explore :: leiden

Katie | October 2, 2013

design tour map Leiden

When the lovely Louise from 30s Magazine got in touch to ask me if she could write an “explore” post on her home town, I jumped at the chance, so without further ado, over to Louise…

Hi everyone! My name is Louise from lifestyle blog 30s Magazine and I’m based in the Netherlands. When most people think about the Netherlands they think about Amsterdam, but there are so many other cities that are worth a visit. Amsterdam is indeed a great design destination with lots to see and do, but it doesn’t represent all there is to the Netherlands. That’s why I wanted to highlight the city where I have been living for twelve years: Leiden.

Leiden is most notably a university city. Home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, it is to the Dutch what Cambridge is to the British and Boston is to the Americans. It is a quaint historic city with canals, lots of museums, and many laid back restaurants and lively bars. Please join me on my design tour. I hope you enjoy Leiden as much as I do!

Chances are you will arrive in Leiden by train. The street heading from the station towards the historical centre is lined with eateries and lunchrooms. A good start to fuel up for the day would be a lavish breakfast or at least a cup of coffee at Grand Café Van Buuren.

Van Buuren 2

The establishment has changed names and owners a few times, and underwent a huge renovation in 2012, but the historical ceiling reminds us that this restaurant has been around for 80 years.

van Buuren

The interior is an interesting mix of rustic and industrial modern elements with bare brick walls, pendant lamps, leather booths and wall doodles on one side – and a classic aristocratic feel on the other side, with a black fireplace, deer head, chandeliers and old paintings. (Stationsweg 7)

As you continue towards the city centre you will see one of Leiden’s notable landmarks, De Valk Mill (the Falcon Windmill) which dates back to 1743. You can visit the mill as it’s now a museum and souvenir shop, and you can climb the seven floors for a nice view of the city. Across the street is The National Museum of Ethnology which is the world’s oldest ethnographical museum. If you have enough time, this museum is definitely worth a visit too.

Falcon Mill

Instead of heading straight towards the high street I’ll take you off the beaten track on a little detour to enjoy the city’s historical landmarks and quaint cobbled streets. We turn right on the Morsstraat towards the Morspoort, one of the two remaining historical city gateways, then left towards the old harbour Galgewater, and head towards the historical merchant houses in the Doelengracht with their typical facades that give Leiden its charm. (Morsstraat – Galgewater – Noordeinde – Doelengracht)


Our first ‘shop stop’ is a hidden gem in the city: First Floor Items. It’s a design concept store that shares a space with two other shops: a small bakery and a tableware shop. They sell the work of independent designers as well as renowned brands. (Hogewoerd 6-8)

first floor items

Next door and part of First Floor Items is Van Manen aan Tafel, a shop that sells everything for the table: ceramics, teatowels, glassware, cutlery, table linen and accessories. (Hogewoerd 6-8)

van Manen aan Tafel

For lunch we go to Bar & Bistro City Hall. It’s a hip and trendy restaurant in the monumental wing of the City’s Town hall. They serve Italian food in a contemporary, rustic setting. Olive green tiled pillars, an open kitchen, a blackboard ceiling with chalk doodles and texts, and rustic industrial lamps make this space a real design gem with a distinct character. (Stadhuisplein 3)

city hall

Next stop is Pluum, a lifestyle and gift shop with mostly Scandinavian design accessories. If you are in search of a nice gift, this is where you want to go.


From tea towels to candle holders and stationery, they have it all, including brands like House Doctor, HK Living and Madam Stoltz, to name just a few. (Burgsteeg 2)


At Pot & Pan you’ll find sustainable, recycled, and eco-friendly cooking gear, textiles, and organic products like honey and herbs. Swedish pots and pans from Skeppshult, Bialetti espresso pots, British earthen pots from MasonCash and Solinger German knives are mixed in with vintage finds. The smell of real food cooking on the stove, and handpicked wild flower bouquets on the table, make this shop feel like a real kitchen. (Burgsteeg 3)

pot en pan

Last stop of our tour is De Klare Lijn. They carry contemporary design furniture and accessories from renowned brands like Moroso, Seletti, Hay, and many more. It’s a feast to visit for interior design lovers as everything is perfectly styled, mixed and matched. (Nieuwe Rijn 61)

de Klare Lijn

Are you staying overnight in Leiden? Do you have a little time left? Then I would suggest you snap some pictures at these top five scenic views:

1. De Burcht – Situated right in the centre of Leiden you’ll find a hill with the remnants of a medieval fort. A beautiful sight with its grassy slopes and once on top, spectacular views of the surroundings and historic buildings. (Burgsteeg 14)

2. Hortus Botanicus – The botanical garden is a green treasure hidden in the city centre with tropical greenhouses, an arboretum and a Japanese garden. (Rapenburg 73)

3. De Zijlpoort – The historic eastern gateway of Leiden is still intact and surrounded by a park with cannons. Of the medieval eight gateways, only two survived, making it a unique and valuable piece of architecture. (Haven 100)

4. Pieterskerkhof – The cobbled streets and alleys around the Pieters church are probably the most quaint and beautiful part of the city. Here it feels as if you are back in medieval times. (Pieterskerkhof)

5. Van der Werf Park – The park is a perfect place to stroll, take picturesque photos with the church as a backdrop, and have tea at the tea house.

photo ops in Leiden

If you can’t part with the city and would like to have dinner in Leiden as well, I recommend one of my five favourite restaurants that are not in the city centre but in the city’s periphery or suburbs. Their food is outstanding, and the interior design well worth the bus trip or taxi drive. Some are even do-able on foot if you don’t mind a 10-15 minute walk.

De Poort

1. De Poort – Located in the historical city gateway houses, this restaurant serves a variety of different cuisines and dishes. The interior is contemporary with glass facades and a view of the harbour. De Poort is very popular among locals because of its sunny terrace. (10 min walk from the city centre) (Haven 100)

2. Brasserie Meelfabriek Zijlstroom – situated on the shore of the river De Zijl, on the border of Leiden and adjacent village Leiderdorp you’ll find this extraordinary restaurant. It’s a former flour factory dating back to 1926, completely restored, with many original features still visible. The interior design is modern chic with rustic elements. The outdoor terrace is what I love most with oversized wooden picnic tables, next to a greenhouse and orchard. The food is mostly organic and seasonal with products they either grow themselves or buy from local farmers, beekeepers and orchards. (10 min by bus/taxi/car) (Zijldijk 28, Leiderdorp)

3. Brasserie Park – Just outside Leiden, in suburban Leiderdorp is Brasserie Park. As the name suggests, it’s situated in a large park and therefore a local favourite for parties, weddings, office team outings and family dinners. Reservations are recommended. The building is a former farmhouse and stables. High wooden ceilings with beams remind us of that, as do the old embellished milk barrels dangling down from the wooden beams. There is a laid-back, cozy atmosphere. The interior design is robust and modern. The fireplace is always burning, and the outside terrace is usually packed in summer. The food is seasonal and fresh and the menu changes regularly. -(15 min by bus/taxi/car) (Van Diepingenlaan 2, Leiderdorp)

4. Restaurant Woods – Woods is an award-winning high end restaurant situated in a former drying shed along the river De Oude Rijn. Yet another unique location with a beautiful view. Some guests even arrive by boat. The interior is contemporary chic. (10 min walk from the town centre) (Haagweg 81)

5. De Beukenhof – De Beukenhof offers high end French cuisine in a classic and cozy setting. The restaurant is situated on the border of Leiden and the adjacent town Oegstgeest, but only a 10 minute walk from Leiden central train station. (Terweeweg 4, Oegstgeest)

Brasserie Park

And that concludes my design tour of Leiden. I hope I have convinced you that there is more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam, and that you will give Leiden a try on your next visit. I’m happy to guide you so please connect if you need any help or more information via twitter @30smagazine.

Further reading for the especially geeky:

Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.

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  • diana

    Really great Katie, as usual, and by the way you take very good photos. I think the church spires are sublime. Thanks for going on my behalf!

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