There are a lot of beautiful cities in the Netherlands, but Leiden is one that you shouldn’t miss. A prominent city that is known for its major role in Dutch history, Leiden still has many structures and monuments from its prime.
The must-visit destinations and things to do in Leiden are limitless: windmills, museums, churches, markets, and canals make up the top things to see while here.
Leiden, Netherlands is a historic university city with plenty to offer tourists and residents alike.
The city has plenty of history underpinned by Leiden University which is the oldest university in the Netherlands. The university started the botanical garden, which is also the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands.
The history is vast here with plenty of interesting museums and famous landmarks. I took a day trip from Amsterdam and as I was leaving, I realized how much there is to do in this amazing university city. I should have definitely turned it into a weekend getaway!
Table of Contents
- Fun & Best Things to do in Leiden, Netherlands
- 1. Visit the old city center and admire the beautiful architecture
- 2. Get educated at the National Museum of Ethnology
- 3. Go boating on the Leiden Canals
- 4. Visit The Hague (just a short train ride away from Leiden!)
- 5. Sample some delicious Dutch food at one of the local restaurants
- 6. Learn about Ancient History at the National Museum of Antiquities
- 7. Visit the fascinating Pieterskerk and Churchyard Museum
- 8. Spend a day at Keukenhof; the largest flower garden in Europe
- 9. Get your Instagram on at the Molen De Valk Windmill
- 10. Explore the impressive Burcht van Leiden
- 11. Experience the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Natural History Museum)
- 12. Get artsy at Museum De Lakenhal
- 13. Explore the peaceful Hortus Botanicus Leiden (Botanical Gardens of Leiden)
- 14. Learn more about the artist’s origins at the Young Rembrandt Studio
- 15. Visit Stadhuis (Town Hall) and the Dutch War Graves Foundation
- 16. Admire De Zijlpoort
- 17. Take some snaps of the Molen De Put
- 18. Take a drive to Duivenvoorde Castle in Voorschoten
- 19. Explore a Hidden Courtyard
- Final Thoughts
- Is Leiden worth visiting?
- What are the best tourist attractions in Leiden?
- What is Leiden Netherlands known for?
Fun & Best Things to do in Leiden, Netherlands
Watch our YouTube video of Spending a day in Leiden, Netherlands from Amsterdam for a visual guide.
Leiden is a quaint little city with a lot of charm. Here are the top things you can do when you visit Leiden:
1. Visit the old city center and admire the beautiful architecture
The old city center of Leiden is a great place to start exploring. This area is full of historic buildings and narrow streets to wander.
There is an amazing Saturday market in the heart of the old city center that can be a great way to enjoy Dutch cuisine and grab a gift to take home from your trip and guided walking tour.
Be sure to visit the Pieterskerk, a 15th Century church with a beautiful interior, and the Stadhuis, the former city hall which now houses a museum. For a different perspective of the city, take a cruise or bike ride through the canals.
But we’ll get into all of these later…
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2. Get educated at the National Museum of Ethnology
The National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) is located in the Museumstraat, one of Leiden’s most famous streets.
It’s an easy location to find as it’s right next to Leiden Centraal Station (Leiden Central Station), just a block down from the Markt, and between two canals that cut through Leiden. The National Museum of Ethnology has rotating exhibits that focus on different countries from around the world and their cultures.
Open daily from 10 am until 4 pm, this museum is housed in a 17th Century building that was once home to Willem van der Hoeven – one of Holland’s most successful businessmen during his time with numerous businesses including banking, shipping, and even mining diamonds.
When you’re visiting Leiden, be sure to add the National Museum of Ethnology to your list of must-sees and get an entry ticket in advance.
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3. Go boating on the Leiden Canals
Leiden has a long and well-developed canal system and has been around for centuries in many Dutch cities and towns. There is a beautiful and wonderful aspect to the Amsterdam canal system, but Leiden’s canals are no exception.
Approximately one river runs through the outer wall of the city and several water routes link with them for an enchanting network to visit. Particular scenic portions of these canals are located near Van der Werfpark and Botanical Garden, Ankerpark.
In the event you visit Leiden it is important to explore the canal to gain more insight into this historic town’s heritage.
There are many places you can go boating on the canals. Renting a boat or taking a canal cruise is an excellent way to experience the city of Leiden. You will be able to see the city and its natural surroundings from a different viewpoint, which is something that you won’t want to miss out on while you’re here.
Boating along the canals is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, especially if you can get out on the water during sunset or sunrise for some truly stunning views.
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4. Visit The Hague (just a short train ride away from Leiden!)
Or explore Hoge Veluwe National Park, one of the largest national parks in the Netherlands. And be sure to try some of the delicious food the Netherlands has to offer, including stroopwafels, Dutch pancakes, and herring.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in the city there are many best Hague hotels or to choose from.
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5. Sample some delicious Dutch food at one of the local restaurants
If you’re in the mood for some Dutch food, there are two great restaurants in Leiden to choose from. Artikel 461 Verboden Toegang is a traditional Dutch restaurant that offers a wide variety of dishes, from Dutch classics like split pea soup to more modern seafood.
Het Pakhuis is another great option for Dutch cuisine, offering a menu that changes daily based on what’s fresh and in season.
No matter what you’re in the mood for, Leiden has a great restaurant to suit your needs.
Among the great choices available, there are tons of eateries with al fresco dining in all shapes and sizes lining the canals throughout the town. This provides a simply gorgeous and quintessentially Dutch tableau to enjoy a quick bite or a drink.
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6. Learn about Ancient History at the National Museum of Antiquities
The National Museum of Antiquities (The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) is a must-visit for anyone interested in archaeology and ancient history.
Built-in 1818, this museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts from Egypt, spanning from prehistory to the Roman period. Highlights of the collection include sculptures, antique vases, and small items.
In addition, the courtyard of the museum houses the Nubian temple of Taffah, which was given to the nation by President Sadat in 1979. The National Museum of Antiquities offers guided tours and is also home to cafés and museums.
Families can learn about the different organs in the human body, how to make a medieval health kit, and the evolution of medical science. Travelers can also learn about navigation and astronomy, and see the largest calculator in the world.
This museum is a great place to learn about the history of science and medicine, and have a lot of fun too.
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7. Visit the fascinating Pieterskerk and Churchyard Museum
Pieterskerk, or Saint Peter’s Church, is the oldest church in Leiden, Netherlands. The unique building is located at Pieterskerk’s entrance and dates back to the 1600s.
The church took over 150 years to construct and features stone and brick architecture with many arched windows. Pieterserk’s interior wall is decorated with several small buildings that surround its semicircular back.
This makes for surprisingly unusual displays. You can enter the churchyard museum to explore the interior of Pieterskerk and see the ornamental decorations, large opulent organs, and lovely vaulted ceilings.
The Churchyard Museum has over 30,000 objects including furniture and silverware from the 16th to 20th Century Netherlands.
If you’re interested in history, architecture, or the arts, Pieterskerk and Churchyard Museum are great places to visit while in Leiden. If you’re looking for a place to stay you may book hotels on Booking.com.
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8. Spend a day at Keukenhof; the largest flower garden in Europe
A visit to Keukenhof should definitely be on your list of things to do when in Leiden. The park is only open for a few weeks each year, so if you’re lucky enough to be visiting during that time, make sure to take advantage of it!
With over 7 million bulbs planted each year, Keukenhof is a colorful explosion of tulips, daffodils, and other flowers. It’s one of the best gardens in Europe by a long shot.
In addition to the flowers, Keukenhof also has several ponds and gardens to explore. Even if you’re not a huge nature lover, Keukenhof is definitely worth a visit – it’s truly a sight to behold on a garden tour.
And if you are a nature lover, you’ll be in heaven. Take a day trip from Leiden to Keukenhof and enjoy all that this beautiful park has to offer.
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9. Get your Instagram on at the Molen De Valk Windmill
Molen De Valk Windmill is a Dutch windmill located in Leiden. This working mill has been restored to working order and is a popular tourist attraction. There is the Molenmuseum de Valk on-site; a small museum where you can learn about the importance of these windmills in the entire country of the Netherlands.
De Valk Windmill is a Dutch national symbol, so it’s no wonder that De Valk Windmill ranks as one of the top attractions in Leiden. You can’t miss it as it’s right off the main street from the train station along a canal. It’s a picturesque scene on a summer day.
There is a public park next to the windmill as well, which is one of the better free things to do in Leiden this weekend as you can sit and watch boaters, a windmill and make a picnic for yourself to enjoy those summer months in style.
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10. Explore the impressive Burcht van Leiden
Burcht van Leiden is a medieval fortress located in the city of Leiden, Netherlands. It was built in the 11th Century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Leiden. In addition to its age and historical significance, de Burcht also offers some great views of the city from its location on the Oude Rijn river.
Visitors can walk around the battlements, take pictures, and enjoy the panoramic views from this unique vantage point.
Burcht van Leiden is a great place to learn about the history of Leiden and get a taste of life in medieval times. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a great view, Burcht van Leiden is definitely worth a visit.
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11. Experience the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Natural History Museum)
If you’re in the Netherlands and looking for a fascinating day trip, consider visiting the Naturalis Biodiversity Centerin Leiden.
This museum is one of the oldest of its kind in the country, and it houses an impressive collection of over three million objects. Among these are fossils, zoological specimens, and minerals.
The Naturalis Biodiversity Center of Leiden first opened its doors to the public in 1874, making it one of Europe’s oldest such museums. So if you’re interested in history or science (or both), be sure to add this venerable attraction to your list!
12. Get artsy at Museum De Lakenhal
The Museum De Lakenhal is one of the oldest museums in The Netherlands. It was originally built as a cloth hall in 1640 and has been an important part of Leiden’s history ever since.
The museum hosts a collection of works of Dutch artists from the 16th and 17th Centuries, including Jan van Goyen, Rembrandt, and Jan Steen among others.
The museum also houses some impressive exhibits of applied arts and decorative arts in museums. Other notable exhibitions include the recently renovated inspection rooms in which cloth was examined and a large number of religious artifacts.
In addition to exhibits on modern architecture, this museum also has a sense of space that combines art by some of the most recognizable artists of the golden age such as Rembrandt and his descendants.
You will get works from most of Leiden’s famous artists including Rembrandt and his descendants.
I particularly liked learning about Leiden’s history through art that reflected the city’s most notable events like The Siege Of Leiden during the Eighty Years War which immortalized this momentous event with paintings so future generations could learn more about it.
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13. Explore the peaceful Hortus Botanicus Leiden (Botanical Gardens of Leiden)
Hortus Botanicus Leiden is a botanical garden in the Netherlands that is perfect for those who love flowers and plants. The Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1590 and is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world.
The Hortus Botanicus is open from April to November, so if you are planning your visit during the summertime, a walk in the botanical gardens is sure to lift your spirits.
The Hortus Botanicus is also a great place for students of plant life, as there are over 6,000 species of plants that can be found in the Hortus Botanicus. There is also a library on site that contains over 30,000 books about plants, making it the perfect place to learn about the plant life of Leiden.
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14. Learn more about the artist’s origins at the Young Rembrandt Studio
If you’re interested in learning more about Rembrandt’s life and work, the Young Rembrandt Studio at Langebrug 89 is a great place to start. Here you can watch an informative video about the artist’s life and work, and see some of his original paintings up close.
You can also pick up a copy of the Leiden Discoverers Guidebook, which includes a map of Rembrandt’s journey through Leiden and information about all of the major sites along the way.
And if you’re really looking to get immersed in the experience, download the free app which uses augmented reality to show you how to navigate this beautiful city and find all of the best places to visit.
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15. Visit Stadhuis (Town Hall) and the Dutch War Graves Foundation
Leiden’s Stadhuis is a beautiful building that dates back to the 14th Century. It’s also home to the Dutch War Graves Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that helps the families of Dutch soldiers who died during World War II by maintaining their gravesites and paying respect to their memory.
The Stadhuis is open to visitors every day except Mondays, with free admission all day on Sundays. If you’re interested in learning more about Leiden’s history or visiting the graves of fallen soldiers, then be sure to add the Stadhuis to your list of places to visit.
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16. Admire De Zijlpoort
De Zijlpoort is the most impressive remaining example of a Leiden-style gatehouse. It is prominent in the center of the town near the canal de Haven, and its design is classical. The gatehouse features a wide stone archway and a large tower surrounded by clocks.
Traditionally the building has been used for poetry meetings, school, and storage. De Zijlpoort is truly an outstanding example of Leiden-style architecture and is definitely worth a visit when you’re in town.
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17. Take some snaps of the Molen De Put
Windmills are everywhere in Holland so you can’t miss the second of Leiden’s famous windmills, Mollen De Put. This historical landmark is situated near Morspoort Gate offering spectacular photographs.
The location is inspiring – just off the canals and conspicuously separate from other buildings. Molen De Put was built at the beginning of the 17th Century and used for milling corn. It’s an impressive monument that you must see when you visit Leiden.
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18. Take a drive to Duivenvoorde Castle in Voorschoten
Duivenvoorde Castle is a stunning example of Dutch architecture that has been privately managed since the 13th Century. The castle gets its name from its founders, and it remains an interesting house to explore.
A highlight of the museum is a collection of art and sculptures containing ancient Roman stones inscribed in Latin that were used for decorating the front of the museum.
Duivenvoorde Castle is a great place to learn about the history of Dutch castles and to get a glimpse into the lives of the people who once lived there.
19. Explore a Hidden Courtyard
Imagine exploring a hidden courtyard in Leiden that most people don’t even know exists. These courtyards and secret gardens are full of history and character, and each one is unique.
Some of the courtyards still exist today for social purposes, and some are just lovely houses. But all of them are worth visiting.
The Leiden Courtyards tour is an incredible journey created by Leiden Discovery. There are 36 properties, including 17 open to the public. Other extensions may have unique facades and can be interestingly viewed.
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These are just some of the highlights of what Leiden has to offer. This charming Dutch university city is sure to delight visitors of all ages and interests.
Whether you are interested in history, art, food, or just want to enjoy a lovely canal tour, Leiden has something for you. So make sure to add this city to your list of places to visit in the Netherlands.
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Is Leiden worth visiting?
Leiden is definitely worth visiting! This university city has a lot to offer tourists and residents alike, including the old city center, canals, museums, and charming restaurants.
What are the best tourist attractions in Leiden?
There are many great tourist attractions in Leiden, including the old city center, the canals, the Botanical Garden, the Burcht van Leiden, and Young Rembrandt Studio.
What is Leiden Netherlands known for?
Leiden is a major cultural center in the Netherlands and is known by many artists in the 16th and 17th Centuries for either their birthplaces or where they spent time.
In addition, the University of Leiden is one of the oldest universities in Europe, which makes this a well-known university city filled with history, museums, and lively cafe culture.