For those looking to skip the crowds of Amsterdam, all the while experiencing 17th-century architecture at its very best, a trip to Leiden is the perfect opportunity to escape from it all and step back in time. And while the university city has plenty of well-known locations that are a must-see on any visit, there are still plenty of hidden gems to discover. Here are the very best secret spots in Leiden!
Poems on the walls (Muurgedichten Leiden)
While not so much as a ‘secret’ and more of an observation, there’s no denying the beauty of larger than life-sized poems dotted strategically throughout the city are hard to miss. In total, over a hundred hand-painted poems grace the walls of Leiden. Many of the great names in poetry are represented; Shakespeare, E.E Cummings, and Sappho to name but a few…
Poems are typically painted in their original language, with English or Dutch translations also painted close to hand. The project began in the 1990s and had been completed by the mid-2000s. Today, you can find a self-guided tour of the poems (albeit in Dutch) on the www.muurgedichten website.
Sweat Room (Het Zweetkamertje)
Located in the very heart of the University of Leiden’s main campus, the sweat room is usually closed to the public, though the nearby botanical gardens and buildings of the university can still be admired. So-called because it’s said that students used to wait in the room while waiting to defend their theses, today it’s become a rite of passage for those who have passed their doctorate to scribble their names on the walls.
If you’re looking to visit Leiden, then you may be surprised to find out that the iconic Dutch painter, Rembrandt, was actually born in the city and lived there until he was 18. As a result, there are plenty of Rembrandt locations across the city, including the place where he once went to school.
The Latin School where the Great Dutch Master once studied can still be seen and is marked by a red door on the Lokhorststraat. At the age of just 14, Rembrandt was enrolled in the University of Leiden, though he probably didn’t attend classes as he had never even graduated from his Latin School.
The location where Jan Steen lived
For those who are spending at least a day in The Hague, I highly recommend visiting the Mauritshuis. Home to jewels of the Netherlands such as the iconic Girl With the Pearl Earring, the museum collections also comprises of a number of paintings by the artist Jan Steen.
However, what you may not know is that one of the best hidden gems of Leiden is the hofje in which Jan Steen once lived. For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘hofje’ is a hidden courtyard which was first constructed to serve as charitable housing.
The most famous example of a hofje in the Netherlands is probably the Begijnhof Amsterdam. If you want to see where Jan Steen once lived, then you only need to visit a certain passage on the Liefdepoort. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you spy a plaque dedicated to the great painter himself.
Café de Vergulde Kruik
If you’re visiting Amsterdam, then no doubt you’ll know that the world-famous beer, Heineken, originates in Holland. However, what you may well not know is that the star on the Heineken logo actually came from a pub sign in Leiden.
Café de Vergulde Kruik is quite literally translated into English as ‘the Gilded Jar Café’ and it was allegedly here where the bar’s original logo was purchased by Heineken for the sum of 35 guldens. Today, this traditional wooden bar is the perfect place to head to for a pint and to catch up with friends.
Seek out Miniaturist Filming Locations
Though the Miniaturist is actually set in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital city was deemed to be ‘too modern’ for filming to actually take place there! As such, the postcard-perfect city of Leiden was used, most notably for several of the canalside scenes. Wander around the city today and you can soon expect to find a fair few backdrops from the movie, dotted around Leiden.
Though not technically within the boundaries of the city of Leiden itself, Duivenvoorde Castle is an easy day trip from the city. Located somewhere between The Hague and Leiden, you can either reach the Kasteel on a bicycle or via public transportation.
Constructed out of brick in the 17th-century and surrounded by a moat, the park entrance costs just €1, though a guided tour of the castle (in Dutch) costs quite a bit more. Within the grounds, you’ll soon discover some very beautiful views as well as a café in which to enjoy fresh lunches and cool beverages.
Greccio Museum of Devotional Items
Of all the unusual things to do in Leiden, a visit to the Greccio Museum of Devotional Items may well be the strangest of them all. Located in a basement in the heart of the city, this cultural space showcases a collection of Christian Remembrances which would otherwise be lost to the world.
Things to know before visiting Leiden for the first time
Although Leiden can easily be reached as a day trip from The Hague, if you’re looking for a quiet weekend break in the Netherlands, somewhere away from the crowds of Amsterdam, then you should consider a longer stay in the city. Check accommodation prices here.
Thanks to its abundance of cobbled lanes and compact nature, Leiden is best explored on foot, and so comfortable walking shoes are an absolute must! And for those who wish to get to know Leiden on a more local level, then this 2-hour guided walking tour will show you some of the city’s best sights during a relaxed wander around Leiden.