One Day in Leiden: A Self-Guided Walking Tour

Unsurprisingly, the majority of visitors to the Netherlands flock to Amsterdam. But perhaps you want to visit an alternative Dutch city or are looking for an easy day trip from Amsterdam?

Located between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Leiden is an often-overlooked small city that oozes charm. It’s a perfect day trip from either city

Make the most of one day in Leiden by exploring its highlights on a self-guided walking tour.

canal with buildings on each side an a boat moored

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Why I Loved Visiting Leiden

Leiden has the charm of Amsterdam, but on a smaller scale and minus the crowds. However, to describe Leiden merely as a scaled-down and quieter version of Amsterdam would be doing the city a grave disservice.

It has endless canals along which to meander, ivy-clad university buildings and first-rate museums. With its perfectly preserved historic centre, dating from the 17th Century, Rembrandt’s home town has enough to keep most architecture buffs occupied for a week.

Home to one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands – some refer to Leiden as the Oxford of the Netherlands – it has a lively student vibe.

two docks at the side of a canal in leiden netherlands
A canal in Leiden

A Self-Guided Leiden Walking Tour + Map

As Leiden is small enough to be explored on foot, doing a walking tour is very easy. This is how I explored the city.

My 4 km circular walking tour of Leiden starts and finishes at Leiden train station. Exit the station and walk straight down Stationsweg and you will reach a bridge. To the left of this bridge is a canal known as Singel.

Here is a live map with walking directions or click on the image below. You can also send it to your phone.

a map showing the best things to see in one day in Leiden as a walking tour of leiden
Leiden walking tour map (click on image for interactive map) Map Data @ 2024 Google

Singel & Molen de Valk

The first stop on our Leiden walking tour is its well-preserved moat or Singel. Dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries, Leiden’s moat ran alongside a fortified wall.

Although that wall has long since gone, the windmill (Molen de Valk) which would have sat on top of the wall remains. If you are curious about a working windmill, you can visit the Windmill Museum.

windmill at the side of canal with people sitting on canal bank
Singel & Molen de Valk, the first stop on a Leiden free walking tour

Carry on walking along the main street and you will hit the market square (Beestenmarkt). When you reach the big canal, turn right along Galgewater.


Galgewater translates as “Gallows Water” and is named after the field where executed corpses were placed on public display. Let that be a warning to others should they fall foul of the law!

Today, this canal is lined with historic houseboats. Keep your eyes peeled for Carpenters’ House, which is one of Leiden’s most iconic buildings, on the right at #20.

historic house with red gables which is one of the best things to see in Leiden in one day

Built in 1612 for the workers who were building the city, this quintessentially Dutch house is now a subsidised housing complex for pensioners. If you can, stick your head through the gate to take a peek at its lovely garden courtyard.

The windmill you can see at the end of this street is a replica of a 17th Century windmill, Molen De Put (“Post Windmill”). When you reach this windmill, take a left and cross over the bridge. On the right, just after you reach the other side of the bridge, is Rembrandtplein.


One of the Netherlands’ favourite sons was born in Leiden in 1606 in a house that faced this square. Sadly, this building is long since gone but there is a plaque on the modern building that replaced it.

Rembrandt’s well-to-do family sent him first to Latin School and later to Leiden University at the precocious age of 14. However, he wasn’t interested in academic pursuits and moved to pursue an artistic career in Amsterdam at the age of 17.

A life-size statue of a young Rembrandt examining a later self-portrait takes centre stage in this square.

sculpture of young boy in front of an artist's easel

Take a left along Noordeinde; after two blocks, you will hit the Rapenburg canal. Turn right to walk alongside this canal until you reach Leiden University on your right.

Leiden University & Botanical Gardens

Through a set of imposing wrought-iron gates stands the Main Academic Building of Leiden University.

Leiden was the Netherlands’ first university, founded by William of Orange is 1575. In addition to Rembrandt, its alumni include John Quincy Adams, René Descartes, Henry Fielding and Dutch monarchs and prime ministers. Albert Einstein taught here.

Leiden’s Botanical Gardens (Hortus Botanicus Leiden) are located at the end of the university’s courtyard.

Continue along Rapenburg canal and cross the next bridge which will bring you onto Kloksteeg and, in one block, St. Peter’s Church.

Pieterskwartier & St Peters Church (Pieterskerk)

Dating back to 1390, St. Peter’s Church is the oldest in Leiden. Originally a Catholic church, it became a Protestant church in the 16th Century.

The area around the church is charming but also important historically, especially for American visitors. Fleeing religious persecution in England, in 1609 a group of Pilgrims came to the Netherlands. They first came to Amsterdam, eventually settling in Leiden in the area around  St. Peter’s Church.

Take Pieterskerk-Choorsteeg and turn right onto busy  Breestrat. Walk around the side of City Hall and you will reach Leiden’s Rhinefront Market.

Leiden’s Rhinefront Market

Here, where the New Rhine meets the Old Rhine, was where the merchants of old used to unload their wares.

Today, bars and restaurants unload their food and drink to grateful customers (one of the best things to do in Leiden is to stop here for a drink). It is also the site of a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

busy bars along a canalside in leiden
Leiden’s Rhinefront bars

Walk across the covered bridge (Koornbrug), along Burgsteeg, and up the set of steps to the Burcht.

De Burcht

The Burcht is the final stop on our Leiden walking tour. Dating from the 8th or 9th Century, this artificial mound was built to offer protection to Leiden’s residents in times of siege. It housed a castle from 1150 onwards.

Take the steps to walk around the top of the wall for panoramic views of Leiden.

church seen through arched gateway in leiden

From the Burcht, make your way along Haarlemerstraat. At Beestenmarkt, turn right to return to the railway station.

Other Awesome Things to Do in Leiden

My self-guided Leiden walking tour is designed to steer you towards the best bits of the city, rather than steering you to visit every attraction it has to offer. For example, I did not visit any of its museums. This was partly due to a lack of time but largely because it was a glorious day.

Here are some other great things to do in Leiden if you have more time to play with.

Visit the American Pilgrim Museum (Beschuitsteeg 9)

This would be my top choice if you have more time or if it’s a rainy day.

Housed in the oldest residence in Leiden (c. 1365), the American Pilgrim Museum is stuffed full of original features and historical items and gives you a window into the lifestyle of a 17th Century Leiden inhabitant.

Visit the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde (National Museum of Ethnology) (Steenstraat 1)

A museum that punches way above the size of its city, the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde celebrates world cultures through displays of art and artefacts.

Take a Leiden canal boat tour

See Leiden from a different perspective.

After burning all those calories walking, you might be ready for a relaxing canal boat tour. Two companies operate regular tours from Beestenmarkt.

leiden 2

How to get to Leiden from Amsterdam, The Hague or Rotterdam

Leiden has fast and frequent links to other major Dutch cities. This makes Leiden an easy day trip from Amsterdam, Rotterdam or The Hague.

It’s just 30 minutes or so from Amsterdam (depending on which city station you use) or Rotterdam. From The Hague, it’ll take you a mere 12 minutes to reach The Hague.

3 women walking along a pretty street in leiden netherlands

Where to stay in Leiden

If you want to spend more than one day in Leiden, here are a few choices of places to stay.

The good news is that, compared with Amsterdam, Leiden is cheap. However, the bad news is that if you are looking for budget accommodation, your best bet is to base yourself in The Hague.

Mid-rangeIbis Central Hotel

I stayed at this 3-star chain hotel opposite the train station. A small room but in an excellent location and is clean and basic.

bedroom at the ibis hotel in leiden with large bed with white linen
My room at Ibis Central Hotel, Leiden


SplurgeBoutique Hotel Steenhof Suites

This centrally-located hotel in a characterful building has fantastic reviews and boasts a bar and fitness centre.


BudgetPink Flamingo Hostel, The Hague

This hostel in the centre of The Hague is reportedly clean and friendly and in the centre of The Hague. The railway station is a 15-minute walk and the hostel also offers bike hire for an additional fee.


>>> None of these take your fancy? Then check out other accommodation choices in Leiden.

peaceful canal in leiden

Why You Should Spend More Than One Day in Leiden

Leiden proves that there is more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam. And thanks to the efficient Dutch railway system, Leiden and other historic towns such as Delft, Gouda, Haarlem and Utrecht, are all easy day trips from Amsterdam.

Better still, as Leiden is very much a student city, it is affordable and has a good selection of bars and restaurants for a city of its size.

Lastly, is visiting the Keukenhof Gardens and the Dutch tulip fields on your travel bucket list? If so, Leiden is the best place to base yourself to visit the greatest flower show on earth.

Therefore, why not stay more than one day in Leiden? You’ll be glad that you did.


bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at or follow her on social media.

2 thoughts on “One Day in Leiden: A Self-Guided Walking Tour

  1. Pallavi says:

    Hi i would be interested to join the walking tour.
    Let me know when is it going to happen.


    • Bridget says:

      Hello! As this is a self-guided walking tour, there is no guide or schedule. It’s very easy to explore Leiden by yourself. Bridget

Comments are closed.