I have so much love for Leiden, she continues to be one of my favourite Dutch cities. She holds the perfect balance of canals and 17th-century architecture I’ve come to expect. However, she offers something a little more for me. She is vibrant. She is the perfect combination of small picturesque 17-century Dutch towns I adore, mixed with the right amount of natural scapes interspersed with cultural and historical finds.
Leiden is located in South Holland, northeast of The Hague and is home to the Netherland’s oldest, and according to my bible of a Lonely Planet guidebook, prestigious university. The university dates from 1575, where a lil’ someone by the name of Albert Einstein was a regular professor(!). She is also Rembrandt’s birthplace. I admit, a small fact that was enough to get my ass on a train headed west. She is home to both the place where America’s pilgrims gathered before setting sail on the Mayflower and to a very special botanical garden.
Hortus Botanicus Leiden (1590)
My first stop was hitting up this gem.
One of Europe’s oldest (next to a botanical garden created in Padua, Italy in 1545) and home to the Netherlands’ oldest descendants of the Dutch Tulip (tulips that would eventually lead to Tulip-mania). Interesting fact about tulips: they originated as wildflowers in Central Asia and were first cultivated by the Turks. The word tulip itself derives from the Turkish word for turban. The Austrian ambassador to the Turkish court returned home with a bulb and passed it on to this guy:
Carolus Clusius, prefect to the imperial medicinal garden. In 1593 Clusius took up an appointment at the University of Leiden and planted the bulbs in the university’s botanical garden. Et voila: history is made.
When the Victoria amazonica, the world’s largest water lily, first came to European gardens, glasshouses were specially constructed for them. The present-day Victoria Glasshouse (the original one built in 1870 no longer exists), began construction in the late 1930’s and houses these giants. Large enough to keep a toddler afloat!
I really did enjoy myself wandering the greenhouses. I particularly enjoyed walking through both the desert and tropical houses and seeing plants and feeling temperatures and humidity I have seen and felt on previous travels.
The garden is quite extensive and offers a perfect place for quiet contemplation and slow meanderings… offering plenty of pretty sights for the eyes to rest upon.
Including cats and views outside of the garden.
Sterrewacht Leiden (Leiden Observatory)
Sterrewacht is an astronomical observatory established by the university in 1633, making it the oldest operating university observatory in the world. It sits prettily on the southernmost point of the whole botanical garden complex.
What garden wouldn’t be complete without an apiary?
I may have spent a little too much of my time here. It didn’t help that I bumped into an interesting American writer who asked me for a quote or two for an article he is writing about the botanical garden. A million quotes later (read: we had a lovely conversation on the importance of travel, being mindful, and living with intention) we exited the grounds together, Brian pointing me in the direction I needed to go.
The Jean Pesynhof building
This building now stands in the spot where John Robinson lived and taught, not to be confused with his actual home as two Americans tried to inform me and this website tries to educate. More on him below.
Built in the 14th-century and often under construction, the church is known today as the burial place of John Robinson.
John Robinson was an English pastor often referred to as the “Pilgrim Father” who fled to Leiden to practice his faith without persecution. His followers are the pilgrims that would sail to America aboard the Mayflower. The more you know.
I learned a lot about the pilgrims on my little Leiden expedition.
Wandering with a dying phone and camera battery
De Burcht is a 11th-century citadel on an artificial (of course) hill. As the city grew around it, it lost its protective functions.
It’s now a park with 360-degree views of Leiden.
Leiden American Pilgrim Museum (1375)
A restored one-room house receiving its status as the Pilgrim Museum when in around 1610 it housed Calvinist Protestants. Sadly the museum was closed. I hear the 14-century floor tiles are amazing.
I took respite on one of these boat cafés. I’m certainly becoming a pro at solo-dining.
Molenmuseum De Valk (Museum De Valk)
I made my way to a windmill to check out its innards. Since my time in Leiden, I have seen many a windmill. I have even been to the incredible ridiculously picturesque Kinderdijk and while seeing 19 old and still functioning windmills within a small area is impressive, De Valk (the Falcon) continues to remain in its own league for me. For one, it’s a tower mill, which means it’s really really large (so many floors!). The trunk of De Valk is 29-metres high. The span of two sails is 27-metres. I’m telling you, it’s large.
It really was worth a visit and I’m pretty sure that Museumkaart I purchased covered my entrance fee. Sidenote: the Museumkaart was one of my best purchases made, it grants access to 400 museums across the country. While I’m nowhere near that number, I think I’m somewhere in the 30’s, if not more by this point, which you can imagine has saved me a lot of euros.
De Valk (1743) is known as a tower mill and had to be built high enough above neighbouring houses to catch enough wind for it to be productive. Two families lived in this mill, where the first two floors, including the ground floor and additional building, contained the kitchen, stables, living areas and sleeping rooms. For more detes and a lovely cross-section of the mill, click here.
Standing outside of the grinding loft on the reefing stage I believe I’m 14-metres above the ground.
Check out that Piet Mondrian inspired sail. Sails were added on less windy days to make the most of the weather and catch as much wind as possible.
As part of the miller’s day-to-day work, he had to come outside onto the reefing stage, look up at the cap (the part of the windmill that has the ability to turn/swivel), and determine the wind direction and velocity. He would wind the cap by turning the big wheel which would in effect turn the sails attached to the cap.
I have much knowledge of windmills.
My dogs were barking and it was time to catch a train home. Though before I did, I sat on a curb, De Valk at my back, and chatted with a local as he rolled himself a joint in the late afternoon sun.