A lot of you have been really curious about Leiden. Since moving to the Hague, I regularly visit Leiden and I’m actually considering moving to Leiden as I love it so much.
This cozy Dutch university town is the perfect day trip from Amsterdam (or Rotterdam), so I’ll be showing off the best things to do in Leiden in this little guide to one of my favorite Dutch cities with a free self-guided walking tour of Leiden to ensure that you see the best of Leiden in one day.
- Why visit Leiden
- What’s included on this one day in Leiden self-guided walking tour
- Molen De Valk
- Moorspoort / Galgewater / Molen de Put
- Rapenburg canal
- Hofjes in Leiden
- Leiden City Hall
- De Burcht (Leiden Castle)
- Leiden Library
- Churches in Leiden
- Oude Singel canal in Leiden
- Heineken star bar in Leiden
- Food in Leiden
- Drinks in Leiden
- Where to stay in Leiden
- How to visit Leiden from Amsterdam
Why visit Leiden?
I’ll be going into this much more in detail soon, but Leiden is the perfect city for history geeks as it holds one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands. Although many of the original city fortifications are gone, it has the largest 17th century town center in the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam. (Many of my Instagram followers swore that I was in Amsterdam when I shared a photo of Leiden!)
If you’re interested in Dutch architecture, you’ll be in heaven here as Leiden has the beauty without the crowds. Lastly, Leiden is affordable as it’s a student city, so despite its long history, you’ll find affordable dining and bars in stunning historic locations as well as reasonable hotels. (Consider staying the night!)
One day in Leiden self-guided walking tour
Don’t be intimidated by this free self-guided walking tour of Leiden! Leiden is pretty small, so it’s very easy to wander around and you really won’t be covering much distance at all. Leiden is the perfect city to get lost in, so even if you’re not one for following a set route, you might find some inspiration on things to do in Leiden.
This guide is meant for people more interested in stadswandeling than visiting every attraction. I’ll include some mentions of nearby attractions in case you’re interested, but I think that it’s lovely just to walk around Leiden. I did not include every attraction in Leiden, but my personal favorites. The walking path through Leiden is a little more than 3 kilometers, so it should take about an hour if you don’t have the whole day.
Start/end at Leiden Centraal
The train connection between Amsterdam and Leiden is very reliable with regular trains going , so you don’t need to worry about the train connection!
Molen De Valk
While walking from Leiden Centraal, it’s almost impossible to miss Molen de Valk, one of the most iconic sights of Leiden. The windmill is a museum if you’re curious about the interior of a working windmill.
Moorspoort / Kort Galgewater / Molen De Put
Be sure to peek down Moorstraat to see one of the remaining old city gates. The Moorspoort is a beautiful remnant of the past. The gate was completed in 1619 and it was guarded by the city police. Today, it’s a relaxed street to sit out with a beer (I include a stop at a cafe (Lemmy’s) with a view of the Moorspoort later in this itinerary.)
One of Leiden’s most iconic buildings lies on this short street named for the gallows that used to be here. The windmill Molen De Put dates back to the 1600s although it was recently restored. (You can take a peek inside for a small fee.) Be sure to peek in through the doorway to find the de Ark courtyard, a lovely courtyard used by shipbuilders.
Rapenburg is Leiden’s most beautiful canal. For those sick of the crowds in Amsterdam, Rapenburg will instantly transport you to the best parts of Amsterdam with its elaborate facades, cheerful brick houses, and wide canals. However, you won’t have the crowds in Leiden. The houses here mostly date back to the Dutch golden age, so enjoy your walk down here…
Hortus botanicus is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, dating back to 1590. If you’re interested in plants, I recommend stopping here for a couple hours to enjoy the biodiversity and history. (I mention it here because you need to pay for entry and I tried to only include free things on this walking tour.)
Coffee at ‘t Suppiershuysinghe
This cozy cafe in Leiden is the perfect place to stop for breakfast (or a coffee) in Leiden. After walking down Rapenburg, it’s nice to take a couple minutes to sit with some coffee and cake. On a nice day, you won’t want to move from a seat outside! (Be sure to bring cash as many businesses in Leiden do not accept credit cards.)
The Pieterskwartier is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Leiden. At its center is the Pieterskerk, the oldest church in Leiden. Originally a Catholic church, the current church dates back to 1390 although there was an earlier church there.
It became a Protestant church in the 1500s and many notable intellectuals are buried here, including the author of Snell’s law. The church is generally open to the public for a couple of euros.
The area around the church is filled with beautiful streets that will transport you instantly back in time. All around Leiden, you’ll see keys. The reason is that the Pieterskerk is named for St. Peter, who holds the keys to heaven. As a result, the city of Leiden is referred to as the “key city.”
While you’re here, you’ll also pass one of the first university buildings from Leiden University dating back to the 1500s where students famously wait their final exam results. The Pieterskwartier is famous for its independent shops as well as vintage stores. (If you’re into board games, step into De Gravin Board Game Cafe. I always enjoy wandering down Diefsteeg.)
Just across from the Pieterskerk, you’ll see a nondescript wooden door. If you push it open, you’ll enter one of the 28 publicly accessible hofjes of Leiden. Hofjes are historical courtyards and residences where a generous benefactor would allow the poor to live.
This one (Jan Pesijnshof) was intended for members of the Wallonia Reformed Church and it’s remained this way over the years. The residents ask for silence, so please be respectful when you visit here.
Leiden city hall is considered one of the most beautiful city halls in the Netherlands although the original was unfortunately lost to a fire in the 1920s. The original version outlasted the Spanish sieges. Note: The Escher paintings within its walls are unfortunately not viewable to the public except on Momenumentdag.
Lunch @ ROOS or market or Yogurt Barn
Leiden is a great city for day trippers and you’ll find numerous great options in the Leiden Market area. For those seeking a healthy lunch option (that is vegan-friendly), Yogurt Barn and Bagels & Beans are great choices. Alternatively, ROOS is nice for a sit-down lunch. The Leiden market is every Wednesday and Saturday if you prefer to browse the market for your lunch.
Bear with me here, but the Leiden public library (BplusC) is a cultural center as well as a public library. The building was used as a prison at one point and there’s a beautiful hidden courtyard where you can enjoy free wifi (or a book).
To reach the courtyard, enter Coffee Star and keep walking through the doorway and turn right. I’m a fan of the coffee at Coffee Star, so consider taking a coffee or tea break to enjoy the stunning view.
Southern entrance to de Burcht
The Southern entrance to de Burcht is not to be missed. (You can search for Coffee star on your GPS to find it.) This gate has a poem in Latin that was used to teach students grammar. It’s just a stunning piece of architecture and there’s often musicians playing street music here on a nice day.
De Burcht is the historic keep of Leiden. It was raised both for practical and defensive reasons (water and invaders) and the “castle of Leiden” was built in the 11th century. It was used as a residence by Ada van Holland as well as a military fortification later on. In the 1600s, it was used as a water tower.
Today, de Burcht is a public park with beautiful views over Leiden. It’s the perfect place for a picnic and there’s nothing like passing climbing up the hill to admire the free 360 degree of Leiden!
Hooglandsekerk is a Protestant church still used today. This 15th century church is one of the most famous churches in Leiden (although not the oldest). There are services held on Sundays although you may find fairs inside the church on other days. (I happened to visit the Hooglandsekerk on the same day as a used book fair!) Its skyline is one of the most notable in Leiden, so try to spot this stunning church from de Burcht.
Haarlemmerstraat is Leiden’s main shopping street. If you’re in need of anything (or simply wish to browse the many cute shops!), you’re likely to find it here.
It’s hard to miss the giant eye on top of the Hartebrugkerk, a more recently built Catholic church in the neo-classical style. I heard that there’s a quirky museum of religious artifacts nearby this in the Greccio Museum of Devotional Items.
The Marekerk is one of the first churches in the Netherlands specifically designed for Protestant worship, making it distinct from the other churches in Leiden who started off Catholic. The church dates back to 1639 and has an octagonal shape with an iconic dome that you can see from De Burcht.
Walk down Oude Singel, which was one of the boundaries of the historic city of Leiden. I always enjoy admiring the exterior of the Lakenhal and miniature windmill over the former door, which served as the center of Leiden’s formerly famous textile industry.
It’s just a lovely quiet place to walk although I recommend cutting towards the Elisabethgasthuishof for more scenic city streets away from the canals.
Pre-dinner drink at Café De Vergulde Kruik
Café De Vergulde Kruik is supposedly oldest cafe in Leiden and arguably one of the most beautiful cafes in Leiden. This cafe is famous because Heineken (yes that Heineken!) absolutely loved the star outside on the sign–and purchased it for thirty five guilders.
This bar dating back to the late 1800s has a great selection of beers as well as G&Ts (Gin and Tonics), so it’s the perfect place to stop off for a drink before you head out.
Dinner & Post-Dinner Drinks
As Leiden is a student city, you’ll find affordable dinner options although the cheapest option of all is a picnic along the canals catered with some food from Jumbo or Albert Heijn.
Logica (Thursday, Friday, Saturday only)
This organic restaurant is very affordable given that it’s right along the canals. I sometimes stop here when I’m in Leiden for a meal or a coffee. The food is always fresh and affordable given the portion sizes. (They’re good about allergies.)
Pannenkoekenhuys Oudt Leyden
For anyone visiting the Netherlands for the first time, I recommend stopping by this affordable pancake house for Dutch-style pancakes, which are very different than other styles. Although you can get sweet pancakes, their savory pancakes are enough for 2-3 meals although poffertjes are also a safe bet!
Drinks at Lemmy’s
If you’re into craft beer, definitely stop into Lemmy’s. This unpretentious bruin bar with a knowledgable bartender is a great place to cozy up with a beer before you head home. My husband and I love coming here and we haven’t ordered the same thing ever.
Where to stay in Leiden
I’d recommend seeing if you have the opportunity to stay in Leiden. Hotels are significantly cheaper than Amsterdam and for the same cost as a generic hotel in Amsterdam, you can stay in a historic hotel in Leiden.
How to get to Leiden from Amsterdam
The train from Amsterdam to Leiden takes only thirty minutes depending on your starting station in Amsterdam. From Rotterdam and the Hague, you’ll also find a direct intercity train to Leiden. The train from the Hague Central Station takes only twelve minutes.
Map of this walking route of Leiden
Have you been to Leiden?
- One day in the Hague
- Three days in Amsterdam
- The best day trips from Amsterdam
- Insider tips for travel in the Netherlands
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