06 February 2011

Amsterdam vs. Leiden

2011 marks the start of my fifth year in Leiden. Since I spent a little more than five years in Amsterdam before moving here, it seems fitting to write a post comparing life experiences in the two cities.

Getting around
In 2001, moving to Amsterdam from the Midwest was a huge culture shock in terms of transportation. I went from a car-loving culture to remastering the art of bike riding. Once I got over the frequent crashes, I loved the freedom of biking instead of driving. And Amsterdam was the perfect size to get around on two wheels. Healthy, environmentally friendly, and fast - what a winning combination!

In Leiden, the bikes are plentiful. But since we live smack dab in the center of a rather small village, I've discovered a new, even more convenient way to get around: walking! Like Amsterdam, everything is within 15 minutes from my front door, but now I just have to put on a pair of shoes and pop an umbrella in my purse. Sometimes I think I've been ruined for life in many places - especially if I insist on having everything within easy reach of home. Both cities provide a great quality of life. No getting behind the wheel every time I need anything.

The tourists
I adore Amsterdam and always will. But I still grit my teeth when I remember the hoards of tourists that flooded its streets, especially in the summer. Fair weather days were an exercise in dodging map-toting individuals unfamiliar with the meaning of bike lanes. Even worse were the groups that hopped on rental bikes and clogged the roads with their rusty peddling skills.

Leiden, I dare to argue, is just as beautiful as Amsterdam, but is strangely almost tourist free. I'm not sure how this charming city has stayed off the mainstream tourist circuit, but thus far it has.

Cultural offerings
Amsterdam wins in terms of quantity of museums. World-famous offerings like the Anne Frank Huis and the Van Gogh Museum in a relatively short distance from each other? You can't beat that. I'm also a regular visitor to Amsterdam for English-language cultural events, like through the John Adams Institute.

Leiden does have its share of noteworthy museums, and even more than Amsterdam is a city structured around its world-famous university. The city is less international (though still very much so) and the expat community is thriving, but I do miss having a plethora of options like I had in Amsterdam. Not to mention a little more English in the air.

Both cities are build around gorgeous canals, allowing for breathtaking scenery all year round and the option of boating through the city when the weather allows. I will admit the bar and restaurant scene is far superior in Amsterdam, though Leiden boasts its share of visit-worthy gastronomy. And nothing can beat the cosmopolitan vibe of Amsterdam. But it is just a half-hour train ride from Leiden. I may have found the best of both worlds.


  1. Gorgeous photos!

    Much as I love visiting Amsterdam, I'm not sure I would handle living in such a crowded city and the tourists drive me crazy whenever I visit. I just have to think back to the days when I was a tourist here myself and didn't know which way to look when crossing the road and was walking against the foot traffic on the Kalverstraat.

    I think you're right in having found the best of both worlds. Almere's certainly not as lovely as Leiden, but it has everything a person could need, and is only half an hour from the centre of Amsterdam, so I'm happy.

  2. Thanks, MissNeriss! Amsterdam is really overwhelming as a tourist. I remember my first few days in the city when I came over - sometimes I just wanted to curl into the fetal position! It is a nice country, huh?

  3. i saw your article on Expatica and came over, i lived in Bussum for 3 years too(from Chicago) and its weird that you get annoyed by the tourists who don't yet know the rules: bike lanes etc when you used to be one of them lol, its frustrating but its also funny, just point them in the right direction and move on! Just keep in mind that those newbies do read Expatica and its probably unwelcoming (for some)to read that locals are gritting their teeth at you because you didn't hop off the plane fluent in straats and bike pedaling..all in all good blog

  4. When people ask what has been my favorite place in Europe, I answer Leiden. Like a little jewel box, this city opens for me. Biking to Leiden on market day and spending the afternoon looking in shop windows or drinking a canal side coffee is about as close to bliss as I can imagine. You have chosen your home city well.

  5. I miss Leiden! :)