Leiden is one of the most authentic, yet buzzing cities in the Netherlands. This Dutch city is filled with historic alleys and cobble-stoned streets, quaint canals with beautiful historic houses with unique facades lined with flowers, and many terraces by the water! To most tourists this might sound like Amsterdam, however this lesser known city is much more quiet, equally beautiful and also perfect for a citytrip or staycation, just a short drive from Amsterdam (airport)!
But also for Dutch locals, and fervent tourists in their own country, like myself, a staycation in Leiden might have some surprises in store! The inner city of Leiden is surrounded by an 8 km long ring canal, which makes it even more atmospheric. And you can easily walk from one side of the historic center to the other in just 30 minutes.
In this blog I will happily tell you more about our recent 3 day trip to Leiden, and although I had been there before on daytrips, I was happy to extend our staycation this time so we could explore a bit more, while staying overnight in comfort and style!
Get a preview of some of our favourite spots and city sights of Leiden through many of our own pics in this gallery:
City sights of Leiden
How to get to Leiden?
Leiden is located between Amsterdam and The Hague, and can be reached in just 22 minutes by car from Schiphol airport and only 15 minutes by train. Also nice to know is that this city is located near the famous flower heaven Keukenhof and surrounded by the flower fields in neighboring Voorhout and Hillegom. A must visit during the months April and May, when the tulips are in full bloom! There’s even a direct bus connection taking you there called: the Keukenhof Express.
Where to stay for your staycation?
To make your citytrip to Leiden even classier and stay overnight I can highly recommend the historic, yet luxurious boutique hotel: SteenhofSuites Boutique Hotel
Here we had a premium suite in the center of the city, just a few minutes’ walk from many restaurants, shops and city sites! This spacious 45 m2 suite is super convenient and offered everything we needed to fully relax after a day of sightseeing. Speedy WIFI, spacious living- and bathroom, super comfy king size bed, a fridge, Nespresso machine, safe and aircon, all located on the 2nd floor with views over the 13th century canals.
The building’s origins go back to the late Middle Ages and it's one of the oldest monumental canal houses in Leiden, turned into a small-scale hotel in 2015. In 2018-2019 the adjacent building was renovated and added to make a total of 14 exclusive suites.
Every room has its own style and character, authentic, yet modern and lovingly decorated by the owners, all with the unique monumental details kept intact.
This personal touch, the delicious breakfast served every day at any requested time in Charly’s Lounge bar, overlooking the canals, and the high level of hospitality which can be felt throughout the building, is exactly why I love boutique hotels.
Here you will feel at home and can relax in the classy living room or bath tub of your spacious suite. Or have a glass of wine from the medieval wine cellar in the downstairs lounge bar.
Where to eat in Leiden?
Although there are many trendy, atmospheric and cozy restaurants to choose from in Leiden I will show you the ones we tested, which I can highly recommend. Both situated in unique historic buildings in some of the nicest spots of the city, serving lunch and dinner.
Lot & de Walvis
At this hip restaurant they even serve breakfast from 9 am and you will have several rooms and seating areas to choose from. The spacious outdoor terrace directly faces the harbor and offers many cozy spots by the water as you can see here:
Find out more: Lot en de Walvis restaurant
Situated in a unique building, dating back from 1657, this used to be the place where the goods of merchants from other cities were weighed and checked on quality before sales.
This iconic venue is currently the place to be for a night out in an atmospheric and spacious setting, with high ceilings and stunning architectural details, and also serves delicious food.
Find out more: Waag Restaurant
Staycation Leiden things to do
Although Leiden city offers many museums, activities, shops, cafés and restaurants, there is also much to see outside the city. This makes it the perfect place for a longer staycation to combine with the flower fields. The Dutch beaches of Noordwijk and Katwijk are just minutes away, Leiden is surrounded by quaint villages, and de Kaag is beautiful watery nature area nearby, perfect for boat lovers and sailing enthusiasts.
However you don’t have to leave the city at all to have a good time😊
If you're staying in Leiden on a staycation for just a few days you will find plenty to keep you busy in this historic city!
Everything is within walking distance and the city itself is already a beautiful sight with its quaint historic houses, windmills, many canals and terraces on the water, unique bridges, cute cobble-stoned streets, alleys and hidden courtyards filled with flowers.
Some of the activities we enjoyed the most in Leiden, besides wandering around the city:
Hortus Botanicus Leiden
The oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands, partially even dating back to 1590. These stunning university gardens have more than 60,000 specimens of plants including a few crown jewels, such as the ‘Victoria Amazonica’. The biggest species of waterlilies, situated in the Victoria Glasshouse, and some other plants here even are the last of their kind in the world!
The spacious gardens offer many unique themes, including several indoor greenhouses and many outdoor areas, including the Old Observatory, the oldest remaining university observatory in the world. A unique historical monument that should not be missed!
Find out more at: Hortus Leiden
Boat trip is a must for your staycation in Leiden
Did you know that Leiden is the city with the most water in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam, consisting of 28 kms of canals and 88 bridges?! Even though I had been to Leiden before and explored the city on foot many times, I had never seen it from the water till now! Sailing through the historic city, past the monumental buildings, cute facades, many museums and terraces by the water is a unique experience.
You can also sail around the city, past beautiful parks and quiet neighborhoods, leading you all the way up to de Kaag or even sail on to Rotterdam in the south, or Amsterdam in the north! Get an impression in this gallery:
There’s a big offering and variation of cruises and many boat companies to choose from. We however preferred to have a sloop all to ourselves without captain, and found a boat company to match! You can rent a private luxury sloop for up to 6 persons which you can steer without license, already available for 2 hours from €85 at: Bootjes en Broodjes
Authentic Boutique Shopping Leiden
But just wandering around the city on foot for some unique boutique shopping in the quaint alleys of Leiden is highly recommended as well. One of my favourite spots for this in Leiden is the area around the Pieterskerk, where you will find many nice terraces as well.
Everything is located quite near each other and here you will find some of the most authentic shops filled with the best gifts, jewelry, souvenirs or beautiful interior and home decoration pieces, for example at: De Winkel in Leiden
Free courtyard tour for your staycation in Leiden
Did you know that Leiden has no less than 35 courtyards spread throughout the city center, each with beautiful inner gardens and historical elements? At the VVV office of Leiden you can find more info about the Courtyard Route and get the map, to walk at your own pace and visit the courtyards free of charge. They’re like small secret gardens spread out over the city, each unique and with its own story.
More info about Leiden, the event calendar and daily updates for your visit you can also find on the website of: VisitLeiden
I hope was able to show you how unique Leiden really is, and that it's the perfect place to visit for your next trip to the Netherlands, besides Amsterdam for example. Also for Dutch locals a citytrip and longer staycation in Leiden is highly recommended, and I hope you can use my tips in this blog when you go!
Always happy to hear your feedback here, or on social media, via the icons at the bottom of this page, where I will also post daily pictures of Leiden and other staycations in the Netherlands!