Set in the heart of the Randstad, Leiden is a picturesque college town that in many ways is the cultural and intellectual epicentre of the region.
Leiden is home to the oldest university in the country, as well as many museums and a multitude of bars, cafes and restaurants. On top of that the city can boast great public transportation services. Below, Tweel Wonen gives a tour of the town.
From Leiden Central station, which is a mere 10 minutes walk from the city centre, trains will take you to Amsterdam in just over half an hour, and both Schiphol airport and The Hague in just 15 minutes.
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 on 8 February 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 programmes 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 centre.
Besides the University of Leiden, The city also houses a campus of Webster University, which 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, who was born and raised in the city.
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 Dr Jeremy Bangs tells about the Pilgrims who lived in Leiden before setting sail to America 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, but the really interesting shops can be found off the main roads, in the narrow pedestrian areas of the Pieterskwartier.
The city is home to a large number of antiques stores and on Wednesdays and Saturdays the city’s shopping area is transformed into 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 Leiden is the historic city centre. 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 buit between the 1920s and 1950s and have the corresponding characteristic details.
A little further afield and only 15 minutes by bike from the Centre, are the newer neighbourhoods of De Merenwijk and Stevenshof. These areas are fully equipped with schools, playgrounds, shops and all necessary amenities. These neighbourhoods 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 to the north of Leiden.
Leiden facts and links
- Expat population: 11,000
- International schools: Leiden International Primary School at Elckerlyc Montessori in Leiderdorp and International Secondary Dept. at Het Rijnlands Lyceum in Oegstgeest
- Links for expats: Leiden Expat Center, www.homeinleiden.nl, and the English-language section of the Leiden portal.
Tweel Wonen / Expatica
Photo credit: Michiel 2005 (Garenmarkt, Leiden)