The picturesque student city of Leiden is a fantastic place to visit and is a great day-trip destination if you’re staying in Amsterdam. It’s a quintessential Dutch city – full of character, interesting locals, a unique history and a laid back pace of life.
It has it’s own special charm and there are many winding back streets to lose yourself down in the historic centre. Leiden has many beautiful canals running through the city, the most impressive being the Rapenburg canal which is lined with many regal houses and grand university buildings.
The large student population has given Leiden a unique atmosphere and has kept the city young and vibrant. King Willem-Alexander, who has only recently taken to the Dutch throne, studied in Leiden and it was here that he gained his nickname ‘Prince Pils‘ after cultivating a boozy reputation in the city!
Leiden offers the perfect escape from Amsterdam which many regard as being saturated with tourists. It’s only a 30 minute train ride from the Dutch capital and well worth the journey!
Café de Bonte Koe (in English – The Colourful Cow) is one of Leiden’s oldest and best bars. Originally built as a butchers but changed into a bar at the last minute, De Bonte Koe is a classic Dutch-style living room cafe. De Bonte Koe is a bar for beer lovers and there is always a unique and ever changing selection of Belgium beer on tap.
The unique countryside-themed tiled interior is over 120 years old and has witnessed many a legendary night! De Bonte Koe has always been a favourite with locals and students alike who come to the bar for the relaxed atmosphere and diverse selection of drinks.
De Bonte Koe is a bar for beer lovers and there is always a unique and ever changing selection of Belgium beer on tap. Perhaps the best beer on offer is the self-imported De Ryck, a unique Belgium beer that has a taste that is somewhere between a Belgium pils and an English ale!
De Bonte Koe’s beautiful Dutch countryside scenes depicted on the tiles have recently been painstakingly restored and the cafe hasn’t looked this good in many years! It has recently voted the 38th best bar in The Netherlands!
Find De Bonte Koe on Hooglandsekerkkoorsteeg, behind the Hooglandsekerk Church in the centre of the city.
Steeped In History
Tucked away behind one of the grand university buildings on the Rapenburg canal is Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world.
Inside this marvellous place there are several wonderful tropical greenhouses that are packed full of interesting plant specimens. The greenhouses are full of steps and elevated walkways so you can see as much as possible of the dense foliage.
Outside are some beautifully kept gardens also brimming with interesting plants and trees. The gardens occupy the northern bank of the Zoeterwoudsesingel canal which represents the edge of Leiden’s centre.
Many beautiful boats travel up this stretch of canal and you can sit in the botanical gardens and enjoy the view! Several famous scholars who studied and worked at Leiden University used to spend time in the gardens including none other than Albert Einstein!
Every October 3rd, Leiden has a huge party to celebrate the city’s liberation from the Spanish in the 16th century! During the Eighty Years’ War (the Dutch War of Independence) Spain wished to quash the rebellious Leiden and fought to capture the city in 1573.
After months of siege Dutch rebels managed to send the Spanish army into retreat and brought the hungry inhabitants of Leiden herring and white bread on the 3rd of October (Drie Oktober). Most people get the day off work and the city has a very special party atmosphere.
This victory is still celebrated with enthusiasm by the people of Leiden who descend on the centre for two or three days of live music, beer drinking and general chaos!
Most bars put on live music and it’s really fun to walk around town with a beer checking out the small street parties and rocking bands! ‘Drie Oktober’ has a really special feel that you won’t find at festivals in Amsterdam and The Hague – it’s really worth going to!
Gorgeous Surrounding Countryside
There are many fantastic cycle paths in and around the city of Leiden and you can find yourself riding along glistening canals, through quiet Dutch suburbia, around vast lakes or in quaint villages all in the space of half an hour! One such village that is a particular treat to explore is Zoeterwoude.
It’s the definition of a picturesque Dutch ‘dorp’ with small raised canals running between the houses and roads, a small church, a bakery and a flower shop. There’s also a couple of nice cafes where you can drink a glass of locally brewed Heineken (the huge beer factory is just a few kilometres away).
Zoeterwoude is a very short journey from Leiden and is easily accessible by bike – hire some wheels at Leiden’s central train station and head down Lammenschansweg which runs south out of the city centre.
At the end take the small road named Vrouwenweg and then head across the bridge over the motorway – take the first left turning and you’ll find yourself at the edge of the village.
If you liked this blog, perhaps you’ll find our blog on Dutch fast food interesting.