7 of the best free things to do in Leiden

Visiting Leiden? Wonderful idea! Is your bank account eating away at your overdraft?

No problemo, we’ve got you covered with 7 of the best free things to do on your trip to Leiden.

1. Visit De Burcht

The first unmissable free attraction is De Burcht, the public park with the circular fort. A shell keeps back in the day, the De Burcht is now a romantic patriotic symbol of Leiden.

It’s basically a miniature castle right in the heart of the city, with a panoramic view from the top. To get the most out of this experience, climb up at sunrise or sunset.

Photo-from-the-top-of-de-burcht-in-leiden
Isn’t that a gorgeous spot to take a pic? (Or take a date.) Image: W.Bulach/Wikimedia Commons/CC4.0

2. Go on a poetic scavenger hunt

From poetry decorating the facades of townhouses to giant scientific formulas marking the walls — Leiden is full of street art to discover entirely for free.

The city is overflowing with poetry written in different languages, inspired by a single-wall poem in 1992. If you’re feeling wild, you could try finding as many as possible, though it should be mentioned that there are over 120 wall poems in total.

READ MORE | An ‘international’ exhibition! Portraits of Leiden’s expats on show

There’s even a cute and funky website featuring tailored routes walking you past the wall poetry, and also offering translations where necessary.

You can choose different themes too! If you have an emotional affinity toward the natural world, for instance, they’ll give you a digital map featuring 10 wall poems on nature. Pretty handy, eh?

Photo-of-Shakespear-poem-on-white-house-wall-in-leiden
How about this Shakespeare sonnet? Image: Depositphotos

3. Parks, parks, parks

Leiden offers several beautiful parks, but the two you should definitely check out are Het Plantsoen and Van der Werfpark.

Take a picnic blanket to Het Plantsoen and relax by the waterfront. If you have some cash to spare, drop by your favourite supermarket and get some snacks to enjoy.

READ MORE | The Singelpark in Leiden: how citizens created one of the best parks in the Netherlands

The park is designed according to English gardening practices — so you might wanna bring some tea, darling!

For all those history nerds amongst you, Van der Werfpark is built on the site of a gunpowder explosion in 1807. This was called the ‘Great Ruin’ but is now where the statue of Van der Werff stands proudly on his pedestal.

Photo-of-statue-in-van-der-werf-park-leiden
Former major Van der Werff overlooking Leiden park was named in his honuor. Image: Depositphotos

4. Climb the De Put windmill

De Put windmill has been destroyed twice, but it is such a lovely historical landmark that they keep rebuilding it! The view, framed by a small circular window, is well worth the climb.

Plus, its neighbouring bridge leads to Rembrandtplaats on the opposite side, and the mill and the bridge together make for a charming Dutch scene.

READ MORE | 17 unforgettable things to do in Leiden in 2023

Another charming detail: you can buy different kinds of flours at the windmill. From wholewheat to spelt or bread flour, De Put sells it all.

Windmill-de-put-and-rembrandtbridge-in-Leiden-on-a-summer-day
De Put and Rembrandtbridge make for a stunning pair. Image: Depositphotos

5. Explore the courtyards

Looking for a tranquil place for a time-out? Stroll around some of Leiden’s 35 courtyards (hofjes). Every single courtyard has its own story to tell and some even date as far back as the 13th century.

READ MORE | The best photo spots in Leiden

Regardless, all courtyards are extremely well-maintained and are hidden right in the city centre. In such an urban landscape built above the water, you wouldn’t imagine all those secret gardens lie between the buildings.

Photo-of-courtyard-in-Leiden-with-fountain-and-plants
This is the cute Michelshof in Leiden. Image: Depositphotos

6. Attend an event at Vrijplaats

Vrijplaats is a cultural centre run by volunteers that hosts a range of live music events and DJ nights. Whether you’re a punk, disco, sci-trance or folk fan, there is something for everyone. Organisations use this space for parties, theatre performances, film screenings and debates.

READ MORE | 11 energising places to work or study in Leiden

They also have the wonderful Weggeefwinkel, a give-away shop where customers can find crockery, clothing, toys, books and electrical appliances that need a new home.

This deservedly won the Marga Klompé prize in 1999 for ‘the most social and peace-loving project’.

Photo-of-cultural-centre-vrijplaats-in-leiden-from-the-outside
Caring is sharing — don’t forget to bring something to the Weggeefwinkel if you want to shop there for free. Image: Biccie/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

7. Experience the Saturday market

Leiden is usually a quaint and quiet place, but if you like a little bustle, why not check out the Saturday market? Try some free samples of (delicious) cheese, olives and dips.

Leiden-street-market-at-night-with-lit-vegetable-stands
Ever thought about strolling over the market during the early morning hours? Image: Unsplash/Maurice Smeets

READ MORE | Leiden’s new hotspot: Freddy’s Gastrobar

Did we miss one of your favourite things to do in Leiden for free? Tell us in the comments!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2018, and was fully updated in July 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Abigail Claire
Abigail Claire
Abbie, a writer from the UK, fell in love with the Netherlands when she was three years old. When she’s not spending her free time painting canals or playing the guitar, she’ll be off travelling somewhere (and probably getting lost).

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