My sister and I are home from the Netherlands. We stayed within a 5 minute walk of the old city of Leiden. There are many accommodation choices available and ours was the Familie-Quellhorst B&B with hosts Carla and Piet. A lovely apartment within walking distance of the old city, canals, transportation, comfortable and quiet. See accomodation link at the bottom of the blog.
I have visited Leiden many times and because I like it so much, I will share a bit about it, in the hopes that someday some of you might visit here too. I’ve also put in a few sketches of the area.
Leiden is located roughly 20 kilometers north of den Haag, and 40 kilometers south of Amsterdam. The first houses were built around the year 1000. Leiden was formerly famous for its textile industry, which reached its peak between 1380 and 1480. It has a population of roughly 120,000 residents (20,000 of which are student attending one of two universities in the city), 4000+ companies and over 55,500 homes. The Leiden University dates back to 1574.
The city center is roughly the size of Amsterdam city center and has the second-most canals in the Netherlands. The ambiance of Lieden gives one the feeling of a small town and is very pleasant to walk through. Harlemmerstraat is the main shopping street and is for foot traffic only. There are many little cobblestone streets and alleys to explore. A real delight!
A weekly market along both sides of one of the canals on Wednesday and Saturday is an event not to be missed, Saturday being the larger of two market days. The goods vary from flowers, seafood, cheeses, vegetables and fruit, to clothing and fabric. Flowers are a great bargain as they are grown locally.
Leiden has 12 museums, all within walking distance of one another: the Rijksmuseum (with its Egyptian mummies), the Museum of Natural History (with its dinosaur skeletons) is one of the largest in the world, the Municipal Museum (with paintings by Rembrandt, a former resident of Leiden), the Boerhaave Museum (medical), Siebold House (treasures from Japan), and the Hortis Botanicus, (exotic plants). Many Nobel prizewinners, including Einstein, have worked on their inventions in Leiden. Leiden also has the University Medical Centre, the Leiden Observatory, and the oldest opera house in The Netherlands.
Ever since the Middle Ages Alms houses have been provided for the elderly poor. These houses were donated by rich citizens of Leiden. Alms houses remain quiet places in the inner-city, away from the commotion of the outside street. The houses themselves had only one entrance and were built around a central courtyard in order for the doorman to keep an eye on the premises. It was of enormous benefit to the elderly poor to be able to live rent free and to enjoy the privileges and extras such as meat, beer and bread. 35 of the alms houses are still in existence, although now they are occupied by paying residents. You may visit these courtyards as long as you are respectful of the residents’ privacy. These alms houses are just a few of the more than 2700 monuments that Leiden has, many of which are open to the public.
A unique project called “poems and Walls” began in 1992. Due to this project, Leiden now has 101 beautifully painted wall poems in different languages on diverse buildings and locations. You may view these poems as a virtual tour on the web.
Leiden has nine windmills out of the 1,180 in the Netherlands. The Valk (Falcon) situated in downtown Leiden is a public monument (heritage building) with all of its seven floors open. The ground floor was the living accommodation of the miller. The other floors now demonstrate the milling process. Many of the mills were used to regulate water levels, with a small number still operating.
The present grammar school has a rich history as it began as a Latin school, where many famous men studied, among them Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Steen .
Pieterskerk the oldest church in town dates back to 1122. In 1608 a group of refugees who would become known as the Pilgrim Fathers took refuge in Leiden as it was known for its religious tolerance. In 1620 a group of them left aboard “The Mayflower” bound for North America.
..and as to food, well don’t get me started! Leiden has many fine restaurants and many, many places to stop and have a coffee. Oh, and don’t forget my favourites, “pannekoek” (pancakes), and Chinese/Indonesian food.
Ledien is a great jumping off point to Delft, Amsterdam, Gouda, The Hague, Kinderdijk,
Here’s are a few links to get you started and a search of Leiden will provide even more.
Leiden tourism http://portal.leiden.nl/en/tourism_leisure
Kinderdijk windmills. http://www.kinderdijk.com
Kukenhoff : the Garden of Europe http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/