What I didn't know was that a short train ride away (20 minutes from Schiphol Airport/30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal), the student city of Leiden has everything you need to escape the bustle of the Dutch capital. Located in Zuid-Holland, Leiden is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands AND a windmill museum. It's also the birthplace of Rembrandt, so if you're into your art, you can have a look around Rembrandtplein - a square with dedicated artwork.
Here are a few things I would recommend you do on a day trip to Leiden:
- Take 30 minutes or so to walk up the staircase at de Burcht, and enjoy the wonderful views of Leiden when you get to the top. An ancient shell used in times of trouble during the 11th/12th century, there are lots of historical notes scattered along the way. Knowledge is power, as they say.
- Leiden's main shopping street, Haarlemerstraat, is perfect for your tourist/gift needs. Pop into H&M, or buy stroopwafels and clogs. On this 1km stretch, the choices are seemingly endless.
- Visit the market that takes over the whole city centre all day Saturday. It feels like the whole of Leiden spends its Saturday wandering around the sprawling stalls, and you can get everything from raw herring to fresh fruit and veg. If nothing else, it's a pretty interesting insight into Dutch living.
- Quell your hungry in Bagel & Beans, a wonderful cafe located in the city centre. There are 2 branches in Leiden so go to whichever is nearest - you won't regret it. I love to spend my afternoons in cafes, and the food here is simple yet delicious. A wide range of bagels (self explanatory?) with coffees and smoothies to go alongside, I would guess this is popular with the student population.
- Take the time to walk down the banks of the Rhine, and treat yourself to a cold beer in one of the many riverside bars you'll come across on the way. I can only imagine how busy it gets in summer, but it's definitely worth it for soaking up the relaxing vibes.
- Lastly, visit some of Leiden's museums/libraries/churches. All beautiful to look at, and perfect for discovering more about this great city.
I think that just about covers everything! Of course, if you have a bit more time, take the 10 minute train journey from Leiden Centraal to Zuid-Holland's capital, The Hague or Den Haag. Home of the Dutch Royal Family and the majority of the Netherlands' foreign embassies and major international organisations (The United Nations and the International Court of Justice, for starters), it's a really exciting city with a gentle buzz about it. Think Amsterdam, with fewer tourists and impressive skyscrapers.
Last weekend taught me there's much more to Holland than Amsterdam, and the ever-efficient Dutch rail system makes it easier than ever to get out and explore.