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Top 10 Reasons To Visit Leiden, The Netherlands
Since January, I have been studying in the beautiful city of Leiden, the Netherlands, through my home institution, Central College. Over the past four months I have had great experiences, met amazing people, and fallen in love with the city that Albert Einstein and John Adams both used to call home. The following are my top 10 reasons to visit Leiden—although I assure you there are many more!
While the entire country of the Netherlands is arguably very family-orientated with its policies on child welfare and education, as a smaller municipality, Leiden is arguably the most family friendly city I have ever visited. Not only do parents work normal 9—5 schedules, but stores and shops also close around 6pm daily to better suit the family atmosphere and keep away the hustle and bustle feel of larger cities like Amsterdam.
Children can safely play in the streets while their parents are either inside or nearby, and it’s safe for children to ride their bicycles around town unaccompanied. Most restaurants have both indoor and outdoor seating, so accommodation to a child’s needs and preferences is always possible. No matter who you are or where you come from, Leiden is sure to give you the feeling of being at home with your family.
Leiden is centrally located in the Netherlands, and is less than an hour by train away from other cities, such as The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, and many other historic sites. A short train or bus ride will also take you to the beach, tulip gardens and fields, and more! Bike trails also connect Leiden to its neighboring villages and cities, so you can get your exercise while travelling about!
Home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, Leiden University, as well as American schools such as Webster University (based out of St. Louis, MO) and Central College (Pella, IA—my home institution!), the streets of Leiden are constantly filled with international students and faculty. I have personally been living in an international dorm building, and have shared my evenings with students from all over the world.
Another great aspect about Leiden being a university city—international nights hosted at various pubs across the city allow students to meet each other, network, and share experiences. There’s also a variety of other clubs and pubs that fit every age and interest—from sports bars to discos.
The international community is the not the only group of fantastic people to encounter. The Dutch and native Leiden citizens themselves are wonderful—always friendly and willing to help the lost traveler! I have found everyone to be not only accommodating and thoughtful, but generally interested in the stories of visitors and their homes as well. And the best part? Nearly everyone you will encounter speaks English, so the city is incredibly tourist friendly for those who cannot speak Dutch.
Museums and Churches
Like most other cities in Europe, Leiden is home to some great museums and old churches. Did you know Leiden was the city in which the Puritans took asylum while waiting to board the Mayflower for passage to America? In Leiden you will find not only a museum dedicated to the pilgrims, but the church they built as well.
Also in Leiden—an ancient Egyptian museum full of mummies, art museums that feature Rembrandt (a Dutchman himself), and a fort built nearly a thousand years ago to protect the Dutch from invading Norseman, just to name a few!
Leiden preserves its rich history not only through the preserving of its historical sites, but the entire city is treated as a historical site itself. Roads are paved in cobblestone and brick, traditional brick homes line the many canals that run though the city, and even the interior of some of the city’s oldest homes cannot be altered without government approval. Imagine, walking on the same road, past the same canal every day that the likes of Albert Einstein or John Adams (who lived in Leiden while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands; you can see his house to the right!)—the Leiden you see today is almost exactly the Leiden that was seen centuries ago.
If you are concerned about safety while travelling—fear not! Leiden is an exceptionally safe city both during the day and at night. You are more likely to stumble into the canal after a few too many Heinekens during international pub night than encounter any danger due to criminal behavior. Typical safety rules still apply—such as advising women not to walk around at night alone; however, know that crime rates are low and access to potentially threatening weapons such as guns and pepper-spray are illegal in the country.
Leiden is easily accessible, both within the city and from outside. Within the city, buses regularly circulate and taxis are always available. The city is also home to an NS train station—the major train company in the country—meaning you are easily connected to cities from all around the Netherlands. Trains are frequent and run 24 hours per day, with fewer trains in the late night hours.
Biking and Canal Touring
Want a less conventional way of touring a city? Tired of walking and bus riding? Biking is a fantastic option in Leiden, as most citizens bike everywhere themselves, and the roads are biker friendly. You can rent a bike by the hour or day—so whatever your needs, you have one available to you. Canal touring is also another option—whether you choose to take a guided tour or cruise alone in a kayak or canoe that are always available for rental.
Volunteer opportunities are plentiful! Whether you enjoy park cleanup, teaching children how to respectfully play with and care for farm animals, walking dogs from the animal shelter, or wrapping fair trade items made in Africa to be shipped across the world—Leiden is home to some great volunteer spots!
So, have you been to the Netherlands? What’s your favorite spot? Post your tips and stories below!