When I did my Masters degree, I decided it would be cheaper to study abroad. So one day I packed my bags and headed off to Leiden, the Netherlands, for a year. It remains one of my favourite places in the Netherlands. As far as I’m concerned, it completely surpasses Amsterdam as a place to visit if you’re going to Holland. And, if you do insist on visiting Amsterdam, then Leiden is only a short trip away that can easily be slotted in.
Despite all that, I’ve never actually written anything about Leiden. So when I had some
dodgy photos developed which included some old snaps of Leiden, I knew I’d have to rectify it pretty quickly.
So here are a few reasons to love Leiden.
Leiden has the most amount of canals in the Netherlands, bar of course Amsterdam. Not only does this mean that the city is very, well, Dutch looking and totally gorgeous, but it also means that there are a stupid amount of canal side bars to grab a drink at. I probably spent more time than I should have done drinking in them while I was at Uni, but I suppose it had to be done, right?
Not only that, but you can get a canal trip from the Blauwpoortshaven. They usually take around an hour, show you all the interesting parts of Leiden from a boat perspective and if you travel on a Wednesday or Saturday, you can get a pretty special view of the flower market taking place in town.
And, if it’s winter and the canals are frozen over then there’s also a good chance you can take a walk along them. If you’re brave. Which I was not…
The Leiden loop.
You can take a self-guided walk around the historic centre of Leiden really easily. It’s the best way to make sure that if you visit the city, you don’t miss anything out. The streets of Leiden have barely changed since the 17th Century. And they’re full of the amazing Dutch architecture we all know and love from pictures of Amsterdam. Along the way, you can see where Rembrandt was born and where the first tulips in Western Europe were planted. The best thing is you can either pick up a booklet showing you the loop from the tourist information centre, or just download it on your phone.
The Wall Poems.
Walking around Leiden, you’ll notice that there are poems spread across walls everywhere. Starting in 1992, there are now over 100 poems on the walls of random buildings across the city. I don’t think that in my year there I managed to see even close to them all. They’re in a variety of different languages, but small plaques at the bottom of each poem have the Dutch and English translations. My favourite was A Coat by William Butler Yeats.
What could possibly be more Dutch than a windmill? Apart from maybe clogs, tulips and canals…
Leiden has two windmills – De Valk and De Put. You can climb De Valk if you’re not too scared of ladders – it has seven floors. Plus there’s a deck where you can head to check out the views of Leiden. It’s also ridiculously cheap to enter at 4 euros.
If you haven’t had enough of checking out the views from a windmill, then you can get them from the Burcht as well. The Burcht is an old shell keep built on top of a motte. Ie, basically one of the only “hills” in Leiden. However, it’s now a public park. Climbing to the top is worth all of the stairs, you really do get the best view of the city from there.
Plus, once you make your way back down there is a really cute bar next door that has a friendly cat. A bar that has a cat is never ever a bad thing.
Cycle to the tulip fields.
Okay, so this isn’t quite in Leiden. But, it was a definite plus point to living there. You can get to some of the best tulip fields in the Netherlands really easily from Leiden. You only have to cycle for 20 minutes before you’re absolutely surrounded by them. During the peak months, you can get also get a bus from Leiden Centraal which takes you straight to the famous Keukenhof – over 32 acres of just the prettiest flowers. If you’ve ever seen the typical photos of the tulip fields, you can only half imagine just how incredible they are to see in real life.
Head to the sea.
And another one which isn’t exactly Leiden itself, but is still worth visiting. Leiden is only a short cycle away from the Dutch coast and the small seaside towns of Noordwijk and Katwijk aan Zee. It’s a long expanse of sand, with dunes and beach huts. It makes the perfect escape from the city on a hot summers day.