Although typically overshadowed by neighboring cities such as Amsterdam, Delft and The Hague, Leiden can stand on its own two feet. Home to the oldest university in Holland and to a charming network of canals, this small Dutch municipality is a postcard-worthy city ideal for a day trip or even a longer stay.
Keep your schedule packed by doing these five activities:
1. Tour the canals
If you look at any city map (either those available in hotels or the ones on signs scattered throughout the town), you’ll see a suggested route marked in red. If you follow it, you’ll pass by the city’s most picturesque spots, including beautiful brick churches and two traditional Dutch windmills.
2. Try Indonesian food
Though its influence is not commonly found in other countries, its cuisine definitely has a large presence in Dutch life (Indonesia was formerly a Dutch colony). The best place to try a wide array of rice dishes, meats, and vegetables is at Bungamas: centrally located, it’s great for both takeaway and eating in.
3. Visit the Botanical Garden
Experience the famous Dutch tulip in the place where it was first planted: Leiden University’s Botanical Garden. A walk among the carefully tended rows of plants is a must for any nature lover and a much-needed respite from stuffy museums.
4. Eat Dutch pancakes
Dutch pancakes are more similar to crepes, and the options for fillings are endless. You can choose from a lemon squeeze, butter, powdered sugar, and even whipped cream and fresh fruit. What never varies, though, is the size: they are typically the size of the large dinner plate they come on. Head to Oudt Leyden, near the central train station, for an authentic pancake experience.
5. Order drinks at a bar terrace
Early on a warm evening, you can see the terraces—often on rafts moored next to the bar—fill up with locals going for post-work drinks. That’s probably the best part of Leiden: no loud, marauding tourists, just regular people going about their day. Of course, just like in Amsterdam, they won’t hesitate to run you over with their bikes.