The Wonders of Science! 7 Reasons to visit Museum Boerhaave in Leiden

7 Interesting reasons to visit one of the best museums in Leiden; Rijksmuseum Boerhaave

If you are in Leiden or planning to visit this charming city, there is an exciting museum, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave that you shouldn’t miss out on. It’s all about science and its history in the Netherlands.

With a collection spanning across five centuries of research and innovation, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave offers visitors of all ages an engaging insight into the world of science; the significant discoveries and researchers behind them and their impact on today’s world.

The entrance of the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave

So, here are 7 reasons why you should stop being a couch potato and get out there and discover the wonders of this Boerhaave museum

#1 Discover Theatrum Anatomicum:

For your first stop, there is a helpful 5-minute introduction video offered both in English and Dutch. You step into a parliament-like room, put on your headphones and start watching the magic unfold. This video helps you grasp an idea of the museum and walks you through to five centuries of science and history this museum is all about. It shows how each discovery led to a new question and another revelation, and how we grew from these processes and the total interrelatedness about it all.

The production consists of the history of anatomy and the how and why scientists back then wanted to rip up dead bodies to discover the human biology (don’t worry, it’s suitable for the little ones). It shows you how in a room like this 400 years ago, body experimentations began on the bodies that were ‘left to science’ (old people’s bodies and criminals). It was more than just discovering organs and their functions. Scientists back then wanted to realize the secrets of their ‘maker’ in other words; who we are and what is our purpose.

Theater of Anatomy

This video production also has some excellent wall projections so sit back and enjoy the entire theater bursting with colorful scenes!

Theater of Anatomy

#2 Learn about Herman Boerhaave – The Leading Dutch Scientist of his Day:

There is an interesting temporary exhibition of Herman Boerhaave till 1st of September 2019. The museum is named after him since he was one of the leading scientists in Europe in his day. He was an expert in many fields including physics, botany, chemistry, the human body, and research in general. A multipotentialite at his best, don’t you say?

He was a prominent teacher among many roles at the University of Leiden and director of the Hortus Botanicus (the botanical garden in Leiden, and when Spring comes we’ll write an article on that, because it’s a beautiful place).

Herman Boerhaave exhibition

The exhibition centers around essential moments in Herman’s career. For example, how his work at the botanical garden contributed to bringing a lot of new plants and exotic seeds into Western-Europe.

There is an archived book that lists all those plants and seeds in which he elaborates on when they came to Leiden and who received them; might be a bit nerdy but it’s really something seeing such remarkable science skills well-documented over 400 years ago!

You can also see how Herman collaborated with many foreign scientists and was a member of many international scientific societies which contributed more to him being famous.

Herman Boerhaave on a twenty gulden banknote – Dutch people will know
The big book of plants and seeds arriving in Leiden

Fun fact: Herman Boerhaave did not invent anything himself. Didn’t expect that right! But he was brilliant because he could grasp the complete overview of science, and translate that into an effortless and practical way to his students. In the exhibition, you will see letters and signatures from his students and where they came from. As there was a massive international body of students coming from all over the world including Russia, England, and The States to follow Boerhaave.

Interestingly enough, the exhibition also exposes Boerhaave’s private life. You can see a replica of his lute, his original walking cane, and portraits here. One of the most intriguing works on display is the intimate family portrait of Herman Boerhaave with his daughter and wife created by the famous Dutch painter, Aert de Gelder. This portrait has not been in front of the public eye for a long time and is now cleaned and restored into all its original glory. So, make sure this will be on your top list to see. It is a beauty.

A replica of a ‘lute’ from Boerhaave’s era – he was enthousiastic amateur lute player

#3 Get acquainted with The Dutch Golden Age:

The Golden Age exhibition is a luminous and inspiring attraction of the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave. In the Golden Age of the Dutch everything revolved around new ideas about heaven and earth and about the overwhelming knowledge explosion in the seventeenth-century Netherlands.

Here, you will see masterpieces such as the drawings by Maria Sibylla Merian, maps of Blaeu, the microscope by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and (the best piece in my opinion) the oldest heliocentric planetarium in the world!

The oldest planetarium in the world
A closer look at the oldest planetarium in the world

For one thing, it is genuinely entertaining to get to know the works of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Did you know that he wasn’t a doctor or any sort of scientist? In fact, he was in the textile and fabric business but had an amateur interest in microscopy. So, he made one better than all that existed then! (Also, the museum’s shop has a replica of his microscope so you could buy it as a souvenir or a gift.)

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and his microscopes

#4 Get curious at The New Age

You can also immerse yourself to an entirely different age – the late 19th century till now. This part of the museum is dedicated to the Nobel prize winners of science. Here, you can get to know more about the first computeres, engineering discoveries, and most interestingly the ‘helium liquefactor,’ the device in which helium was for the first time liquified. During experiments, it was said that at the bottom of this device was the coldest place on earth!

The helium liquefactor
Tesla battery


#5 Have fun at The Treasure Island:

Known as the “Schateiland” in Dutch, this part of the museum will bring out the kid in you. Great for family play time with your children too. Here, you will act like a real scientist yourself and discover what a real surgeon had in his closet – like an amputation saw. You will find strange animals and plants and do all sorts of experiments on the way. You can also try to find your way using the stars and the sun! Thank you, GPS, next.


One of the ‘toys’ in the Schateiland

#6 Play all the interactive games:

Throughout the museum, there are interactive games and screens that are thoroughly entertaining, and yes, that can be part of the learning experience too. From Pacman to building your own dam; children and adults can have a blast. We know we did!

Playing pac-man!
Building a dam


#7 Get the chance to visit Leiden:

Need another reason for visiting the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave? How about that it will also give you the chance to visit the beautiful and charming city of Leiden!

If you haven’t been there before, then this is your chance to not only visit Leiden but to check out the museums while you’re here. Such as the grand museum of Antiquities and the ‘Museum Volkenkunde’. Can’t afford anything else besides a trip to a museum? Here are 7 free things to do in Leiden and you can always walk in the footsteps of Rembrandt who was born in Leiden.

living in Leiden
Molen de Put, one of the best things to see for free in Leiden

From museums, to other fun activities to delicious diners, you are guaranteed to have a great time in DutchReviews hometown. If you need more suggestions on Leiden, why not ask our friends at Visit Leiden? They’ll gladly help you plan a trip to the ‘sleutelstad’.

Heck, maybe you’re even thinking about moving to Leiden! Feel welcome to ask us or the excellent Expat Centre Leiden for advice!

But whatever your plan is make sure to visit the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Rijksmuseum Boerhaave
10, Lange St. Agnietenstraat 
2312 WC Leiden
+31 71 – 751 99 99

Tiny but mighty, Armig usually socializes if food is involved. Armig's days involve avocado sandwiches and yoga. With a bachelors in Psychology, now she is a proud communications masters student at The Hague University and is a parent to a Shepherd Mix, Cindy.


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