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Castles, heritage, art & nature in Zuid-Holland – the Netherlands

What to do on a daytrip, staycation or holiday in the Netherlands? My go to’s are usually city-, road- and boat trips, exploring nature, but also art, heritage and especially castles! I’ve seen plenty of beautiful castles throughout Europe already, but did not know that there are even more than 700 in the Netherlands as well!

Duivenvoorde Castle Voorschoten - The Netherlands
Duivenvoorde Castle Voorschoten - The Netherlands

I did visit a few already, but was surprised that 2 of the most beautiful are located just 20-30 minutes away from our house in The Hague!

Although I have revisited almost all provinces of the Netherlands the past year, about which you can read more on this Netherlands page, my home province Zuid-Holland, is still one of my favourites!

Not only because of its lovely beaches, dune areas, tulip fields and wide diversity in nature and heritage, but also for historic cities like The Hague, Delft and Leiden.

Last year we discovered the beauty of Leiden on a 3 day staycation in this university city with many canals, cobblestoned streets and terraces by the water. And this year we went back to discover even more of the city itself, as well as the surrounding region, filled with surprises. Such as picturesque villages by the water, quaint windmills and an abundance of heritage, art and nature.

How to get to and around Zuid-Holland

Situated between Amsterdam and The Hague, Leiden is easily reached by train with a direct connection in about 15 minutes, or 22 minutes by car from Schiphol airport. From Leiden there are many options to explore the nearby beaches, coastal towns and villages either by car, bus, bike or boat!

If you come by car there’s a big offering of modern and convenient parkings in the city center of Leiden, like the Lammermarkt, which is very centrally located.

However public transport is arranged well in the Netherlands too. As locals we love doing most by bike though. Cycling is easy with the well-kept cycling paths and routes and by bike most sights around Leiden can be reached in 15-30 minutes.

But it’s even more fun to explore by boat, made easy by the multitude of boat rental companies in Leiden. They offer a range of electric boats to rent per hour, which can be privately used without a license.

3 weeks ago we did all this and more in my home province Zuid-Holland. And in this blog I will happily inspire your next trip with some of the nicest things to do, as an addition to last year’s blog: Exploring the lesser-known beaches of the Netherlands.

Things to do in and around Leiden

Get an impression of some of our favourite sights around Leiden already in this gallery:

Boat trip de Kaag

With 28 km canals and 88 bridges Leiden is fun and easy to explore by boat, as we experienced last year already during a 2 hour boat trip in and around the historic city. But as we always want to explore more, we came back this year to sail even further with these convenient electric sloops.

There’s a big variation of boat companies in Leiden city, but to venture more outside the city for a longer route, the private electric sloops of Columbus Watersport are perfect.

Their boat pickup and starting point is conveniently located on the edge of Leiden with free parking space. With several routes to choose from we went for the 3 hour route to de Kaag this time, number 3 on the map.

Highly recommended as it leads you past wide fields, windmills, quaint villages like Warmond, Oegstgeest and even the stunning Oud Poelgeest Castle, if you know where to look:

With Columbus Watersport you can either choose to rent an electric sloop for 8 or 12 persons, to sail on your own without a license. Prices start from €75 for 2 hours, with €35 for every extra hour. Or you can rent a bigger boat or more luxurious private canal cruise with captain.

Castle exploring

During the exploration of our backyard in Zuid-Holland we also visited 2 stunning castles:

Kasteel Oud Poelgeest in Oegstgeest

Dating back from 1666 this castle is now a popular venue for meetings and weddings. We had the pleasure to get a guided tour here by the caretaker, who told us many exciting stories.

About the estate, stunning rooms, unique architectural details and the writer Jan Wolkers, who grew up in Oegstgeest and used the castle as his playground when it fell into dismay decades ago.

Get an impression through this gallery:

The building is currently well-kept again and lovingly renovated by a foundation, available to rent for special events. The estate of 10 hectares is however free to visit and lovely for a stroll.

The old carriage house is now a restaurant with nice outdoor terrace and free parking, just 10 minutes from Leiden.

You can even stay overnight in the adjoining hotel, find out more about the option on the website of this estate near Leiden.

Kasteel Duivenvoorde in Voorschoten

One of the oldest castles of Zuid-Holland, dating back to the 13th century, located in a quaint village 30 minutes driving from Leiden, but also easily reached by bike. Although you cannot stay here overnight, it is a must visit for its impressive outlook and unique tours of the estate and building.

Unique for having been in the hands of the same family for 8 centuries. And until recently the last owners had still been living in a wing of the castle itself, while it has been opened to the public as a museum since 1963.

Since last December the castle has been closed due to corona and renovations, but has just reopened with a brand-new audio tour and weekly activities. Although it is possible to rent rooms here for meetings, events and weddings as well, from Thursday until Sunday the castle is open to visit through hourly audio tours.

A convenient way to find out more about the 14 unique interiors and rooms from the 17 - 19th century throughout the impressive building. Get an impression here:

For more special events and guided tour info check out their website for all details.

Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar

If you like contemporary and modern art this museum in Wassenaar, near Voorschoten, just a 30 minute drive from The Hague is a must. With its unique building, estate and landscaped gardens, combining art with nature has never been so easy!

The nature surrounding Voorlinden consists of dunes, forests, waters and inspiring gardens designed by the internationally-renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. With varying exhibitions and some permanent Museum Voorlinden offers something for everyone in an impressive modern building. Get an impression in this gallery:

And find out more on their website to plan your own visit.

City walks Leiden

But also in the city itself there's much to see and do. Last year we already walked the Courtyard Route via the VVV office of Leiden. And this year we stepped into the footsteps of the 17th century painter Rembrandt van Rijn, born here in 1606.

The remnants and unique buildings of this Golden Age of the Netherlands, which inspired and helped shape him to the renowned artist he was, can be clearly seen and felt by following this route through Leiden.

Find more info about this and other options on the website of Visit Leiden.

Where to eat?

Grand Café Pakhuis - Leiden

This monumental building in the center of Leiden houses an atmospheric grand café with extensive menu and plenty of seating options, both in-as outside. Offering lunch, drinks, dinner and also several high tea, high wine and high beer options.

Hof van Duivenvoorde - Voorschoten

A lovely eatery with extensive vegetable garden located next to the Duivenvoorde Castle. Not to be missed for its delicious and extensive lunch, drinks and bites menu.

Beachclub Bait – Wassenaar

Near Museum Voorlinden by the beaches of Wassenaarse Slag you will find several beachclubs, among which Beachclub Bait.

Brasserie Buitenhuis – Valkenburg ZH

Located on the Valkenburg Lake, just outside Leiden, this is the ultimate place for an atmospheric in-or outdoor breakfast, lunch or dinner. They even have these cute decorated greenhouses available for private dinners with a direct lake view.

Leiden Trakteerkaart

Still looking for the perfect present? Then you can gift a unique experience with the Leiden Trakteerkaart, available at the tourist office from €5 - 50. This gift card can be spent on an abundance of venues and activities throughout this historic city.

And you can find even more fun things to do in the area around Leiden on the website of Region of Surprises.

Did you know that Zuid-Holland was so diverse, filled with heritage and history? And did you visit any of these sights already? Certainly recommended if you like castles, culture, art and nature and want to explore more of the lesser-known beauty of the Netherlands.

I hope to inspire your next getaway or staycation!


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