Day Trip to Leiden - Rijksmuseum, Hortus Botanicus & more

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali

ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO VISIT LEIDEN IN ONE DAY
to see the Byblos Exhibition at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden & then, much more!

I first heard of Leiden thanks to Leiden Copper Plates (detailed explanation on a Twitter thread). When I came to know that Leiden can be easily reached from Brussels by train, I thought, why not? So here's my day trip to Leiden from Brussels just in time to visit the Byblos exhibition at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden there. However, I did miss too much, so when you plan, ideally go on a weekend trip to Leiden, a town with a youthful vibe, thanks to Leiden University. So, read on, to know how I spent my rainy day in Leiden.

Leiden Day Trip Travel Guide
Pic Credits: Bebete Indarte found me on the streets of Leiden and asked to click my photos!

TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN LEIDEN IN ONE DAY
...wat te doen in Leiden...

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Places to visit in Leiden

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Places to visit in Leiden

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Places to visit in Leiden

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Places to visit in Leiden

RIJKSMUSEUM VAN OUDHEDEN (RMO LEIDEN) & BYBLOS EXHIBITION
 
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is one of the best museums in Leiden. It's Leiden's Art & History Museum. Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has the world's largest collection of Egyptian Mummies outside of Egypt. There's also a Roman Classical art section plus a couple of galleries for temporary expositions.
As soon as you enter, even before you go in, right there in front of the ticket office is a majestic Egyptian Temple, from Taffeh in Nubia in Southern Egypt. This was a gift from them in return for RMO's help in an excavation in the region. Earlier, there used to be a central courtyard, open to the sky, but now, a roof is in place to protect this temple!
Once in, the ground floor is entirely dedicated to Ancient Egypt. In fact, currently, a team from RMO is working at excavation sites in Sakkara. The mummies here had quite an interesting display with the sarcophagi on one side and the actual mummies themselves on the inner side. It was amazing to see the painted or bead-worked, wraps on the mummies. One of them was so close to reality and to understand that's almost how the man would have looked like, in real-life, several centuries ago is mind-blowing. With modern technology, it was possible to dissect the mummies without physically cutting them, but by scanning them. The most astonishing scan was of an Egyptian mummy of a crocodile which was actually 2 crocodiles and a bunch, like 100s of baby crocodiles around! Were they sacrifices to the Gods? Maybe!

BYBLOS EXHIBITION at RIJKSMUSEUM VAN OUDHEDEN
The most interesting temporary exhibition at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is the Byblos currently happening till Mar 2023.
About Byblos, the ancient city: Byblos is located in today's Jbeil, very close to Beirut, Lebanon. Since it was on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, it was easily accessible from Egypt, Greece as well as Iran & Turkey by land, making it a beautiful blend of Egyptian, Greek, Roman & Mesopotamian civilizations! Byblos has been inhabited continuously since 6500 BCE. By 3500 BCE it rose to prominence and became the main port of the Mediterranean Sea and continued to be so for the next 2000 years! For reference, it was around 2500 BCE when the Great Pyramid of Sphinx was built when the Old Kingdom of Egypt was at its peak. Byblos is the oldest port city in the world! 
The main trade of the region was Cedarwood which was sold around the region for construction purposes. Plus it received precious stones, gold, linen, and ivory as a transaction fee for being a port that transported silver, wine, oil, etc. Today, the ancient city of Byblos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Why is the city called Byblos? Being a port city, multiple languages were used here and both Egyptian & Mesopotamian scripts were used. The city had its own Byblos Script, which is sadly, yet to be deciphered. The original name of the city is Gubla from which its current name Jbeil, in Arabic, was derived. The name Byblos came into existence only in the 4th C CE, from the Greek word for papyrus 'byblos'. Papyrus plant was also probably traded through Byblos port. 
How to pronounce Byblos? When I first read Byblos, I thought that the first syllable is pronounced rhyming to 'my', but no. Biblos has 2 syllables - Bib+los. Bib sounds the same as the word 'bib' itself, rhyming with 'nib', 'rib'; 'los' rhymes with 'moss', 'boss' etc.  

Rijksmuseum Leiden Byblos

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Leiden Byblos Exhibition

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Leiden Byblos Exhibition

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Leiden Byblos Exhibition

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Leiden Byblos Exhibition

About Byblos, the exhibition at RMO: The Byblos exhibition in Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is extensive with a mix of objects excavated at Byblos, digital boards, and a pop-up-book-styled display. The artifacts on display are here from the National Museum of Beirut, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and, of course, the British Museum! There are also a couple of artifacts from the Art & History Museum in Brussels and Pergamonmuseum at the Museumsinsel Berlin.
The exhibition begins with a short history of the ancient city of Byblos followed by various pottery shards. Apart from using pottery in daily life and business (to transport wine, grains, etc) like the ancient Greeks & Egyptians, of course, the people of Byblos also believed in the afterlife and had pottery buried to be used in their afterlife.
The exhibition then moves to Religion - the most important goddess, the Lady of Byblos, who is identified as Hathor, one of the Gods in the Pantheon of Egyptian Gods. Byblos is the only city that has its own God. Many a time, the kings of Byblos begin their letter to the pharaohs, with something like 'May the Lady of Byblos protect you', which is considered impossible for the governor/mayor of any other city to do!
Stones, which were pieces of the Obelisk Temple of Byblos are on display here, which reminded me much of the megalithic temples of Malta. More than 3000 small objects were excavated here, probably given to the temple as offerings; varying from figurines to jewelry to weapons. One of the most commonly found ones is of a standing man, wearing conical head gear, holding up one arm and holding out the other. There are numerous of these, in various sizes and materials! 
Another one of the most intriguing ones is the 'Lion Man' which is the logo of the exhibition, it was pretty tiny which I absolutely didn't expect it to be! It is believed to represent Egyptian God Bes or Mesapatomian God Ugallu but made locally in Byblos. 
The beads & jewelry of Byblos are so fascinating, which I'd say is perfect to wear even today, with contemporary clothes! One of them is a necklace that represents the King of Byblos like a Pharoah!!! There's a section of the exhibition dedicated to Byblos Script and another to Cedarwood. There's a piece of Cedarwood tree that is 120 years old (if you have kids with you, you can keep them busy by telling them to find its age by counting its annual rings)!
The exhibition ends with the fall of Byblos from being the primary harbor city of the region, in the Hellenistic period (300 BCE - 30 CE). By this time, Byblos becomes more of a pilgrimage site, as a holy city, associated with Adonis, the mortal lover of Aphrodite! It is believed that Adonis would stay in the hills of Byblos in Spring & Summer every year and go to Aphrodite in Autumn & Winter.

Where is Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden (on Google Maps)National Museum of Antiquities
How to reach Rijksmuseum van Oudheden LeidenRijksmuseum van Oudheden is located about 1km (11 mins walk) from the Leiden Central Railway Station
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden Tickets: €14 (incl. in Museumkaart)
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden Timings: 10:00AM to 05:00PM everyday

Dates of Byblos Exhibition of Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden: till Mar 2023
Byblos Exhibition tickets at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden? Free. Included in museum ticket.
Byblos Exhibition audio tour at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden: Free. Available in English too.

Hortus Botanicus Leiden Botanical Gardens

Hortus Botanicus Leiden Botanical Gardens

Hortus Botanicus Leiden Botanical Gardens

Hortus Botanicus Leiden Botanical Gardens

Hortus Botanicus Leiden Botanical Gardens

HORTUS BOTANICUS - LEIDEN BOTANICAL GARDENS 
 
It was pretty rainy the day I visited Leiden and when I entered Hortus Botanicus, it was raining pretty well. It was a bit confusing, first of all, because you actually enter through a part of the Leiden University campus to access the Botanical Gardens. 
As you get through the ticket office, in the same building, on the upper floors are the Winter Gardens. The most awesome thing here was the carnivorous plants' section filled with venus flytraps, pitcher plants & more. Many of the venus fly traps, actually had a dead fly in them!!! After this, the visit continues outside. From there, I walked to the Tropical greenhouses and Victoria House. There are quite a few climatic regions in the glasshouse that host quite a few unusual plants including Titan Arum and Victoria Lily etc. Again outside, there are quite a few types of gardens like Rose Garden, Chinese Herb Garden, Fern Garden, Vegetable Garden, Nut Field etc. Since it was raining when I visited, it was quite charming to see the drenched plants & flowers.
At just 0.3 hectares, is much smaller than Meise Plententuin in Brussels (92 hectares) or Kew Gardens in London (120 hectares), so it is much easier to quickly visit the place, and totally worth it to include Hortus Botanicus in a day trip to Leiden.

Where is Hortus Botanicus Leiden (on Google Maps)Hortus Botanicus Leiden
How to reach Hortus Botanicus LeidenHortus Botanicus Leiden is located about 1.1km (13 mins walk) from the Leiden Central Railway Station. It is located just 2 minutes walk from and just opposite to Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden
Hortus Botanicus Leiden Tickets: €8 (incl. in Museumkaart)
Hortus Botanicus Leiden Timings: 10:00AM to 06:00PM everyday (till 04:00PM in winters)

Burcht van Leiden Fortifications

Burcht van Leiden Fortifications

Burcht van Leiden Fortifications

Best places to see views of Leiden

Burcht van Leiden Fortifications

BURCHT VAN LEIDEN (LEIDEN CASTLE) & RAMPARTS (SINGEL PARK)
  
Don't miss visiting Burcht van Leiden because it is one of the free things to do in Leiden! Leiden was one of the well-fortified cities in the middle ages and it is well-understood when you look at the map of Leiden! The whole town is star-shaped with bastions all around, surrounded by a canal with the majestic motte-and-bailey castle at its center. Today almost all the fortification is gone except for the motte!
The concept of the motte-and-bailey castle is simple. The whole thing is '8' shaped with an artificial mound on the upper part 'motte', over which is the keep (watch tower); the lower part 'bailey' has everything else and there's the moat filled with water. The mound here dates back to 10th-11th C CE and the castle itself dates back to the 12th C CE. Today only portions of the central keep exist and the rest is gone. That said, today this central keep is free to enter and climb over the fortification walls which lends a fantastic view of the town of Leiden!
Leiden Fortification Walls (the medieval outer fortification walls of the city) are almost entirely gone. But the structure is visible, thanks to the star-shaped canal around it built in 1659. Though the wall is entirely gone, there are a couple of places of interest in Leiden, along this line like Zijlpoort and Austria Tower. There used to be 33 towers & I don't know how many city gates existed. Today only this tower and 2 city gates - Moorspoort & Zijlpoort exist. All of these can only been from outside & cannot be entered. This 6.5km outer canal has a walking route connecting 13 parks along the way! While you could walk, when the weather is good, you could also go on a boating tour through this outer canal of Leiden. 

Where is Burcht van Leiden (Leiden Castle) (on Google Maps)? Burcht van Leiden
How to reach Burcht van Leiden? 1.3km (15 mins walk) from Leiden Centraal railway station
Burcht van Leiden (Leiden Castle) & Ramparts Tickets? Free
Burcht van Leiden (Leiden Castle) & Ramparts Timings? 24x7, but ideally sunrise to sunset

Where is Morspoort (on Google Maps)Morschpoort
Where is Zijlpoort (on Google Maps)Zijlpoort
Where is Austria Tower (on Google Maps)Muurtoren Oostenrijk
Singel Park (outer fortification wall/ramparts) Walking Map: via Singelpark.nl (opens/downloads as PDF)

Free things to do in Leiden Ramparts

Free things to do in Leiden Zijlpoort Ramparts

Leiden Ramparts Fortifications
Pic Credits: Google Maps

Boating in Leiden

Molen de Valk Best museums to visit in Leiden

MOLEN DE VALK
 
Can you even skip a windmill when you're in the Netherlands? Like, is that even allowed? Literally, you cannot skip Molen de Valk; it is right there, hardly a 3-minutes walk from the railway station, and you'll already see it. It looks majestic, combined with its reflection on the canal beside it! 
Molen de Valk is not just a mill, but the wind-mill museum of Leiden. Molen de Valk was constructed and had been a functional mill since 1743. It changed several hands over time and functioned as a mill and a b&b(!) for tourists till the 1960s. In 1966, after the last miller died, it was taken over by the municipality and converted into a museum, and made functional again. It is possible to climb to the higher levels to see the functioning of the mill up & close which reminded me much of Bokrijk Open Air Museum in Belgium. Today it is even possible to buy flour here at the museum shop!

Where is Molen de Valk Museum Leiden (on Google Maps)?
How to reach Molen de Valk Museum Leiden? 450m (5 mins walk) from Leiden Centraal
Molen de Valk Museum Leiden Tickets: €5 (incl. in Museumkaart)
Molen de Valk Museum Leiden Timings:Tue-Sat: 10:00AM to 05:00PM; Sun: 1:00PM to 05:00PM; Closed on Mondays

LEIDEN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
  
The Leiden Copper Plates that I mentioned, are in the Asian section of the Leiden University Library. Unfortunately, the Leiden Copper Plates are not in public view and I did request for special permission to view them which was denied, mentioning that it is in a vault and taken out only on very special occasions! 
Leiden Copper Plates (called the Anaimangalam Copper Plates in India) mentions King Raja Raja Chola (10th-11th C CE) and talks about his grants & tax exemptions to build a Buddhist Vihara in Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu. This is the same Raja Raja Chola who built the Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple which is listed as one of the 3 Great Living Chola Temples listed together as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southern India. While Raja Raja Chola just gave verbal order which was written on palm leaves, his son Rajendra Chola (11th C CE) was the one who got it etched on durable copper plates, preserving it for the generations to come. This is a super heavy, 30kg weighing, 21 copper plates held together by a ring that has the seal of the Chola Dynasty! This was brought to Leiden by Florentius Camper who was in India as a part of a Christian missionary when portions of India were Dutch Colonies in 18th C CE! 

Details of Leiden Copper Plates: via Leiden University Library

Leiden Copper Plates

Leiden Copper Plates

Indian Collection in RMO Leiden

Leiden Canals

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN LEIDEN
  
Pieterskerk Leiden - Though Pieterskerk was a church, it isn't a functional one now. It is more like an exhibition hall now where events happen as well as regular organ classes happen. However, the interiors are majestic with pillars & high vaulted ceilings. But since this isn't a church anymore, it has an entry ticket of €5. 
Rembrandt Walking Route - Leiden is the birthplace of Rembrandt, one of the most important artists of Dutch Golden Age (Baroque Period). The map leads you through various places associated with Rembrandt. While the map can be bought at the VVV Leiden Tourism Office, the best option is to download the Leiden Rembrandt Walking route (via Google Play or App Store) which not only shows the places on the map but also has an Augmented Reality where a virtual city guide walks with you and explains about each & every spot. 
Corpus - Since I did not visit Leiden with Atyudarini, I chose to not go to the Corpus museum. It was totally worth a visit, esp. if you're with kids. As the name suggests, Corpus is the museum of the Human body. The best part, the building itself looks like a seated human and the interactive museum explains each & every body part as you travel within the huge human body! Pre-booking of a time-slot ticket is recommended.
Naturalis Biodiversity Center - Naturalis is the Leiden Natural History Museum. It has sections on evolution, animal life, and dinosaurs. Again, like Corpus, it is best to visit on a trip to Leiden with kids. Pre-booking of a time-slot ticket is recommended.
Corpus & Naturalis are located to the west of the railway station while the rest of the places of interest in Leiden are to the east. If you are on a Leiden trip without children, you could skip the western part of the city! With kids, dedicate a day to Naturalis and Corpus.

Saint Pieterskerk Leiden

Free things to do in Leiden

Free things to do in Leiden

Leiden on a rainy day

Rijksmuseum van Oudhaden Leiden Byblos Exhibition

IS IT WORTH VISITING LEIDEN?
It is totally worth visiting Leiden, especially if you are on a trip with children. Apart from Byblos where kids can make a pop-up diorama or get coloring pages free of cost at the end of the exhibition, there's also a kid-friendly exhibition of Tutankhamun at RMO Leiden, till Mar 2023. Apart from this, with learning how the human body works at Corpus, looking at the Dinos at the Natural sciences museum of Naturalis, seeing carnivorous plants at Hortus Botanicus, and climbing Burcht van Leiden, it is best to visit Leiden with kids.

HOW TO REACH LEIDEN
Leiden is well connected by NS trains. To go to Leiden from Brussels, you'll have to change trains at either Rotterdam or Schiphol and the whole journey takes about 2:30-3:15 hours depending on whether you're taking a Thalys/Eurostar or an IC train in the first leg of the journey. 

LEIDEN ITINERARY
Leiden in 1 day: Rijksmuseum van Oudehaden, lunch at one of the Boat Restaurants, Hortus Botanicus, Burcht van Leiden, Boating in the canals by evening.
Leiden in 2 days: Day 1 as above; Day 2 - Rembrandt Walking route or Singelpark walk, Molen de Valk, Stoomtrein Katwijk Leiden, the Leiden Weaver's House
Leiden in 2 days with kids: Day 1 as above; Day 2 - Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Corpus & Molen de Valk

Day trip to Leiden Pinterest Day trip to Leiden Pinterest

Day trip to Leiden Pinterest Day trip to Leiden Pinterest

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

7 comments:

  1. Your day trip from Brussels to Leiden looks quite exciting with a visit to the Rijksmuseum being the spotlight featuring Byblos exhibition of Egyptian mummies and artefacts. Great to learn that Byblos was one of the prominent ports for trading. The Hortus Botanicus is intriguing with it's collection of carnivorous plants. So is the grand Leiden castle with it's ramparts, the unique Molen De Valk wind mill museum and last but not the least, the Leiden copper plates with the seal of the Chola dynasty.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We have been toying with the idea of a visit to Leiden this winter. I did not know, that the Rujksmuseum has the largest collection of Egyptian mummies. Quite interesting for me, as I write guidebooks on Egypt for a German publisher. I have also travelled to Byblos in Lebanon, so the current special exhibition would be an additional draw. And finally I would love to visite the Franz Siebold museum there. Franz Siebold was a German doctor who worked for the Dutch East India Company in Japan.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It sounds like the perfect way to spend a rainy day. I love visiting museums when travelling especially when the weather isn't cooperating or a I needs some downtime. There's just something about slowly working your way through muesums that is relaxing. However, what I would be most intersted in is the botanical garden. That's where I would head to first. I haven't heard of Leiden, or this museum, thanks for introducing me to it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! I had no idea there is so much to see and do in Leiden. We'd love to visit Rijksmuseum. We are huge fans of ancient Egypt so, this is going to be a treat. Thank you for sharing this. The Hortus Botanicus is equally interesting too!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is fascinating to know that the Rijksmuseum museum collection of Egyptian Mummies out side of Egypt. It must be done carefully transport them there. I would love to visit it and see them. Another place that I would love to visit is the fortified city of Burcht van Leiden. It is well designed and would be an interesting take in person.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It was interesting to read that you would suggest a weekend visit to Leiden. Since I know nothing about Leiden, I had to check out your post and see what there was to see and do. We would definitely check out the ramparts and learn more about the history of this place. And head out to see the windmill. Museums are always a big draw at any time of the year. Definitely a spot to visit by train from Brussels when we finally get there.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rijksmuseum is one of the museums on my dream list. But I had no time to visit Leiden yet. I want to visit it as it has the world's largest collection of Egyptian Mummies outside of Egypt. And I'm interested in Egipt history. Great to know that there are also temporary exhibits. I add to my list also Botanical Gardens as they look truly impressive. And I would love to see Leiden Castle, whit it's old walls and those fall colors. It's great that you provide prices and opening hours!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for visiting...! Why not leave a comment.? And tell your friends..!!!
By commenting you accept to our GDPR Policy.