Leiden, The city that inspired Rembrandt to become a painter

Walk around Leiden, Netherlands’ beautiful student city. Experience the charming cobbled streets, canals, windmills and bridges. And find out about the history of the Spanish siege, the "Keys of Leiden", and famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn.

The famous Siege of Leiden

Leiden has a rich history. It is formed around an artificial hill where two branches of the river Rhine come together.

In the 11th century, ‘de burcht’ was constructed on top of that hill. It is a small shell keep that you can still visit today for a great view of the city.

The same keep played a big role in the siege of Leiden (1574) as the nobles and rich used the keep as shelter while the Dutch Rebels took up the arms of to fight the king of Spain.

The Prince of Orange decided to pierce the dikes and let the sea flow into the low lying lands. This way the rebel fleet could reach the city and lift the Spanish siege.

If you happen to be in the Netherlands on 3 October, Leiden is a very fun place to visit. On that day there is a yearly festival that celebrates the lift of the siege (Leids Ontzet).

Read more about the Siege of Leiden and the 3 October festival

What's up with the keys?

When you walk around the city of Leiden, you see keys everywhere. The patron saint of Leiden is St. Peter, the gatekeeper of heaven.

The coat of arms of Leiden are two keys crossing each other. This symbol is seen in architecture and art all throughout the city.

Leiden is also known as ‘de Sleutelstad’ (City of Keys).

Rembrandt van Rijn

The famous Dutch master painter Rembrandt was born and raised in Leiden. Rembrandt is most famous for works as ‘The Night Watch’ (Displayed in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’ (Displayed in Mauritshuis, The Hague).

Some of his other works can be seen in ‘De Lakenhal’ in Leiden. This building was a guild hall for the cloth merchants, but is now used as a museum.

From here it is a short walk to the house where Rembrandt was born and the Latin school where he studied. Although his original birth house is gone, many of the other buildings are in their original state.

During this walk you can experience the 17th century atmosphere that inspired many of Rembrandt’s works.

Want to know more about Rembrandt in Leiden? Everything you want to know can be found on our Rembrandt page.

Leiden and the New World

The Pilgrim Fathers, the early settlers of the New World and important characters in the founding of the United States of America, lived in Leiden before going to the New World.

The Pilgrims worked and lived in a small weavers house in the ‘Kloksteeg’ just behind the Peters Church. When you walk in the alley behind the Peters Church you can still see a miniature of the Mayflower in the window of the house where the pilgrims lived.

Learn more about the Pilgrim Fathers in Leiden on our Pilgrim Fathers page.

A historic Student city

The University of Leiden is the oldest University in the Netherlands. It was founded in the 16th century by Wilhelm of Orange and it was a gift to the people of Leiden for their courageous rebellion against Spain.

Many of the Pilgrim Fathers were able to support themselves by working at the University of Leiden.

In the history of the University there have been many gifted teachers such as several noble prize winners and also Albert Einstein. Today there are many (international) students living in Leiden, giving the city a young, friendly and open vibe.

What to do in Leiden?

Walking and sightseeing is made easy in the city of Leiden. You can easily follow the city walking route ‘de Leidse Loper’ by following the signs. The first sign can be found at the Rijnsburgerburg, close to Leiden central station.

The route will bring you to the churches, windmills, bridges and more. Most of the locations also have information signs in Dutch and English (Distance: 5km/3.1mi).

Leiden also has many museums which are worth a visit:

  • Weavers Guild house (De Lakenhal) – Objects that are related with the city of Leiden such as paintings by Rebrandt and objects from the Spanish Siege.
  • Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) – This museum has a large collection of Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Prehistoric, Medieval and Near East finds. This museum is also fun for children age 8+. Especially the Egyptian section makes you feel as if you are walking through the ancient tombs yourself.
  • Windmill Museum de Valk (Molenmuseum de Valk) – When you walk from the train station towards the city center, you see this beautiful windmill. You can also visit the windmill and see how the millers family lived and worked.
  • Naturalis Biodiversity Center – The dinosaur and animal skeletons are huge and exciting. But this museum has more, nature and earth science, biotechnology and research in progress. Lots of fun for children.
  • Museum Boerhaave – The history of nature study and medicine.
  • National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) – Embark on a journey around the world and see objects from strange cultures.
  • Botanic Gardens (Hortus Botanicus Leiden) – Plants from the whole world. It is part of the University of Leiden. Walk through the gardens on a sunny day, or visit the indoor ones.

Explore the countryside around Leiden

Leiden lies in between a lot of Dutch polders, and not far from the sea. It is therefore a good idea to also explore the countryside around Leiden

Rent a bicycle
Cycle through the Dutch polder and green farm fields. Visit the nearby towns of Wassenaar and the beach of Katwijk. A fun and healthy way to see more of The Netherlands.

Take a boat tour to the Lakes
You can rent a boat or a boat tour and sail through the canals of Leiden and visit the nearby lakes.

Join us on a tour

Would you like to explore the city of Leiden with us? You can join us on a tour!
Just contact us for more information.

Recommended accommodations in Leiden

Hotel Mayflower Leiden

Hotel Mayflower at a lively town square

This budget hotel is located in the city center at the Beestenmarkt. A town square surrounded by nightlife venues, restaurants and a movie theater.

It is within 5 minutes walking distance from Leiden central station and within 10 minutes walking distance from locations such as the St. Peters church, The Burcht, and the Rapenburg canal.

Hotel Golden Tulip in Leiden

Golden Tulip next to Leiden central station

This hotel is located right next to the train station. You can reach cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam with a train ride of less then half an hour.

The historic city center of Leiden is about a 15 minute walking distance. The rooms are modern, air conditioned and clean.

Steenhof Suites Leiden

Spend the night like a royalty at the Steenhof Suites

The building is a monument from the 15th century. The rooms are an amazing combination of historic and modern.

Staying in these rooms, you can easily imagine the days of the Dutch master painters. The suites have done an amazing job at capturing Leiden's romantic atmosphere.

The location is perfect. Right in the historic city center.

Check out these other accommodations in Leiden.

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