Are you planning a city trip to Leiden in the Netherlands? Be sure to read this blog packed with tips and things to do in Leiden, to make your city trip an unforgettable experience.
Weekend getaways are my favorite breaks. Nothing more enjoyable than a short trip to escape the daily grind. That’ s why a city trip to one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands, Leiden was more than welcome during this very busy period.
** disclaimer: This is a sponsored post but this does not alter the fact that I share my own honest experiences about this service**
Facts about Leiden
Before we went to Leiden, we knew very little about the city. We particularly liked the cozy and historic character. We dug in the history of Leiden and we learned this.
Leiden is a historic city that played an important role during the golden age in the Netherlands. The centre is surrounded by canals, no less than 28 km long. That’s why this city is sometimes called small Amsterdam. This isn’t the only nickname for Leiden. Its also called the city of keys. This name refers to the cities coats of arms and the patron saint of Leiden. The city of discoveries is also a nickname that is often used when it comes to Leiden. This because the oldest university in the Netherlands is located in Leiden and many scientific discoveries have been made here.
Things to do in Leiden
Must do activities in Leiden
Go for a stroll
First things first, when we arrived in Leiden we were lucky with the weather. That’s why we decided to explore the city on foot during our first hours in Leiden. It’s a wonderful city to explore on foot. The only thing you have to take into account are the many cyclists.
Apart from that it’s a very safe and above all very pleasant city. The canals, picturesque bridges, narrow streets and alleys, authentic lanterns and cozy terraces mainly contribute to a romantic atmosphere. As icing on the cake we enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the old castle.
Go for a boat trip
The best way to go sightseeing in Leiden is from the canals. This is possible via organized boat trips. Despite the rainy weather we went on the water with ‘bootjes en broodjes’. They could convince us with their retractable roof. This protected us against the rain and the cold weather. Sometimes we had to bend over, because the roof shifts according to the height of the many bridges.
The visibility wasn’t always optimal with the rain, certainly not for taking pictures. But I enjoyed exploring the canals with a guide. That’s how I learned more of interesting facts about Leiden. Did you know that tulips originally came from Turkey? A Turkish professor gifted a tulip to the University of Leiden. Leiden is therefore the Dutch city where the true tulip mania began during the Golden Age. At that time, tulips themselves were worth more than canal houses.
Visit a museum
In rainy weather, visiting a museum is the best activity to stay dry. Leiden has so many interesting museums that it was difficult for us to choose. Eventually we decided, under slight pressure from Jan, to visit Naturalis, the museum of biodiversity. And I’m so happy that I gave Jan his way this time.
Not only the design of the building, but also the various exhibitions about the animals, dinosaurs, life & death … are breathtaking. The cool thing is that various senses are stimulated within these exhibitions. In this way not only the images but also projections, sound, interactive assignments and games contributed to the whole experience. In short, the perfect activity for a successful family trip.
Of course there are many other activities in Leiden that we couldn’t experience during this city trip. Some must-do’s for which we would certainly come back to Leiden are: Young Rembrandt Studio, Hortus Botanicus Leiden, Museum de Lakenhal, Museum Volkenkunde and the Japan Museum Sieboldhuis. Apart from these activities I would just like to come back to experience Leiden during the summer.
The best restaurants in Leiden
With a choice of 200 restaurants in Leiden you can’t help but eat a lot of great food. But sometimes a large selection of choices can be overwhelming. That is why I like to share my culinary experiences as extra inspiration when choosing a place to dine.
This original old weighing house renovated with authentic and industrial elements is one of the most trendy restaurants in Leiden. In De Waag you can taste classic dishes in a very refined and original way.
Grand Café Van Buren
For a typical Dutch croquette you definitely have to go to Van Buren. Enjoy the classic Dutch cuisine in a modern but homely atmosphere by the open fire.
Lot en de walvis
Lot en de walvis is located in the old steamboat company ‘de volharding’. The warm vintage interior with an industrial touch is not only inviting, but also very cozy. Here you can travel to different continents and taste world cuisine in a culinary way.
Barista café Leiden
A Delicious and traditional lunch in the centre of Leiden? That’s perfectly possible at Barista Café Leiden. Try something new and go for one of their specialties such as the flatbread with a topping of your choice. Super tasty!
Brasserie Buitenhuis is located near Lake Valkenburg just outside of Leiden. This is about a good 10-minute drive from the historic centre. It takes a little effort to get there, but I highly recommend this place. The name Buitenhuis literally translated as outside house, reveals a bit more about the setting. You literally dine in a conservatory with a dazzling botanical interior. On the menu: delicious classic dishes with a modern touch.
Shopping in Leiden
You can do a lot of shopping in Leiden. As in most cities you have a large shopping street with the most famous stores. However, I prefer the small, hip and original boutiques. In the narrow cobbled streets in the area around the old castle and the Nieuwe Rijn you can find the most gorgeous shops. These were my favorites:
Antraciet is certainly the place to be for minimalistic, stylish and sustainable clothing.
Looking for a nice gift, then Pluum is the perfect place. Here you’ll find piece by piece beautiful gadgets.
Boutique Van Gendt
If you want something unique, you must go to Boutique Van Gendt. This boutique has the best vintage fashion and accessories.
Next door By Sil
In the Pieterskerk Choorsteeg you can find Next Door By Sil up to 3 times. Sil has 3 stores where you can find clothing, but also beautiful interior decoration.
The best hotel in Leiden
Authenticity at its best at boutique hotels in Leyden. We stayed 2 nights at Huys Van Leyden. With 7 rooms, this is one of the smallest hotels in the Netherlands. The hotel is a renovated authentic canal house along the Oude Singel, the old defensive canal of the city centre.
What I liked is that the hotel is fully decorated according to the character of the house and this reflects the historical past of Leiden and the Netherlands during the Golden Age. It also gives an extra dimension to the stay and contributes to a unique experience in Leiden.
If you are traveling with kids, don’t forget to check out these family friendly hotels in the Netherlands.
Noordwijk, the best day trip from Leiden.
As much as I love a city trip, I always love to soak up a little bit of nature during a weekend getaway. And this is perfectly possible in Noordwijk, a coastal city on the North Sea. Here you can catch a breath of fresh air on the beach or enjoy a long walk through the extensive dunes during all seasons. Noordwijk is barely 15 km from Leiden, so combining the two destinations is perfectly possible. I can only recommend to extend your trip with an additional day to end your weekend getaway in peace and all relaxed.
Lunch with a sea view
If you choose to follow my advice and spend an extra day in Noordwijk, then definitely have to go for breakfast, lunch or dinner in Winterlodge. This beach restaurant is literally on the beach and has a beautiful view over the coastline of the North Sea.
The restaurant consists of a conservatory so wherever you sit, you will have a beautiful view of the sea.
All this together with the botanical interior creates a unique vibe. You can choose for everyday meals or for less known juices and dishes. This is the ideal moment to leave your comfort zone and experiment. I can definitely recommend the pink pancakes and the cakes were also delicious. See I left my comfort zone and went for sweet, sweet and even more sweet.
The best luxury hotel in Noordwijk
The last night during a weekend away, you can go for that little extra. We did that with an overnight stay at Grand Hotel Huis Ter Duin. And I have to say we enjoyed it every second.
This famous and prestigious hotel on the North Sea was originally built around 1885. It was a luxury spa that was particularly popular with the Beau Monde. In the meantime, the hotel has other owners and has been completely renovated. Grand Hotel Huis Ter Duin still exudes a lot of luxury with its post-modern, elegant style.
We stayed in a suite with a view over the sea. I found this absolutely fantastic. It isn’t an everyday thing for me to wake up with a beautiful view of the vast coastline of the North Sea. Moreover, it was also the perfect remedy to get up without a grumpy morning mood. Even more, it motivated me to get up early for a fresh morning walk along the beach and the dunes. Fortunately we got the company of some shy sun beams, so our day kept getting better and better.
Before returning home, we decided to relax in the wellness area of Grand Hotel Huis Ter Duin. To have a sweat session in the sauna and steam room, a quick swim in the indoor pool to then return home completely in zen modus. In short, the perfect ending for our weekend getaway.
A city trip in Leiden in combination with an additional day in Noordwijk is the ideal destination for a cultural, gastronomic but also relaxing weekend getaway.
Check out our video with atmospheric images about our city trip to Leiden and our visit to Noordwijk.
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