Leiden is a mini Amsterdam

Leiden amsterdam netherlands things to do

Okay, we’ll be honest – the only reason we initially looked into staying in the Dutch university town of Leiden was because it was significantly more affordable than Holland’s capital Amsterdam. After staying however we feel Leiden really does deserve a place on the map. That’s because aside from being slightly cheaper, it’s also a city steeped in history, scientific discoveries and influences from all over the world (thanks to the student population living there).

We likened Leiden to a ‘mini Amsterdam’ – it still has all the classic Dutch drawcards (think windmills, picturesque canals and a cute town vibe) without feeling overrun by tourists. Don’t get us wrong, its still touristy especially if you wander along the main drag, however we found it much easier to find a quiet spot to enjoy a glass of wine and take in the beautiful surrounds than we did in its more popular sister city.

History of Leiden

Something that surprised us was how many influential people and famous discoveries came out of Leiden! For example, Rembrandt was born in Leiden and there are numerous plaques/statues dedicated to him scattered throughout the city. Descartes also published his most famous words ‘I think therefore I am’ in Leiden! Some of Galileo’s work was housed in Leiden during a time when books were banned throughout varying parts of Europe and Einstein even spent time in the city discussing his theories with fellow physicists at the university. Its no wonder Leiden is heavily leaning into it’s reputation of being the ‘City of Science’.

How to get from Leiden to Amsterdam

Another pro of staying Leiden is how easy it is to get into the centre of Amsterdam (without the need to pay a a premium to stay there) We visited Amsterdam twice for day trips during our visit, catching the train from Leiden Centraal direct to Amsterdam Centraal. The trip takes around 30-40 minutes, and costs approx. 10 euros one way at the time of writing. Tickets can easily be bought at the train station with trains running every 15-30 minutes depending on the time of day you plan to travel. Overall its a relatively stress free journey especially if you happen to find accommodation close to Leiden Centraal. As an added bonus, one of the stops on the way into Amsterdam Centraal is Schiphol Airport making it nice and easy if happen to be entering or exiting the country by air.

Some top things to do in Leiden

Wander the canals

With any town that sits along canals (e.g. Venice, Amsterdam, Bruges etc), wandering along them is always a highlight! Leiden is no different, boasting a multitude of picturesque canals that intersect the city. We urge you to spend some of your time just walking and taking in the views, this was our highlights from Leiden! Our favourite canal was Steenschur, located a few minutes walk from the heart of the town.

Windmill hunting

Historically windmills in Holland served the purpose of pumping water from the low lands back into rivers. While many no longer actually function for this purpose they remain an impressive sight to behold. There are three main windmills scattered around the town of Leiden one of which is in the centre and the other two are a little further out on the fridges of the city.

Sit and have a drink by the canals

After a busy few hours of canal admiring and windmill hunting why not pause to take in the scenery with a vino in hand. We chose to stop at the local haunt of CafΓ© Barrera – this place had tables out on the street overlooking one of the canals and plenty of students stopping by for an afternoon beverage. Not surprising given it was right across from the University of Leiden Campus.

Check out rembrandt park

The history of Rembrandt, one of the greatest painters, is strong in Leiden. This is primarily due to the fact he was born in the town. This history is displayed in monuments around Leiden, with our favourite being Rembrandt Park. Around 5-10 minutes from the heart of Leiden, this small park housed a statue and wall plaque paying homage to the great man. There is also a windmill close-by. You can check out more of the history of Rembrandt in Leiden here.

Visit the canals in the evening

During the day the canals provide postcard perfect views, but at night they are possibly even more special. Rows of lamps illuminate the water in a golden glow, allowing for some stunning reflections to appear. We enjoyed both nights we had wandering along the canals, and urge you to include this in your stay.

Cycle around the city

Leiden as a city is well set up for cyclists. There are clearly market bike lanes wherever you go and dedicated bike ‘garages. On top of this the city itself is pretty flat making it a cyclists paradise. If you want to get a feel for the city and haven’t got much time, or you just want to experience Leiden like a local, hire a bike and get peddling!

Boat tour of the canal

Something we didn’t do during our stay, but could be worth considering, especially if you plan on spending a little more time in Leiden is a boat tour along the canals. There are a couple of options here. You can join a pre-organised boat tour (we won’t give any specific recommendations as we can’t vouch for any companies in particular), or alternatively you can hire an electric boat with the option of mooring along the canals and stopping for a picnic!

Some good food, drinks & coffee we enjoyed in Leiden

Overall, we were impressed with Leiden’s cafe, restaurant and bar scene. There was a multitude of ‘nice restaurants’, along with many cheaper options. We could also find some healthier alternitives compared to some parts of southern and eastern Europe. Like most of the Netherlands, the cafe culture was excellent! See a few of our top picks below:

Restaurants & Food in Leiden:

Restaurant De Klok – Fine Dining: This cute little restaurant sits down an alleyway just off from our favourite canal in Leiden. We wanted to commemorate the end of our Europe travels with a nice meal, and our research pointed us to Restaurant De Klok. For surprisingly affordable prices (for fine dining), we had an excellent 3 course meal with paired wines. The food was exceptional, and the service and education on our wine and produce was top notch. If you’re looking for a nice meal in Leiden, visit Restaurant De Klok (but don’t forget to book).

Midi Marche – Home cooked meats and salads: Midi Marche was exactly what we had been screaming out for during our travels! Home cooked style healthy meals. Think roast vegetables, quinoa salads, variety of meat and vegetarian options. Throw it all together on a healthy portion for a decent price. We were very happy!

Vinas Noodles – Vietnamese: We love Vietnamese cuisine, having visited Vietnam in 2018. Our home town of Melbourne also has many excellent Vietnamese restaurants. Vinas Noodles provided us with a tasty Bahn Mi at a decent price. Worth checking out for Asian cuisine lovers.

Soups & salads – Healthy take away: This little restaurant serves up some great health concious take away options. Soups, grain salads, poke bowls, ramen, and more. We grabbed some food here and headed to a canal to enjoy the views with lunch.

CafΓ© Barrera – Bar along the canals: Boasting outdoor seating along the canals, it’s a popular bar to grab a beverage. A real student hotspot (as previously mentioned it sits directly opposite the University of Leiden Campus) we enjoyed a laid back glass of one in the afternoon overlooking one of our favourite canals.

Brasserie De Engelenbak: This was on our shortlist for dinner but we never made it. Worth checking out if looking for a nice dinner place.

The best Coffee in Leiden:

Leiden had a lot of good cafes and coffee spots. We sampled a number of places and have a list below of some you should check out:

  • Coffee & food
  • Togo
  • Roos
  • Deli pies and coffee co
  • Logica
  • Lot & de Valvis

Should you stay in Leiden over Amsterdam?

This is a good question, and one that may depend on what kind of holiday stay you are looking for. We opted for Leiden for a few reasons, primarily that it was much cheaper, less touristic, and somewhere we may have wanted to explore anyway. However, this meant that we didn’t spend nights in Amsterdam, so if you are looking to party or ‘live it up’ a little more, staying in the big city may be the better option.

Want to stay in Leiden?

We stayed at Hotel Vic, a new hotel complex right next to the train station (perfect for day trips into Amsterdam). The hotel was reasonably priced, and despite a few key-pass issues, the staff were very helpful. You can take a look at Hotel Vic here. If you want to check out other options, take a look below:


Enjoying our posts & advice? Subscribe to our blog!

Jump your email into the list below. We won’t spam you! It’ll just keep you updated whenever we post another travel-related adventure, memory or tid-bid!


WANT TO SEE MORE food recommendations & TRAVEL MEMORIES?

Check out further highlights from our time in Europe! Take a look!

Please note: this post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase or book anything using these links, we get a small percentage of the sale, at no extra expense to you. This helps us to run the site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *