Do you want to check out a beautiful Dutch city that isn’t Amsterdam? Are you eager to prove to your friends you travel “off the beaten path”? Or do you simply want respite from touristy and crowded cities? Then consider Leiden! We have all the tips and tricks on where to shop, eat and drink to ensure your trip to Leiden is a good one.
Leiden is a bustling and picturesque town centrally located in between Amsterdam and The Hague. Leiden University, which is nearly 435 years old, attracts students from all over the world who are eager to learn at one of the Netherland’s top universities. The fresh faces that arrive each university year keep this historic town young and vibrant.
The Heineken factory is located not far from Leiden and the delicious beer is consumed in many of the bars and restaurants that spill onto cobbled stone pathways and border picture-perfect canals. The appeal of this quaint town is enhanced by its proximity to the North Sea and the many lakes with abundant sailing facilities — all of which are within cycling distance.
Before we get going with this guide to Leiden, you might be thinking ‘I want to move to Leiden!’. Well, luckily for you, we have all the info you’ll need upon arrival to this beautiful student town.
Visit Leiden — Here to get your journey started
For all other questions regarding where to shop in Leiden and such, we can’t recommend enough to check in with our friends at Visit Leiden! If a digital visit isn’t enough, then you also visit them physically, they are located right in front of the Leiden Station if you need them (Stationsweg 26). They’re in the same building as the Tourist Information Center of Leiden, so that’s handy.
Best Bars in Leiden: where should you grab a drink?
Café in de Oude Marenpoort — for a true Dutch drinking experience
The first place we recommend trying is Café in de Oude Marenpoort (or De Mapo, as locals call it.) Head here if you’re looking for an authentic Dutch experience. Not only will you find a cosy and classic Dutch interior, but you are also guaranteed to find some cheerful, jolly Dutchies and to become equally jolly yourself in no time (4 delicious G&T’s and you’ll be spinning till well into the following afternoon.)
Cafe De Uyl van Hoogland – If you’re looking to drink next to a church
De Uyl is located on Nieuwstraat 28 in the historic centre of Leiden and boasts a terrace that overlooks the Hooglandse church. This bar, which has been around for about 40 years, keeps growing in popularity. Order a cheese platter and a delicious beer and watch the world go by.
Proeflokaal 1574 — For the fancy folk
Located at Apotherkersdijk 38, three friends teamed up and put their vast experience in the food industry to use when they opened Proeflokaal 1574 in 2018. This bar is known for its lovely atmosphere and top quality wines that they scoured while touring Europe searching for the best wines.
Cafe de Bonte Koe — the cosiest of them all
You’ll find Cafe de Bonte Koe at Hooglandsekerk Choorsteeg 13. The interior of this bar was originally designed for a butchery that never came to be and has remained unchanged ever since. Such a well-preserved 19th-century building with tiled walls is rare in the Netherlands.
Cafe de Bonte Koe source all their beers independently and are not in contract with corporations such as Heineken which gives them the freedom to source top-quality products from smaller companies. They have nine tap beers, speciality bottled beer and a range of wines.
Twee Spieghels — drink and enjoy some great live music
Up for something different? Grab a few friends and head along to De Twee Spiegels. This charismatic cafe is one of the finest jazz and wine bars in Leiden. You can find it right next to the Hooglandse Kerk on Nieuwstraat 11. They have free live music every Monday and host regular shows by fantastic musicians.
Einstein — both a Dutch and international treasure
Named after Einstein who lived in Leiden for a couple of years. Einsteins are centrally located at Nieuwe Rijn 19 and have a primely located terrace next to the canal. Here you can sit and read a book and watch the world go by. Or if you’re feeling something a little wilder, it also hosts an international student drinking night every Wednesday that starts at 10 pm and if you don’t care about your Thursday university classes, then stay on until 3 am!
North End — for any homesick Brits
Know a Brit that is coming to the Netherlands? Do they want grubby pub food instead of being cultured and trying Dutch food like bitterballen or frikandel? You can take them to the North End on the similarly named Noordeinde 55, where they can satisfy their British cravings with a carpeted floor and shepherd’s pie.
Stadsbrouwhuis — for some unique craft beers
Located at Aalmarky 1-3, this bar and restaurant opened its doors in 2016 and is a fantastic place to come if you want to momentarily step away from Heineken. Stadsbrowhuis has over 20 unique beers on tap — I had the delicious Kick-Start stout.
The staff are exceptionally knowledgeable and can go into detail about each and every one of the beers so you will definitely find something to satisfy your personal taste. On the menu, you can even find a rating next to each one of the beers which are generated from an app where customers have ranked the tastiness of the drinks.
Lot en de Walvis — drink on the water
This is a classic in Leiden nowadays. Given any sunny day, the excellent terrace of Lot en de Walvis (Lot and the whale) is packed. It has a gorgeous boutique-like terrace which catches a lot of sun all day long, with great views of the little marina next to it.
You’ll find this beautiful place at Haven 1 near Zijlpoort and it is here that you will spot some quintessentially Dutch activities. Many people from Leiden swing by with their boats and dock up to enjoy a drink or even dinner – which is also totally a good idea.
So yeah, there are eating options here too — Lot en de Walvis also could have made it to our next list of places to eat in Leiden!
Best places to eat in Leiden
Had a few drinks too many drinks with your friends and need to soak up the alcohol? Or do you have the munchies and want to try some delicious food? Then here are some of the best places to eat in Leiden.
Just Meet — for the meat lovers
Just Meet is located at Breestraat 18 in a fabulous building. There are two large atmospheric dining rooms, divided by a hallway with a large piano in it and one of the best classic staircases you’re going to encounter in Leiden. The meat is delicious and you can even select what knife the chefs prepare your chosen dish with!
This restaurant is all about the meat experience, you can see them hand-pick your meat from the curing cabinet, which makes the experience very unique. It is slightly on the pricier side but if you have some extra euros then it is worth a visit.
Aan de Rijn – for the Dutch interior and food
If you’re vying for the classic canal views of Leiden, this is the place to be. Located on the Nieuwe Rijn 37, Aan de Rijn also offers a cosy, modern interior so it’s also perfectly nice to sit inside when it’s raining (as it often does in the Netherlands). Shared dining is the thing here, and they mean it. The idea is that you select a couple of small dishes for a round and they serve it on a wooden board. I recommend the shrimp croquettes (served with a lemon and parsley mayo) and the Buddha bowl.
Bar Lokaal — great for the vegetarians!
Bar Lokaal is one of the best places for deluxe veggie dishes. But fear not meat-lovers; they’ve got some top-notch cuts and meats as well. The portions (and prices) are a bit larger than Aan de Rijn, so you should be satisfied if you order between four and six dishes. Their cauliflower dish (pictured) is making a name for itself as it tastes spectacular. You can find this little treasure at Hartesteeg 13.
Try and make a reservation if you want to be sure to have a table there for dinner – this place is packed most of the time. Luckily they do breakfasts and lunches as well.
Pizzabakkers in Leiden — for affordable dining
Pizzabakkers is a small and up-and-coming franchise. A few of them are popping up throughout the country (this one popped up at Herenstraat 1 in Leiden) but do not worry! The quality of a delicious pizza is not compromised. The prices are more reasonable as well if you can’t afford to splash out.
I ate the Napoletana and the Prosciutto pizza — both of which were delicious! This place also has a terrace so it is a wonderful way to devour traditional wood-fired pizza while watching the world go by!
The Rooftop at PLNT— A terrace with an incredible view
Isn’t the DutchReview office at PLNT? It sure is! And you might have spotted the rooftop in our instagram stories and posts (we might be a little biased but it is honestly one of the best views of Leiden in the city).
Located at Langegracht 70, the Roof at PLNT is a unique place in the heart of the city and in the middle of the Singelpark. It is covered with beautiful flowers and greenery and boasts stunning views over Leiden and yes, even a chicken coop!
There are events coming up regularly, and whenever there’s good weather (aka no rain) the rooftop is opened from two o’clock in the afternoon. Both at the roof and the indoor binnentuin have plenty of healthy and delicious options and prices are very economical. Given the fact you might just run into us, doesn’t that make a trip here worth it in and of itself?!
Van der Werff — Close to the station and delicious!
This restaurant offers a big terrace, but also plenty of seating indoors. Located near the station at Steenstraat 2 with a great offering of drinks and some straight-forward-and-delicious stuff on the menu — what more could you ask for? Stadscafe Van der Werff is always a good idea to go if you’re looking for a place to eat or drink in Leiden. Pretty tasty stuff to be had too as you can see in the following pics:
Cityhall — eat at the centre of the city
Cityhall is located in the centre of Leiden, right at — you guessed it — the city hall of Leiden (which is something you need to see in Leiden anyways). It has a beautiful terrace, a big indoor area and loads of excellent Italian food to enjoy. Cityhall also has plenty of drinking options available on their menu, so this one could have also easily been under the “where to drink in Leiden” tab.
Vet Gezond — A great place to enjoy good food at reasonable prices
Located near Leiden Lammenschans at Omegaplantsoen 4, the vintage-looking Vet Gezond brings you an excellent selection of both greasy “Vet” and healthy “gezond” food. And all for financially-healthy prices too! All of that makes it a perfect spot to grab some casual dinner on a week-day or have a student meal without succumbing to a heart attack when you see the receipt. You can also follow their Facebook page for some sweet deals.
Time for some history! Museums in Leiden
Leiden and Rembrandt
Do you know Leiden is actually the birthplace of Rembrandt? The “Young Rembrandt Studio” is a great museum where you can learn all about Rembrandt and his life.
The Lakenhal museum
This gorgeous and recently renovated Lakenhal Museum has everything from Rembrandt paintings to beautiful dresses made from fabric manufactured in Leiden. We also really enjoyed a stained glass window showing how a newspaper was made- pretty relevant for us, right?
Shopping in Leiden: Where to go and what to buy
After you’ve filled your head with history, why not break up the day by going shopping? Everything in moderation after all, right? Here are our recommendations for a great and unique shopping experience in Leiden.
Babooka — the weirdest bookshop in Leiden
Babooka is a bookstore situated on Breestraat 113 opposite the grand Leiden City Hall. This architecturally beautiful building boasts a plethora of attractive and interesting coffee table books. Themes range from Warhol, to contemporary houses, to vintage bicycles. So you are sure to find something that piques your interest. Head along to this bookshop and have a look.
VNTG — for those who love a good haul
VNTG is cheap vintage shop that has everything from leather bags to funky earrings and patterned shirts. The store tries to source sustainable clothing and up-cycles, reuses and donates when possible. Find it at Botermarkt 11, it’s a fun place to explore even if you are not on the look-out for anything in particular.
Pluum — Looking to buy some gifts?
An eclectic store full of Scandinavian-styled assortments that are minimalist, contemporary and stylish. Head to Pluum if you’ve forgotten your friends birthday and need a last-minute gift — you’re bound to find something. It is located at Urgsteeg 2, down a cute street very near Einstein and Twee Spieghels.
Wonderful Nature — for the strangest objects nature has to offer
Wonderful Nature offers an array of all things nature such as stuffed animals, polished seashells, fossils and ceramics. There are taxidermy animals in the store (see lion pictured) but the shop assures customers they have been bought and killed in a responsible manner. The protected animals such as baby rhinos were only bought after dying a natural death (I certainly hope so).
Located at Breestraat 114C, it is also possible to have an animal commissioned (is taxidermy an ode to nature or for those who have a superiority complex?) Regardless, you’re bound to find browsing this shop intriguing.
Eduard — a sustainable shopping experience
Eduard is a cute shop situated at Hooglandsekerkgracht 6, in between the Hooglandse Kerkgracht canal and the Oude Rijn canal. The shop is filled with beautifully crafted items such as wallets, office supplies, ceramic bowls, watches, jewellery and so much more. They aim to source sustainably and from artisan companies who are experts in their field. They also have bags by the brand FREITAG which are renowned for being stylish yet durable. Head to this store to browse amazing items!
The Leiden Street market — for anything and everything
If you happen to be in Leiden on a Wednesday or Saturday, then make sure you check out the market along the Nieuwe Rijn. You can buy organic vegetables, fresh fish, delicious fruit, flowers, clothes and delicacies and exotic spices from all over the world. The Leiden street market runs from 8 am until 5 pm.[td_smart_list_end]
Body and mind in Leiden
Get a massage with Alexandra from Alexmassage
Alexandra set up the first mobile massage business, Alexmassage, in Leiden. Now she travels throughout Leiden and the surrounding villages giving top quality, extremely relaxing massages in each of her clients’ homes. Not only does that mean that you don’t need to brave the disgusting Dutch weather post-massage, it also means you get to save time and know that any money you pay is going directly towards the quality of the experience.
Talk your problems out with Roy from BrightMind
Roy is a clinical and organisational psychologist working in Leiden who grew up in Israel. After his masters at Leiden University, he set up his practice, BrightMind in this beautiful city. He uses an integrative approach with a focus on cognitive behavioural interventions, interventions from mindfulness-based approaches, schema-therapy, and psychodynamic methods.
Are you ahead of the game and already shopped, ate and drank it all? Want something fresh to do?
Why not plan a day trip to another beautiful Dutch city? Leiden’s central location makes day trips to a myriad of different cities and locations more than feasible. Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Haarlem are all less than an hour journey away.
Or perhaps you could educate yourself by visiting one of the many interesting museums Leiden has to offer – there are over 13! Or maybe a friend is visiting and you both fancy a deep chats while meandering around the city? Check out the Singelpark which is Leiden’s equivalent to the New York “High Line.”
This walk will allow you to get lost among the pretty sights of Leiden – there are so many quaint and beautiful buildings that will leave you mesmerised! An added bonus is you won’t have to compete with endless tourists and selfie sticks to snag a great photo!
So there you are — the ultimate guide to beautiful Leiden. Where to eat, drink, and shop — you have it all! Have you ever been to Leiden? Are there any shops, bars or restaurants you think are worth a mention? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: DutchReview/Supplied.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2019 but was updated for your reading pleasure in August 2020.