Travel column: Winter in Leiden

By Joey Düker

Winter is around the corner and Christmas with its kitschy decorations is drawing closer. Let’s warm up our itchy feet by walking around the city of Leiden.

Apparently, Leiden is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands (Descartes and Spinoza both studied here) and birthplace of Rembrandt. Those facts make a local’s chest swell with pride but are useless to a tourist. You can visit the site of Rembrandt’s birthplace but it does not have much historical value. The original building is long gone; the nearby statue of Rembrandt is not that impressive, and even the windmill in the background was erected only thirty years ago.

What’s great about Leiden is that the city centre is compact and the main sights are densely located. Similar to our Oudegracht, the pedestrian area follows a network of canals flanked by archaic Dutch buildings. If you come here on a Saturday, you can be part of a bustling crowd and walk along the colourful booths of the city centre market.

Close to the market and situated on a small hill stands a one thousand-year-old fortification, De Burcht. The inside of the circular structure has nothing to offer but trees. However, you can take the stairs up the rampart and enjoy a scenic view of Leiden from the promenade. Due to its elevated position and the 360° view, you have a splendid overview of most of Leiden – with the Hooglandse Kerk in the south being the most impressive sight. Even in late fall it’s worth a visit, since Leiden looks eerily enchanting in foggy weather.

By now you must be thirsty, and in serious need of some hot chocolate. At the junction of the canal in the very heart of Leiden, Annie’s is a great water-level restaurant. It has its own floating dock on which you can sit – arguably the best spot to have a drink in Leiden. Since it is quite chilly by now, head inside and enjoy the cosy cellar interior with its low ceiling and warm light. Should you go to Leiden when it is really cold, the restaurant might have put tables on the frozen canal. Apparently, this has happened in the past and although I don’t know whether it’s a safe or sane thing to do, it sounds pretty memorable.

At times, Leiden feels like a smaller version of Utrecht. Still, its antique centre, iconic buildings, intricate alleys and network of canals manage to emit their own worthwhile vibe.


Costs: 17€ for a full-fare return ticket

Travel time: ca. 45 min. one way



City centre market

Times: Wednesday & Saturday, 9:00am – 5:00pm



Annies – Lunch Diner Drinks

Location:  Hoogstraat 1a, Leiden

Opening times: Mon-Sun, at least from 12PM


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