When I think about the Netherlands, I automatically think of Amsterdam. It’s big, bold, quirky, beautiful, historical, and it never sleeps. It has lots going for it. When we headed out to the Netherlands in August we first thought of staying in Amsterdam, but prices made us decide to settle for Leiden. We were going to a wedding there after all, so we thought that was a better idea for coming back late to our Airbnb after the festivities.
Turns out Leiden is amazing! It’s like a mini, historical and scholarly Amsterdam. Since living in Scotland, I do miss cities and their infinite potential, but I do love the serenity of town life. We thought we would go into Amsterdam for 2 out of our 4 days in the Netherlands, but we ended up staying in Leiden for 3 of those days and really enjoying ourselves.
Honestly, Leiden doesn’t have that much to do, but we mostly enjoyed it by walking around in the warm August sun. And while I would definitely recommend staying over in Leiden, to experience a more relaxed and collegiate atmosphere, you could probably tour the city in just a day or two.
Here is my guide for a lovely stay in Leiden:
Stay in the main fortification of the city
If you check a map of Leiden, you’ll see it has a square, star-like shape and that was the limits of the city back in the day. It is still probably the most interesting parts of the city. It has the potential to be a bit loud (because: Netherlands) but it’s convenient and lovely.
The botanic gardens of the University of Leiden are well worth the look. It’s a fun and leisurely walk, and the best thing is, entrance is not too expensive. If you feel like it, you can even bring lunch and sit nearby a canal for a relaxing afternoon. Another good thing is getting entrance to the Leiden Observatory (though you need separate tickets for a tour).
Take a boat tour
I would recommend taking a boat tour – what better way to experience the canals really? Like in any Dutch city, there is a bit choice of canal tours, so shop around.
The day we took a boat tour ended up a bit colder than the other days and the tour company added tops to their boats. Which is nice if it rains, but we struggled to see well outside the boat and there was no way I was going to be able to take a respectable photo.
Burcht van Leiden
Definitely go up the Burcht van Leiden. It’s only a short walk from the main canals and streets and it’s not much of a climb at all (maybe a whole 2 minutes). But the views are nice and it’s pretty cool to walk around the top layer of this 11th century keep.
University of Leiden
Walk the streets and take in the collegiate atmosphere at the Universiteit Leiden. It’s situated along (the terribly named) Rapenburg street toward the south west of the city fortification.
Go to the beach at Katwijk
Are you in Leiden and the weather happens to be gorgeous? (That’s lucky!) Head over to the beach. It’s only about 20-30 minutes on the bus, and it’s a beautiful beach. The water is pretty warm (well when you come from Scotland) and there is loads of activities to do by the seaside.
Go for a drink
It’s the Netherlands after all! The bars are pretty well priced (our last trip was in Denmark…) and you have to taste Dutch beer. The Brit doesn’t drink but he loved their 0% alcohol-free beer. Try Meneer Jansen or Einstein, both on Nieuwe Rijn, for a good atmosphere.
Walk around the city (day and night)
Walking around Leiden was a gorgeous, leisurely affair. It helped that we got the most gorgeous weather, of course. The city wasn’t overcrowded and the historical architecture of the city centre was beautiful. A walk on a clear summer night is also absolutely beautiful, especially with the lights’ reflection on the canals.
What to skip?
There is a pretty good choice of museums in Leiden too, but they are all so expensive. Living in Britain has definitely spoiled us when it comes to free museums! We wanted to go visit the CORPUS museum, which is a larger than life journey through the human body, but at E18.25 each, it was a bit steep. We bought chocolate and cheese instead. #noregrets The Weaver’s House is the only museum that is free I believe, but we didn’t manage to make it there. I say skip the museums and take in the air of the city – which is basically a gorgeous open-air museum.
Have you ever been to Leiden? Or the Netherlands? What did you think?xx