The student city of Leiden is bustling with energy. Here you will find an abundance of charming streets with houses covered in flowers & parked bikes, cozy squares, lively canals, old courtyard gardens and top notch museums.
In this city guide I will share all my Leiden travel tips about:
What to see and do in Leiden
Windmill De Put is situated on the former ramparts, and looks over the Remdbrandtbridge and the river Rhine. It was first built in the 17th century and rebuild in the 1980's. The mill can be visited during a couple of Saturdays a year when volunteers keep it turning. Check out their opening times here.
The Rembrandt route is a unique walking tour in the footsteps of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), the most famous master painter from the Dutch Golden Age. The route takes you to his birthplace, the studio of his mentor and the Latin School which he attended from the age of seven. At the tourist office (VVV) you can buy the map of the Rembrandt route (€6,95).
After crossing the above mentioned Rembrandtbridge you will arrive at the small Rembrandtsquare where his birthplace once stood at Weddesteeg. Nowadays a plaquette commemorates this special place after the house was demolished a long time ago.
In front of his birthplace stands a statue of the young Rembrandt and an easel with his self-portrait. Not the prettiest artworks in my opinion, but it was nice to walk around at the place where he once lived.
Rembrandt attended the Latin School from 1616 to 1620. Unfortunately the building is closed to visitors as it is an office nowadays. But here you can still get your portrait 'sketched' by the master painter himself! Just look through the square of the ground-floor window, and your portrait will appear on the canvas. You can download your sketch the next day here.
The Young Rembrandt Studio is situated in the 17th-century house where Rembrandt spent his younger years from 1606 to 1630. Here his mentor Jacob van Swanenburg taught him how to draw, paint and make etchings. You can watch (a very well made) seven-minute video about his life inside the house for free.
When entering one of the 35 courtyard gardens (hofjes in Dutch) you are immediately immersed in an oasis of silence. The small monumental houses (in most cases 12 of them) are built around lush gardens filled with flowers and trees. The hofjes were created between the 13th and 19th centuries for the poor and elderly. Depicted below is the Jean Pesijnhofje, which is located next to the Pieterskerk.
The home of the German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) became a museum called The Sieboldhuis. From 1823 to 1829 Siebold stayed at Deshima, a small artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki. At that time trade was only allowed through the Dutch trading post on the island. Here Siebold collected his natural, artistic and cultural treasures. To this day his collection remains the most important 19th century Japan collection in the world.
Siebold's daughter, Ine Kusumoto (1827-1903), was the first female doctor of Japan.
The Hortus Botanicus is the oldest botanic garden of the Netherlands, with the oldest section dating back to 1590. It was founded by the University of Leiden and many of the trees that were planted during the past 4 centuries can still be admired today. The large collection of plants (more than 60.00 specimens) is spread over a beautifully landscaped area of 4 hectares.
In the Victoria greenhouse (built in 1801) grows the Victoria Amazonica, the largest water lily in the world. Its leaves can grow larger than one meter and can carry up to 40 kilograms.
There are several types of gardens as well, like for example the Japanese 'von Siebold' garden, Chinese herb garden and a fern and rose garden. From the gardens you can also reach the Observatory, which is the oldest surviving university observatory in the world. Since 1633 astronomy students follow their practical education here.
From the 20 metres (65.6 ft) high Leiden Castle you will have a beautiful panoramic view over the city. The castle (also known as the 'Burcht van Leiden') dates back to the 12th century, when it was necessary to defend the city. I went there during sunset, so the slopes of the castle were already covered in shade.
As Leiden has got 28 km (17.39 mi) of canals it's great to discover the city from the water. Especially on sunny days, Leiden residents love to take their boat out for a couple of hours on the water.
Even if you're not a resident you can still enjoy the water by renting a boat or by booking a tour like I did. I admired the historic city centre and its 88 bridges during a one hour guided tour. In the meantime I learned a lot about the history and its (former) inhabitants, which were of great importance in shaping the city as we know it today.
Specialty coffee in Leiden
In 2013 coffee roastery Borgman Borgman was established by a father (Rien) and son (Tom) in the heart of Leiden. This specialty coffee bar gives great importance to buying green coffee beans at a fair price. Besides that they try to use organic and local products as much as possible. There is a small menu that contains sweets, breakfast and lunch (with some vegetarian options too).
I Scream Coffee is a specialty coffee bar where you can get home made vegan pastries together with your cup of (slow) coffee. The (traceable) coffee beans come from the Rotterdam based roastery Giraffe.
Chummy Coffee is a specialty coffee bar with coffee from Caffènation, the well known roastery from Antwerp. It is located in a beautiful corner building with antique stained-glass. Unfortunately they were closed during my visit because of holidays, but I am pretty sure you can get a decent cup of coffee here.
Vegetarian lunch and dinner in Leiden
30ml Coffee & Food is a small franchise chain with 12 locations spread over the Netherlands. One of these opened its doors at Botermarkt in November 2019 by owner Floor. Breakfast is served all day, and there are toasts, pancakes, burrito's and sandwiches on the menu for lunch. It is not a 100% plant based food bar, but there are several vegetarian and vegan options to choose from. Besides espresso based drinks, you can also order filter, V60, Kalita, Chemex and Aeropress coffee.
The above mentioned Hortus Botanicus has got a Grand Cafe where you can get (toasted) sandwiches, soups, salads, sweets and snacks. The roasted carrot soup with radish cress and garden herbs tasted very good.
Bar Lokaal is a great bar & bistro which is opened from early morning until midnight. There are many options for vegetarians on their Mediterranean inspired menu. The sizzling hot shakshuka was fresh and very tasty.
Just outside of Leiden you will find Brasserie Buitenhuis, a restaurant located on the edge of the lake of Valkenburg. Here you can book a small greenhouse for an extensive breakfast, lunch or dinner menu (vegetarian as well). The greenhouses are available for 2 to 4 people. Besides that, there is also a huge terrace and indoor seating too. On clear evenings you will be treated with a beautiful sunset over the lake.
Where to stay in Leiden
I was invited by Visit Leiden for a press trip and therefore able to stay one night at Streekhuisje, a pop-up and traveling tiny house on wheels. Unfortunately it is not possible to book this tiny house, but there are many hotels, B&B's and campsites recommended by Visit Leiden.
'Region of Surprises' recommends hotels, beach houses, apartments, B&B's and campsites as well.. Both websites show accommodations in the city and the surrounding area (like Katwijk, Oestgeest and Wassenaar for example).
How to get to Leiden
Leiden is situated in the Dutch province of South Holland, approximately located between Amsterdam and The Hague.
A train of the Belgian railway (NMBS) will take you to Leiden within:
1 hour and 45 minutes from Antwerp
2,5 hours from Brussels
A train of the Dutch railway (NS) will take you to Leiden within:
30 minutes from Amsterdam or Rotterdam
45 minutes from Utrecht
1 hour and 40 minutes from Eindhoven
2,5 hours from Groningen or Maastricht
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Please note: I was invited to experience 24 hours in Leiden by Visit Leiden and Region of Surprises.