A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
The picturesque canals and narrow merchant houses that characterize Leiden have always made me think of it as a sort of mini-Amsterdam, just a lot less crowded and smaller in scale. Throughout your time at university here, you’ll no doubt be making many, many trips to the hip and crazy capital of the Netherlands which is only about a half hour train ride away from Leiden. When thinking about Amsterdam, the red light district and coffeeshops immediately spring to mind, and the cannabis starter cans, hemp leaf key rings and boob-shaped tea mugs that are sold in the numerous souvenir shops dotted around the somewhat grubby central district may not really change your first impression of the city’s image. But there is so much more to Amsterdam than sex and weed. For us students, it is the place to go to soak in the occasional breeze of big city life, and to take our friends and family from abroad when they come and visit. It is a vibrant place that always has something going on, be it an open air music festival, a mass pillow fight, or a giant flea market in an old factory building. Amsterdam is one of those cities that never sleeps.
Upon arriving at the Central Station from Leiden, you might well feel like a country girl/boy on your first ever visit to the city. Locals in the shape of cyclists, tram, bus, and car drivers will impatiently beep, honk and shout at you to get out of their way as you’re trying to worm your way through the madness of disorientated tourists and cobwebs of selfie sticks. Once you have reached safe haven in one of the quieter side streets though, the stream of people constantly revolving around you slowly dies down and you get to soak in the city’s beautiful architecture and relaxed atmosphere.
For those who are not just in Amsterdam to party, the city boasts with a fantastic range of museums, although you will need both time and money to spare, as queues are often excessively long and entrance fees extortionately high. Buying tickets online in advance can make your life easier, but remember you’re not the only one with that idea – booking slots to visit the Anne Frank House, for example, tend to be filled up months in advance. If you get tired of all the walking, why not rent a tandem and do a few laps of the beautiful Vondelpark and surrounding area? Do bear in mind though that while you look like an idiot trying to stay balanced and synchronize your pedaling as you navigate through the crowds, everyone’s attention will be on you – tandems are still an exotic and rare thing to see, even in the capital of cycling!
Amsterdam is a fascinating city, but after spending a long weekend in the buzzing capital, you may be glad to get back to sleepy little Leiden. The hustle and bustle of the big city with all its tourists, trams, and ruthless cyclists can really tire you out, but you will no doubt soon go back for your next Amsterdam adventure!