Just twenty minutes by train from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Leiden is a lively and energetic city of around 120,000 souls that makes for an enjoyable day-trip or overnight stay. At its heart, the city’s antique, sometimes careworn, centre is a maze of narrow lanes that wriggle and worm their way around a complicated network of canals, one of which marks the line of the medieval walls. It’s all very appealing and unfussy, with Leiden’s multitude of bars and cafés kept afloat by the thirsty students of the city’s one great institution, its university – one of Europe’s most prestigious seats of learning. The obvious place to start an exploration of the city centre is the Beestenmarkt, a large and really rather plain open space that’s long been the town’s major meeting point. As for specific sights, top billing goes to the magnificent ancient Egyptian collection at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) and the seventeenth-century Dutch paintings of the Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, though, perhaps surprisingly, given that this was his home town, the museum is very short of Rembrandts. Leiden is also within easy striking distance of the Dutch bulbfields and the showpiece Keukenhof gardens as well as the pleasant North Sea resort of Katwijk-aan-Zee and its long sandy beach.
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