You are planning to visit the Netherlands and enjoy a full Dutch experience, so probably you are looking for expensive accommodation in touristy Amsterdam and booking a lot of overpriced day-tours. Think again and read this post! Many people believe that the Netherlands is just Amsterdam, and a couple of day trips from this big city. But there is so much more to see in this little country. Do not get me wrong, Amsterdam is an amazing city, full of museums and attractions. Nevertheless, you will not find too many Dutch people living there, and definitely, you will not find them in coffee shops (weed shops) or in the red light district (prostitution windows), as many think. That is only for tourists. So, if I already convinced you to visit other cities around the Netherlands, why do not consider Leiden to visit and actually use as a base for your trips around the Netherlands.
Molen De Valk
Leiden is one of the most hidden treasures in the Netherlands. It was the home of many famous people, such as Einstein, Van der Waals, and Rembrandt. But what is the attractiveness of this little town in the province of South Holland? And why you should consider visiting it? I will give you 10 reasons why this lovely city should be your base for exploring the Netherlands or at least spend a day or two around here:
Distance from the Schiphol Airport or international train stations
Leiden is only 15-20 min direct train from Schiphol airport, while Amsterdam Central Station is almost the same amount of time in a very crowded train. If you still want to visit Amsterdam, it will take you only 35-40 min from Leiden. So, you can experience the best of Amsterdam in one day. If you are coming by train from France or Germany, many of the trains will leave you at Rotterdam Central Station (35 min from Leiden). If you are coming from Germany, the train will leave you at Utrecht (45min from Leiden).
Leiden is between Den Haag / The Hague (15 min) and Amsterdam (35 min). In addition, popular cities are very close by; like Gouda (33 min), Utrecht (45 min), Scheveningen (35 min), Delft (20 min), and Rotterdam (35 min). Not to mention the proximity to natural wonders like the dunes, the beach, the tulip fields and the Groene Hart (The Netherlands natural reserve area).
Warmond Park Beach
The accommodation here is cheaper than in other Dutch cities. There are many hotels, bed & breakfast (my favorite option in the Netherlands), and Hostels. As well, if you are coming in the time when the students are on holidays you might rent their places for a cheaper price than any Airbnb and experience how people live in this charming city. Restaurants are cheaper as well. Since it is a university city, there are many students friendly restaurants and cafés. But if you are the kind of person that prefers a more sophisticated meal, Leiden offers a big variety of fine dining restaurants. In addition, since the location is ideal, transport to other cities is cheaper, if you are going by train or bus. There is also, so many free things to do around the city, like searching for all the +100 poems and graffitis.
Albert Einstein relativity graffiti
Stay where Dutch people live
Since the location is ideal and the prices are lower than in other cities, Leiden is full of Dutch families. There are also many students from Leiden University, but since Leiden is calmer than other cities, many of them prefer to live in Den Haag. So, if you are looking to be in a more Dutch family atmosphere, Leiden is the place. That is why you can enjoy seeing common Dutch activities, such as taking the boat out in summer for a ride or having a drink in a café next to the canals.
Leiden Liberation Day Canal Parade
Practice the Dutch language and learn about their history
Since Leiden is not very touristy, you can expect people talking to you in Dutch at first instance, instead of English (like in Den Haag or Amsterdam). But, do not worry about this, it is almost impossible to find a Dutch that does not know at least a little bit of English.
Best Stroopwafels in the farmer’s market
A lot of bridges around the city
If you were dreaming about the pictures over a bridge with the canals behind you without a bunch of tourists doing the same thing, Leiden is your place. Leiden is the second city with more bridges in the Netherlands, just after Amsterdam. Theferore, you can be sure there are many places where to take perfect profile pictures. Also, Leideners are very kind, so do not hesitate to ask someone to take you a picture.
View from the Oude Rijn
If you were dreaming about looking a windmill and entering at least one, definitely you have to check out Molen de Valk. It is a huge windmill museum just in the city center. Apart from this one, there are many windmills of different kinds around Leiden, one of my favorites is Molen de Put, and the best view to check it out is from Rembrandt park.
Molen De Put from Rembrandt Park
If you are coming in the tulips season (from April to May), Leiden offers direct bus from the central station to Keukenhof. But, if you prefer to watch the tulips in a less touristy and more active way, all the tulips plantations are just a few minutes by bike from Leiden. I have visited all of them, and my favorites are the ones between Sassenheim and Noordwijk. Additionally, the first tulips in the Netherlands were cultivated in Leiden Botanical Garden (Hortus Botanicus Leiden). Even if is not tulips season, there is one of the most charming botanical gardens in the Netherlands.
Noordwijk Tulip Fields
There is something to do for everyone in Leiden. If you are into outdoors activities like hiking and cycling, you can visit the non-touristy beaches (Katwijk or Wassenaar), the dunes or the Groene Hart (Green hart of the Netherlands). If you are more into indoor activities, Leiden is the capital museum of the Netherlands, and of course, you can visit the vintage stores in the city center and cheaper souvenirs stores in Haarlemstraat.
Golf course just outside Leiden
Leiden is just a beautiful little town. I promise you will fall in love of the old red brick houses, the tiny streets, the oldest Dutch university, the amazing old Burcht, the +100 poems on the walls, the cafés next to the Nieuwe Rijn, the most alive Saturday’s farmers market and much more.
Cafés next to the Nieuwe Rijn on a boat
There you have it, the 10 best reasons why you should consider Leiden as your base in the Netherlands.
The Burcht, highest mountain in Leiden
If you need more reasons, just write a comment below. It will be my pleasure to give you more! Also, do not hesitate to add something I missed. Happy traveling!