Looking for a cultural mini break in The Netherlands? Looking for tulips, canals and museums? Then how about a Leiden Netherlands weekend break. The first tulip ever grown in Dutch soil was planted here, there are 17 miles of canals and it is the birthplace of Rembrandt.
Why choose a Leiden Netherlands Weekend Break?
Hop on a train to the north at Schiphol Airport and you will be in Amsterdam in 20 minutes. Hop on one heading south and you will be in Leiden in 20 minutes. Here you will find just as many canals and cute bridges. More museums than you can shake a stick at. The Netherlands’ oldest university is here ensuring a lively social scene and there are even a couple of windmills right in the centre of town, just so that you really know that you are in Holland.
What to do in Leiden
So you’ve made the descision to have a weekend in Leiden, now you just need to know what to see in Leiden.
I’m going to start with windmills because you know that you are arriving at Leiden station when you see a working windmill looming up close to the tracks. This is the Molenmuseum de Valk or the Valk Mill Museum. You can go inside and see where the miller lived right up until 1966 and then clamber to the top for views across Leiden. Follow the canal round and you will come to the Molen de Put.
Stroll in the Hortus Botanicus
My father was a horticulturist and most, if not all, of our family holidays centred around places of horticultural interest with a special focus on Botanical Gardens. I remain very fond of Botanical Gardens and especially love the smell of a greenhouse. My Dad would have loved the Hortus Botanicus, the oldest botanical garden in The Netherlands. It was here the the first ever tulip was planted in Dutch soil. Tulips don’t come from Amsterdam, they come from Leiden. Some of the gardens are laid out in the way they would have been in Rembrandt’s day, in small beds; elsewhere there are park like areas and greenhouses. As part of your visit, you can also view the Old Observatory which is the oldest university observatory in the world.
- Hortus Botanicus, Rapenburg 73, Leiden
- Open: Winter Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 4pm, Summer Daily 10am – 6pm
- Admission: €8 concessions available
Peer in the Pieterskerk
The Pieterskerk is Leiden’s oldest church and in 2021 it will be 900 years old. Rembrandt’s parents were married and buried here, he would have worshipped here as a child. When I visited it was awash with desks for students of Leiden University to sit their exams: I wish my exam halls could have been half as inspiring. John Robinson, one of the leaders of the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower is buried here, despite the fact that he dubbed the Pieterskerk organ ‘the bagpipes of the devil’.
- Pieterskerk, Kloksteeg 16, Leiden
- Open: Daily 11am – 6pm unless the building is being used
- Admission: €4
Linger at the Latijnse School
Rembrandt’s miller parents were well off enough to send him to the Latin school. Peer in through the window where a clever camera will capture your image and then draw you like Rembrandt: you can go onto a website and download it. How could I possibly resist!
Young Rembrandt Studio
Although Rembrandt studied Latin and rhetoric at school and university, what he really wanted to do was paint. He came to Jacob Osaaszoon von Swannenburg on Langebrug to learn how to paint. You can visit to watch a audio visual display that tells the story of Rembrandt’s early steps in painting.
- Young Rembrandt Studio, Langebrug 89, Leiden
- Open: Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday – Tuesday 12am – 5pm
- Admission: Free
Wander around Leiden
Meandering along the canals and streets of Leiden will bring you to Instagram pretty scenes round every corner. Leiden University is the oldest in The Netherlands, founded in 1575 by William the Silent as a reward for the cities tireless defence against the Spanish. The main University building used to be a Dominican monastery before the University took it over in the sixteenth century and can be found just by the entrance to the Hortus Botanicus.
Leiden has many hidden courtyards of almshouses. The tourist office has a self guided tour if you want to see them all.
Around the back of the Stadhuis you come to the Vismarkt or fish market. On Wednesdays and Saturdays you will find stalls selling local food, not just fish, much as they have for centuries. The impressive colonnaded bridge is called the Koornbrug or corn bridge where corn was traditionally sold.
Look at a map of Leiden and you will notice that the canals that circle the old city form a star like shape, this dates from when they were the outer defences of the city. Right in the centre on a raised mound is De Burcht or citadel. At the base of the mound is another fancy gate, climb up the stairs to the top of the walls for a view over the whole of Leiden.
There were once 10 city gates guarding the entrance to Leiden just two remain, the Morspoort and the Zijlpoort.
Museum de Lakenhal
Be still my beating heart. I confess that I have fallen in love with the Museum de Lakenhal. From the moment you step into the entrance/shop you are reminded that the city made its money by making textiles. Beautiful rolls of fabric are on display for you to buy. Step into the museum itself and you are met with works of art by talented sons of the city including Rembrandt. Stroll on beyond the pictures to the objects where you learn all about the textile heritage but with modern touches. Everything a museum should be. I particularly liked this triptych by Lucas van Leyden, showing the Last Judgement, it was one of Rembrandt’s favourites too.
Young Rembrandt Rising Star until 9 February 2020
The first ten years of Rembrandt’s career is celebrated and examined in this special display to mark the 400th anniversary of his death in the city of his birth. He was pretty talented to begin with but by the end of the decade you can see that he is ready to take on the world
Take a Canal Cruise
All that walking along quaint cobbled streets and gazing at cute canals can get quite tiring. Time to step on board a boat for a tour of the canals. I love a boat trip as you get a completely different view of a place. In Leiden the tours are enlivened by the many low bridges, ours had a very clever roof mechanism that lowered to allow us to pass under the bridges.
- Bootjes and Broodjes Boat Tours
- Tours start from Blaupoortsbrug
- Tours take 50 minutes and cost €10
Rembrandt and Leiden
Rembrant was born in Leiden, it was here that he learnt how to paint and spent time at the university. There is a Rembrandt trail that you can follow round the city that takes in the sights that Rembrandt would have seen as a boy including the Molen de Put which was just across the Rhine from where Rembrandt’s parents had two windmills.
Mayflower Pilgrims and Leiden
in 1620, 102 assorted Pilgrims and adventurers set sail for New England on the Mayflower. About half of the Pilgrims had been sheltering in Leiden since they had chosen to leave England. We know these adventurous men and women as the Pilgrim Fathers, whose descendants include many Presidents of the USA including most recently Presidents Bush and Obama. There is an American Pilgrims Museum and a self guided tour taking in the places that the pilgrims lived and worshiped whilst they were in Leiden.
3 October celebrations
Leiden was besieged during the Eighty Years War. After nearly a year the the Dutch decided to flood dykes and the Spanish retreated. Troops then entered Leiden via the canal with boat loads of food to feed the starving residents. They celebrate this every 3 October, white bread and cured herrings are handed out for free outside the Waag in the morning and in the evening Hutspot is served. Legend has it that a cauldron of Hutspot was found in the deserted Spanish camp and that is was enough to feed the people of Leiden. Some people think that the annual celebration of liberation in Leiden served as the blueprint for the Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States of America.
Leiden is home to the only floating Christmas market in The Netherlands. For twelve days before Christmas the Nieuwe Rijn outside the Waag is covered with pontoons and market stalls are set up. Expect mulled wine, hot chocolate and stalls laden with all sorts of Christmas wonders.
Keukenhof and Leiden
That first tulip grown in the Hortus Botanicus kick-started a whole industry. Come Spring the place to see massed tulips is the Keukenhof gardens. People flock from all over the world to visit. Leiden is an ideal place to stay to visit Keukenhof as they are just a short hop away. Catch the 850 or 854 bus from outside Leiden Centraal station for the 30 minute journey to Keukenhof.
Where to eat in Leiden
Almost everywhere you look in Leiden there are cute canalside bars and restaurants. In the summer it must be bliss to sit outside with a beer in hand. I ate dinner in the WAAG restaurant situated in the old Waag building right in the centre of town. For lunch I headed to Brasserie de Poort which specialises in fish and is situated in Zijlpoort, one of the two remaining gatehouses.
Where to stay in Leiden
I stayed in the Hotel Golden Tulip Leiden Centre just a short walk from the station which is modern and convenient with rooms starting at €90. If you want to be in the historic centre, the Boutique Hotel d’Oude Morsch in the old barrack buildings is right next door to one of the city gatehouses where rooms start at €104. If you are looking for family-sized rooms, the Boutique Hotel de Barones van Leyden has some starting at €110 a night.
How to get to Leiden
Planes, trains and ferries are you friends when you are planning a jaunt to Leiden.
Ferry routes from the UK to the Holland are DFDS from Newcastle to Amsterdam, P&O from Hull to Rotterdam and Stena Line from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. From each of these ports it is a no more than a 30 minute train ride to Leiden. The Hook of Holland route is especially easy with trains running right up to the dockside, leaving just a short walk at each end, at both Harwich and the Hook of Holland.
Planes fly to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport from many UK airports. Once at Schiphol walk to the train station and hop on a train, within 20 minutes you will be in Leiden.
You could also let the train take the strain all the way from London. Hop on the Eurostar at London St Pancras, change at Rotterdam and you will be Leiden in four hours.
DISCLOSURE: I was a guest of The Netherlands Tourist Board on a press trip to Leiden. All opinions and a tendency to fall in love with museums are my own.
We have had many Dutch adventures over the years, step away from Amsterdam (beautiful though she is) and discover a very cultured country. We have stayed in a Dutch Castle, fulfilled a long held ambition of mine and crossed the Afsluitdijk, explored Leeuwarden and cycled round the Wadden Islands