Leiden: The international student town of the Netherlands

International student town of the Netherlands!

We’ve said several times that Leiden was a student town, but what do you actually know about Leiden, the international student town of the Netherlands? And, more importantly, what are the opportunities for international students in this little charming town full of Dutch students?

Leiden University

Founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange, the university of Leiden is the oldest university in the Netherlands and ranked amongst the best universities of the country, just after Utrecht and Groningen, in 2015. Leiden University has an international  reputation for academic excellence, and its law faculty attracts numerous students. Leiden University in numbers:  7 faculties, 44 bachelors programmes (10% taught in English),  78 masters programmes (95% taught in English), more than 25 000 students, 3000 international students, 105 nationalities, 5500 staff members, 2 campuses, 400 PHDs per year. Incredible numbers! Moreover, the University can pride itself to have seen famous people sitting on its benches. Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, King Willem-Alexander, Queens Juliana and Beatrix, and Einstein to name but a few.

International student town of the netherlands
The Academy Building in 1897 ©Leiden University

Student life at Leiden University

But what is it like to be a student at Leiden University? Most of the lectures are taught in small groups, while in the first year, you could still have lectures in bigger auditoriums. The University does its utmost to offer a stimulating environment, and even offers an excellence track, the Honours Academy, for highly talented and motivated students. Coming from a university where I attended lectures with a hundred other students, I fell in love with the educational system of Leiden, but everyone’s experience is different.

Sneak peak of the student life at Quintus during the EL CID week

However what struck me the most in Leiden is the student life, and not any student life. From hospiteeravonden to exclusive student associations, I realised how different student life in Belgium was from in the Netherlands. Back home, our student associations are quite big too – student, study, and regional associations, hazing, intense activity level – we’ve got it all, but it never felt as important as in the Netherlands.

In Leiden, the student life dominates the city, and it seems that every Dutch student is part of an association, whether it’d be a fraternity, a club, a sport association, a study association – there’s an association for every single activity in this city! Leiden has indeed a strong reputation regarding associations. Some of them are quite exclusive, which can be daunting for newbies, especially for international students. If you get the chance to take part in the Dutch student life, go for it, but if you don’t, no worries, there’s plenty to do as an international student in the International student town of the Netherlands!

Leiden international student town: Activities for internationals

With more than 3000 international students enrolled at the university, Leiden had better have some activities planned. An international student’s semester/year will start with the introduction week, the OWL (Orientation Week Leiden). The OWL is the international version of the famous EL CID week for the Dutch freshmen in Leiden. The bi-yearly programme started in 2013, to replace the initial 2-day introduction. The committee is usually a mix of Dutch and international students. This introduction programme is perfect to get introduced to Leiden, to get tips on the student life, to meet new people, and to immerse in the Dutch culture. The OWL week takes place in August and January each year.

International student town of the netherlands
Welcoming students for the OWL week ©OWL

Once the academic year is started, head to the ISN (International Student Network) for some fun! The ISN is devoted to international and exchange students in Leiden; they organise parties, activities, themed clubs, weekly drinks, trips, a buddy programme, and a language exchange. The Dutch/international board brings you the best of Leiden. Their HQ is the Breimer Common Room, next to Plexus, and you’ll almost always find someone to answer your questions. The best way to meet other international students? The weekly drinks at Einstein in the city centre! Odessa on Monday nights is quite famous amongst international students as well.

International student town of the netherlands
International students HQ at Einstein ©ISN Leiden

International student associations

Some Dutch student associations are also oriented towards international students, such as Leiden United. This association wants to bring Dutch and international students closer together, by means of a buddy programme and regular activities. The AEGEE Leiden and SIB are two associations internationally oriented, and Minerva, one of the biggest student societies in Leiden, also offers an international membership. Sports associations such as Njord and Asopos (both rowing), and De Blauwe Schuit (sailing) welcome international students. You can find the full list of the associations in Leiden here, and find what suits you best while studying in Leiden!

See, so there is plenty to do in Leiden as a student!

What do you love about the International student town of the Netherlands, Leiden university, or student life in general? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to follow our Facebook group for more Dutch tings! 


  1. Hello Gabrielle Dauby,

    Can I ask where you got the statistics about how many international people study in Leiden from?
    I am doing a research for university and my target group is expats.

    Thank you in advance,



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