Holly Lenny is originally from Bray, Co Wicklow, and has spent the past five years working and living abroad. After three years in the Middle East, she moved to the Netherlands more than a year ago to work in media and to continue the adventure.
What do you like about Leiden?
I like that it is so accessible from Amsterdam. Hop on the train for 30 minutes and escape the oversaturated touristic hustle and bustle of the capital. The vibe is quieter and there are more locals. The well-preserved architecture dates back to the 16th century and of course, the idyllic canals make it the perfect little city to get comfortably lost in. During the warmer months, you can easily take a trip out to the beautiful beaches at Noordwijk or Scheveningen.
Where is the first place to go when you visit Leiden?
To the Burcht van Leiden, a quaint 12th-century medieval fortress. Find your bearings with 360-degree views of the entire city. At each point of interest there are genuinely interesting historical facts about the attraction in front of you. The first Dutch church built specifically for Protestant services was built here.
The top three things to do in Leiden that don’t cost money, are . . .
Go to the weekly market (De Markt) located along the canals of Nieuwe Rijn, Vismarkt and Botermarkt. The Dutch are generous with their samples, so it is the perfect opportunity to taste many of the delicious local cheeses on offer.
Then stroll west to the Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens. Wander around the Japanese garden or spot the tropical flora with colonial historical roots from the Indies and beyond.
Public benches are common here. Sit down beside the canal and simply watch the world sail by.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Leiden?
The Dutch love to deep fry many of their dishes. Fresh fish or seafood from the Saturday market fish monger is the best way to get a flavour of Leiden. Taste a local delicacy – pickled herring with chopped onions (don’t knock it till you try it), or something freshly deep fried with an assortment of sauces. The locals flock here too, which is always a good sign.
Visiting a Dutch "brown bar" (bruine kroeg) is a must. Direct like the Dutch, these bars are indeed brown – dark brown wood, cosy, and you can find a vast selection of delicious beers. Café de Spijkerbak is the oldest brown bar in Leiden dating back to 1809. It's the perfect spot for a Belgian beer on a winter's day. Similar to fighting for a sunbed abroad, finding a terrace for drinks in the summer is a challenge. Directly on the Rhine river, Annie's is the best spot in town for a typical Dutch al fresco aperitif, known as a borrel. Sample a famous bitterballen consisting of, you guessed it, deep fried meat, accompanied with mustard and a "fluitje" of beer.
Not exactly Dutch, but as a diehard pastry connoisseur, it is my culinary duty to recommend the almond croissant from the authentic French bakery, Mamie Gourmande.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Leiden’s role in history?
The Young Rembrandt Studio. The eight-minute interactive video will bring you back in time to the exact room where Rembrandt acquired his artistic knowledge. Two minutes up the road on Lokhorststraat, you will see the prestigious Latin school where he went. The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is another interesting historical place to visit. See where the Pilgrim Fathers in the US originated from in Leiden.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Leiden?
Cheese – young, old and all that’s in between – Lekker!
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