Leiden is an historic small city situated about 35km south-west of Amsterdam. With its picturesque canals and narrow streets, some fine museums and good shopping it makes for a great day out from Amsterdam.
Leiden is renowned for its university, the oldest in the Netherlands (1575) - and the large student population gives the place a lively atmosphere.
As you come out of Leiden central station the VVV Tourist office is on your left-hand side - a good starting place to get information and maps. Continuing on foot down Stationsweg, cross over the canal - on your left you will spot the Valk windmill (Molen de Valk, pictured below) which is now a museum. After about 200m you will reach a square - Beestenmarkt - where rondvaart canal boat tours can be done.
Bearing left you will find the start of Haarlemmerstraat, the main pedestrianised shopping street with both chains and independent stores. This will bring you to the heart of the centre. Notable buildings around central Leiden include the Stadhuis (city hall), the Gothic-style Pieterskerk (St. Peters church) which also has a memorial to one of the Pilgrim Fathers, the Hooglansekerk church and de Burcht, a freely accessible medieval fortress.
One of the highlights of Leiden is just strolling around the canals of Nieuwe Rijn and Oude Rijn - these combine and continue back west as Stillerijn and Galgewater to the De Put windmill. On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a general market along the canal near the Stadhuis.
There are countless cafés, bars and restaurants around the centre to stop off for a coffee, sandwich or something more substantial. Well known budget eats include Maoz Falafel and Bagels & Beans café (both on Haarlemmerstraat). There is a La Place self-service restaurant at the V&D department store (Aalmarkt 22) - the 4th floor outer terrace has fine views over the city.
Leiden has its fair share of classy French restaurants (such as Het Prentenkabinet, Kloksteeg 25) For a good Indian head to Everest Tandoori at Noordeinde 15 and for a good value Greek try the popular Delphi on Nieuwe Rijn 52.
Leiden has a number of excellent museums (note all closed Mondays):
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) - Principal archaeology museum in the Netherlands with antiquities from the Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks and Roman empires. You will find an assorted collection of mummies, statues, ceramics, jewellery etc including items from Roman-occupied Netherlands. Entry costs €9.50 for adults, €7.50 for seniors 65+, €3 for children 5-17 year olds and free entry for ages 0-4 and Museumkaart holders. The main entrance hall is open to the public and houses the Egyptian Temple of Taffeh. Rapenburg 28.
Museum voor Volkenkunde (Museum of Ethnology) - Showcases cultural artefacts from native people worldwide with an excellent collection from Indonesia and the Dutch colonies. Open 1000-1700 Tue-Sun. Entry prices: €12 for adults, €6 for 4-18. Free for kids 0-3 and Museumkaart holders. Located at Steenstraat 1 (near the station).
Museum Boerhaave (Museum of History of Science and Medicine) - Exhibit of scientific and medical equipment from the 17th century onwards. Named after Dutch surgeon Herman Boerhaave. Open 1000-1700 Tue-Sun. Adults €9.50, seniors 65+ and children 6-18 €4.50, free for 0-5 and Museumkaart holders. Just of Harlemmestraat at Lange Agnietenstraat 10.
Other museums of note in Leiden include Naturalis (natural history, good for kids) at Darwinweg 2 and the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal (Leiden's municipal museum, 17th century art).
On a sunny day check out the Hortus Botanical Gardens (Rapenburg 73) run by Leiden University. Open daily 1000-1800 (Apr-Oct) and Tue-Sun 1000-1600 (Nov-Mar). Entry €7, kids 4-12 €3, free for Museumkaart.
As you would expect from a student city Leiden has a decent nightlife with bars and clubs going on to the early hours. There are night trains running hourly back to Amsterdam.
Getting to Leiden
Leiden can be easily reached from Amsterdam by direct train - there are regular Intercity services running around 4x hourly. The journey (which goes via Schiphol airport) will take just over 30 minutes. A day return costs €18 or €30.60 in first class - 2016 prices. There is a €1 surcharge for disposable tickets.
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