10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Leiden

The university town of Leiden (or Leyden in English) is one of the oldest and most picturesque towns in the Netherlands. Leiden lies in an extensive flower growing area, the produce of which is marketed in the town and surrounding region. It's also one of the leading cultural centers in the Netherlands. In addition to its famous Library University, the town is home to a number of other research institutions, including the National Herbarium, with its vast collections of dried plants, and the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology. The town is also famous as the birthplace of several great painters from the 16th and 17th centuries, including Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Jan van Goyen, and Frans van Mieris.

1 The Old Castle: Burcht van Leiden

The Old Castle: Burcht van Leiden
The Old Castle: Burcht van Leiden

Accessible through an interesting old gateway displaying the figure of a lion with the town's coat of arms, Leiden's castle (Burcht van Leiden) is a must-visit. Perched atop a 12-meter-high mound built to provide a refuge from flooding, this 11th-century fort was protected by a circuit of walls 35 meters in diameter, along with two canals, one of which can still be seen at the foot of the hill, as well as a sentry-walk around the walls. In the 17th-century, a tower was built bearing the arms of the burgomasters, who between 1651 and 1764 were also governors of the castle. From the castle, panoramic views extend over the surrounding area.

Address: Burgsteeg 14, Leiden

2 Editor's Pick Museum Boerhaave

Museum Boerhaave
Museum Boerhaave bertknot / photo modified

The wonderful little Museum Boerhaave offers a fascinating look at the history of medicine and science through the centuries. In a former convent, this excellent tourist attraction boasts a large collection of apparatus developed at the University of Leiden for scientific research and used across Europe. Named after Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave, a famous botanist and university professor whose students included Peter the Great and Voltaire, the museum also includes a fascinating collection of "Gapers," carved wooden heads depicting the effects of swallowing medicines, along with the Leiden Anatomical Theater where dissections of cadavers were performed. (English language guided tours are available.)

Address: Lange Sint Agnietenstraat 10, 2312 WC Leiden

3 National Museum of Antiquities

Sarcophagus of Ahmose
Sarcophagus of Ahmose Jan / photo modified

The National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) features numerous archeological exhibits from Egypt and the Near East, as well as from Greek and Roman periods. Founded in 1818, this first-rate attraction features numerous sculptures, ancient vases, and smaller objects from prehistoric to Roman times. In the courtyard of the museum is the Nubian temple of Taffah, presented to the country by President Sadat in 1979 in gratitude for Dutch help in saving monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam.

Address: Rapenburg 28, 2311 EW Leiden

4 Hortus Botanicus Leiden

Hortus Botanicus Leiden
Hortus Botanicus Leiden zoetnet / photo modified

Part of the University of Leiden's Botanic Garden, Hortus Botanicus was originally laid out in 1590, making it one of the oldest such gardens in the world. More than 10,000 botanical species along with dozens of bird types are found here, many from far-flung corners of the globe. A highlight of this popular historic garden is the Clusiustuin, a reconstruction of the first systematically arranged botanical garden originally located behind the University building. Also worth a visit are the Winter Garden with its collection of cycads and carnivorous plants, the large ornate Orangery built in 1744, the Rosarium, and the Japanese Garden. English language guided tours are available with advance notice.

Address: Rapenburg 73, 2311 GJ Leiden

5 The Molen de Valk Windmill Museum

The Molen de Valk Windmill Museum
The Molen de Valk Windmill Museum Bart van Leeuwen / photo modified

Leiden's Windmill Museum (Molen de Valk) is housed in a spectacular seven-story stone flour mill built in 1743. Literally translated as "the Falcon," this magnificent example of the ubiquitous Dutch windmill stands on high ground that originally formed part of the town's fortifications (in the early 17th century, 19 windmills were within the town walls). After restoration in 1964, Molen de Valk, along with the dwelling house of the last miller, was opened to the public as a museum. Highlights of a visit to this still-operational mill include displays and exhibits relating to the building's history, the story of milling, and numerous tools and artifacts. (Guided tours are available upon request.)

Address: 2e Binnenvestgracht, 1 2312 BZ Leiden

6 Museum De Lakenhal

Decorative tiles
Decorative tiles Hans Splinter / photo modified

On the north side of the Oude Vest is Leiden's Municipal Museum (Museum De Lakenhal). Housed in the town's former Cloth Hall (Lakenhal) built in 1640 and used for its original purpose until 1800, the present museum was opened in 1874 and boasts an impressive collection of paintings by leading Dutch artists of the 16th and 17th centuries including Jan van Goyen, Rembrandt, and Jan Steen. Also interesting is the museum's collection of applied and decorative art. Other notable exhibits include the refurbished Inspection Room where cloth was inspected, along with a large collection of religious artifacts.

Address: Oude Singel 28 /32, 2312 RA Leiden

7 Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Ammonite fossil
Ammonite fossil Hans Splinter / photo modified

The Netherlands' national museum of natural history, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, offers fascinating information and exhibits relating to nature. All told, this large museum houses more than ten million animal and insect specimens, along with rocks, minerals, and gemstones, all laid out in an easy to follow manner in departments such as the Nature Theater, which deals with animal and plant life, and Primeval Parade with its fascinating displays of fossils. For youngsters, many hands-on exhibits, including games and fun experiments, encourage a little learning while they play.

Address: Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR Leiden

Official site: www.naturalis.nl/en/

8 The National Museum of Ethnology

The National Museum of Ethnology
The National Museum of Ethnology Jan / photo modified

Widely considered to be the first such museum in the world - rather than merely a collection of curiosities - Leiden's National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde) is handily located near the Molen de Valk windmill and is a pleasant way to spend an hour or more. Founded in 1837, it was originally housed in a number of buildings spread across the town, until a new home was found for it in 1937 in the former University Hospital. Its extensive collections come from all over the world, with an emphasis on artifacts from Indonesia and Japan. Of particular interest is the Buddha Room with its collection of statues depicting the prophet in a variety of poses.

Address: Steenstraat 1, 2312 BS Leiden

Official site: https://volkenkunde.nl/en

9 The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum

Of particular interest to visitors from the USA is a small museum tucked away behind Hortus Botanicus known as the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. Dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers, the museum chronicles the group's flight from England for the safety of Amsterdam in 1608, and their eventual arrival in Leiden. Here, they remained until 1620 before beginning their epic voyage to North America via Southampton where they joined the Mayflower. The museum provides interesting material concerning Pilgrim life in the town, along with the history of the 14th-century home in which it's housed. Highlights include displays of furniture, books, and other materials from the period, along with maps and engravings.

Address: Beschuitsteeg 9, 2312 JT Leiden

10 St. Pieterskerk

St. Pieterskerk
St. Pieterskerk

Famous for its annual celebration commemorating Leiden's liberation from the Spanish, the foundations of the Late-Gothic cruciform basilica that is St. Pieterskerk date from 1121 when the town's first church was built here. The current church was begun in the 13th century, with the choir being completed in 1339, and the nave with its double aisles added in the 14th century. Highlights include the building's timber barrel-vaulting extending to the west front, and the many monuments of various university professors. Of particular note is the tomb of John Robinson, a distinguished member of the group that was to become the Pilgrim Fathers; the Late-Gothic carved wooden altar dating from the early 16th century; and the organ built around 1640. For a truly unique experience, book a night in the adjoining Villa Rameau, a former 16th-century almshouse.

Address: Kloksteeg 16, Leiden, Zuid-Holland 2311 SL, Netherlands

Official site: www.pieterskerk.com/en/

Where to Stay in Leiden for Sightseeing

We recommend these charming hotels in Leiden near the top attractions in the city:

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