Set in the heart of the Randstad, Leiden is a picturesque university city that in many ways is the intellectual epicenter of the region, offering an ideal setting for expats to live in.
Leiden is home to the oldest university in the country, as well as many museums and many bars, cafés, and restaurants. On top of that the city can boast great public transportation services. Below, Tweel Wonen gives a tour of the town.
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Leiden: University town
Leiden is a small city with around 124,000 inhabitants. Some 20,000 of them are students or staff associated with the University of Leiden, the oldest university in the Netherlands. Founded in 1575, the University was a gift by Prince William of Orange to the city of Leiden and its inhabitants for the courage they displayed during the one-year siege by the Spanish occupiers. The occupation ended on 3 October 1574, which is therefore an important date in Leiden’s history. The city still celebrates Leiden’s Ontzet every 3 October with parades, a fair, and the traditional food of hutspot, herring and white bread.
Leiden University offers a multitude of programs and courses in English, as well as Dutch courses for foreigners which have a reputation for their efficacy. Rather than having a single campus, university buildings and sorority and fraternity houses are scattered all over the city center.
Besides the main university, the city also houses a campus of Webster University. This school attracts mainly foreign students and gives Leiden an international flair.
Culture aficionados will have a field day in Leiden. The city has no less than 15 museums. Of particular interest are the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Rijksmuseum Van Oudheden (the main archaeological museum in the Netherlands). Museum De Lakenhal exhibits paintings from famed Leiden painters including Rembrandt van Rijn.
One of the city’s smallest museums is the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. It basically consists of one room with some artifacts but the lack of visual stimuli is compensated by the wonderful stories museum owner Jeremy Bangs tells about the Pilgrims who lived in the city before setting sail to the Americas on the Mayflower in 1609.
Shopping in Leiden
Leiden is also great for shopping. The city’s main shopping streets are the Breestraat and Haarlemmerstraat. However, the really interesting shops are off the main roads in the narrow pedestrian areas of the Pieterskwartier.
The city is home to a large number of antique stores. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the city’s shopping area becomes a massive outdoor market that offers a variety of fresh goods.
Housing in Leiden
Leiden has a charming, historic centre with narrow, gabled streets and beautiful canals. By far the most attractive (and expensive) area to live in is the historic city center. Highly desired are large old homes on the Rapenburg and, further south, in the Professorenwijk and Burgemeesterswijk. Unfortunately, house prices reflect the popularity of these areas. Most houses in the latter areas were built between the 1920s and 1950s and have the corresponding characteristic details.
A little further afield are the newer neighborhoods of De Merenwijk and Stevenshof. These areas are fully equipped with schools, playgrounds, shops and all necessary amenities. These neighborhoods are newer: houses in Merenwijk were built in the 1970s, those in Stevenshof in the 1980s. These are true Dutch suburbs with larger gardens.
Also popular with families and with a better space-to-price ratio, are the outlying suburbs of Leiderdorp, Voorschoten, Oegstgeest, and the areas close to Leidse Hout.
If you’re looking for a place to live, you could try looking in Facebook groups or on websites such as Funda (renting and buying) or Pararius (rentals). Alternatively, there are plenty of sites that cater especially to internationals. Find fully furnished options on:
Leiden facts and links
- Expat population: 11,000
- International schools: Leiden International Primary School at Elckerlyc Montessori in Leiderdorp and International Secondary Department at Het Rijnlands Lyceum in Oegstgeest
- Links for expats: Leiden International Center, www.homeinleiden.nl, and the English-language section of the Leiden portal.