Exploring Leiden as an International Student


Updated on Jan 30 • 3 minute read

Leiden, situated in the lovely area of South Holland, is home to the Netherlands’ oldest university, Leiden University. Therefore, it’s not difficult to imagine that this is an area steeped in history, but mixed appropriately with the bustling, colorful neighborhoods that always accompany such a lively “student city”.

While you’re an incoming international student, you’ll quickly find that there is a long list of things “not to be missed” in Leiden. So get comfortable, grab a drink and explore what makes Leiden one of the most unique cities in all of the Netherlands!

1. Tiny Streets

It might sound a bit funny at first, but think about spending a little time getting lost in Leiden. Turn off that GPS, stretch your legs on a long walk, or hop on a bike, which is most definitely the way to get from one place to the next in the Netherlands.

Leiden is known for its narrow streets, hiding all manner of cozy cafes, hidden doorways and unique diversions only to be found in Leiden. Among these are the beautiful poems that are painted on the sides of many buildings throughout the city.

Beginning in 1992, Leiden began the project entitled “Poem and Walls”, featuring 101 poems painted on buildings throughout the city. However, the truly interesting part of this is that they are written in several different languages, adding to the idea that Leiden truly is a remarkable international city. Just imagine stumbling upon a poem written in your native tongue, just as you might be feeling a little bit homesick!

2. Breathtaking Canals

Of course, canals are rather typical throughout the Netherlands, such as in Amsterdam or Utrecht, but we aren’t just talking about any regular canals. These are the rippling, beautiful waterways of Leiden.

As that Leiden is a much smaller, more charming counterpart to some of the other destinations in the Netherlands, the canals are less crowded with transportation and tourists, offering a more peaceful variation. The shops and restaurants that also line the canals offer plenty of ways to spend a long afternoon.

In fact, the areas alongside the canals offer some of the most popular eateries. Specifically, when looking for a nice place for breakfast, be sure to visit the City Hall Italian Bar & Bistro, which offers a lovely terrace with gorgeous canal views!

3. Hortus Botanicus

One of the most popular spaces in all of Leiden, the Hortus Botanicus, is an ideal place to go for reflection, whether it be to take a break from final exam week or to revel in the beauty of your new surroundings.

Plus, the garden shares a bit of history with the university, as that it opened in 1587, shortly after the university was established. It is also located near some of Leiden’s student accommodations, so it’s also quite convenient as well.

When you visit, be sure to spend some time at Hortus Japan, the Japanese garden at Hortus Botanicus. This once again adds to the continuing allure of Leiden as a culturally diverse city.

4. Leiden Market

When you first begin to acclimate to a new environment, one of the most important things to do is find out where to shop. Fortunately, Leiden makes this a very simple task.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, you can purchase your groceries at Leiden Market for much better prices than you will find in traditional supermarkets. Plus, the food is fresh and mostly sourced locally. You can also expect to find clothing, accessories and all sorts of things that you mind need for your new room!

5. Museum Volkenkunde

If you’d love to spend a rainy day at a local museum, then head over to the Museum Volkenkunde! Also known as the Museum of Ethnography, this building houses all sorts of different traditional and cultural artifacts from all over the world.

6. Lively Pubs and Bars

You have probably already discovered that Leiden is a bustling student city, so when it comes to searching out a great place to have a few drinks, you’ll find all sorts of possibilities.

The oldest bar in the city is called De Bonte Koe, and it is situated right in the heart of Leiden, with a cozy atmosphere. It’s also a really great place to experience the pub culture of Leiden, as well as get to know some of the local inhabitants. If you want a bit more variety, just across the street you will find Olivier, which is well-known for its Belgian beer.

However, if you’re really looking for something more distinctive, then Leiden will not disappoint. Head straight to Estaminet Schommelen, where you can enjoy a lovely cold pint while sitting on one of a few swings by the bar. That’s right, instead of regular bar stools, this notable bar sports actual swings!

Finding Housing in Leiden

Of course, after all of this sightseeing, don’t forget that finding housing in Leiden can often be quite a task. As that this is such a well-liked city for students, along with The Hague nearby, there are plenty of options for international students in the area. However, along with this popularity comes high demand, so it is best to search on a trusted housing platform when moving to Leiden.

Relocating to Leiden will be an amazing experience, full of opportunities to fully immerse yourself in a warm, welcoming culture that will have you feeling like a local in no time! Be prepared for your new adventure by learning all that you can about your “new home”, such as checking out our informative guide, full of helpful ideas. Enjoy your time in Leiden!

Ready for your adventure?