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Since I’ve moved to Zuid Holland, I go weekly to Leiden. Leiden is one of the most charming cities of the Netherlands without question. This guide to Leiden focuses on the best things to do in Leiden that I’ve brought my visitors to! If you can wish for Amsterdam without the crowds, you better take the train just thirty minutes to Leiden!
Visit the Burcht
Leiden has a castle although it’s not exactly what you might think of a traditional castle. De Burcht, as it’s called, is mostly the remains of a 12th-century castle that has been passed down through the generations. A princess once holed up in this castle in an attempt to assert her rights to the throne although she wasn’t successful. Today, it’s mostly a public park with phenomenal views over the city. Click to read more about de Burcht!
Follow the footsteps of the Pilgrims
Not many people realize that the Pilgrims lived in Leiden. You can retrace the steps of the Pilgrims by visiting the church that they visited, the alleyway where one of the Pilgrim fathers once had a printing press, and a museum dedicated to their history. Click for a guide to the Pilgrims in Leiden!
Visit the Hortus Botanicus
The Hortus Botanicus in Leiden is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Plant lovers will need to be sure to explore the grounds on a nice day. This garden was started by the University of Leiden for medical students in 1590. It has a large collection of plants from abroad, collecting from the Dutch East Indies. Today, the garden has several greenhouses (some dating back to the 17th century) in addition to numerous other plants. Simply, it’s a green lover’s dream.
Enjoy the Saturday market
One of the best days to visit Leiden is on Saturdays. This lively market is a great excuse to browse for fresh fruits and veggies as well as sample typically Dutch foods. This is where I often buy a fresh stroopwafel, which is a thousand times better when eaten warm.
Enjoy the floating Christmas market*
This seasonal (hence the star*) Christmas market is one of the best reasons to visit Leiden in December. The Netherlands has some lovely Christmas markets,
Try to visit the Sweat Room
The Sweat Room is a pretty peculiar place. This room, part of Leiden University’s campus, is where students would often wait nervously for their exam results. Officially, this room is only open a few times a year, but it’s now a ritual for Leiden University students to sign the walls whenever they graduate! Click for information about the Sweat Room.
Explore the Pieterskerk
One of the highlights of Leiden is certainly the Pieterskerk. This church is where the Pilgrims once attended mass and it’s one of the most important buildings for the city center historically. This beautiful church dates back to the 1300s and its history follows the history of the Netherlands. It was converted into a Protestant church although today it’s a museum and event space. Read tips for visiting the Pieterskerk.
Browse the cool shops in the Pieterskwartier
One of the coolest neighborhoods in Leiden is the Pieterskwartier. This neighborhood surrounding the Pieterskerk has one of the best shopping in Leiden, perfect if you’re looking for something truly unique to bring home with you. This is also a great place to stop off at a cozy cafe!
Climb a windmill
Leiden has quite a few windmills, some of which are still in use. Molen De Put is still in use and you can buy flour that has been freshly ground directly from the source. I’ve only recently gotten into buying flour directly from windmills, but it makes your pastries and cakes taste better. I promise! Molen De Put, which is in the heart of the city center, can be climbed for a few euros to see the interior of the windmill.
Wander down Rapenburg
One of my favorite things to do in Leiden is definitely walking down Rapenburg canal. This beautiful canal was featured in the Miniaturist, a British film series, in lieu of Amsterdam. I actually found my husband’s wedding suit outside of a canalhouse here with a riddle, so don’t be afraid to admire the beautiful houses along this stunning wide canal.
Find the poems around the city
All throughout the city of Leiden, you’ll find lovely poems on the walls in various languages. There are more than 110 poem around the city and although you might not find them all, it’s always a delight reading the text as you wander around the city!
Take a scenic boat ride in Leiden
Like with Amsterdam, the best way to see Leiden is by boat. You don’t need to plan much to see Leiden by boat as there are tours most days down the canals. You can’t miss the place to buy your ticket as you walk from the station and find one of the canals.
Find the old harbor and hanging gallows
It’s funny to me that the most famous photos of Leiden often include such an infamous spot. You’ll find the place where the hanging gallows used to be along Kort Galgewater, however the views are just picturesque at this point. I recommend admiring it from the canal across the way at Galgewater. This was the old harbor and it’s absolutely stunning!
Find the house from the Miniaturist
After watching the Miniaturist, I had to find where they filmed the scenes in Leiden. Although Nella’s house is actually where the University of Leiden is situated, I spent a while comparing images from the miniseries to find the addresses where the series was filmed. Click for my guide to the Miniaturist in Leiden.
Walk like an Egyptian
Leiden is famous for its university as well as its museums. You’ll find a number of smaller museums dedicated to history and science although one of the most famous museums in Leiden is Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. This is the national museum for archaeology in the Netherlands and one of the premier places to see an intact Egyptian temple.
Sit out on a boat with a tea or coffee
One of the big perks of having so many canals is that there are numerous cafes where you can sit out on a boat (on a nice day). Vlot Grand Café is where an acquaintance of mine prefers to sit out reading on a nice day while I’m partial to Einstein and Annie’s. You can’t really go wrong although the service can be a bit slow.
Have a beer at a brown bar
One of the small pleasures of traveling in the Netherlands (and Belgium) are the brown bars. These cozy cafes are filled with gorgeous brown wood and atmosphere. I love relaxing with a beer at De Gevulde Kruik or Lemmy’s. De Gevulde Kruik is one of the oldest cafes in Leiden and well worth wandering in. Even if you don’t drink, you can enjoy a tea or coffee.
See the remaining city gate
Leiden, like many Dutch cities, was a fortified city. Today, there isn’t much left from these fortifications, but the
Explore a hidden courtyard
I’m still in the process of writing about the many courtyards of Leiden, however you will definitely need to check out these historic courtyards. Many of them were used as housing for those in need. Some are still used today as social housing while others are just beautiful homes. This is private property, so please be considerate. The one pictured above is at Kloksteeg 21.
Relax along the canals
On a nice day, do like the locals and picnic outside. In summer, you’ll often find families (and lovers) lounging along the canals eating a pizza and drinking together. Don’t forget to take a moment to slow down. Leiden is all about the slow pleasures and I hope that you enjoy this wonderful city!