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19 Best Things to Do in Leiden, Netherlands

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There are a lot of beautiful cities in the Netherlands, but Leiden is one that you shouldn’t miss. A prominent town known for its significant role in Dutch history, Leiden still has many structures and monuments from its prime. These are the best things to do in Leiden.

Located just south of Amsterdam, Leiden is a charming university town that provides an accessible day trip from the Dutch capital.

To get there, hop on the train at Amsterdam Central Station and ride for about 24 minutes towards The Hague. Purchase your round-trip tickets (around 18 euros per person) beforehand. Use Omio to compare prices on train tickets and timetables.

While there may be cheaper options, such as an OV chip card for monthly train rides, the convenience is well worth the price. With only two stops between Amsterdam and Leiden, you’ll arrive quickly and be ready to explore this beautiful city.

Captivating Leiden Canal Scene with Traditional Dutch Architecture and Drawbridge, the Netherlands
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The city has plenty of history underpinned by Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands. The university started the botanical garden, the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. I took a day trip from Amsterdam, and as I was leaving, I realized how much there is to do in this fantastic university city. I should have definitely turned it into a weekend getaway!

Watch our full YouTube video of spending a day in Leiden from Amsterdam for a visual travel guide.

Leiden is a quaint little city with a lot of charm. Here are the top things you can do when you visit Leiden:

Things to do in Leiden, Netherlands

1. Visit the old city center and admire the beautiful architecture

Leiden Architecture and Canal
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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.

Charming street scene in Leiden with traditional Dutch architecture, red and brick facades, and a bicyclist.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Be sure to visit the Pieterskerk, a 15th-century church with a beautiful interior, and the Stadhuis, the former city hall that now houses a museum. Take a cruise or bike ride through the canals for a different city perspective. But we’ll get into all of these later…

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2. Get educated at the National Museum of Ethnology

National Museum of Ethnology Building
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Steenstraat 1, 2312 BS Leiden, Netherlands

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 visiting Leiden, 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

Boats on the canals in Leiden, showcasing traditional Dutch architecture and city life.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Leiden has a long and well-developed canal system and has been around for centuries in many Dutch cities and towns. The Amsterdam canal system has a beautiful aspect, but Leiden’s canals are no exception.

Approximately one river runs through the city’s outer wall, 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. If 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 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 truly stunning views.

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4. Visit The Hague (just a short train ride from Leiden!)

Binnenhof Parliament with The Hague skyline and pond reflection in Netherlands
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Hague is home to the Dutch government as well as the International Court of Justice. You can also visit Mauritshuis, an art museum with a collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. This city is rich in incredible history as it was the former capital before moving to the now capital, Amsterdam.

The Hague is a very short train ride from Leiden (around 15 minutes), so it’s hardly even a day trip. If you’re looking for a place to stay in the city, many of the best Hague hotels.

See Related: Best Museums in Haarlem

5. Sample some delicious Dutch food at one of the local restaurants

Leiden Scenery Restaurant Seats
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Leiden has two excellent restaurants if you’re in the mood for some Dutch food. Artikel 461 Verboden Toegang is a traditional Dutch restaurant that offers various 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.

Leiden Restaurants by the Canal
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Among the great choices available are plenty of eateries with al fresco dining in all shapes and sizes lining the canals throughout the town. This provides a 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

National Museum of Antiquities Building
image by Prince Roy is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Address: Rapenburg 28, 2311 EW Leiden, Netherlands

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 museum courtyard 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 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.

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7. Visit the fascinating Pieterskerk and Churchyard Museum

Pieterskerk, Leiden
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Kloksteeg 16, 2311 SL Leiden, Netherlands

Pieterskerk, or Saint Peter’s Church, is the oldest in Leiden, and this 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 surrounding 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 in Leiden. If you’re looking for a 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 vibrant display of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Stationsweg 166A, 2161 AM Lisse, Netherlands

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 visit during that time, take advantage of it!

With over 7 million bulbs planted yearly, 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 and Canal
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 2e Binnenvestgracht 1, 2312 BZ Leiden, Netherlands

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 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 also a public park next to the windmill, 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 to enjoy those summer months in style.

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10. Explore the impressive Burcht van Leiden

Entrance to the Historic Burcht van Leiden in the Netherlands on a vibrant daytime.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Van der Sterrepad 5, 2312 EK Leiden, Netherlands

Burcht van Leiden is a medieval fortress in the historic city center 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.

Historic exit view from Burcht van Leiden, showcasing traditional brick archway and verdant courtyard in the Netherlands.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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.

Burcht van Leiden Scenery
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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11. Experience the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Natural History Museum)

The Naturalis Biodiversity Center museum in Leiden, The Netherlands
atosan/ Adobe Stock

Address: Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR Leiden, Netherlands

If you’re in the Netherlands and looking for a fascinating day trip, consider visiting the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in 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 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!

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12. Get artsy at Museum De Lakenhal

Museum De Lakenhal
dbrnjhrj/ Adobe Stock

Address: Oude Singel 32, 2312 RA Leiden, Netherlands

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.

The museum hosts a collection of works of Dutch artists from the 16th and 17th Centuries, including Jan van Goyen, Rembrandt, and Jan Steen.

The museum also houses some impressive exhibits of applied and decorative arts in museums. Other notable exhibitions include the recently renovated inspection rooms in which cloth was examined and many 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)

Greenhouse of the Hortus botanicus in Leiden.
Jan van der Wolf/ Adobe Stock

Address: Rapenburg 73, 2311 GJ Leiden, Netherlands

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 plan your visit during the summertime, a walk in the botanical gardens will surely lift your spirits.

The Hortus Botanicus is also a great place for students of plant life, as over 6,000 species of plants 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

Young Rembrandt Studio Building
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Langebrug 89, 2311 TJ Leiden, Netherlands

If you want to learn 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 the major sites along the way.

If you’re 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

Architectural fragment of Leiden Stadhuis (City Hall), 16th century building.
dbrnjhrj/ Adobe

Address: Stadhuisplein 1, 2311 EJ Leiden, Netherlands

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

Historic charm of De Zijlpoort in Leiden, The Netherlands, showcasing iconic gate's brick facade and blue and white domed roof.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Haven 100A, 2312 ML Leiden, Netherlands

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 photos with Molen De Put

Flowers with Dutch Windmill in Molen de Put, Leiden
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Park de Put 11, 2312 BR Leiden, Netherlands

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.

See Related: Things to Do in Amsterdam,

18. Take a drive to Duivenvoorde Castle in Voorschoten

Historic Duivenvoorde castle in the countryside of Netherlands on a clear summer day
alpegor/ Adobe Stock

Address: Laan van Duivenvoorde 4, 2252 AK Voorschoten, Netherlands

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 remains an interesting house.

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 get a glimpse into the people’s lives.

19. Explore a Hidden Courtyard

Courtyard in Leiden
image by fnks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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 courtyards still exist 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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What is Leiden Known For?

Picturesque Leiden Canal Homes
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Leiden is not only known for its picturesque streets but also for being the home to the oldest university in the Netherlands. The university’s botanical garden is particularly interesting, where the tulip was first introduced to Holland in the late 1500s. This lush green space is the perfect place to walk and immerse yourself in the world of academia, all while surrounded by the garden’s natural beauty.

Another claim to fame for Leiden is its connection to the legendary painter Rembrandt. As a young artist, Rembrandt spent time honing his craft in this city, and you can visit his former studio to see where it all began. The small museum, known as Rembrandt Young Studio, provides a fascinating look at the artist’s early years and an opportunity to admire the stunning Dutch architecture in the surrounding area.

These are just some of the highlights of what Leiden provides. This charming Dutch university city will surely delight visitors of all ages and interests. Make sure to add this city to your list of places to visit in the Netherlands.

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Tours in Leiden

1. Genuine Leather Tote Bag Workshop in Leiden Top Recommendation

Explore the fascinating world of leather crafting, and leave with a genuine hand-made leather creation to treasure. Practice your skills at this workshop, where you’ll be welcomed into a local’s home in Leiden, Netherlands. It’s the perfect place to geek out over leatherworking while sipping on coffee or tea.

2. Leiden: Hortus Botanicus Entry Ticket

Leiden: Hortus Botanicus entry ticket allows you to enter the worlds oldest botanical gardens. You can walk through the park, see plants from all over the world, and witness a unique collection of carnivorous plants as well as trees that are more than a hundred years old.

3. Leiden, Pilgrim Fathers, Canal Cruise & Windmill Visit

Get to know the city of Leiden and see the places where Rembrandt, Willem van Oranje, Maarten Luther and many more important figures in history were born. Hear stories about their lives and achievements while strolling through the historical centre of Leiden. Stroll along a canal to enjoy the beautiful canalscapes and take a boat trip through them on your way to windmill De Valk. Enjoy phenomenal views from the top of this monumental windmill.

FAQs

Is Leiden worth visiting?

Leiden is certainly worth visiting! This university city has much to offer tourists and residents, including the old city center, canals, museums, and charming restaurants.

What are the best tourist attractions in Leiden?

Leiden has many great tourist attractions, including the old city center, the canals, the Botanical Garden, the Burcht van Leiden, and the 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, making this a well-known city filled with history, museums, and lively cafe culture.

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