Weekend Leiden: Things to see and do in Leiden

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Nestled in between two of the Netherlands’ most well-known attractions: Amsterdam and the Lisse tulip field, lies the university city of Leiden. Home to the country’s largest botanical garden, the birthplace of Rembrandt, awash with interactive scientific museums and picture-perfect 17th gabled houses lining the many canals are but a few reasons why a weekend Leiden is well worth it!

The city of Leiden in the Netherlands is a bustling university town on the doorstep of Amsterdam. While considerably smaller in size than the country’s capital, there is still a surprising amount of things to do in Leiden. 

Leiden has a long and prosperous history, many of the buildings in Old Town are clear remnants of the wealth that flowed freely in the city between the 15th and 17th centuries. The historic gabled houses have withstood the passing of time surprisingly well and continue to house the city’s many little shops.

The city coined the motto “City of Discoveries’ as no less than 16 Nobel Prizes were attributed to research done by world-renowned researchers inside the very walls of this little university city. Get ready for an education weekend! Leiden has the capacity to surprise you in ways you never deemed possible


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weekend in leiden
Typical Dutch gable houses and canal in the old city center of Leiden in the Netherlands

Plan your Leiden weekend in advance

A little short on time and looking for the very best way to plan your weekend in Leiden at a glance? Find the top things the city has to offer any traveler!

  • Sustainable way to get around the city – Rent a bike
    Prices start at €10/day ($11) for a regular bike and to go up to €25 ($27.5) for an electric bike. Reserve your bike online with easyfiets.
  • Recommended Accommodation: Huys van Leyden
    Huys van Leiden is a beautiful little boutique hotel located in an old historic building smack in the center of the city. The hotel is very intimate with a mere 13 rooms, offers afternoon tea and private boat trips on the canals.
  • Value for money tour: In all honesty, the city is small enough to wander around without the need for a guide. If however you are looking for a bit more information about the city, why not try this affordable self-guided Leiden city tour
  • Must do in Leiden: Leiden windmill cruise
    Weather permitting, take a 2-hour cruise through the lakes surrounding Leiden to visit 18 beautifully restored mills dotted around little islands. In spring the islands are filled with tulips and grazing cows.

enjoying dusk while in Leiden for 48 hours
Grab a drink at sunset during your weekend Leiden

Where to stay in Leiden for a weekend

There are plenty of accommodations in Leiden to choose from to accommodate all types of budgets. Expect to pay on average $150/ night for 2 people.

hotel in leiden
LOT Hotel Leiden image courtesy of hotel

BEST BUDGET HOTEL ($): LOT Hotel

The two-star LOT hotel is centrally located (300 meters from Rijksmuseum) and has a beautiful view over the harbor of Leiden. Rooms are comfortable and well decorated. Important to note breakfast is subject to a small surcharge.

golden tulip hotel in Leiden
Golden Tulip Leiden Centre courtesy of hotel

BEST SUSTAINABLE HOTEL ($$):
Golden Tulip Leiden Centre

Located right opposite the Leiden train station, the golden tulip hotel in Leiden is a no-nonsense 4-star hotel offering plush beds and a really good breakfast.

leiden hotels for a weekend
Steenhof suites Leiden image courtesy of hotel

HOTEL WITH CHARACTER ($$):
Boutique Hotel Steenhof Suites

A small luxury boutique hotel set in one of the oldest historic canal houses in Leiden. The hotel has 14 exclusive suites with views over the canals of Leiden. Very centrally located, offers a continental breakfast, and has a very well stocked medieval wine bar to grab an aperitif in the evening.


Weekend Leiden Netherlands
Panoramic view of the center of the city of Leiden, Holland

What to do in Leiden –
10 Leiden attractions you do not want to miss

Many of the city’s historical buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries when Leiden has firmly planted on the map thanks to its flourishing textile manufacturing; renowned printing & publishing industry and the University, which still attracts leading scientific scholars.

The picturesque gabled houses in the old town are souvenirs from the 17th and 18th centuries, when both the country and Leiden prospered, entering into the so-called ‘Golden Age.’ Leiden gave birth to Rembrandt in 1606, the artist was instrumental in transforming Leiden into the epicenter of the Dutch artistic Renaissance.

16 Nobel prizes later and many, many scientific breakthroughs later the city has coined the motto ‘City of Discoveries’. Leiden is the perfect day trip from Utrecht or even Amsterdam and thus tends to get busy during the day. By spending a full weekend in Leiden you can enjoy the city like a local when the daytrippers head home.

things to do in Leiden

Boat ride on the canals of Leiden

The city of Leiden is second only to Amsterdam when it comes to the number of canals and bridges. Most of the canals were built from the 17th century onwards; some to protect the city others to manage transport and supplies to the inner city. These days they serve as idyllic passageways for locals and tourists looking to explore the city from a different vantage point.

Start your weekend Leiden by getting a feel for the lay of the water and jumping on a canal cruise and sailing around the city.

Cost: Expect to pay €12 ($13.2) for a one-hour boat ride.


visiting the canals over the weekend in leiden, Netherlands

Walk the Leiden Discovery Trail

No better way to discover Leiden than to wander around its many different alleys, peek into the curtainless windows of the gabled houses, and grab a coffee on the vibrant Beestenmarkt. The city of Leiden has come up with an app to facilitate you on your gander around town, in the form of the (free) Leiden Discovery Trail.

The activity is a fun thing to do in Leiden when it is sunny as it leads you through all the prettiest corners in town, explaining 28 of the most scientific discoveries that took place in these exact locations.

Tip: Pick up the map at the tourist office or simply download the app.


Things to see in Leiden, Pieterskerk
Getting something to eat in the Pieterskerk is a must do in Leiden

Grab a bite to eat in the 15th-century Pieterskerk

Without a doubt, one of the coolest things to do in Leiden is to pop into the Pieterskerk. The church was deconsecrated in 1975 and now serves as an event location. At the time of the visit (2021), there was a large swing hanging in the middle of the church, a highlight for kids and adults alike. The menu consists of a variety of small dishes, sandwiches, and local beers served in an idyllic setting.


things to do visit Leiden museums
Leiden Naturalis Museum, Photo courtesy of dearchitect.nl

Visit one of the many museums

For such a small city, Leiden has an astonishing array of museums – each more interactive & interesting than the next. They form the perfect backup plan for a rainy day, provide entertainment for the kids, and are sure to enthrall even the most ardent museum critic. Make sure to set aside some time this weekend Leiden to visit at least one.

My personal top three are: Naturalis, the city’s natural history museum; The National Museum of Antiquities displaying treasures from ancient Egypt & Greece and CORPUS, offering an intriguing journey through the body.


Hofjes in Leiden
Leidse hofjes, photo courtesy of Leidsch Dagblad

Hunt down the most exquisite hofjes (inner courtyard or almshouse)

Dotted across Leiden are no less than 35 groups of hofjes (almshouses). The hofjes were built to provide food and shelter for the elderly and poor of the city. Historically the hofjes were paid for by rich citizens trying to buy their spot in heaven, as was the custom in the 16th and 17th centuries. The buildings are small in size, made out of red brick, and built around a beautiful inner courtyard.

These days the almshouses no longer serve their original purpose, instead, they are home to the average joe. If you are a fan of walking spend your weekend in Leiden hunting down the prettiest hofjes, consider it a treasure hunt!

Tip: If you want to be absolutely sure you see them all then pop over to the visitors center and get a map of the “Walking tour along Leiden’s almshouses”, for the price of €2.50 ($2.75).


Things to do in Leiden

Visit De Valk Windmill

The city of Leiden once contained no less than 19 windmills inside the city. These days there is but one left: De Valk Windmill. The mill dates back to the 18th century and was built to house two miller families inside (yep, they actually lived inside). A quintessential thing to do in Leiden is to check out the windmill, at least from the outside. After a brief hiatus between 1966 and 2000, the mill is once again fully operational and used for milling.

The inside of the mill has been turned into a museum, which delves into the secrets of living inside the mill as well as the operating mechanism. Please note, the mill is not wheelchair accessible.

Cost: Tickets start at €5 ($5.5) and can be bought at the entrance.


things to do rent a bike in Leiden
Top thing to do in Leiden is renting a bicycle and whizzing around town

Rent a bicycle and explore the city

The Netherlands and bikes are intricately entwined. Anyone who has stepped foot on Dutch soil can attest to the millions of bikes zooming past, at any given hour of the day. As a non-avid biker with zero balancing skills, I am not a huge fan of this two-wheeled mode of transport.

However, the cities of the Netherlands and their inhabitants are extremely well attuned to cyclists: Large cycling paths are available on all roads, every red light has a ‘go’ button available to push within arm’s length of the cyclists and there is a healthy respect of right of way for cyclists. So put aside any fears you might have and rent a bike during your weekend in Leiden.

Cost: Prices start at €10 ($11) a day for a regular bike and €25 ($27.5) a day for an electric bike.


weekend Leiden Netherlands
Historical Centre of Leiden, photo courtesy of in de buurt Leiden

Go shopping for local souvenirs at the Pieterskwartier

Pieterskwartier is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Leiden and was created with the 12th-century Pieterskerk at the heart. The neighborhood is a web of little streets, lined with even smaller houses that contain shops, restaurants, museums, and a few hofjes. If you are looking to get an authentic little souvenir made by a local artist, this would be the place to start your search.

While the city of Leiden is very quaint during the day, once dusk sets in, and the canals and little streets illuminate with their soft golden light, the real enchantment begins. There is nowhere better to be beguiled by the city than Pieterskwartier at dusk.

Make some time during your weekend Leiden for an evening stroll through this neighborhood, finish it off with a delicious meal or refreshing drink in one of the many restaurants and bars available on every corner of the street.


Check out de Hooglandse Kerk

This 15th-century Gothic church is the largest in Leiden. The church was originally decorated with 24 alters, large stained glass windows, and elaborate frescoes, a far cry from the stark interior these days. The 16th century saw a number of revolts in the low countries which culminated with Willem of Orange seizing control of the country.

The church was transformed into a protestant church containing white-washed walls and plain glass. As was common in the day it served multiple purposes: Location for mass, harboring troops, and even the storage of grain. It might not be one of the main places to visit in Leiden, but it is worth a little peek if you have some additional time.


Visit the largest botanical garden in the Netherlands: Hortus Botanicus

The Hortus Botanicus is a lush botanical garden filled with plenty of treasures from the fauna & flora world. The garden is the oldest in the Netherlands and one of the first botanical gardens in the world dating back to the 16th century. A walk around the botanical gardens will bring you ancient beehives (the honey of which can be bought in the on-premise store), a forest of ferns, a Chinese garden complete with bamboo and waterlilies, and last but not least a Japanese garden.

This little garden is a testament to the long-standing relationship between Japan and the Netherlands. The Hortus Botanicus is a wonderful thing to do in Leiden with kids! After your walk around the garden grab something to drink or a small nibble in the Hortus Grand Café.

Entrance Fee: €8 ($8.8) per person. Buy online.


Perfect day trips from Leiden to add on to your weekend Leiden

Don’t allow your weekend in Leiden to confine you to the city walls! There is plenty of adventure to be had in the vicinity of the city.

Below you will find a few fun day trips from Leiden, if none of these happen to strike your fancy check out these alternative weekend trips from Amsterdam to give you a few more options.

kids enjoying their weekend in Keukenhof park near Leiden

Tulipfields in Keukenhof

Every year from the end of March to the middle of May the region around Leiden explodes into patches of colorful tulips. This is the bulb growing heartland of the Netherlands! There are several different options to catch a glimpse of the magical tulip fields, the easiest of which is a visit to Keukenhof Park.

Keukenhof displays over 7 million different tulip bulbs each year and is a very popular day trip from Leiden. Be sure to book your tickets in advance and get there early to avoid the crowds. Keukenhof is located 19km from Leiden and is accessible by either car (25 min ride) or bicycle (1h bike ride).


weekend trip from Leiden to Katwijk aan Zee beach

Katwijk aan Zee

Should your weekend in Leiden coincide with a sunny day, consider a day trip to the seaside. Katwijk aan Zee is a town located on the North Sea just 11 kilometers from downtown Leiden. It is easily reachable by bicycle (30 min ride) or by car (20 min ride).

The little town has a scenic promenade, perfect for a relaxed walk, and is home to the oldest lighthouse in the Netherlands. Weather permitting head down to one of the kitesurfing schools and learn a new skill! Alternatively, chill out on the beach and enjoy some vitamin D.


Duivenvoorde Castle

Kasteel Duivenvoorde

Entrance Fee: Ticket Prices prices for adults start at €13,5 ($15) and are to be purchased in advance, online. The ticket contains an optional audio guide.

A short 9 kilometers or a 30-minute bike ride from downtown Leiden lies the picture-perfect Duivenvoorde castle. This beautiful medieval castle was once the home of the Van Wassenaer family, after 5 centuries it changed hands a few times before the final owners, the Schimmelpenninck van der Oye family finally took up residence. To this day, descendants from this family still live in parts of the castle and on the castle grounds.

Part of the castle is open to the public for a visit. Walk around the 14 grand and lavishly decorated rooms and learn all about the history of Duivenvoorde.

You might also like: If you are a fan of castles, check out these 16 castles around Amsterdam or 15 unmissable castles in the Netherlands.


Amsterdam

A short 9 kilometers or a 30-minute bike ride from downtown Leiden lies the picture-perfect Duivenvoorde castle. This beautiful medieval castle was once the home of the Van Wassenaer family, after 5 centuries it changed hands a few times before the final owners, the Schimmelpenninck van der Oye family finally took up residence. To this day, descendants from this family still live in parts of the castle and on the castle grounds.

Part of the castle is open to the public for a visit. Walk around the 14 grand and lavishly decorated rooms and learn all about the history of Duivenvoorde.


saint-hubert-royal-galleries-brussels
Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert in Brussels

Brussels

The perfect day trip from Leiden is to the capital of Belgium, Brussels. The capital of Europe is often overlooked for other more glamorous cities, but not visiting Brussels would be such a pity! Come sunshine or rain, there is plenty to do in Belgium.

Must-sees in Brussels include the Grand Plance, the Victor Horta Art Nouveau houses, the Atomium and the threesome of little peeing statues (Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis. A weekend in Brussels is the perfect amount of time, though one day roaming around Brussels in enough to give you a taste of the many tourist attractions and hidden gems the city has to offer.

Relevant information: Not sure where to stay in Brussels? Check out my in-depth guide of every area in Brussels and why that specific area is perfect for you. Read More


city of Antwerp center
Antwerp city center

Antwerp

Antwerp  is located in the North of Belgium and is known as the fashion capital of the country. Locals are hip, eateries offer an interesting culinary mix (some following the latest food trend while others stick to traditional Belgian cuisine) and the shopping is unparalleled.

Highlights in Antwerp include the Rubens House, the Grote Markt, Cathedral of our Lady and a visit to Zurenborg to take in the fin-de-ciècle townhouses. Make sure to visit Cogels Osylei, Velodroomstraat, Transvaalstraat, Draakplaats on your tour of the area.

Tip: Skip spending the night in Antwerp, instead head for one of the very cool and unique Castle hotels in Belgium and spend the night there instead!


Map of things to do in Leiden on your weekend

Click on the interactive google map to get an overview of all the things to do in Leiden. Or alternatively, have a peek at the below map for a quick overview.

The brown pins indicate the Leiden attractions while the purple pins are the hotels recommended in this guide. The yellow pin indicated where you can rent a bike for the weekend.


MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING EUROPE

Netherlands: Things to know before visiting Friesland
Netherlands: Weekend Trips from Amsterdam
Netherlands: Places to visit around Amsterdam
Netherlands: A guide to the outdoor sports on the West Frisian Islands
Netherlands: A guide to the youngest province in the Netherlands, Flevoland
Belgium: Hidden gems of Belgium, a visit to the quaint town of Mechelen
Europe Inspo: European Landmarks to add to your bucketlist
Germany: A sustainable guide to Karlsruhe Germany

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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! With this blog I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. 

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