Leiden is the city of discoveries. It is a beautiful place with a rich history. Rembrandt was born here, Einstein taught at the University for a brief period, the Pilgrims lived here right before they left on the Mayflower to go to America. It is a 15 minute train ride from the International airport (Schiphol) and about a 40 minute train ride to Amsterdam.
Leiden is a relatively small, with a population of 120,000. It is easy to get around the whole city by bicycle (most people’s preferred way to travel) and intimate enough that you are likely to meet someone you know every time you step outside your house.
Some of my favourite places to visit and explore in and around Leiden (or on my must visit soon list) are listed below. Most places listed are in the center or town or a short walk from the town center. Some are a short bus ride away. All are within a 15 minute bike ride from each other. Bicycles can be rented from the central train station.
The burcht van Leiden: this ancient shell keep where Leideners gathered in times of crisis dates back to the 11th century and offers a beautiful view of Leiden.
Hortus botanicus Leiden: the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world.
Markets: a city tradition that has been carried on for 900 years in the center of town. Held on Wednesday and Saturdays.
Walking Tours: you can take guided tours or buy guide books and roam around the city by yourself.
Canal Tours: a relaxing way to see the beautiful sights of Leiden.
Almhouses: there are various collections of little houses around a central courtyard hidden in different parts of Leiden. Most almhouses were built in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Cronesteyn: on warm days this is a favourite park to hang out with the children – a swimming hole with multiple floats, water pumps with interconnected wooden pathways, a zip line and lots and lots of space to run around and play.
Volkenkunde Museum: the newly renovated national ethnology museum.
Molen de Valk Museum: this is the windmill museum where there are seven floors, all open to the public.
Corpus: we haven’t visited this museum about the human body yet, because children need to be at least 6 years old, but it looks really interesting.
Silvester Bookshop: a charming little children’s bookstore in the center of Leiden with lovely staff. The bookstore often has children’s theater shows above the shop on Saturday afternoons.
Het Klaverblad: this is the oldest shop in Leiden – a tiny teashop established in 1769 and they have super nice staff.
Oudt Leyden Pancake House: yummy pancakes the dutch way – with all sorts of interesting toppings. The Dalai Lama, Sir Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle have visited here. Gluten free pancakes are available.
Voorafentoe: one of my favourite little cafes in the center of town, although not so great for children so I rarely go now. Coffee Star is a few doors down and much better for children – a place to play, yummy drinks and desserts.
Francobolli: a great little cafe with delicious desserts and a great concept. Find a nice postcard from their large selection and write a message to your loved ones while you enjoy a nice drink and some good food.
Jacketz: a friendly baked potato shop in the middle of the city center. Great staff and good food for affordable prices.
Free Shops (Weggeefwinkels): these are give away shops, similar to charity shops, but in these shops everything is free. There are usually a limited number of things you can take – I believe about 5 items and 10 books. The shop in Leiden is only open for three days and it is a fantastic resource for unschooling. There is also a new free bookstore called the Boekenzolder (the book attic), which is run by Borderline Books.
Charity Shops (Kringloopwinkels) and Second Hand Shops (Tweedehandswinkels): I love visiting these shops and they are also a great, inexpensive resource for unschooling.
HEMA: a much loved department store where I direct my non-Dutch friends and family to go visit for interesting and inexpensive Dutch souvenirs. Dutch people must love the shop too since there is a popular book about stories of people who emigrated from the Netherlands to other countries entitled Ik mis alleen de HEMA (I Only Miss HEMA). Their cool website is Rube Goldberg inspired and loved by my children (give it a few seconds to get started).
Dille & Kamille: another favourite shop of mine for kitchen stuff and pretty toys and crafts for the children. My favourite souvenirs when I go visit other places – pretty things that I can use or see most days.
Tolkienwinkel: this is such a cool shop/museum started by a man in love with all things Tolkien. It’s hidden away in the city in a residential area and only open on Thursday and Saturday. If you’re a Tolkien enthusiast, it will make you happy. My little brother (who lives in Canada) sometimes plans his visits around the shop’s opening hours. I found it by complete accident when I went for a walk one Thursday evening.
And just outside of Leiden:
Katwijk Beach: lovely, peaceful place to spend the day, unless it’s a perfect sunny day and the weekend or the holidays. Then it’s super busy, like most Dutch beaches.
Boerderij ‘t Geertje: a really lovely children’s organic farm where children can feed baby goats milk and food, go on pony rides and watch the animals. Lots of space to run around and play.
Space Expo, European Space Agency, Noordwijk: children can experiment with gravity, make water rockets, dress up like astronauts, and receive Astronaut Diplomas after completing a little program.
Archeon: we love this place. It’s an archeological theme park from three major time periods – prehistory, the roman age and the middle ages. They have a fantastic reenactment of a gladiator fight that you can watch in the arena. Children can also participate in various activities including archery, candle making, roman massage, temple ceremony, etc. The park is open seasonally – March 31 – October 31, 2012.
Duinrell: we spent a weekend here camping with friends. The children loved it! We had fun too. Gianluca can go on scarier roller coasters than I can. The Tiki Pool was busy and loud, and had scary water slides. Again, my seven year old was braver than I was. Open seasonally, March 31 – October 31, 2012. The Tiki Pool is open all year.
Keukenhof: a beautiful place to visit to see spring blossom and quite possibly my mom’s favourite place on earth. I believe it’s the world’s largest flower garden. Open in 2012 from March 22 – May 20th.
Other interesting websites:
Happiest Children: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6360517.stm
There are a couple of interesting video clips on this site – Old Leiden and it’s painters and Leiden, key to discovery: http://wn.com/Leiden
An English community website for families: www.homeinleiden.nl/
If staying in Leiden:
Image courtesy of Sumeer Saran