Lovely Leiden: A Field Guide to the City of Discovery

So you’re in Amsterdam for a few days, but you’re looking for something to do outside of the city. You’ve seen the Van Gogh museum and taken a boat tour, and now you’re ready for some real Dutch life, like the locals do. Or maybe you just want something a little quieter, and it turns out that famous Keukenhof flower gardens are closed in November (who knew?). Well, let me suggest a day trip to one of my favorite cities in the world (and my current home city): Leiden, the Netherlands.

Leiden is a historic university city about 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. It’s home to several great museums, lots of cute cafés and beautiful churches, and even picturesque canals to get your boat tour game on if you haven’t already. I’ve shown more friends through this city than I can count, and have lived here for well over a year now — so let me serve as your unofficial tour guide through the city.

Arrive at: Leiden Centraal

Let’s start at the city’s central station, which you can get to via train or bus (if you want directions from your current location, check out the national transportation service’s website). Take Stationsweg (the street leading from the station to the center city) in the direction of the Beestemarkt (a plaza); it should be about a five minute walk until you’re there. On the way, you’ll see the Molen de Valk, a picturesque windmill where you can take a picture to send to your mom.

Stop at: Bootjes en Broodjes

Once you reach the Beestemarkt, take a left onto the bridge. Halfway across you’ll come across Bootjes en Broodjes, a boat tour service. I’ve taken some eight boat tours in the last year (I’ve had a lot of friends come to visit, okay?!) and this one was by far the best — not just in Leiden, but also compared to those I saw in Amsterdam. The staff is friendly and know the city really well, and have some great stories to tell. If you’re claustrophobic, I’d skip this one; the tunnels can get really tight.

Walk Through: the Shopping Streets

Taken at Chummy Coffee, a few streets over

Once you’re done with the boat tour, walk through the Haarlemmerstraat, one of the two main shopping streets in Leiden. A fair amount of the stores on this street are chain stores, but there are some independently-owned clothing and jewelry stores, too. Feel free to take your time exploring, and when you’re ready, take a right onto the Vrouwensteeg to see some cute independent stores including a record shop and a vintage clothing store. At the end of this little side-street, you’ll see a café called Francobolli.

Francobolli has a calendar wall with a slot for every day of the year. Stop in to buy a postcard for a friend’s birthday or anniversary, and have it sent on any day you want in the next year — they’ll make sure it arrives on time!

After this, take a left onto the Stille Rijn, a wide street that follows the canal.

Make Your Way to: Hudson’s Bay

The view from atop Hudson’s Bay

No, I’m not telling you that this Canadian department store is an integral part of Dutch life. But if you go into Hudson’s Bay and take the escalators to the café on the top floor, you can walk onto the balcony and get a spectacular view of the city. This is a great spot for photos and for a sneak peek of the next stop on your tour: the Burcht.

Walk Over to: the Burcht

The Burcht

The Burcht is an 11th century shell keep that’s now used as a public park. It has a pretty interesting history, but even if that’s not quite your thing, it’s worth the trip just for the view. Climb up the stairs to the fortress and, once there, up to the balcony at the top, and take in the full view of the city.

Grab Lunch at: Roast and Toast

Just around the corner from the Burcht is one of my favorite cafés, Roast and Toast. It’s fairly intimate and cozy, with really kind waiting staff and incredibly delicious grilled cheese sandwiches (I can really recommend their Truffle Goodness sandwich). Get lunch and a cup of coffee here, and then head over to the other side of the Rijn for the second half of your day.

Explore the Center City

Once you leave the Roast and Toast, head over to the other side of the water in the direction of the Pieterskerk.

There are three things I can recommend to do in this area, depending on the weather and your interests:

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is the national museum of antiquities. This is a great choice for a rainy day or if you have kids in tow.

The Hortus are the botanic gardens, beautiful for a sunny day.

The Pieterskerk is a historic church with gorgeous surrounding gardens, great for history buffs.

The streets in this area are beautiful. Wander around and see where you end up.

Have Dinner at: Pannenkoekenhuys Oudt Leyden

Finally, at the end of your day in Leiden, walk over to the Pannenkoekenhuys Oudt Leyden, back in the direction of the train station. Pancakes are a classic Dutch food that you have to try while you’re here, and these are (in my humble opinion) the best pancakes in the city. After this, you’re not far from the train station to make your way back to your hotel.

That’s my day trip guide to Leiden for you. If you’re interested in spending more than a day here, or if you want to customize your own itinerary, I can highly recommend checking out the Volkenkunde Museum for art lovers and Naturalis for families. And if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below!

Sara Laughed

Hey hey! I'm Sara, an American writer living in the Netherlands and working as a product manager.

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