Day TripsNetherlands

A Guide to Leiden, Netherlands

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 Leiden Tourist Information office (Stationsweg 26) is on your left-hand side – a good starting place to get information. You can pick-up a free map and guide and it also sells booklets with various themed self-guided walks.

leiden vvv tourist information office
Leiden VVV Tourist Information Office

It is open daily, 0800-1800 (Mon-Fri), 1000-1600 (Sat) and 1100-1500 (Sun).

De Valk Windmill

Continuing on foot down Stationsweg, cross over the canal – on your left you will spot De Valk windmill (Molen de Valk) which means ‘falcon’ in Dutch and is an old cornmill dating from 1743. The mill is now a museum.

molen de valk windmill leiden
De Valk windmill in Leiden

It is open 1000-1700 (Tue-Sat), 1300-1700 (Sun), closed Monday – and entrance costs €5 for adults, €2.50 for children 6-15, free for children 0-5 and Museumkaart holders.

Molenmuseum De Valk, 2e Binnenvestgracht 1, 2312 BZ Leiden

Beestenmarkt / Canal Cruises

Walking a bit further south you will reach the Beestenmarkt square. Outfit Rederij Rembrandt offers canal cruises around the city from here. The cruises take about 50 minutes and an audio tour is available in 10 languages.

leiden centre
Beestenmarkt in Leiden

Rederij Rembrandt, Blauwpoortshaven 5, 2312 EL Leiden

It is also possible to do a 2 hour boat tour of the nearby Kagerplassen lakes which is just north of Leiden. This is offered from company Rederij Van Hulst and these depart from Leiden’s Haven on the eastern side. Book a lake cruise here

Just round the corner from Beestenmarket is the Museumhaven Leiden (Museum Harbour) with its old boats. You can see the Rembrandtbrug (Rembrandt bridge) and De Put windmill in the background.

museum haven leiden
Museumhaven Leiden

Museum Volkenkunde

The Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden is a magnificent ethnographic museum which showcases cultural items and artefacts from non-European people worldwide. The museum was opened in 1837 in a former academic hospital located just off Stationsweg.

It is part of the umbrella organisation National Museum of World Cultures which also includes Amsterdam’s Tropemusuem.

museum volkenkunde leiden
Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden

Its permanent exhibition shows the collection highlights from China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea, Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America, Oceania and the Arctic. The presentations are first class with complementary audio visual components – it is well worth a visit.

museum volkenkunde leiden - indonesia exhibit
Museum Volkenkunde Leiden – Indonesia exhibit

The museum is open 1000-1700 (Tue-Sun), closed on Mondays.

Entry prices are €15 for adults, €6 for children 4-18. Free for kids 0-3 and Museumkaart holders. Book Museum Volkenkunde tickets here

Museum Volkenkunde, Steenstraat 1, 2312 BS Leiden

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Heading south down the Rapenburg canal you will come to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Dutch National Museum of Antiquities).

rijksmuseum van oudheden leiden
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden

This is the principal archaeology museum in the Netherlands with antiquities from the Egyptians, Etruscans, Greek and Roman empires. You will find an assorted collection of mummies, statues, ceramics, jewellery etc including items from Roman-occupied Netherlands.

rijksmuseum van oudheden leiden - egypt exhibition
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden – Egypt exhibition

The main entrance hall houses the Egyptian Temple of Taffeh, one of the highlights. It is around 2,000 years old and was gifted to the Netherlands by Egypt in 1979.

rijksmuseum van oudheden temple of taffeh
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden – Temple of Taffeh

The museum is open 1000-1700 (Tue-Sun), closed on Mondays.

Entry costs €14 for adults, free entry for ages 0-18 and Museumkaart holders.

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Rapenburg 28, 2311 EW Leiden

Japan Museum Sieboldhuis

On the other side of the Rapenburg canal is found the historic house which hosts the Japan Museum Sieboldhuis. It has an impressive array of Japanese objects collected by Bavarian physician Philipp Franz von Siebold during his stay in Japan (1823-1829).

japanmuseum sieboldhuis leiden
Japan Museum Sieboldhuis in Leiden

This includes an assortment of Japanese prints, lacquerware, ceramics, fossils, herbaria, stuffed animals, coins, textiles and maps.

The museum is open 1000-1700 (Tue-Sun), closed on Mondays.

Entry prices are €8.50 for adults, €5 for youths 13-17. Free for children 0-12 and Museumkaart holders.

Japanmuseum Sieboldhuis, Rapenburg 19, 2311 GE Leiden

Hortus Botanicus Leiden

The beautiful Hortus Botanicus in Leiden is the oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands. Dating as far back as 1590, it is run by Leiden University. It has a collection of over 60,000 plants including endangered species, a Chinese herb garden, a giant water lily and 30 monumental trees.

hortus botanicus leiden - botanical gardens
Hortus Botanicus Leiden

The site includes a number of greenhouses and an old observatory. The popular Hortus Grand Café is a good place to have lunch.

hortus botanical gardens leiden
Hortus botanical gardens Leiden

The garden is open daily 1000-1800 in the summer season (April to October). Note, the winter opening hours are 1000-1600 (Tue-Sun, closed Mondays) from November to March.

Entry prices are €8.00 for adults, €3.50 for children 4-12. Free for kids 0-3 and Museumkaart holders. Book Hortus Leiden tickets here

Leiden historic centre

Take a walk around the narrow historic streets of Leiden’s city centre – there are a number of places of note.

The Gravensteen on Pieterskerkhof was originally a county prison and has a somewhat grim history. In the 17th century the square was used as a place for public executions.

gravensteen leiden
Gravensteen in Leiden

The Gothic-style Pieterskerk (St. Peters church) has been a city landmark since the year 1121. Leiden uses the 2 keys of St Peter as its city symbol. The church has a memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers, who lived in Leiden for 12 years before departing to America on the Mayflower in 1620.

pieterskerk leiden
Pieterskerk in Leiden

The Young Rembrandt Studio at Langebrug 89 is where Dutch Master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) spent his formative early years learning how to draw, paint and make etchings. This was before he moved to Amsterdam.

young rembrandt studio house leiden
Young Rembrandt Studio in Leiden

There is a free 7 minute video projection giving insight from the perspective of his art teacher Jacob van Swanenburgh.

young rembrandt studio leiden video
Young Rembrandt Studio – video projection (in Dutch or English)

Continuing our tour around the centre, the Stadhuis (city hall) on Breestraat has a facade which dates from 1595. Several of the Pilgrims were married in the building.

stadhuis leiden
Stadhuis in Leiden

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 Stille Rijn. On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a general market along the canal near the Stadhuis.

nieuwe rijn leiden
Nieuwe Rijn canal in Leiden

There are countless cafés, bars and restaurants around the centre to stop off for a coffee, sandwich or something more substantial.

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.

De Burcht is a freely accessible medieval fortress which can be climbed. It has some nice views of the surrounding area including the large Hooglansekerk church.

de burcht in leiden
De Burcht fortress in Leiden with views of the Hooglansekerk

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave

The Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is the National Museum of History of Science and Medicine. It is located in a former convent, plague shelter and hospital. Founded in 1928, it has an extensive collection of scientific and medical equipment from the 17th century onwards.

rijksmuseum boerhaave
Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden

It is named after Dutch scientist and surgeon Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) who taught at Leiden University.

It is open 1000-1700 daily. Entry prices are €13 for adults, €5.50 for 4-17. Free for kids 0-3 and Museumkaart holders.

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, Lange St. Agnietenstraat 10, 2312 WC Leiden

Museum De Lakenhal

Located on the Oude Singel canal further north is De Lakenhal, a museum which showcases fine art, history and crafts from Leiden.

museum de lakenhal leiden
Museum de Lakenhal Leiden

The museum is open 1000-1700 (Tue-Sun), closed on Mondays.

Entry prices are €12.50 for adults, free for children 0-18 and Museumkaart holders.

museum de lakenhal exhibition
Museum de Lakenhal exhibition

Museum De Lakenhal, Oude Singel 32, 2312 RA Leiden

Naturalis

Just outside of the centre on the opposite side of the station, past the large academic hospital is Naturalis Biodiversity Center. This modern family-friendly museum focusses on the natural world and has 8 galleries featuring plants, animals, fossils and rocks.

naturalis leiden
Naturalis Museum in Leiden

The museum is open daily 1000-1700. Entrance costs €16 for those aged 4 or higher. Free entry for children 0-3 and Museumkaart holders.

Naturalis, Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR Leiden

If you wish to immerse yourself in centuries of history and a compact, picturesque city centre then a trip to Leiden is highly recommended.

Getting to Leiden from Amsterdam

Leiden can be easily reached from Amsterdam Central by direct train – there are regular Intercity services (direction Den Haag Centraal or Vlissingen) which run around 4x hourly. The journey takes around 35 minutes via Amsterdam Sloterdijk and Haarlem.

leiden central station
Leiden Central station

An Amsterdam-Leiden day return costs €20.20 (2nd class) or €33.74 (1st class) – 2022 prices. There is a €1 surcharge for disposable tickets.

This article was originally published in 2010. Last updated 6 October 2022.

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