This walking tour takes you through Leiden, a typical Dutch town with beautiful canals, fine museums, a famous botanic garden, windmills, boat rides and much more.
This walk starts from Leiden train station. It’s roughly 35 minutes on the train from central Amsterdam and just 10-20 minutes from The Hague. If you drive it will take slightly longer.
Tips for Leiden Walking Tour
- This walking tour lasts roughly 2.5-3 hours excluding any time spent in museums.
- There are several large museums so you could spend several days in Leiden to visit them all.
- Some museums are closed on Mondays.
- You can shorten this walking tour by not walking around the outer canal and instead heading straight from point Stop 9 (Hooglandse Kerk) to Stop 11 (Rijksmuseum Boerhaave).
- If you enjoyed Leiden, you might also like to explore Delft, another small historic city between The Hague and Rotterdam.
- If you want to walk in beautiful dunes nearby, check out this Wassenaar Dunes Hike
- Check out other walks and hikes on our Netherlands Hiking Page.
Top Sights in Leiden
On this self-guided walking tour you’ll see the main sites and attractions of Leiden. One day is the perfect amount of time to spend in Leiden, though you could spend several days if you visit all the museums.
- Naturalis Biodiversity Center
- Molen de Valk
- National Museum of Ethnology
- Japan Museum Sieboldhuis
- National Museum of Antiquities
- Botanic Gardens
- De Burcht van Leiden
- Hooglandse Kerk
- Museum De Lakenhal
- Rijksmuseum Boerhaave
Another top thing to do in Leiden is to go on a boat tour, you can find a list of boat companies here.
Leiden Walking Tour Route
This walking trail starts from Leiden train station. The Naturalis Biodiversity Museum is on the opposite side of the train station from the rest of town, so it makes sense to visit either as the first or last stop.
Directions: If visiting the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, exit the station on the side of the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC). Then follow the signs for the Center. It’s about 10 minutes walk. When you’ve finished here, return to the station to cross the railway tracks.
1. Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Key Information: Open 10-5 every day. Tickets cost €16.
The Naturalis Biodiversity Museum (Website, Tripadvisor reviews*) is the national museum of Natural History. You can see many skeletons and stuffed animals, fossils, minerals and much more. One of the highlights is a T-Rex skeleton, and there’s also one of a woolly mammoth. The exhibitions are well laid out and there are many interactive exhibits, making it great for children.
Directions: Exit the station on the city centre side. Head across the pedestrianised square and down the street towards the centre. At the canal you’ll see the windmill on your left. Cross the bridge and turn left to reach it.
2. Molen de Valk
Key Information: Open 10:00 – 17:00 Tue-Sat, 13:00 – 17:00 Sun, closed Mon. Tickets €5, reductions for concessions.
Also known as Leiden’s Windmill Museum, Molen de Valk (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) houses exhibits about the history and use of this old windmill, with collections of old tools and more. It was originally used to grind corn and was built in 1743. Walking around the circular viewing deck of the windmill you can admire the views over Leiden town. There’s also a cafe and shop here.
Directions: Head back to the bridge you crossed earlier and head across the road. Opposite and slightly left there’s a gate you can walk through to continue walking along the edge of the canal and to reach the entrance of the National Museum of Ethnology. Even if not visiting the museum, head this way as you can walk out the other side.
3. National Museum of Ethnology
Key Information: Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays. Tickets €15, reductions for concessions.
The National Museum of Ethnology, or the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*), is a large museum containing exhibitions of items from different world cultures. There are both permanent and temporary exhibits and it’s one of the best museums in Leiden.
Directions: Continue along the canal banks around the corner.
You’ll soon see an old gate up ahead – De Morspoort (Tripadvisor Reviews*). This is one of the remaining parts of the old city fortifications, from 1669.
Further ahead you’ll see Molen de Put (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*). This is a small, windmill in a beautiful location near the Old Harbour of Leiden. It was built in the 17th century to grind flour, similar to Molen de Valk, and restored in 1987. It’s open to visit only on Saturdays.
Directions: Cross over the bridge at the windmill and turn left to walk along the edge of the old harbour.
Look out for Stadstimmerwerf, a building with a beautiful facade on the opposite side of the water.
Directions: At the next bridge turn right. You’ll soon reach Rapenberg Canal. This is one of the most beautiful and famous canals in Leiden. Soon on your left is the next museum.
4. Japan Museum Sieboldhuis
Key Information: Open 9-5pm Tue-Sun, closed Mondays. Tickets €8.50.
Directions: Continue walking along Rapenberg Canal, and you’ll soon see the National Museum of Antiquities on the opposite side. Cross over the bridge to visit.
5. National Museum of Antiquities
Key Information: Open 10am-5pm everyday. Adults €14, children free.
The National Museum of Antiquities, or the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*), has many archaeological finds from the past – including Egyptian mummies, Greek pots, Roman sculptures and more. In the central covered courtyard is Taffah temple, a Nubian (Egyptian) temple given to the Netherlands by the Egyptian president for help in the past. There’s also a section on the Prehistory of the Netherlands. It’s a great museum to visit.
Directions: Head back to the other side of the canal to continue walking along the banks. You’ll soon reach the entrance to the Botanic Gardens through an old archway on your right.
6. Leiden Botanic Gardens
Key Information: Open Tue-Sun 10:00 to 16:00, or until 18:00 in Apr-Oct. Closed Mondays. Tickets €8, discounts for concessions.
The Hortus Botanicus (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) in Leiden is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. There are several greenhouses and hothouse, containing cacti, and orchids and sub-tropical plants from SouthEast Asia. There’s also a greenhouse specially built to show off a special giant water lily, with huge lily pads and a flower that blooms only very rarely. You can also visit a Japanese garden, stroll along the river, and walk around the old observatory in the grounds.
Directions: Leave the Botanic Gardens, head right then left across the bridge. Continue straight on and you’ll soon be at Peterskirk courtyard.
Just before the church there’s an old heavy door to your right. You can go through here to have a peek at Jan Pesijnshofje. This is a small little old courtyard, formerly an almshouse for French protestants.
7. Pieterskerk (Peters Church)
Key Information: Open Tue-Sun 11:00 to 18:00. Closed Mondays. Tickets €5, discounts for concessions.
Pieterskerk (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) occupies a site where a church was first built in 1121. The current building ceoms from a little later, in the 13th century. The inside has nice vaulted ceilings, a big organ and is worth a visit.
Directions: After the church, continue along the right side to the back of the church and you’ll see a little courtyard with a bench wrapping around a tree. Behind this, in the corner, is a doorway into a passage leading to a nice grassy courtyard.
This peaceful area in the old centre of Leiden is called Sint Pieters van der Speckhofje. It’s open to the public but be quiet and respectful of the people who live around the courtyard.
Directions: Leave the old courtyard area through another narrow passage at the far end. Continue straight across the small road to walk down an even smaller one. Soon you’ll reach a busier road and see a grand building in front of you.
The Leiden City Hall (Tripadvisor Reviews*) is a grand building with a stunning facade looking out on the street.
Directions: Turn left on this main street, then right after the city hall to the canal and right again towards the fancy bridge.
This bridge, the Koornbrug (Tripadvisor Reviews*), is an old, scenic bridge over the canal. Its name comes from the trade is corn that used to pass over this bridge.
Directions: Continue onwards after the bridge and pass through the nice gateway on your left towards the castle on a mound.
History of Leiden
Leiden sits on a branch of the River Rhine and has a famous university dating back to the 1500s, the origin of the many good museums in town. You can explore the history of Leiden on this walking tour, which visits the De Burcht Castle, medieval churches and historic courtyards.
After the castle was built, the settlement of Leiden really flourished in the 1400s, growing on the back of weaving and the wool trade. The churches were built and the university was founded in the 1500s. This brought many scholars and the town continued to expand. In the 18th century, the wool industry and therefore the town declined, to be revived again by new more modern industries. Today Leiden’s a bustling town of history, arts, culture and science.
8. De Burcht van Leiden (Old Castle)
The Burcht of Leiden (Tripadvisor Reviews*) is a partially ruined castle from the 11th century. It sits on top of a roughly 12-metre high, artificial mound, constructed to protect it from flooding. The city rapidly expanded around the castle, which became defunct, and in the 1600s it became a public park. You can walk around the walls, from which there are great views over the city. The Burch van Leiden is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city and a must-see.
Directions: Return back through the archway you came from. Continue along the street and you’ll see a large church.
9. Hooglandse Kerk
Key Information: Open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and part of Sundays.
Hooglandse Kerk (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*), a gothic church from the 15th century, has an attractive inside with tall white columns and stain glass windows that flood the interior with light. There are good views of the church from De Burcht.
Directions: This self-guided walking tour of Leiden now heads towards the outer canal of the old city centre to walk through parks along the canal’s edge. The walk is very pleasant but there are no specific points of interest except for another old gate to the city. If you want to cut the walk short, head directly from Hooglandse Kerk to the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave.
Walking Around the Outer Canal of Leiden
Directions: To reach the outer canal, continue past the church and head right to an inner canal. Walk along here for 200 metres before heading right across a bridge and all the way through the town to a park by the outer canal. Turn left and stick as close as possible to the canal’s edge. You’ll sometimes have to deviate away from the water, but there are signs pointing the way.
At the far corner of the outer canal you’ll reach another old fortified gate to the city, De Zijlpoort Gate (Tripadvisor Reviews*). It’s one of the nicest existing gates to the city, dating back to 1667.
Directions: Continue around the corner after the gate. Soon you’ll see the windmill Van der Valk in the distance. Head left to leave the canal here and reach the Museum de Lakenhal on the edge of an inner canal.
10. Museum De Lakenhal
Key Information: Open 10:00 – 17:00 Tue-Sun, closed Mon. Tickets €12.50, free for concession.
This is the municipal city museum of Leiden (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*). Lakenhal means cloth hall, and it was used as such from its founding in 1640 until 1800. The museum now contains many paintings by Dutch painters, including Rembrandt. As a nod to its past, you can visit a cloth inspection room, where officials checked cloth was of the appropriate quality before it could be sold.
Directions: Cross the bridge and continue walking straight on. Follow the road as it bends left and soon you’ll see the final museum on your left.
11. Rijksmuseum Boerhaave
Key Information: Open 10am-5pm everyday. Tickets €13.00 with reductions for concessions.
The Rijksmuseum Boerhaave (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) is dedicated to the history of science and medicine throughout the past centuries. Housed in a former convent, the museum mainly displays inventions developed at the University of Leiden. There are also informative guided tours in English.
Directions: After the last stop on the tour, walk towards the confluence of two canals in the centre of Leiden. This is a great place to have a drink and some good by the water. From here it’s 1 km back to the train station.
Museums in Leiden
There are many excellent museums in Leiden, several of which expanded from university collections. Below is a brief summary of the museums in Leiden roughly in order of popularity.
- National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum Volkenkunden): Uncover cultures from around the world in this large museum.
- National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden): Go back in time to admire archaeological discoveries with a focus on Ancient Egypt.
- Naturalis Biodiversity Center: The National Natural History Museum, containing skeletons, fossils and more, with many fun interactive exhibits for children.
- Corpus Museum: Journey through the human body with many interactive exhibits. Slightly out of town, good for children.
- Molen de Valk Windmill: Take a look inside an old windmill in this fun museum about the old windmill.
- Museum De Lakenhal: Discover paintings by Dutch masters and the history of cloth in the city.
- Rijksmuseum Boerhaave: Dedicated to the history of science and medicine throughout the past centuries.
- Japan Museum Sieboldhuis: Small museum about Japanese culture.
Further Afield from Leiden
There are several sights of interest not far out of town from Leiden City Centre that aren’t included on this walking tour. However, you can reach them all on foot or public transport.
Key Information: Tue-Fri open 9:30a.m, last entry at 3:00pm. Sat-Sun open 9:00a.m, last entry at 5:00pm. Closed Mon. Tickets €18.95. It’s a 45-minute walk from the centre of town, or take the bus from the train station.
Key Information: Castle open 11am – 4pm Wed-Sun with some exceptions. Grounds open 8am – 7:30pm every day. Tickets €13.50, reduced for concessions. A bus leaves from Breestraat Bus Stop directly to Duinvenvoorde Castle. It takes roughly 30 minutes to get there.
The entrance to this countryside park is a 30-minute walk south of the centre of Leiden. There is a mix of grassy fields, trees and waterways with many paths to choose from.
FAQS – Leiden Walking Tour
Leiden is known for being a typical Dutch city with many beautiful canals, a famous botanical garden and fine museums, all without the crowds of Amsterdam.
In Leiden, the best thing to do is walk around the peaceful, quaint streets and admire the architecture and famous botanical gardens along with the plentiful museums
To visit Leiden you need between half a day and two days depending on how many museums you want to visit.