Located in the province of South Holland on the Old Rhine, Leiden is a historically important Dutch city which nevertheless possesses a quaint charm for visitors.

There is evidence of a Roman fortress on the settlement of Leiden around the 4th century but the first major recorded mention of the future city was as a 9th century stronghold. Later christened Leithon, the site was eventually given city rights in 1266 but only entered its halcyon era during the 16th century. This was explained both by the expansion of the local weaving and cloth industries, as well as the establishment of the university in 1575, founded by William I of Orange as reward for the city’s defence during the Eighty Years War. Cultural and economic prosperity only lasted until the late 17th century though, as Leiden fell once more into obscurity.

Although now a shopping and trade centre, Leiden is still regarded more for its history, being the site of the Dutch constitution’s authorship (courtesy of Johan Rudolf Thorbecke in 1848) and the former home of the Pilgrims. Ironically, this cultural heritage, coupled with plenty of entertainment, makes it an attractive spot for tourists.


An obvious starting point for visitors is the De Burcht Castle. Dating as far back as the 11th century, this wooden fortress and circular tower was used as a refuge from high water in the past but now chiefly provides a fantastic panorama of Leiden, remarkable for its largely intact historical centre.

Religious buildings naturally feature as Leiden’s finest architecture, particularly the Church of St. Pancras. Built from wood in 1315 but replaced progressively from 1377 until the mid-16th century, the Church is remarkably still unfinished but stands in beautiful Gothic style. Also remarkable is the Church of St. Peter, constructed between 1390 and 1565 according to a more idiosyncratic Gothic design, the Church also contains the tomb of the famous Dutch painter Jan Steen. Continuing the religious theme, another must-see monument is the Mare Church, constructed between 1638 and 1649 in classical style and the first church used for strictly Protestant services.

Aside from the Castle, the main secular building of note is the City Hall. Originally opened in 1392 along Gothic lines but reconstructed in the late 16th century with a Renaissance façade, the Hall suffered damage during a fire in 1929 and required restoration but now stands prominently in the city centre.

Leiden has a number of fine museums and galleries. These include the Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal in Oude Singel with collections on the city’s history and artworks (including pieces by Rembrandt), the Naturalis natural history museum in Darwinweg and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden museum of antiquities in Rapenburg.

The city also plays host to a number of festivals and events such as the Jazz and Blues Week in January, the Summer Festival in July, which includes the Dragon Boat race, and the Rapenburg Concert in August, a classical concert on water.


The first port of call for shoppers should be the Haarlemmerstraat, renowned as Leiden’s main shopping street. However, if that’s not enough, take a stroll down the Burgsteeg or try the Merenwijk and Stevenshof markets on Fridays and Thursdays respectively.

Nightlife and Eating Out

You’ll never be short of somewhere to eat in Leiden, with top quality establishments such as Stadslokaal BurgerZaken in Breestraat, the Restaurant La Gare in Stationsweg and Wessels in Haven. You can also find international alternatives like Italian at Ristorante Karalis in the Douzastraat and Thai at Buddhas in Botermarkt.

As a university town, Leiden is packed with places to drink and dance like the Café Barrera in Rapenburg, Mas y Mas in Hogewoerd and In Casa in Lammermarkt.

Alternatively, for something a little quieter and cultural, you can find the Leidse Schouwberg theatre in Oude Vest.

Tourist Information


The nearest international airport to Leiden is the Schiphol International Airport around Amsterdam, which is a short distance away by car or public transport.

As the busiest airport in the Netherlands, international and domestic connecting flights are regularly available to multiple destinations worldwide.

British Airways (London-Heathrow, London-Gatwick), bmi (London-Heathrow, Aberdeen) and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (Edinburgh, London-Heathrow, Manchester) are among the airlines that use Schiphol International Airport to and from British destinations.