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Sunday

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore

If you love the atmosphere of a university town such as Oxford or Cambridge, then you are going to love Leiden. Hand-painted onto walls all over the city are over a hundred poems in different languages, by different celebrated writers. There are museums and coffee shops, glimpses of old alms houses, cobbles, historic buildings and lots of bicycles. Read on as I share our highlights of what to see, where to eat breakfast, lunch and fine dine, as well as a really immersive place to stay.


Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac


Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
De Valk windmill museum, Leiden

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Oude Singel, Leiden



The Wall Poems of Leiden


There are in fact 120 poems the walls of Leiden. Chosen with care, the list includes writers such as Shakespeare, Sappho and Cavafy. To accompany these fabulous poems is a great website that provides an interpretation of each poem, a version in Dutch and some context. From the commemorative to the prosaic, and from the philosophic to typographic, all information is recorded and given equal weight. On Krimmena by Cavafy, the website says, "since 1994, this wall poem can be found on Turfmarkt, on the corner of Caeciliastraat. In 2003, the TEGEN-BEELD Foundation organized a night of poetry surrounding Cavafy. On a summer night, several Dutch writers, booksellers, students, musicians and other enthusiasts from Leiden recited all his 154 published poems. In honor of this occasion a booklet on Cavafy was published." The website immeasurably adds to the enjoyment of each poem, so make sure you don't miss out at muurgedichten.

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Wall poems of Leiden


The Dutch Alms-houses


Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Inner courtyard in a Dutch alms-house

It feels deeply humbling to see how the Dutch developed such a strong tradition of supporting the vulnerable in their community. Alms houses were built around secluded courtyards from money bequeathed by wealthy benefactors. Still in good condition we peeked into idyllic looking courtyards built for widows, spinsters and the elderly. One such benefactor was Eva van Hoogeveenshofje who founded an alms house in 1650. Eva was described as a chaste virgin and the elderly women who lived there were obliged to wash themselves at least once a month. There are over 38 of these communities across the city and at one we saw into where an old magnolia tree was in full bloom we discovered it had been lived in by John Robinson before he set sail for America as one of the Pilgrim Fathers. As the sun beamed down, the garden was so peaceful it was difficult to leave. 

Breakfast - Lavendi Coffee


Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Flat white at Lavendi Coffee

Check out this cool little coffee shop, perfect for a quiet breakfast and not far from the railway station. The interior was all rose gold and teal, a perfect match with my wallet, which fitted right in to the colour scheme. I had the acai bowl of berries, banana and nuts, a sweet, cold and crunchy mix to start the day. If we had stayed in Leiden longer I'd really liked to have gone back as it tasted so good. M had the bacon and egg waffle, which we thought would be served as a waffle with an egg and bacon on top, but it turned out that these ingredients were cooked in the waffle and was very tasty. Along with our hot drinks were little biscuits on the side, we came across this wherever we stopped for coffee in Leiden, a custom that we quickly got used to. Up at the window young Leideners were sharing big slices of cake, while outside a steady stream of bicycles whirled past.

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Acai bowl at Lavendi Coffee

Lavendi Coffee - Steenstraat 12, 2312 BW Leiden


Bicycles were everywhere in Leiden. Wherever you go, cyclists will be nearby rattling over the cobbles. There was also a discernible lack of car traffic. Despite the lack of cars in the centre there was still a sense of constant motion. Students, mamas with little ones, older people, children, parents, men, women, no helmets, hands free, and some plugged into phones. There seemed to be one speed and all complied. Bikes were parked everywhere and on the first day I knocked one, then another over, while turning down a side street. I stopped to pick them up and their limbs got tangled up. A Dutch man came to help and so did M. It was a mistake I didn't make again, but after that whenever we saw a fallen bike, I was told that I must have been there already.

Coffee and brownies - Brownies and Downies by Cook and Boon

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Brownies and Downies, Leiden

This Dutch tradition of giving has now manifested itself in a new way, equally heartening. On our last day we found a cafe with a huge window at the back that looked out on to an old church. The front faced the main canal and inside was an old fireplace, high ceilings and a bright, light interior. It was a perfect place to stop for a pick-me-up. Brownies and Downies was established to provide supported work for young adults with downs syndrome and literature in the cafe explained how the business operated. On the menu were coffees, lunch options and a long list of brownies. M and I have a great, naturally-given way of confusing anyone who tries to serve us. We can make the simplest thing confusing, we don't mean to, we can't help ourselves and of course we did so on this occasion as well. Our server, was left so confused by his daft English speaking pair of tourists that he pulled out a chair and sat down so that he could work out our order. We wanted coffee and a brownie to share. A lady came over, and, in Dutch, explained that he needed to stand for taking the order. The order he had taken was correct and we felt bad for being a nuisance although I doubt that'll stop us. The coffees arrived on a tray with handles, the presentation was very appealing and was a really great way to carry orders to tables. Their concept is brilliant and from starting in 2010, they now have 53 locations in 3 countries. The brownie was really good too.

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Brownie and coffee at Brownies and Downies


Brownies and Downies by Cook and Boon - Aalmarkt 11, 2311 EC Leiden

Lunch and relax - Hortus Botanicus

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Hortus Cafe, Leiden

Home to the first tulip in Western Europe, the grounds and buildings of the University of Leiden were delightful to explore. The Hortus Botanicus gardens were full of learning, with boards explaining what plants were in the beds, bees swarmed outside their traditional skeps, tai chi was in mid flow and alongside the garden, the river flowed past. We didn't make it as far as the old observatory or have lunch in the Hortus Grand cafe but both looked worth a return visit. The cafe served freshly baked bread, prepared in a traditional way, Leiden farmer's cheese and lots of fresh veg. In construction was a new state of the art glass house, a visible sign of this university's ongoing relevance. In the entrance we found busts to prominent men and women associated with the University's long 400 year old history. Former alumni include such names as Albert Einstein, Rene Descartes and the Dutch royal family.

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
The Highlands Church from the old fort

The old fort - De Burcht


Climb a little man-made hill and you'll soon reach the old fort in the centre of Leiden. Rising above the other buildings we could see the Stadhuis, City Hall and one of the impressive kerks, Hooglandse kerk. The Highlands Church, built in the 14th century was emptied of its art by Calvinist iconoclasm, in the summer of 1566. Despite a brave attempt by Leiden's mayor to stop the crowds at the door, the interior furnishings, artworks and archives were almost entirely destroyed. In 1572, the Hooglandse Kerk officially became Protestant. During the siege of the city by Spain in 1574, in which Leiden emerged victorious, the church was used for grain storage. After World War II major restoration was required, which took a long time to complete. From 1952 to 1972 locals had to look at two decades of scaffolding.

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
The City Gate

 The City gate - Morspoort


The Morspoort, is one of the two remaining Medieval gates into Leiden. located on the western edge of the city. Visitors who entered the city via this gate would have seen the bodies of hanged criminals on display here. The name ‘Mors’ comes from the word ‘morass’ describing the western part of Leiden, which used to be a marshy meadow. The Morspoort was completed in 1611 and topped with a decorative cupola. The gate was manned by city guards as the gate formed part of the city’s defensive walls and the cupola also served as a prison for some time.

Drinking Beer canal side

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Canal side bar, Leiden

Sitting canal side on a sunny afternoon is a great way to relax and take in the scenery. It's a popular pastime but it still felt peaceful, possibly in part due to the lack of cars. While the sun was out I tried a Grimbergen lager, a Danish beer from a recipe that dates back to 1128, which had a good malty flavour.

Science Museum


The outside of this building features a striking Red Man 35-meter structure made of rusted Cortent steel and sits – one half indoors and the other outside of the Congress building. It was designed ten years ago to house the corpus experience, an adventure through the body, by Dutch entrepreneur Henri Remmers.


Eat Brunch, Lunch and Dinner - Lot en de Walvis

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Chai Latte at Lot en de Walvis

Harbour side and full of 70s retro charm, Lot is part of the slow food movement. We were served chai latte in big fish bowl glasses containing liquorice twigs. There is outside eating and a large interior with different sections. We sat at a long table and from where I was sitting I could see a guitar nonchalantly resting against the opposite wall. On a raised lounge area was a tattered leather couch and on the wall was a dark sheepskin rug.

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Lot en de Walvis, Leiden

Lot en de Walvis - Haven 1, 2312 MG Leiden

Fine Dining - The Bishop

Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
The Bishop, Leiden

While in Leiden fine dine at the Bishop. We stopped off without booking and were happy to sit downstairs opposite the open and bustling kitchen, but it's upstairs where you want to go with its vaulted ceiling, carved-wooden pillars and snug booths. Our fine dining experience was full of interesting combinations such as a dessert featuring sweetcorn. I'm not sure I had the best meal ever but with a packed dining hall upstairs, I'm sure if I went back and had different options I would be raving about it.

The Bishop - Middelweg 7-9, Leiden

Stay at the Huys Van Leyden 


Leiden Loves - Stay, Eat and Explore - photos by modernbricabrac
Huys van Leyden, Leiden

Our first floor room in an old merchant's house built in 1611 had the wow factor. Overlooking the canal and painted in dark green it had two tall windows, a ceiling with an elaborate cornice over the beams and a glass chandelier with candlesticks. Filtered light poured in through the sheer curtains, making long strips of sunlight settle along the floor. A grand dark wood wardrobe stood against the opposite wall with decorative carving on the top. Above the bed was a stylish curtain-sashed headboard. Simple white orchids and an ornate gilded clock adorned the mantelpiece. It's the nearest I'll come to finding out what it was like to live like Nella in The Miniaturist and it was such a special treat to stay there.

Huys Van Leyden - Oude Singel 212, 2312 RJ Leiden


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