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Leiden, an attractive medium-sized city with a beautiful, large historic center

Leiden is my hometown, the city where I was born and educated and yet never really appreciated until after I left…

Situated about 40 kilometers south of Amsterdam, Leiden started its development around the year 860 as an embankment (‘dike’) village at the foot of a castle located strategically at the confluence of the Old Rhine and the New Rhine (in Dutch: oude Rijn and Nieuwe Rijn).

Nowadays, Leiden has just over 120.000 inhabitants and a rich history.

With its numerous canals, old gates, impressive churches and much of the 16th- and 17th-century town center still intact Leiden is a must-visit for history and architecture lovers.

Leiden University is one of Europe’s top universities and the oldest university (1575) of The Netherlands. Campus buildings are scattered throughout the city and some 30.000 students give the city a relaxed and vibrant atmosphere.

Plus, Leiden’s location is ideal: close to the North Sea coast, to beautiful national parks in the dune landscape and to Holland’s major cities Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht.

On a sunny day I can spend hours strolling through the historic center or enjoying a drink in one of its many small cafes, often located in beautiful old buildings.

This is Leiden, or at least a part of it, in pictures:


entrance to the Burcht, Leiden

Gate leading to the Burcht

Southern gate that leads to the Burcht, the oldest part of Leiden. And of course, as everywhere in Holland, lots of bicycles!


Burcht, where Leiden started

Entrance to the Burcht van Leiden

The Burcht van Leiden is an old shell keep in Leiden constructed in the 11th century. It is located at the spot where two tributaries of the Rhine come together. The structure is on top of a motte, and is today a public park.


17th-century houses in the centre of Leiden

One of Leiden’s many canals


canal in Leiden, the Netherlands

16th & 17th century houses

Beautiful 16th and 17th century houses can be found throughout the center of Leiden.


living on the water in Leiden

Holland lives with water

A large part of the country is below sea level and everywhere you can find rivers, lakes and canals. Many people choose to own a small sailing boat or even to spend their lives living on a houseboat.


Botermarkt in Leiden

Botermarkt in the center of Leiden

A beautiful historic part of Leiden where twice a week they hold a local market.


city hall on the New Rhine, Leiden

Leiden’s city hall located on the New Rhine


cafe terraces on boats on the canal, Leiden

The New Rhine in Leiden

On a nice summer day you’ll see many cafes opening their terraces on boats on the canals.


Waag, national monument in the centre of Leiden

Leiden’s Weigh House

The Leiden Weigh House (De Waag in Dutch) is a national monument designed by Pieter Post around 1657 and opened in 1659, For centuries, merchants came here to weigh and trade a variety of goods. In addition to being a weigh house, the Leiden Weigh House has hosted a variety of engagements and stately celebrations over the centuries. The weigh house was in use as an actual weigh house until 1972, when the last unit of cheese was sold. Still a cultural monument, since 2015 the Weigh House also operates as a beautiful restaurant.


Hartebrugkerk, Leiden, the Netherlands

So many bridges

Looking out from one bridge to the next, with the Hartebrugkerk, one of Leiden’s many impressive churches, in the background.


windmill De Valk, Leiden

Windmill De Valk

Located right in the center of Leiden, this windmill used to contain two houses but is now in use as a museum.


Zijlpoort, one of the historic gates in Leiden

Zijlpoort, Leiden

The Zijlpoort is one of Leiden’s city gates, built in 1667.


drawbridge over the Old Rhine, Leiden


This is one of many drawbridges over a canal in Leiden.


a 1583 orphanage in Leiden

Heilige Geestweeshuis (Holy Ghost Orphanage)

An orphanage dating back to 1583. Orphans from Leiden and surrounding towns came to live here and were often put to work in the textile industry. This building continued to be used as an orphanage until 1961.


courtyard of a 1583 orphanage in Leiden

Courtyard of the Heilige Geestweeshuis (Holy Ghost Orphanage)


Pieterskerk, Leiden, The Netherlands


In Leiden, the Pieterskerk can be seen from afar. The architect Rutger van Kampen began the construction of the present church around 1390. According to some, the tower (built in the sixteenth century) is approximately 100 meters high and could be seen from the North Sea giving it the name ‘Coningh der See’ (King of the Sea). Even today, the building is the landmark of Leiden. The church is a basilica in the late Gothic style.


inside the Pieterskerk, Leiden, The Netherlands

Inside the Pieterskerk


gate next to the old barracks in Leiden

Historic gate next to Leiden’s old barracks


3 october festival in Leiden

Leiden celebrating 3 October

This festival commemorates the anniversary of the 1573-1574 siege of Leiden, during the eighty years’ war, when the Spanish army attempted to capture this Dutch city.

For more information about the history of Leiden:


Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing (
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this blog to share some of my international experiences and travel tips.

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