The university city of Leiden is one of the oldest and most picturesque cities in the Netherlands. Leiden lies in an extensive floriculture area, whose products are sold in the city and the surrounding region. It is also one of the leading cultural centers in the Netherlands. In addition to its renowned library university, the city is home to a number of other research institutes, including the National Herbarium, with its extensive dry plant collections, and the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology. Leiden is also known as the birthplace of several great artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. Among them are Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Jan van Goyen and Frans van Mieris. This selection contains the most outstanding attractions in Leiden that are worth a visit.
Old Leiden Castle
The path to the Old Castle of Leiden leads through the old lock, on which the figure of a lion with the coat of arms of the city is installed. The castle’s 12-meter mound was created specifically for flood protection. The 11th-century fort was protected by a 35-metre-diameter wall contour, as well as two canals, one of which can still be seen at the foot of the hill. There is even a special one-hour tour of the walls. In the 17th century, the tower of the burgomasters was built, who in the period from 1651 to 1764 were also governors of the castle. From the top of the castle offers a panoramic view of the surroundings and other sights of Leiden.
Natural Science Museum
The lovely little Boerhaave Museum offers a fascinating look at the history of medicine and science through the ages. Housed in a former monastery, Leiden’s beautiful tourist attraction boasts a large collection of apparatus developed at the University of Leiden for scientific research. The museum is named after the Dutch physician Hermann Boerhav, a renowned botanist and university professor, whose students included Peter the Great and Voltaire. The Natural Science Museum also includes a fascinating collection of carved wooden heads depicting the effects of swallowing medicines, as well as the Leiden Anatomical Theatre, where autopsies were performed. Guided tours in English are available.
National Museum of Antiquities
The National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) displays numerous archaeological exhibits from Egypt and the Middle East, as well as artifacts from the Greek and Roman periods. Founded in 1818, this top-notch Leiden landmark includes numerous sculptures, antique vases, and smaller items from prehistoric times to the Romans. In the courtyard of the museum is the Nubian temple of Taffa, presented to the country by President Sadat in 1979 as a token of gratitude for the help of the Netherlands in saving monuments during the construction of the Aswan Dam.
Hortus Botanicus Garden
Part of the Leiden University Botanical Gardens, Hortus Botanicus was originally founded in 1590, making it one of the oldest gardens of its kind in the world. More than 10,000 botanical species are found here, as well as dozens of bird species, many of which live in remote corners of the globe. The highlight of this popular historic garden is the Clusiustuin, a reconstruction of the original botanical garden, originally located behind the university building. Also worth a visit are the Winter Garden with its collection of cicadas and carnivorous plants, the large decorative greenhouse from 1744, the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden. Guided tours in English are available with reservation. It is worth noting that Leiden is an excellent option for a day trip from Amsterdam. Read more about this in the selection of 8 wonderful days around Amsterdam.
Windmill Museum Molin de Valk
The Leiden Windmill Museum (Molen de Valk) is housed in an impressive seven-story windmill built in 1773. This magnificent example of the ubiquitous Dutch windmill stands on a hill that was originally part of the city (in the early 17th century, 19 windmills were within the city walls). After restoration in 1964, the Molin de Valk, together with the last miller’s residence, was opened to the public as a museum. Highlights of a visit to this still-functioning mill include displays and exhibits related to the history of the building, as well as numerous tools and artifacts. Guided tours are available upon request. This is one of those attractions in Leiden that you should definitely visit.
Museum de Lakenhal
On the north side of the city is the Leiden City Museum (Museum De Lakenhal). It is housed in the city’s former Woven Hall (Lakenhal), built in 1640 and used for its original purpose until 1800. The present museum was opened in 1874 and boasts an impressive collection of paintings by leading Dutch artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, including Jan van Goyen, Rembrandt and Jan Steen. Also interesting is the collection of applied and decorative art of the museum. Other notable exhibits include a refurbished inspection room where fabric quality was checked, as well as a large collection of religious artifacts.
Biodiversity Center Naturalis
The National Museum of Natural History of the Netherlands, Naturalis Biodiversity Center offers exciting information and exhibits from the natural world. This large museum houses over ten million specimens of animals and insects, as well as stones, minerals and jewels. You should definitely visit the Theater of Nature, which deals with animal and plant life, and the Primordial Hall with its fascinating views of fossils. For children, hands-on exhibits are available, including games and fun experiments that encourage playful learning.
National Museum of Ethnology
The National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden is considered the first such museum in the world, and not just a collection of curiosities. The attraction is conveniently located next to the Molin de Valk mill and is considered a great pastime option. Founded in 1837, the center was initially housed in several buildings scattered throughout the city, until it took over the premises of the former university hospital in 1937. Its extensive collections come from all over the world with a focus on artifacts from Indonesia and Japan. Of particular interest is the Buddha Room with a collection of statues depicting the prophet in various poses.
Leiden Pilgrim Museum
Of particular interest to US visitors is the small American Pilgrim Museum, hidden behind the Hortus Botanicus garden. The museum dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers tells the story of the group’s escape from England and their arrival in Leiden. Here they stayed until 1620 before starting their epic journey to North America via Southampton. The museum provides interesting material about the life of the Pilgrims in the city, as well as tells the story of the 14th century house in which it is located. Highlights include exhibitions of furniture, books and other materials, as well as historical maps and prints.
One of Leiden’s most prominent attractions, St. Pieterskerk is famous for its annual celebration of the city’s liberation from the Spanish. The late Gothic fortress basilica Pieterskerk dates back to 1121, when the city’s first church was built here. The current church appeared in the 13th century, with the completion of the choir in 1339, and the nave with its double aisles was added in the 14th century. Highlights include the building’s wooden vault extending to the west front and many monuments to various university professors. Of particular note is the tomb of John Robinson, a distinguished member of the Pilgrim Fathers, a late Gothic carved wooden altar dating from the early 16th century, and an organ built around 1640. For a truly unique experience, stay overnight at the nearby Villa Rameau, a former 16th-century almshouse.