City of knowledge! Why Leiden might just be the smartest city of the Netherlands

Welcome to the European City of Science in 2022: Leiden!

Is Leiden the smartest city in the Netherlands? Known for its beautiful and picturesque canals, Dutch houses and the home of DutchReview, it’s also a city that puts the university at the heart of the community and sports an amazing range of different museums.

Besides being pretty, Leiden also has plenty of brainpower going on, here’s what makes it one of the smartest cities in the Netherlands:

It’s home to Leiden University — the oldest uni in the Netherlands

Leiden actually has the oldest university in the whole of the Netherlands, as it was founded in 1575 (wow!). The university is one of Europe’s leading international research universities.

As a result of this and the university being around so long, the university has taught a lot of students over the years and it currently has 29,542 students and 6,700 members of staff.

The university is made up of seven faculties; Archaeology, Governance and Global Affairs, Humanities, Law, Medicine, Science and Social and Behavioural Sciences). The campuses are all over Leiden and a few of them are also present in the Hague.

The student community makes up a large part of Leiden and is actually known for its student associations, making Leiden University the heart of the community, something you should know if you’re considering moving to Leiden.

So, what makes the university so good? Well, the university not only creates future brainiacs, but it has an impact on policy, economy and science. It’s made Leiden a very desirable place to live in a business sense.

Take, for example, the expertise centre of the university called LURIS. LURIS helps students and researchers create alliances with other people and companies, helping them with funding and also with startups. The university also collaborates with businesses in the Leiden Bio Science Park (we’ll explain what that is later) and the museums. Basically, we couldn’t picture a Leiden without the Uni.

Also check out the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) in Leiden

If Leiden University wasn’t enough, there’s also the highly esteemed University of Applied Sciences (UAS) Leiden (aka the “Hoge School van Leiden”). They have loads of bachelors in Dutch and the UAS offers several programmes in English: check out their minors for exchange students. This one is actually located at the Leiden Bio Science Park, which you also need to know about.

It’s home to the Leiden Bio Science Park

Leiden is the home of the Leiden Bio Science Park, which is the largest life-science cluster in the whole of the Netherlands. It also holds the largest number of bioscience start-ups in the Netherlands, with over 106 medical life science companies residing there. The park mainly focuses on the use of biotechnology in relation to biopharmaceuticals.

Not only is it home to incredible research institutes, but the companies are made up of over 12 nationalities. A true multicultural hub in Leiden.

The faculty is hugeee. Image: Biccie/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0.

Each year the Leiden Bio Science Park gets bigger and better, and it’s going to be buzzing as well in the future since the city of Leiden plans to develop a whopping 1000 new homes in the area. In case you would love to both work and live in the park, here are their vacancies.

Furthermore, with the EMA now in Amsterdam you can expect plenty of more activity for the Leiden Bio Science Park as well.

Want to know more about the Leiden Bio Science Park? Check their brochure with plenty of more info!

It was like home to Einstein

Albert Einstein first visited Leiden back in 1911 with his wife, when he was around 30 years old. He originally visited as a number of students had invited him to the city and he was a guest lecturer. When he arrived he was very fond of Leiden, saying that it was “that delightful piece of land on this barren planet.”

After his first visit, he then visited Leiden often, as he was friends with other Dutch physicists. Leiden was actually the home of his closest friend Paul Ehrenfest (professor at Leiden University) and father-figure Hendrik Lorentz.

Einstein at the home of Leiden physics professor Paul Ehrenfest, June 1920 (Image: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

When he came to Leiden, he would often discuss his theories with his friends. In 1916, he came to Leiden again to stay with Ehrenfest, during the midst of WWI. He discussed the General Theory of Relativity to Leiden’s astronomer and mathematician William de Sitter during his time there.

For the next 20 years, he came to Leiden often to meet with friends and lecture at the university. To honour his work, “Magnetwoche/Magnet week” was organised in 1921.

Einstein was present at Queen Wilhemina’s ceremony for an honorary doctorate in the Pieterskerk. He was wearing a blue silk outfit that came from the academy in Madrid. It stood out so much that to this day, other professors dress similarly when their doctorates are awarded in Leiden. 
Einstein mural in Leiden. Image: Vysotsky/Wikimedia Commons/CC4.0

It’s home to some amazing museums

Call Leiden a mini-Amsterdam if you will, but I can guarantee that Leiden will have some museums that you would even rate higher than the capital itself.

Leiden is home to some pretty amazing museums — The Museum of Antiquities, the National Museum of Ethnology, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, the Lakenhal Museum and of course the big and famous Naturalis. I could go on. Each one provides something a bit different and just adds that cultural and educational aspect to Leiden. Here are just 3 great museums in Leiden:

Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)

The National Museum of Antiquities sits alongside the Rapenburg canal, the most well-known and arguably one of the most scenic canal streets in Leiden. This 200-year-old museum is definitely underrated, as it is filled with so many impressive historic artefacts.

It is home to a 2000-year-old temple, a collection of mummies and old Egyptian jewellery, not to mention the hundreds of other artefacts they have there.

This is actually shot at the museum, how impressive! Image: DutchReview/Supplied.

National Museum of Ethnology (Volkenkunde)

The National Museum of Ethnology is a museum in Leiden decided to humans. Throughout the museum, they have a variety of interesting objects than all tell a human story. It’s basically a way of bringing together anything that is culturally diverse (there are themes of usual human behaviour such as celebrating, moaning and praying), and putting it all together to showcase how we are both different, and the same.

The Volkenkunde offers a unique exhibition. Image: Erick VanB/Wikimedia Commons/CC4.0

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave (Rijksmuseum Boerhaave)

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is a museum dedicated to the Dutch history of science. It delves into the work of different researchers, their inventions and how it has influenced our society and world as a whole. Their collection showcases 5 centuries of scientific innovation. It’s both fascinating and important.

Leiden is home to tons of tech and science companies

Besides the University and the Leiden Bio Science Park there are also tons of other smart companies in Leiden. There’s the maritime company Heerema, the leading hosting company of TransIP and Astellas in its signature building located at Leiden Bio Science Park.

An interesting building for sure. Image: Bic/Wikimedia Commons/CC4.0

If you’re looking for office space and network opportunities, you might want to check out hubs such as the buzzing Area 071.

That’s it? Well, one last addition — DutchReview is also located in Leiden! Yeah, we venture out tons of times to other cities, but this cute smart canal-filled town has us hooked!

There’s also a thriving start-up scene with at the heart of it the PLNT building & community, it’s also where we have our office!

PLNT is Leiden’s centre for innovation and entrepreneurship and hosts a variety of innovative and young startup companies. So in case you’re reading this and you need some office-space and help with your tech-start-up: this is the place.


I also have the feeling that this isn’t the last time we’re talking about the scientific side of Leiden as it will be the European City of Science in 2022!

Have you visited Leiden? Studied in Leiden? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: this article was originally published September 2018, and was fully updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image: Martijn van der Nat (check out our photoreport of Leiden that we did together!)

Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer founded DutchReview a decade ago because he thought expats needed it and wanted to make amends for the Dutch cuisine. He has a Masters in Political Science and IT but somewhere always wanted to study history or good old football. He also a mortgage in the Netherlands and will happily tell you too how to get one. Born and raised in Rotterdam, Abuzer now lives in Leiden but is always longing back to his own international year in Italy.


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