Leiden (historically known as Leyden) is easily one of the most enchanting cities in the Netherlands. It's home to the oldest university in the country, the birthplace of Rembrandt and breeding ground for ground-breaking science and Nobel laureates since centuries. It's a charmingly compact fortified city, literally packed with well-preserved historic heritage but with a young and lively atmosphere due to its large student population.


Leiden's west gate, the Morspoort
Leiden's east gate, the Zijlpoort
Topographic map image of Leiden (2011)

With a population of nearly 120,000, and nearly 20,000 of them students, Leiden is one of the Netherlands' few true student towns (along with Groningen, Utrecht and Delft). Leiden University is the Netherlands' oldest university, founded in the 16th century to commemorate the resistance of its townsfolk to the Spanish siege. Its buildings are dotted around town, in and out of the city centre. This gives Leiden a relatively young and internationally diverse population, especially with the university having a particularly strong law and medical faculty. The Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) is located right behind central station. Its vibrant student population means Leiden is never short of a great place for a drink. However Leiden's Dutch students are notorious for being dominated by its 'Studenten verenigingen' (fraternities) which means many international students choose to go to nearby Amsterdam, or the Hague for late-night partying.

Get in

By train

Leiden is best reached by train. The journey takes 10–15 minutes from The Hague, and 15 minutes from Schiphol Airport, the principal airport in the Netherlands. The journey from Amsterdam takes between 30 and 40 minutes.

Most trains arrive at Leiden Centraal, which is 500m North-West of the City Center, and 1 km from the City Hall. Leiden Lammenschans station (relatively small station on the line to Alphen and Utrecht) is on the opposite side of the city center, just over 1 km from the City Hall. If you do not feel like walking from the station to the centre you can take a bus (ask which ones go to the Breestraat bus stop); this costs €1 during off hours.

By bus

Leiden train station is a central hub for the local bus network, so if you want to go anywhere local your best bet is to go here and ask around. It is worth buying an 'OV' card at the station, which is a sort of chip card that can pay buses and trains everywhere in the Netherlands.

By car

Windmill museum De Valk

In spite of the two highways around Leiden (A4 and A44), the centre of Leiden isn't easy to reach by car. It is best to try and park your car at the transferium (FREE parking) and continue your journey by bus. For this transferium you have to follow the A44 and then take exit 8 (Katwijk, Leiden Transferium). There are also parking lots on the Morsweg (south-west of the town centre) and on the Langegracht (north of town centre, near the station). These parking lots are crowded though, and there's no guarantee there will be space here, especially during the summer. Otherwise there are parking lots at the Groenoordhallen and Haagweg from where free shuttle buses run to the city centre. In the city center the parking fares are expensive. Also outside the old city center (inside the 'Singel' canal) parking is not free in most cases. Only far away from the centre will free parking be found. A normal charge is €4.60 per hour. Leiden is perpetually rebuilding main roads and areas around the centre, making it very difficult to drive by car. The never ending rebuilding of main roads also guarantees major daily traffic jams at the rush hours.

Get around

The large majority of sights are within the old city fortifications. It's a compact area, easy to navigate on foot. The tourist information office right outside the main train station has a number of free and paid maps with main sights and walking routes, but even just strolling around for a while will allow you to see the main historic buildings and museums. For faster exploring or to visit places further out, renting a bicycle is an excellent idea. Like all Dutch cities, Leiden is very bike-friendly and you'll find it's an extremely widely used means of transport where-ever you go. Some rental agencies offer both traditional and electric bikes.

Boats can be a great way to see Leiden, but you're not allowed to moor just anywhere. For that very reason, boating should mostly be considered a way of sightseeing than a means to get around to different locations. That said, it is an excellent way to see Leiden, whether you're opting for a seat on one of the larger round trip boats, book a private tour or rent your own little boat and make your own route. See the "Do" section for more information.



Leiden is one of the most important museum cities in the Netherlands, in quantity only second to Amsterdam. Four national museums are located in Leiden, among others, that are worth to visit. With its history as a university city you will only find one art museum, but several on topics ranging from ethnology to natural history. All major museums are within 10–15 minutes of walking distance from the central station. Note that, except for Naturalis and during school holidays, most museums are closed on Mondays. Museumkaart accepted.

Mammoth skeleton on display in Naturalis in the section about prehistoric animals
A hoard of Viking treasure located in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
Museum Boerhaave, Room 4: University of Leiden, Boerhaave and ‘s Gravensande




Van der Werff Park (c. 1900)


There are two wonderful ways to stroll the old centre of Leiden. One way is to print out a paper guide that will guide you along the poems on the wall, the Muurgedichten. In 1992, the painting project was started and it was recently finished. More than 100 poems from all over the world are painted on the walls of houses. The tour will show you about 25 poems, the whole tour taking about two hours. The guide is downloadable at .

The other way is to take a tour along the courtyards that are often hidden behind the façades of houses. The Hofjeswandeling will start at the Burcht in the city centre all year round on Sundays at two, and from March until October on Tuesdays and Thursdays at two. The costs of the tour are €2.25 for adults and children (-12 years) for free. No need to buy tickets, just be present at the starting time. The tour will take about two hours.

17th-century houses along the Herengracht.
The Singel at night, also chimney of the Light Factory

There are a few different boating companies operating small and large vessels with guided tours. Head to the Beestenmarkt, on the way from the train station to the city center, where boat trips leave every hour and pleasant cafés make waiting for the next one a comfortable experience. Large groups can rent boats (including skipper/guide) by the hour and most companies can offer arrangements including food or drinks if you make reservations in advance.


A comprehensive program of all of the festivals and activities can be found on city council website.


Theatre/ other


Leiden is home to the Netherlands' oldest university, Leiden University, which was founded in 1575. Internationally recognised, Leiden University houses more than 40 national and international research institutes. The university is particularly well known for its law programs, and has a very strong medical faculty, attracting students from all over Europe. The international community is very strong, organising great parties throughout the year. For more information about studying as an international student at Leiden read the leidener , a blog run by some international students.


Haarlemmerstraat and Breestraat are the main shopping streets at the heart of the city center. They are both reachable within 10-15 min. walking from the central station. Shops include bookstores, fashion shops and other ordinary shopping items. In the areas around the Pieterskerk and Hooglandsekerk, small boutiques and antique shops are worth a visit. On Monday, shops open late from 12 noon until 5 or 6PM. All the shops are open on every Sunday (Only a few smaller shops remain closed). On Thursday, shops are open late, till around 9PM (koopavond).

Historically, all the city's lively markets were situated along the Nieuwe Rijn canal. Some names of the bridges over this canal remain as reminders of the trades that took place there once. There's the "buttermilk's bridge", the covered "grain bridge" and the "chicken bridge", to name a few. Today, there are only two general markets. On Saturdays from 07:00 and on Wednesdays from 12:00, there is an open market along the canal between the Nieuwe Rijn and Vismarkt streets. The one on Saturday is larger, but at both there are stalls with vegetables, fruits, fish, flowers, bread, meat etc.

Specialty shops:




Leiden has a lot of restaurants and bars. Especially in the Pieterswijk (the east side of the Breestraat) are a lot of cosy restaurants.

Some of the restaurants in Leiden:

For fast(er) food lovers there are several options:

If you don't find anything of your liking above, there's a plethora of places offering anything from French fries to Shoarma and Pizza and yes; there is a McDonald's (two in fact).


The city is full of students, and cafes and bars are clearly by far the most frequented 'faculty'. There is a healthy and lively cafe and night life. You cannot help wondering if the students actually get time to study from time to time between the many festivities and drink parties all over town. If you are out for a drink, you will not be disappointed. Be aware that you can't enter the bars after 1AM and after 2AM on Friday and Saturday.


Music and clubs


Like every other town in the Netherlands Leiden doesn't lack the presence of Coffeeshops. This town definitely has a few nice options if your interested. They are open between 16.00 and 22.00.


There are plenty of good mid-range hotels and B&B's in the city. Unfortunately for budget travelers, however, there's no youth hostel and sleeping in town for less than €50 per room can be challenging. If your budget is tight, you might consider visiting Leiden on a day trip while staying in hostels in the area or bring your camping gear. There's a hostel in Noordwijk (10km) and The Hague also has options, with a "fast biking" route to Leiden (<1h by bike). Amsterdam is a half hour trip by train, but calculate that the return ticket will set you back about € 17.


Some cafes and fast food places have free WiFi. Ask the cafe staff for advice. Leiden is a student town, free WiFi is highly appreciated there. There are also 'hot spots' e.g. at the station, however, these are run by the previous state monopoly 'KPN'. These are free to use.

Free WiFi is also provided in various places in Leiden by Stichting Wireless Leiden, you can recognize this by a SSID which start with 'ap-WirelessLeiden-'.

Go next

Leiden is a city in the Green Heart (Groene Hart) between the largest cities in Holland. It is surrounded by green meadows, little villages, and, in spring time, the world famous flower fields. From Leiden Central Station a bus (number 54) goes directly to the Keukenhof, an enormous park open from the end of March until the end of May, in which more than 7 million flower bulbs bloom. But you can also take your car or rent a bike and find the fields yourself. The route will lead you through lovely villages.

Bordering Leiden is the town of Oegstgeest. Leiden is also very close to the beach: Katwijk and Noordwijk aan Zee are the closest seaside villages, at just 20 minutes by car. Be aware that on beautiful summer days, the car will probably be stuck in traffic. You can also take a bicycle, which will take you approximately 45 minutes.

Cycle routes in the Leiden area (in English):

Routes through Leiden

Amsterdam Hoofddorp  N  S  The Hague Delft

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 12, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.