Oh, this amazing gentleman (sorry, “herr”) Leiden, who was lucky enough to nurse outstanding painters and entertain Nobel laureates. Today it deserves the attention of millions of tourists, and, I must say, not without reason. With a rich past behind him, Leiden is ready to share his story with anyone who sets foot on his land. The famous university, numerous museums, wonderful theatres, ancient buildings, canals and embankments – all of them are ready to tell guests about the amazing life of old Leiden and what once inspired masters of art to create amazing masterpieces without a lunch break. See Educationvv for education and training in Netherlands.
Leiden is a very Dutch town: there are many canals in which houses with tiled roofs are “stuck”, interspersed with Gothic cathedrals and old windmills. First of all, Leiden became famous thanks to one of the oldest universities in Europe, which was founded already in 1575. Secondly, such world-famous artists as Luke of Leiden, Jan Steen and Rembrandt. Nevertheless, the most interesting museums in Leiden are not art, but natural science.
Many Leiden houses are decorated with quotations from the classics of world literature – from Chinese poetry to Shakespeare. All excerpts are given in the original language, sometimes with a Dutch interlinear. Of ours, Blok and Tsvetaeva “lit up” there.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Leiden is by train. From The Hague, the journey takes only 10-15 minutes, from Schiphol Airport – 20 minutes. The longest distance to Amsterdam is 30-40 minutes. The fare is low: from 3-4 to 10-12 EUR depending on the distance.
Almost all trains stop at the Leiden Centraal station, which is located 500 meters northwest of the Old Center and 1 km from the Town Hall. The Leiden Lammenschans station (very small, on the line to Utrecht) is located at the opposite end of the city, also 1 km from the Town Hall.
You can also get from the station to the center by any bus that goes to the Breestraat stop. Ticket price 1 EUR, valid for one hour. In general, the city is very compact, so it’s better to get around on foot: in 20 minutes you can easily walk from end to end. But you can also rent a bike, there is a bike shop at the station where you can rent this popular vehicle in Holland.
Cuisine and restaurants in Leiden
You should definitely try the local herring. The most popular way to taste it is to buy a bun with herring at the fish counters (visbanken) of the market square, where you can add a little onion or pickled cucumber (~ 2-2.5 EUR).
The second obligatory dish is Leiden cheese. A variety of semi-hard Dutch cheese made from skimmed cow’s milk. The addition of cumin, cloves and other spices gives the cheese a characteristic spicy taste.
You can buy all this and much more to the left of the town hall on both banks of the Nieuwe-Rhine canal, where a market opens on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Local sellers are Dutch peasants and fishermen.
Entertainment and attractions in Leiden
In 1992, the Poems and Walls project was launched in Leiden on the initiative of the TEGEN-BEELD Foundation. The first poem that appeared on the city wall was the work of Marina Tsvetaeva. Today, the works of poets from all over the world adorn the walls of Leiden, as if suggesting that the beauty of Leiden should be compared with the beauty of the best poetry.
As for the choice of the excursion route around Leiden, there is perhaps only one subtlety here: you need to decide right away whether you are ready to walk or not. If you are ready, go to all four sides, you will be welcome everywhere. If you don’t really want to travel on your own two, then choose a bicycle or water transport. And we offer to make a combined walking and water trip.
Tour of Leiden: start
So, let’s say you got off the train at the Central Station (Leiden Centraal). Immediately begin your acquaintance with the sights of Leiden. Remember, Leiden itself deserves the title of landmark, because it is, as Brodsky put it, “the most important city” in the Netherlands. Everything is beautiful in Leiden: every street, every bridge, every courtyard.
Looking ahead a little, we note that undoubtedly the most important attraction of Leiden is Leiden University – the oldest educational institution in Europe. Many travelers come to Leiden to see the university buildings with their own eyes, to plunge into the student atmosphere, to breathe the air saturated with science.
Moving towards the embankment of the Rapenburg Canal, on the right bank of which numerous university buildings are located, we are in danger of getting stuck in the museums that we will meet on the way. Here is the first stop at Steenstraat, building 1. This is the oldest, opened about two centuries ago, the National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde). If we do not resist the temptation to enter the museum, then we are doomed to walk through the countries and continents of the past millennia. By the way, Europe is not represented in the museum.
We stand with our backs to the museum. If we go left along 2e Binnenvestgracht, we will quickly reach the famous windmill (Stedelijk Molenmuseum de Valk), built back in 1743. However, we move straight along Steenstraat and find ourselves on the Main Square of Beestenmarkt.
Rumor has it that there is a cafe on the square where excellent pancakes are prepared.
However, someone still did not go to the square, but right in front of it turned left and again fell for the bait of the museum Leiden. The City Museum of Lakenhal, or the Cloth Chamber (Museum de Lakenhal) at Oude Singel, 28-32, invites you to get to know Leiden through the prism of art. Rembrandt, Jan van Goyen, Gerard Dou, Jan Steen exhibited in the museum. The pearl of Lakenhal is the triptych “Judgment of God”, painted by Lucas van Leyden.
Still, we will return to Bestenmarkt and walk to its southern point, from which the Haarlemmerstraat shopping street departs. True, to get to it, you first need to go over the Blauwpoortsbrug bridge. Walking along the Haarlemerstraat, turn left onto Sionsteeg and exit onto Lange Sint Agnietenstraat, after passing a few houses to the right, we will stumble upon the famous Boerhaave Museum. The exposition of this museum tells visitors about the history of the development of sciences and, mainly, medicine. By the way, the largest exhibit of the museum is a part of the building, which served in the 17th century as an anatomical theater popular then. Also on display at the Boerhaave Museum is Anthony van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope and the first pendulum clock created by Christian Huygens.
Within the walls of the LUMC hospital is another notable museum called “Naturalis” (Naturalis). The feature of the museum is the buildings interconnected by a glass passage through which huge rhinos roam. It is worth noting that this museum is especially to the taste of young visitors.
Canals and bridges
And so we got to the Rapenburg Canal, it’s time to transfer to the boat and take a short tour of the water ring. Along the banks of the canal are houses built by the Leiden nobility in the 17th century. Wait, we almost rushed past the Rijksmuseum van Ondheden, or RMO, which is on our right (Rapenburg, 28). And no wonder, because the museum does not stand out from the main composition of the embankment. However, if we are lucky enough to visit inside, we will be one hundred percent impressed to the tips of our fingers, because the tour will be conducted for us by “guides from the past”.
Having returned from a short trip along the picturesque canal to the Croenhazenbrug bridge, or the Green Bunny (according to legend, students once called one famous prostitute so), we will walk along the old cobbled Breestrat street, which will lead us to the town hall built in the 16th century with a clock. The famous town hall is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.
An interesting fact is that the two main streets of Leiden – Brestrat and Rapenburg diverge in different directions from one point, and, in the end, meet again in one place, only in another part of the Old Town. The central street of Brestrat once served as the border between the civilized and barbarian worlds.
So, to the left of the town hall, where the Nieuwe Rijn canal originates, there was a territory of barbarians, today there is a market in this place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. By the way, you can also buy something on the Kornburg bridge (Koornburg) opposite the town hall, where trade is carried out constantly. By the way, the Leiden people compare Kornburg with the Venetian Rialto. If we cross the canal along the Kornburg and go a little further along the narrow street Bursteg (Burgsteeg), then we will come to the oldest sight of Leiden, to the construction of the 9th century – the fortress with the Burcht tower (Burcht van Leiden), located on a hill. The centuries-old oak growing inside it tells about the age of the tower. Surprisingly, the tower is not visible from the city, but the whole of Leiden is visible from it, at a glance.
Under the tower is the best pub in the city – Koetshuis de Burcht.
St. Peter’s Church and University
If we pass from the town hall to the right, then we will see the Church of St. Peter (Sint Pieterskerk), built in the Gothic style. Opposite the church we will see a building with shutters painted in red and white – this is the former Gravensteen prison, today it houses the Faculty of Law of Leiden University. By the way, a small cozy square in front of the Faculty of Law used to be a place of execution. The civilized part of the city also included the Rapenburg Canal, and, of course, the Leiden University located on its right bank.
The university was presented to Leiden by William I of Orange as a token of gratitude for the courage of its people, who steadfastly withstood the year-long siege by the Spaniards in 1575. By the way, the inhabitants of Leiden had a choice, they could be exempt from taxes forever, but they preferred to have a wonderful university in their hometown.
Let’s get closer to the university buildings: students and professors are scurrying around. What are they talking about? You can eavesdrop on their conversations in the Camino Real bar, where students and teachers sip beer after numerous lectures. Right around the corner of the Camino Real bar is the green oasis of Old Leiden – the Hortus Botanicus botanical garden. Is it possible that the mathematician Rene Descartes, the physicist Peter van Muschenbrook, the lawyer Hugo Grotsky, the great Rembrandt, the landscape painter Jan van Goyen, and even Einstein, who once taught at the university, once walked in the vicinity of the Leiden alma mater…
By the way, walking around Leiden, we have often seen the so-called “hofs” (patios). These are almshouses built by rich people, there are 35 of them in the city.
The end of the tour, or to be continued…
Perhaps this is the end of our tour. However, tourists interested in science can also visit the Leiden Observatory and the University Library. Theater goers can head to Imperium or Dex. Museum lovers (except those who are not yet 8 years old) can walk through the human body in the most popular Dutch museum Corpus. By the way, there are also audio guides in Russian. But club worms have a direct path to local dance establishments Entre-nous, Niels Rijnegom or Doesbrug.
In addition, every tourist is simply obliged to see with his own eyes the Leiden Gate, the Renaissance building of the Administration of the Rhinelands, the building of the Fiziev Library and the house of the Pilgrim Fathers, as well as visit the Wismarkt fish market to taste the most delicious Dutch herring there.