Best things to do in Leiden, Netherlands
Explore my top 8 places in Leiden you shouldn’t miss.
Leiden is a beautiful Dutch city which is also crisscrossed by canals and history. Conveniently located only 30 minutes from Amsterdam, and 20 minutes from The Hague, Leiden is a perfect day trip from either of these cities and a must for your itinerary.
We all know Amsterdam is famous for its canals, but in reality, Leiden is the city with the greatest quantity of water flowing through the center of the city. Amazing isn’t it? Leiden’s 88 canals are lined by gabled houses, historic monuments and churches – all in the Dutch style. Leiden is also home to the countries’ oldest university and when visiting you can see a large number of students enjoying what the city has to offer. Take some time to walk around the city and you’ll be greeted by dozens of murals featuring poetry written across walls of houses or important buildings. Below are the best things to do while visiting Leiden:
Visit Molenmuseum De Valk
If you arrive in Leiden central station, the Molenmuseum De Valk is only a short walk away. De Valk is the only windmill in the city of Leiden – out of the original 19 – still standing today. The mill dates back from 1743 and amazingly had to accommodate two families in very tight quarters! The ground floor housed the kitchens, living areas and even a stable of the two houses. The first and second floor were outfitted as the sleeping rooms and the third floor was used as a storage room. The fourth floor along the top of the mill were dedicated exclusively to milling-related activities. The museum has plenty of helpful information about each activity and the miller’s lifestyle. I highly recommend a visit to the mill when in Leiden.
Check the opening hours and entrance fees on the official website
Stroll along the charming canals
As with any city in the Netherlands, the canals steal the show. There are plenty of canals dotting the city where you can have a quiet stroll and enjoy the calming sight of the boats passing by. Among the most famous canals is the Rapenburg – considered Leiden’s most beautiful canal.
There are several museums along this canal including the Academiegebouw (the oldest building in Leiden), the National Museum of Antiquities, the Hortus botanicus and the Sieboldhuis. Whenever you need a break head to one of the several cafes and restaurants of the city to enjoy a good meal or cup of coffee with a priceless view.
If you want to experience the city from a different perspective, take a boat tour – a must do while in the Netherlands. Additionally, if you have the time, sail to “de Kaag” (Kagerplassen) – a lake area located less than 30 minutes from the center of Leiden. There are dozens of windmills and old farms along the water so this would be a perfect trip!
Visit the museums
Leiden has a total of 13 museums so take your pick. The Hortus botanicus is the oldest botanical garden in the country and has a large collection of plan species from several regions including South Africa, Asia and Southern Europe.
For fees and opening hours visit the official website.
The Japan Museum SieboldHuis is another museum worth visiting. Here you will be able to check out a collection of Dutch and Japanese art. You can buy the tickets to this museum online.
The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities lets you explore mummy coffins, statues of Greek and Roman gods and the Egyptian statue of Maya and Merit. This museum is the Netherlands national archeological museum and worth a visit.
For opening hours and entrance fees visit the official website.
Climb the city’s Citadel
Head to the citadel to get panoramic views of the city. The Burcht van Leiden was constructed to defend the city. The citadel was constructed in the 11th century and has walls that are six meters high. The entry is free so head to the citadel if you want to do some exercise and enjoy amazing views of the city and its surroundings.
Check out the wall poetry
When in Leiden, keep your eyes open for the poems that decorate some of the walls. Poems are written in the poet’s original language (including in Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese, French, Turkish, Moroccan and Indonesian) but you can find English or Dutch translations next to them. You’ll see poems from the Bard to Rumi along with everyone in between and beyond.
Head to the Morspoort city gate
The Morspoort (along with the Zijlpoort) are the only remaining city gates still standing in Leiden. This city gate is really picturesque so it’s hard to imagine that in the past it displayed the bodies of hanged criminals. The Morspoort is over four hundred years old and was used as part of the city’s defensive walls. This city gate offers a great photo opportunity so don’t miss this national monument.
Visit Leiden’s churches
Stop by the Pieterskerk church – the oldest church of the city. This late-Gothic Dutch Protestant church houses ancient monuments, stained glass windows and an organ. Here you can also find the grave of the painter Jan Steen. Another church worth visiting is the Hooglandse Kerk located in the historic inner city. This gothic church has most of the structures dating from the 15th century.
Explore the hofjes
Leiden has 35 hofjes (or inner courts) which were constructed between the 13th and 19th centuries. These inner courts were funded by rich benefactors who wanted to build these areas for elderly citizens and poor people who had a critical need for housing. Nowadays students and the elderly enjoy these fairy tale houses. Get your camera ready as you will definitely want to take plenty of photos of these charming nooks.
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