5 things you have to do when in Leiden

5 things you have to do when in Leiden

Situated in the province of South Holland, Leiden is practically a hidden gem. Known for its centuries-old architecture and home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, it’s definitely worth a visit! And of course, when you’re there you should absolutely try and do the following five things.

1. Find the wall poems of Leiden

Start your day off in Leiden with a walk around the city and don’t forget to look around you whenever you can. Why? Because dozens of buildings are adorned with poems.

The Wall Poems project began in 1992 and was concluded in 2005. During these years, 101 poems were painted onto walls around the city in the author’s language. There are poems in Turkish, Japanese, Indonesian and Russian, to mention a few languages, and the poems are often accompanied by Dutch and English translations on nearby plaques.

Many more poems have been added since the project ended. You could visit the tourist information office to get detailed information about where to walk to see the poems but seeing as they are scattered across the city walls, you could also just wander the city and see which ones you can find.

2. Chill out in the Hortus Botanicus 

As you are already on your feet, why not journey a little further to the living museum that is the Hortus Botanicus – the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. Permission to create the botanical garden was granted to Leiden University in 1590.

Carolus Clusius, prefect of the garden, came to Leiden in 1593 and set up an extensive collection of plants. You may have heard of Clusius, as he was the one who introduced the Netherlands to the tulip, something we couldn’t imagine the Dutch country without today.

The Hortus Botanicus is home to more than 10.000 species of plants from all over the world. So whether you’re a plant nerd, or you just love those leafy greens, a trip to this wonderful garden is a must. It’s open from 10am until 6pm and costs a meagre 7,50 euros. 


3. Tour the cosmos at Leiden Observatory

Whilst in the Hortus Botanicus, why not wander a little further and take a closer look at the oldest university observatory in the world – free for those with Hortus Botanicus entry tickets! The observatory has been in use since 1633 and was restored to its pre-1924 state in 2011. Today, astronomy students still have practical lessons in the observatory. You can learn about this historic building at the visitor centre, or, if you want, you can even have a free guided tour.

The observatory is only open on Wednesdays and in the weekend from 11am until 5pm in the summer. Do check their website to make sure these times are still the same for your visit, as they change seasonally. Free guided tours are available at 11:30am and 3pm, but again, check to avoid disappointment.

The observatory’s visitor centre won’t disappoint, with the interactive Galaxy Maker – yes you can make your own galaxy, and a virtual tour of the cosmos as well as an exhibition about astronomy. In the observatory itself, there is plenty to do and see. Race you to the galaxy maker!


4. Visit the National Museum of Ethnology

Once you’ve finished being amazed by the cosmos (although how could you ever be finished really?), take your bike – if you have one – for a four-minute ride down to the National Museum of Ethnology. Walking from the observatory takes slightly longer, around 12 minutes.

The National Museum of Ethnology is a museum about people. With a permanent display featuring objects from eight different cultural reasons and regularly changing exhibitions, no two trips to this museum are the same- there is always something new to discover.

The museum currently contains over 340.000 pieces, which tell stories about humankind, from mourning to celebration and prayer. Of these pieces, 175.000 are objects, 155.000 are photographic material and another 100.000 are imagery.

5. Wine and dine at Lot en de Walvis restaurant

After a long day of sightseeing, it’s time to get some grub. So, why not take this opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a nice dinner at Lot and de Walvis by Leiden harbour.

It’s not too far from the city centre, so walk, cycle or take the bus – it’s up to you. With a menu that goes from morning (9am) until 10pm, there are enough choices, whether you want a tasty snack or a delicious dinner. We do recommend reserving your place in advance, as this is a pretty hip spot!

The restaurant itself was founded by Lot, who travelled around the world in her van called “de Walvis”, hence the name. The experiences she had on her trip, as well as ideas that came to mind and souvenirs she bought, are all brought together in the restaurant.

Have you visited Leiden yet? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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