When we think of visiting The Netherlands, Amsterdam is the first city that comes to mind. With its canals, museums and coffee shops, it is one of the most popular places on Earth, visited by thousands of tourists every year. If you want to explore the lower lands further, cities like The Hague, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Maastricht come to mind.
But there is one town, not far from Amsterdam, away from the popular tourist routes, that can give you all the sights, tastes and smells of Holland.
Town of Leiden
Leiden is situated in the South Holland region. It is easily accessible by train (as well as almost everything in The Netherlands) from Schiphol Airport (The Netherlands international airport, situated in the outskirts of Amsterdam) or from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station (Central Railway Station). Leiden is a university town which makes it a very lively city, where you can have fun all day (and night) long. It has a population of around 120 000 citizens. It is famous for being the birth place of Rembrandt, whose full name is Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt of the river Rhine, on one of which’s branches the town is situated. Another not so well known fact is that the city is the home town of the internationally renowned DJ and producer Armin van Buuren.
Leiden is very much alike his bigger and much more famous brother, Amsterdam. It has a canal belt, on which you can take a boat trip, it has a lot of museums to be visited (if you are a museum person and that’s the reason for coming to a place) and lots and lots of wonderful restaurants, bars and cafes.
Leiden holds the oldest Botanical garden in The Netherlands. You can visit Hortus Botanicus even if you are not very much interested in exotic plants, because it is one of the most popular places for a walk and a few hours of total relax, especially during spring and summer.
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If you have only a few hours to spend in this lovely town, best way to explore at least a part of it is through the Rondvaart (Canal cruise). Boats start every hour from the platform on Beestenmarkt square and the trip lasts for an hour. It costs 10 euro per person. It takes you around the canal belt of this beautiful town, giving you the best of its sights.
St. Peter’s Church area
The most charming part of the town is the Pieterskerk kwartier (St. Peter’s Church area). Some of the most beautiful houses are situated on the square around the church. The area is especially calm and quite, without cars and even without the infamous bicycles. The church itself is also worth a visit, it being a beautiful example of medieval architecture. The church is no longer used as such (as it is often the case in this country) but for an event center instead. If there are no events planned for the day, you can go inside for a visit, the entrance fee is 3 euro per person.
Windmill De Valk
Another spot in Leiden can give you a sight so typical of The Netherlands it is almost a stamp image of the country – the windmills. De Valk Molen (The Valk Windmill) is situated on 2e Binnenvestgracht 1. It is a museum and you can climb all its floors from the inside, for an entrance fee of 4 euro. It used to be a corn mill. On the first floors the living quarters of the family who used to run the mill are situated and on the upper ones you can see a lot of the tools and instruments that were used during the time. You can also come out on a platform, situated high above the ground and enjoy a beautiful view of the city with its canals.
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Getting out of town
Leiden is also a perfect starting point for exploring the area. The most famous tulip gardens, Keukenhof, are very easily accessible form Leiden. Bus number 854 can be taken from the platform right in front of Leiden’s Central Station and with it the Keukenhof is only 45 minutes away. The ticket for the bus can be bought in advance from the Tourist Information Center (Stationsweg 26), costs 24 euro per person and includes also the entrance fee for a day visit to the beautiful Keukenhof gardens.
For more info, visit the Keukenhof gardens official site:
Eat, sleep, have fun, repeat
Leiden is also a good place for shopping. A lot of stores, local chains, international retailers and also a lot of cute little small souvenir shops can be found on Haarlemmerstraat. When walking there if you take a turn at Hoogstraat you can reach another well-known spot in the town. This is a place where two canals meet and there are a lot of charming restaurants and cafes, situated in the basements of the canal houses, with tables overlooking the calm waters of the canals.
Another good spot for having lunch or dinner are the restaurants around Beestenmarkt square. Some of them have tables situated on a platform on the waters of the canal, right opposite the starting point of the canal cruise boats. You can enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, feeling like on a yacht yourself, because of the gentle sway of the platform under you. Definitely do not go there if you are prone to seasickness. You can still have the same wonderful view over the waters if you take a table in one of the restaurants on the square itself. If you go there for lunch on a hot summer day, you can watch kids play in the square fountain.
A lot of wonderful cafes are situated near De Valk (The windmill) on the canal going by it, and also, on Stationsweg, the street that leads to the town’s Central Station.
Leiden has a lot of hotels of all kinds and categories to offer, but one of the most wonderful places to stay is the small Rembrandt hotel, situated on Nieuwe Beestenmarkt 10-12. Charming rooms and a wonderful café – The Nights Watch café. The hotel is one minute walk away from the center and offers all you might need for a few nights stay.
Definitely worth a few days visit, Leiden is one of the most beautiful towns in The Netherlands with a lot to see and do.
If you want to know more about this wonderful place, visit the town’s official site: