15 Best Things to Do in Leiden (the Netherlands)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Leiden (also known as Leyden) is one of the largest cities in the region of South Holland and its greater municipal area (which includes Oegstgeest, Leiderdorp and Vooschoten) has a population of 206,000. Located on a branch of the river Rhine delta known as the Oude Rijn or Old Rhine, Leiden has served as a predominant university town since the late 1500’s.

The main history of the city date back to the 1400’s and since then the settlement flourished and became a place of economy and art through the weaving industry and later through the university of Leiden. Today the city stands as an important place for education, and as a trade centre; it also has a great deal of historical buildings and fantastic attractions and is one of the premier tourist locations in South Holland.

Lets explore the best things to do in Leiden:

1. De Valk Windmill Museum

De Valk Windmill MuseumSource: flickr
De Valk Windmill Museum

Windmills play a large part in the economical history of Leiden and the De Valk museum helps to showcase this.

Standing proudly in the old town centre, this windmill and museum can be seen throughout Leiden and have become a landmark of the city.

Created in 1611, the windmill had seen many changes and restorations and from 1996 has served as a museum.

The museum offers great insight into how windmills work together with the extensive history of this particular structure.

You can also enjoy fantastic views of the city from the circular viewing platform at the base of the tower.

2. Leiden Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural HistorySource: flickr
Museum of Natural History

This fine museum is located on the outskirts of the city centre but is still easy to access.

Inside you can find a wonderful display of natural history including the only T-Rex skeleton in Europe! Aside from this brilliant exhibition, you can also see a wide geology collection, a selection of botanical plants and also a myriad of insect and butterflies.

The museum holds one of the largest collections in the world and is home to over 37 million specimens.

See the mighty skeleton of a Mammoth, and other prehistoric animals, and wonder at the display of fossils that show the evolution of life as we know it.

3. Leiden Botanical Gardens

Botanical GardensSource: flickr
Botanical Gardens

Standing as the oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands, the Hortus Botanicus is a renowned establishment and a pure delight for those who love the natural world.

Located next to the university, the gardens have been open since the 1500’s in some form and have evolved into a huge collection of plants, trees and other natural objects.

The gardens contain various greenhouses which contain sub-tropical plants and one of the largest Orchid collections in the world.

You can also find a beautiful Japanese Garden, many species of ferns, and a packed full Orangery.

4. Burcht van Leiden

Burcht van LeidenSource: flickr
Burcht van Leiden

Located not far from both the Pieterskerk and Hooglandse Kerk, the Burcht van Leiden holds a central position in the city and is one of its most famous landmarks.

Built on top of an old Motte, this Shell Keep can be found at the confluence where the Rhine, Oude Rijn and Nieuwe Rijn come together.

Created during the 11th century, you can still see the original outer gateway that enclosed the fortification.

This structure was used as a residence and as a military keep during its history but is now a public park.

Walk the length of the battlements, take some photographs and enjoy the great views from the top of the fort across the rivers.

5. Pieterskerk

PieterskerkSource: flickr

One of the oldest churches in Leiden, a structure has stood at the current sight of Pieterskerk since the 1100’s.

The current building took over 150 years to build and has a fascinating stone and brick design with many arched windows.

Around the outside of the church you can find a series of small structures that enclose its semi-circular back section.

This creates a strange display, in the fact that you can’t actually see the back of the church, only its roof.

Inside there is a host of ornate decorations and trimmings, a large opulent organ, and beautiful vaulted ceilings.

Here you can also find the tomb of John Robinson who was one of the founders of the congregational church.

6. National Museum of Antiquities

National Museum of AntiquitiesSource: flickr
National Museum of Antiquities

Also known as the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, this museum has developed from a simple university collection into a vast display of ancient history.

This museum can be found next to Pieterskerk and is easily accessible when visiting the city centre.

Concentrating mainly on ancient Egypt history, the museum has a great display of Sarcophagus, artefacts, weaponry and household objects.

Other categories include the ancient near east, the Etruscan civilization, ancient Greece, ancient Rome and the Prehistoric Netherlands.

For those interested in history, this is a fantastic place to visit.

7. Hooglandse Kerk

Hooglandse KerkSource: flickr
Hooglandse Kerk

Another of the fine churches in the old centre of Leiden, the Hooglandse Kerk features an impressive Gothic design, and an even more impressive interior.

This church was constructed in the 1300’s and was originally wooden, in later years the church was remodelled and built of stone.

Inside the church is a truly memorable and delightful interior.

Full of white stone arches, narrow and tall stained glass windows, and high white vaulted ceilings, the church is full of light and has a truly holy feel.

You can see the light pouring in from various angles and lighting up the columns and walkways – It really is a special place to behold.

8. De Zijlpoort

De ZijlpoortSource: flickr
De Zijlpoort

The finest remaining example of the gatehouses of Leiden, De Zijlpoort stands proudly in the city centre near the De Haven canal.

Built two years earlier than the Morspoort gate in 1667, the design of the structure is classical and was designed by Willem can der Helm (Who also designed the Morspoort gatehouse). A truly remarkable design, the gatehouse has a large white stone archway and a tall tower with clock face.

Over the years, the building has been used as a meeting place for poets, a school for the poor and also as a storage place.

Standing as one of only two of the remaining gatehouses of Leiden, this is a fantastic photo opportunity and the surrounding canals and bridges provide the perfect backdrop.

9. Explore the Leiden Canal system

Van der WerfparkSource: flickr
Van der Werfpark

Like many Dutch cities, Leiden has an extensive canal network that has stood for hundreds of years.

There is something beautiful and wondrous about the canals in the Netherlands and Leiden’s canals are no exception.

A single canal winds around the outside of the city centre and many waterways interlink with this to form a dazzling network to explore.

Particular picturesque parts of the canals can be found near the Van der Werfpark, the Botanical gardens, Ankerpark and the De Rijn waterway.

When visiting Leiden, it is advisable to take some time to simply explore the canals to gain a greater understanding of this historical city.

10. Katwijk Aan Zee resort

Katwijk Aan Zee resortSource: flickr
Katwijk Aan Zee resort

A charming coastal resort located only 20 minutes to the west of Leiden, Katwijk Ann Zee is a great place to take the family and enjoy the scenery of the Dutch west coast.

Split by the Binnenwatering estuary, on the right side you can find some brilliant secluded sand dunes and many public footpaths perfect for exploring, while on the left is the actual town and resort of Katwijk.

A main boulevard stretches for the whole length of the town and runs parallel to the wonderful golden beach.

Here you will find a variety of hotels, restaurants, beach bars and huts and ample amounts of sand to sunbathe on or build a castle.

The water may not be the warmest, but you can still enjoy a dip if you wish!

11. Molen De Put

Molen De PutSource: flickr
Molen De Put

The second of the fine windmills in Leiden, the Molen De Put is an iconic building and has stood for many years.

Located next to the Morspoort gatehouse, this windmill offers fantastic photographic opportunities.

Its location is inspiring – Right on the edge of the canals and set apart from any surrounding structures.

Origins of this mill date back to the 17th century when it was used to create cornflower and baking flower.

As one of the famous landmarks in Leiden, you must see this fantastic structure during your visit.

12. Morspoort

MorspoortSource: flickr

One of the remnants of the city fortifications and gates, the Morspoort is a gatehouse that can be found in the city centre near Molen De Put.

Built in 1669 in an opulent Mannerist style, the gate is made from stone and was designed by Willem van der Helm.

A bridge also stands adjacent to the gatehouse and features a similar design and adornments.

Listed as a monument, the gate served for many years as a prison and also as part of a barracks complex.

Today you can see this monument in all its glory and admire the surrounding canals and Morspoort Bridge.

13. Boat trip from Leiden to Katwijk

Boat tripSource: flickr
Boat trip

If you do not have the means to travel to Katwijk but would still like to enjoy this fabulous coastal resort, why not consider the seasonal water taxi that leaves from Leiden? During the summer months, a water taxi runs three times a day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays and is the perfect way to see the beautiful scenery of this area and also learn some of the regions history.

The skipper will give you insight into the area while you watch the Dutch countryside roll past.

Lasting for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, this really is a fantastic way to relax and reach Katwijk.

14. Polderpark Cronesteyn

Polderpark CronesteynSource: flickr
Polderpark Cronesteyn

Located to the south of Leiden just above the busy A4 road, the Polderpark is a charming piece of natural parkland that covers a small area and features a mix of wetland, canals, woods and pastures.

On the far side facing the city you can see one of the larger canals complete with loch and bordering factories.

Inside the park, there is a series of trails that meander over the waterways and are dotted with cute wooden bridges.

The water in places is covered with luscious lily pads and vegetation and the landscape is bursting with colour and life.

15. Corpus Museum

Corpus MuseumSource: flickr
Corpus Museum

Dubbed as “a journey through the human body”, the Corpus Museum is the first of its kind and was realized in 2008. Outside this fantastic museum, you can see a large statue of the human body, while inside you can see the human body in much more detail.

A short trip to the west of the city center and you will find yourself staring up at the imposing human sculpture.

Inside the museum you will find a huge amount of interactive detail about the human body.

You can see 3D videos, scale models and sculptures and learn about what makes our bodies so unique.

15 Best Things to Do in Leiden (the Netherlands):

  • De Valk Windmill Museum
  • Leiden Museum of Natural History
  • Leiden Botanical Gardens
  • Burcht van Leiden
  • Pieterskerk
  • National Museum of Antiquities
  • Hooglandse Kerk
  • De Zijlpoort
  • Explore the Leiden Canal system
  • Katwijk Aan Zee resort
  • Molen De Put
  • Morspoort
  • Boat trip from Leiden to Katwijk
  • Polderpark Cronesteyn
  • Corpus Museum