Biking to Leiden

Examining sophisticated bicycle infrastructure

Today began with an approximately 8-mile bike ride to Leiden from The Student Hotel in The Hague. Although biking with a group of 26 is never easy, the sophisticated bicycle infrastructure of The Netherlands made the trip very enjoyable. Compared to the intense biking from the day before, this was a relaxed ride. We decided to stop at the Castle Duivenvoorde, built in 1226, along the way. Although it was not as large as stereotypical European castles, it was worth seeing. A moat in the form of a gentle river surrounded the base of the structure. Surprisingly, this castle has been owned by the same family for its entire history. We kept our tour of the outside brief so as not to disturb the family currently living inside.

Castle Duivenvoorde hs stayed in the same family since its construction in 1226. In fact, the ancestors of the original owners still live there today.

After walking the grounds of the castle for a while, we made our way back to the ‘bicycle highway’ that connects Leiden to The Hague. These roads typically run through wilderness areas and are safely removed from the busy highways that allow cars and trucks. Throughout the whole ride, we passed several people walking, a few horses, and only one car. Even with us being right outside of one of the most urbanized areas of The Netherlands, it felt as though we were deep in a secluded forest. It wasn’t until we were very close to the Central Station of Leiden that we emerged into an urban environment.

“Bike highways” connect metropolitan regions through scenic trails in the wilderness. This is the trail that connects The Hague to Leiden.

Before reaching the city center, we passed a sculpture honoring the life of Rembrandt van Rijn. Born in Leiden, Rembrandt grew up in a house close to the sculpture. He eventually moved to Amsterdam so he could sell his world-famous paintings for better prices. Citizens of Leiden are still proud to claim Rembrandt as theirs, and even boast a museum including many of his most renowned works. However, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam holds the majority of Rembrandts’ paintings today.

A statue honors the famous painter Rembrandt in a square near his birth home in Leiden. He later moved to Amsterdam to increase the size of his market.

Finally, we reached the center of Leiden. Like most Dutch cities, the Central Train Station marks the hub of life in the city. We parked our bicycles in an underground parking garage with the capacity to house over 20,000 bikes in racks and lock-stations. Then, it was time to roam the city. We spent most of the day exploring a festival, restaurants, and the local castle. Although we never discovered the purpose of the large festival, we were all excited to receive free snacks and drinks. The city is full of delicious restaurants ranging from authentic Italian to true Dutch cuisine. The castle provided a stunning view of the city from its vantage point on a hill. Most European castles are constructed on hills or mountains for defensive reasons.

The train station in Leiden includes a large underground bicycle station. This one can support over 2,000 bicycles at once!

Other students spent their free time eating their way through an open-air market, investigating the two main churches in Leiden, or watching a rowing race in the canals of the city. The market offered everything from fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers to traditional sweet treats like Stroop waffles, all at a great price. Even meats like sausage and chicken were sold in cooked and raw forms. Unfortunately, one of the churches was closed due to a wedding, but it was still amazing to admire it from the outside. Some students were even lucky enough to witness an intense race between several teams of rowers in the canals that connect parts of the city.

Students look on as rowers race in the canals of Leiden. Canals are a common sight in Dutch cities and are often used for recreation.
One of the churches in Leiden dominates the skyline from the castle in the city center. The second major church in Leiden is just out of frame to the left.

After a long day of exploring the city of Leiden in smaller groups, we reconvened in front of the bicycle parking garage. Professor Rademaker led us back to The Hague via an alternate route along a canal. Although this route was much less wooded and included more homes, it was nice to see the water. We covered the 8 miles between us and the hotel faster than expected and could leave for dinner once we returned. It was nice to have a more laid-back day to explore a new city while still getting to learn about and experience the incredibly organized and user-friendly bicycle infrastructure of The Netherlands.

-Jed Higdon