If you’re looking for somewhere to go this summer and are not after sweltering beaches, may we advise that you consider the Dutch city Leiden?
Leiden is a well-kept secret, since it’s surrounded by the larger cities of the Netherlands like Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. This city has a rich history and is situated at a crossroads in Holland, so you’ll be able to get to all the other tourist hotspots in the country.
There’s plenty to see in Leiden. The city was founded in the 16th century and became a centre for the European wool trade. It saw a major decline but diversified its industries attracting artists, scientists and engineers who gave the city a major boost in culture and affluence in the late 19th century.
There’s a curious mix of old and new in Leiden. It is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, with a fifth of its population forming the student body. This gives Leiden a vibrant nightlife which contrasts with the city’s aged setting.
The old industrial aspects of the city (e.g. the canal network) make a great way to tour through the city. When Leiden returned to wealth in the 19th century, many large and lavish buildings were constructed, making Leiden a picaresque city ideal for afternoon jaunts. It is a relatively small place easily traversed by foot or on bike.
The two main walking tours you can take are:
Muurgedichten – The Leiden is decorated with wall poems, and you can take a paid tour, have a bit of a poetry lesson, print out a map and see for yourself. Alternatively, you can just amble through Leiden with your eyes peeled.
Hofjeswandeling – A tour of the city courtyards, this will expose you to some of the finer architecture Leiden has to offer as well as some of the history and local lore.
This tour will take you through the Wan der Werff Park, named after the mayor who was accused of hiding food reserves when the town was under siege by the Spanish. To show the sincerity of his denials, he offered to cut off his arm and offered serve it to the public.
We would also recommend you visit the Burcht of Leiden, which is one of the best preserved Motte Castles in the Netherlands. It sits high upon an artificial hill and commands the best view of the city, with foundations dating back to the 9th century.
There are three National Museums in Leiden covering Natural History, Antiquities and Ethnology. The National Museum of Ethnology hosts one of the world’s largest collections of ‘the artefacts of man’ compiled and researched with the help of Leiden University.
Shopping and eating out is a varied experience in Leiden – it retains the ‘melting pot’ aspect of its early years with the local populace cooking up all forms of cuisine. Prices range from absolute luxury to those suitable for the city’s student population.
Shopping areas are but a 15 minute walk from the central station. You can make your way to De Slegte, a 3-floor bookstore found on the Breestraat. This shop has a large selection of second-hand books at great value.
Tourists out for a bit of exploration should stop off at Verswinkel for freshly made bread rolls made right in front of you – they’re among the very best in Europe. They’re represented at Leiden’s open markets held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You’ll also be able to get there late on a Thursday, when most of the shops in the city remain open until 9pm.
Leiden is located near the centre of Holland so P&O Ferry’s can take you Rotterdam and you’re just a short trip from the wonders of Leiden.
Image credit: carolune