Leiden is a great place to live for a lot of reasons. It is picturesque, with cute small streets and old shop fronts, a moat-like canal around the center and several waterways passing through the middle, plus city gates, a castle fortification, and windmills. The residents represent a nice blend of university students and families, professionals and retirees, and the population is big enough to support a big market and several “high street” and specialty shops while not feeling over-crowded. Its location is also advantageous: Leiden is attractively positioned between Amsterdam, the Hague, and the sea. And the history of Leiden is also interesting, being one of the oldest university towns in Europe. Due to the great intellectual start of this city, it is also home to several of Holland’s finest museums.
Naturalis, the National Museum of Natural History. This is one of my favorite museums in the world. It also boasts what must be one of the greatest museum bookshops around. We try to go here at least once a year, usually to catch a temporary exhibit before it’s finished. The current temporary exhibit is “Creepy Crawly – you are never alone”.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, the National Museum of Antiquities. This fine museum has a large collection of objects from the Netherlands, Egypt, the Near East and classical antiquity. The most amazing piece has to be the complete Egyptian temple from Taffeh located in the entrance hall.
Museum Boerhaave, the National Museum of the History of Science and Medicine. This museum houses a fascinating and sometimes gruesome collection of medical instruments and oddities. The developments made by Dutch scientists and researchers are particularly noted. Of particular note to my dad would be the fine collection of Leiden jars.
Hortus Botanicus Leiden, a botanical garden. This collection, part of the University of Leiden, has been around for over 400 years. Every summer the Hortus Botanicus hosts a bee-fair and cactus market.
Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, the National Museum of Ethnology. This museum began as a collection of Chinese artifacts brought to Holland in the early 1800’s. Today the museum houses a great collection of ethnographic items from all over the world. A current, temporary exhibit focuses on Australia.
Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, the Municipal Museum of Leiden. The regular collection is presented in a well-organized display. A current, temporary exhibit chronicles the history of the city theatre in Leiden, which celebrates 300 years of existence in 2005. It is the oldest city theatre in the Netherlands. A collection of masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam is also on display at de Lakenhal, a temporary housing for the paintings during restoration work at the Rijksmuseum.
In addition to these major museums, Leiden is also home to these:
Sieboldhuis, a Japanese Cultural Center.
Stedelijk Molenmuseum de Valk, the Municipal Windmill Museum “de Valk”.
Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. Did you know that the Pilgrims lived in Leiden before sailing to America on the Mayflower?