For the first time in a long time, I made a recreational multiday trip again. Going abroad was a first in one and a half years—time to change that. A trip to Leiden is the first to break this weird non-travel-streak. And what an amazing first it was!
While writing this, the pandemic seems to be ‘stable’ in Europe. Green, orange, and red zones are still a thing. But they seem to change less often. So, the health freak that I am (lol) feels safe to travel again. Leiden, a beautiful Dutch city, isn’t too far from Belgium. Ideal for getting traveling again.
After a fairly short drive of 1,5 hours, my buddy Fons and I arrive at the Lammermarkt Parking. This is the deepest parking in Europe. So naturally, we decide to drive all the way down in the spiraling garage and get the last spot.
While driving down, Fons did not press the gas to peddle at all. Gravity did all the work for us. We drove by hundreds of empty spaces, but we had our minds set on claiming the last one.
Which we did get. Hooray!
I never thought I’d write so enthusiastically about a parking garage.
Some more stats:
- There are 525 parking spaces (and fairly wide ones too)
- There are an additional 8 spaces for electric car users
- De parking lot goes to about 22 meters deep beneath the market.
After this, we headed for the VVV (or tourism board) right around the corner of the parking. For us, this was a press trip organized by the city of Leiden. Yet, even if you go on your own, I think a visit to the VVV is a great idea. They will set you up with nice ideas to go and watch, give great recommendations, and perhaps be able to get you some discounts.
Hortus Botanicus and Hortus cafe in Leiden
We decided to eat in the Hortus Cafe first before visiting the botanical garden as it was lunchtime. They have delicious options to still your hunger and quench your thirst. I chose the Boeren Leidse Kaas sandwich, with local cheese and amazing mustard.
Fons went for the Rosé gebraden rosbief. Roast beef with truffelmayo.
And, of course, some cheesecake to finish. Always take cheesecake when you can!
Back to the main event. The Hortus Botanicus, or botanical garden.
It’s the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. Founded back in 1590
The garden is grouped in a couple of different gardens and greenhouses. Going through them all will take you a few hours. My favorites, without a doubt, were the tropical greenhouses and fern gardens. Though the systemic garden is fascinating for people that garden themselves.
The gardens have a rich history and broad collection—a must-visit for anyone remotely interested in flowers, plants, and gardens.
Hofjeswandeling around Leiden
If you visited Leiden’s VVV (Tourism board) first, you probably got a booklet about the ‘hofjes.’ Hofjes are small gardens, usually behind or in front of a house. The translation would be a courtyard, but I don’t find that to be an exact translation. As a ‘hofje’ is something specific Dutch and Belgian.
In the booklet, you can find a map with over 35 of these courtyards in Leiden. 17 of them even have a detailed history listed in the brochure.
Bonus Tip: some courtyards are on the map but hidden in the street behind a door. Often it’s okay to open the door and get a look at the garden.
Some fun facts about the courtyards of Leiden:
- The oldest courtyard in Leiden dates from 1572
- Each courtyard has at least 12 houses. Symbolizing the twelve apostles.
- Every courtyard gets a saint or Biblical inspired name.
Drinking at Cafe De Uyl
It was a very sunny day. And with all the walking and hofjes-visiting, we got thirsty. As Belgians, we pride our beer, but we also know the Dutch are getting pretty good at it (if you skip the Heineken).
Fons asked a friend of his, who studied in Leiden, for recommendations. Cafe De Uyl was right in the city center. Close to one of the gardens we were visiting.
So a quick stop for a beer… or two… and get some shade. It’s located right in front of the Hooglandse Kerk. So I count this drinking as sightseeing too.
Watching a video about Rembrandt in the Young Rembrandt Studio
Next up, we went for a short yet highly informative video at the Young Rembrandt Studio. It was in that studio the young boy started to learn to paint.
In the old studio, you can watch a movie for free. It’s about 7 minutes long and tells you about the time of Rembrandt in Leiden. It’s a multi-projector setup, making the story even more interactive and exciting.
Climbing the Burcht of Leiden
The Burcht of Leiden gives a fairly decent view over the city. In some places, trees block the view, but that’s not more than normal, in my opinion.
The Burcht is built on a hill of 9 meters high, giving you a good vantage point, which was probably the idea when constructing the hill and the keep. Oh, by the way, it was constructed in 1100.
Climbing the tower is free and a must for anyone visiting Leiden.
Another drink at De Veste
After dinner in the city center, we headed for De Veste. Another bar the friend of Fons recommended. If you have to choose between De Veste and De Uyl, go to De Veste.
For us, the beer selection was better, and the people seemed nicer.
We had a lovely evening sitting there and enjoying special beers—a good ending to a great day.
Boat tour around and through Leiden
The next day we joined a boat tour at Rederij Rembrandt. The tour is about an hour (probably depending on traffic). As we were sitting down as the first passengers of that trip, the guide told us that we were lucky to come this early. Usually, the canals are quieter in the morning.
The tour doesn’t exactly take you around the entire city. It goes around the south side and then cuts back through the city. Which probably makes for the most interesting part of the city.
Along the way, you get an explanation about the different buildings in the city, the canal you are boating on, and the many bridges connecting the city with the region around it.
I can actually recommend doing this at the start of your trip. The reason why is because you get a lot of information and little gems you can then lookout for a while walking around the city. Like the many pieces of poetry written on walls here and there.
Getting a lunch at Leidsch Beleg
Right where the boat tour starts and ends, there is this place called ‘Leidsch Beleg.’ Which is a pun. Poorly translated, it can either mean ‘the siege of Leiden’ or ‘sandwich topping from Leiden’.
Anyhow, if you speak Dutch and know the city’s history, it’s a good joke.
Luckily, if you don’t speak Dutch, the food is still great. You can buy all kinds of sandwiches with dutch products on them, especially for lunch.
You can choose to eat in their restaurant or take it with you as a picnic. We did the latter and walked 5 minutes to Rembrandt park. This is where the house of Rembrandt used to be.
There is a statue honoring the painter and a nice park with a view of the canals—the ideal spot for a picnic, in my opinion.
Visit to Naturalis in Leiden
Last, but certainly not least, was our visit to the Naturalis museum in Leiden. It’s a natural history museum just outside the old city center. The outside of the building is already super impressive, but the inside is even more mindblowing.
The museum is chosen as the European Museum of the Year 2021. And with good reason!
The building is beautiful, the layout is perfect, and the collection is amazing. It’s so amazing. I am dedicating a separate blog post about it soon.
What you need to know is they have amazing skeletons of dinosaurs and a mammoth.
There is a huge room with 100s of stuffed animals.
And there is a part where you can see actual archeologists work on fossils. You can even ask them questions about what they are doing! I don’t know about you, but that makes the dino-nerd in me get very excited.