. It took me years of wandering through the maze of little backstreets to understand how this city was built.
Getting lost is never a bad idea though. Leiden’s alleys are incredibly beautiful and they can take you to hidden courtyards surrounded by almshouses. Leiden has 35 courtyards like this. Most of them are open to the public, although you should always be quiet and respectful when visiting them because of the people living there.
Want to know more? For €3 p.p. you can go on a city walk, unveiling the 12 most secret and beautiful courtyards of the city. Tours are facilitated by Leiden – City of Discoveries in cooperation with guides from het Gilde Leiden. Booking is not necessary. Just show up at Stationsweg 26 at 11:30.
We all know the typical Dutch houses along the canals. Leiden is not different when it comes to Dutch architecture. But there’s more!
Aside from the canal houses, Leiden is home to a few awesome buildings:
- Leiden Castle, locally known as de burcht van Leiden. Climb up for a beautiful view on Leiden’s surroundings.
- Many churches: my favorites are Hooglandse kerk (Nieuwstraat 20), Pieterskerk (Pieterskerkhof 1A) and Marekerk (Lange Mare 48).
- The city gates: The Morspoort and Zijlpoort are the only two gates left of the fortification of Leiden. Both date back from the end of the 17th century.
- City hall: beautiful, inside and out! Grab a bite to eat at the restaurant in front of it and watch locals get married.
- De Waag: this weigh house was used for merchants to weigh their goods. Nowadays the building is used as a restaurant and café as well as the place to celebrate Sinterklaas, a Dutch version of Santa Claus. (Aalmarkt 21).
- Molen de Valk: you can’t visit the Netherlands without seeing windmills! Windmill ‘de Valk’ is now a museum. It can be easily reached from Leiden central station. (Tweede Binnenvestgracht 1)
- Boutique Hotel Steenhof Suites is situated in a typical but stunning Dutch building, in the middle of Leiden’s gorgeous city center.
Leiden is home to many museums, many of them relating art of ancient history. Did you know famous painter Rembrandt was born in Leiden? Or that Einstein used to teach classes at the university?
The city has always been known as the place to get smarter. Why not do so by visiting some of the amazing museums the city has to offer? These are my favorites:
- The National museum of antiquities has brilliant exhibitions year round. From ancient Egypt to Etruscans, I’ve never seen a bad exhibition there. (Rapenburg 28)
- Packed with animals, plants and fossils Naturalis is the place for family fun! Right now you can visit the most complete T-rex skeleton ever discovered. (Darwinweg 2)
- More into Dutch painters? Lakenhal has an amazing collection of Dutch masterpieces, including Rembrandt, Lucas van Leyden and Jan Steen. (Oude Singel 32).
- Leiden has a special relationship with Japan, as is displayed at Sieboldhuis. Here you’ll find many treasures from Japan, displayed in 7 different rooms. (Rapenburg 19).
- Museum Boerhaave is dedicated to medical science. The museum particularly focuses on Dutch science, displaying Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and the ultra-deepfreeze equipment of Kamerlingh Onnes. (Lange Sint Agnietstraat 10)
- The National Museum of Ethnology portrays the daily life of Mexicans or hunting techniques of people living on the North Pole. Basically it takes you around the world while walking through a beautiful old building. (Steenstraat 1)
- The botanical garden is one of Leiden’s top parks for learning about exotic plants or relaxing in the grass along the canals. Knowing this museum like the back of my hand, I came here to chill out and read a book (and to eat their delicious apple pie!). (Rapenburg 73)
Leiden doesn’t really have a spectacular nightlife. There are almost no clubs, just a few cool cafés and loads of fraternity parties. When you’re not engaged with the fraternities of Leiden, chances are you won’t be able to party until the break of dawn. However, there are some cool cafes to visit when you’re in town:
- Jazz café ‘De Twee Spieghels’ – This café, next to Hooglandse Kerk, is not just beautifully located. It’s a friendly place I loved to visit. Although it’s a jazz café, other types of (live) music are played as well. (Nieuwstraat 11)
- Meneer Jansen (Mr. Jansen), is a lowkey place to hang out right at the canals. Cozy, fun and on the cheap side as well. (Nieuwe Rijn 21)
- De Bonte Koe is probably my favorite bar of all! Packed with people during the evening, but still fun and incredibly lowkey. Here you’ll also find the cheapest beer in Leiden, called SAS beer. (Hooglandsekerkkoorsteeg 13)
- Speaking of beer, the best place to have a pint or two is probably Olivier, a Belgian beer café with an amazing amount of different draft beers. Their gorgeous garden is the best place to hang around in in summer. (Hooigracht 23)
Photo by Dolfina Photography
In Leiden you don’t have to open a book to lose yourself in beautiful words. Just walk the city to find the most incredible poetry murals. Can’t read Dutch? Leiden’s wall poetry is available in all kinds of languages, scattered all over the city.
Whenever I walked my route to and from central station, I loved discovering new poems. Next to the amazing sunrises over the canals this was the main reason why I was almost too late to catch the train every single day.
One of the best places to go vintage shopping in Leiden is around the St. Peters church (Pieterskerk). Here you’ll find small shops with vintage clothing as well as furniture and other cool stuff. Get lost in the alleys around the church to find small restaurants as well.
My favorite vintage store is ‘The Lonely Hunter’ a record shop filled to the rim with amazing vinyl, cd’s and dvd’s. (Burgsteeg 9).
Back to you!
These 7 things I will miss most about Leiden, 1 for each year I’ve lived there. Living so close to it, I’ll make sure to visit it when the deprivation becomes unbearable.
More about Leiden:
- Where to eat in Leiden
- Party like the Dutch – Celebrate Leiden’s Ontzet
- A Scavenger hunt through the poetry murals of Leiden
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The beautiful Zijlpoort
A guy relaxing ‘student style’ at the shore of the canal.