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 and maps. It is open daily, 0700-1900 Mon-Fri, 1000-1600 Sat and 1100-1500 Sun.

Continuing on foot down Stationsweg, cross over the canal – on your left you will spot the Valk windmill (Molen de Valk) which is now a museum. After about 200m you will reach a square – Beestenmarkt – where rondvaart canal boat tours can be done. It is also possible to do a longer boat tour of the nearby Kagerplassen lakes from Leiden’s Haven – book a lake cruise here

leiden centre
Beestenmarkt in Leiden

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.

Leiden has a number of excellent museums:

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Dutch National Museum of Antiquities) – This is the 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.

taffeh temple leiden
Temple of Taffeh at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden

Entry costs €12.50 for adults, €4 for children 5-17 year olds and free entry for ages 0-4 and Museumkaart holders. The main entrance hall houses the Egyptian Temple of Taffeh, one of the highlights. Open 1000-1700 daily, address is Rapenburg 28.

Museum 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: €15 for adults, €6 for children 4-18. Free for kids 0-3 and Museumkaart holders. Located at Steenstraat 1 (near the station). It is partnered with the Tropenmuseum of Amsterdam. Book Museum Volkenkunde tickets here

Rijksmuseum 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 daily.

Entry prices: €13 for adults, €5.50 for 4-17. Free for kids 0-3 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) at Oude Singel 32.

On a sunny day check out the Hortus Botanical Gardens (Rapenburg 73) run by Leiden University. Open  1000-1600 Tue-Sun (Nov-Mar) and 1000-1800 daily (Apr-Oct). Entry is €8, children 4-12 pay €3.50, free for Museumkaart holders. Book Hortus Leiden tickets here

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 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.

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 3 February 2022.

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