A lot is known and said about Amsterdam but few people know that just 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam lies a small and beautiful Dutch town called Leiden. Leiden is a town in the Netherlands and is famous for a lot of things. This is the city where the Dutch discovered their famous Dutch dish Stampot” for the first time and is also home to the oldest in the country.
According to legend, during the Eighty Years’ War, the Spanish, tried to capture Leiden in 1573, as the inhabitants stubbornly defended their city and withstood a one-year siege. On October 3, 1574, when the resistance finally succeeded in driving the Spanish away and liberating the city, it is reported that the Spanish soldiers fleeing Leiden left cooked bits of an unfamiliar stew of carrots, meat, onions and parsnips, which the starved inhabitants of Leiden ate up really quickly. Not knowing what to call the unfamiliar dish, they named it “Hutspot”, and it has remained a symbol of their victory till this day.
The anniversary of the liberation of Leiden, known as “Leids Ontzet” in the Netherlands, is still celebrated every 3rd of October in Leiden and by Dutch nationals everywhere. It is a celebration that has to do with the consumption of a lot of hutspot. It’s definitely one for all of our mashed potatoes lovers out there.
The town of Leiden is also the birthplace of Rembrandt and for its beautiful, old city centre (the second biggest after Amsterdam). It’s a friendly town with a large population of students.
Located in the Dutch province of South Holland, Leiden is known for its centuries-old architecture and the University of Leiden, which happens to be the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in the 16th century to commemorate the town’s resistance of the Spanish during the Eighty Years’ War. The university houses the Hortus Botanicus Leiden Botanical Garden, founded in 1590 and is where the tulip was introduced to Western Europe.
Leiden is definitely a city you’d want to visit. It is both old and modern and is a beehive of activities during the summer months.
What to see in Leiden?
Leiden is one of those towns that is both old and modern at the same time. Viewed generally as a city of learning and filled with lots of wonderful museums, it is definitely worth a visit. There are three national museums located in the town and all major museums are within 10-15 minutes of walking distance from the central station. You can also rent a bike as this can help with easy navigation of the town.
National Museum of Antiquities
Includes an outstanding collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities, and a small temple that was given to the Netherlands by the Egyptians for their help with the Aswan monuments transfer project. It also features an exhibition on the archaeological history of the Netherlands including dug-up burial treasures and the like. The museum calls itself the national centre for archaeology and focuses on ancient Egypt, the ancient Near Near East, the classical world of Greece, Etruria and Rome and the early (prehistoric, Roman and Medieval) Netherlands.
National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde)
Buy your tickets here and discover thousands of objects and artifacts – from art to clothing and jewelry, tools and other objects sourced from different cultures all over the world. The museum shows the culture of native peoples around the world. The collection contains a large number of objects from Africa, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Latin America, North America, Oceania, and Asia. Permanent exhibitions are grouped based on geographical regions. A real educational museum with lots of background information in its bookshop, extensive library.
National Museum of Natural History
The history of this museum can be traced back to the early 1800s and its collections contain approximately 37 million specimens, one of the largest natural history collections in the world. The Museum used to house other items but is currently focused solely on the T. Rex and other dinosaurs, including one of the complete skeletons of a T. Rex. while the museum is meant to be interesting for all ages; the temporary exhibitions are often (partially) aimed at children.
The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum
This is actually a small house (built between 1365 and 1370) opposite the bell tower of the Hooglandse Kerk, furnished in the style common to the Pilgrim era. It is a small museum dedicated to separatists or English dissenters who were religious refugees who fled England to Amsterdam in 1608 and moved to Leiden the next year. They made a life for themselves in Leiden for 12 to 20 years and in 1620, began their emigration. They left Leiden to Delfshaven where they embarked on the “Speedwell,” which took them to Southampton. But the “Speedwell” proved leaky and had to be sold, so they transferred to the Mayflower. The “Mayflower” undertook the famous voyage to New England in 1620. The museum sheds some light on the life of these pilgrims while they were in Leiden.
What’s there to do in Leiden?
Apart from sightseeing, there are also other activities that you definitely shouldn’t miss out on:
A national monument and the oldest building in Leiden, the Academiegebouw still remains the very heart of the University of Leiden. Although lectures are still being held in the Academiegebouw, the large lecture hall on the ground floor (the Grand Auditorium) is mainly used for events with a certain ceremonial character, such as graduation ceremonies, orations and promotions.
2. Visit and take a tour of the Pieterskerk
The Church of St. Peter (the patron saint of the city) is a late Gothic style 16th-century church. One thing our American readers will find rather interesting is that this church is associated with the Pilgrim Fathers, whose leader John Robinson lived in the nearby Pieterskerkchoorsteeg (house is marked with a plaque). John Robinson was also buried in this church and there is also a small exhibition on the Pilgrims there.
3. Visit the Leiden Burcht
Dated back to at least the middle ages. This is an old shell keep in Leiden constructed in the 11th century and is located at the spot where two tributaries of the Oude (old) Rijn and the Nieuwe (new) Rijn meet. The elevated borough is freely accessible and right in the heart of Leiden. After climbing the stairways you can walk around and enjoy the magnificent views of Leiden from above.
4. Visit the Hooglaandsekerk
Dedicated to St Pancras and located at the site of an earlier wooden chapel dating from the 15th century. A wooden chapel was constructed on December 20, 1314. Due to the economic prosperity of Leiden, the populace called for a larger structure in 1377, and construction began on the current structure. The sanctuary was finished in 1391 and the ambulatory in 1415. The church is the final resting place of Justinus van Nassau (the illegitimate child of William of Orange).
5. Have a picnic in the van Der Werff Park
The Van der Werff Park is named after the mayor Pieter Adriaanszoon van der Werff, who defended the town against the Spaniards in 1574, 6 years into the Eighty Years War of Independence (1568-1648). It is the site of a gunpowder explosion on January 12, 1807, but is now used for summer walks along the canal & picnics.
6. Visit the Hortus Botanicus
The Hortus Botanicus is famous for being the gateway of tulips into the Netherlands and the birthplace of Tulipmania. Find out about endangered plant species and see the famous gardens where Carolus Clusius cultivated the first tulip flowers. Skip the line and see what herbal gardens in Japan look like while also enjoying the natural beauty of 100-year-old trees like Golden Rain and giant Weeping Beech.
7. Go for a Canal Cruise
Sailing around the Leiden canals is an experience you don’t forget so soon. All it takes is ordering your Canal Cruise Ticket and it’s easier than ever to experience and discover the city from the water. You do not have to wait in line, but simply buy the ticket here and receive it directly via email on your smartphone. There’s an audio guide on board and you can listen to it with your earphones as you learn the city’s history and find out why Leiden is such a beautiful city.
How to get to there
Train to Leiden
From Amsterdam Central Station, there’s a regular connection with Leiden. The trains depart quite often and some of them also make a quick stop at Haarlem. Train ticket price from Amsterdam to Leiden is €9,10- for just one-way. The journey takes 10-15 minutes from The Hague, and 20 minutes from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
To Leiden by car
In spite of the two highways around Leiden (A4 and A44), the centre of Leiden isn’t easy to reach by car. It is best to try parking your car at the transferium (FREE parking) and then continue by bus. By car, you have to follow the A44 and then take exit 8 (Katwijk, Leiden Transferium).
Parking in Leiden
Leiden is a really small town and finding parking lots can be quite the hassle. There are parking lots on the Morsweg (south-west of the town centre) and on the Langegracht (north of town centre, near the station). These parking lots can be quite crowded, and there’s usually no guarantee that there will be space, especially during the summer. There are also parking lots at the Groenoordhallen and Haagweg from where free shuttle buses run to the city centre. In the city centre, the parking fares are very expensive. Also outside the old city centre (inside the ‘Singel’ canal) parking is not free sometimes. Driving quite far from the city centre in search of parking spots is also an option, but bear in mind that you’ll have to take a bus back to the city centre. Normal parking fee is €4,60 per hour.
An honest advice would be to take the train to Leiden, rent a bike and just enjoy riding around the city.
Getting around in Leiden
Leiden is a small town and as a result, everything is easily reached on foot and the city is positively charming as a walking pleasure. Alternatively, you can rent a bike at the different bike rental shops.
- EasyFiets: located in the parking lot at the Haagweg. Bikes for € 7,50 a day.
- Bizon Bikes: Ideal for larger groups. They have great tours around town.
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