If you’re a friend of mine, and you’re visiting from afar, your chances of being dragged to a botanical garden while we’re bunking together are pretty high.
Some of your other friends might like to show you around by taking you to cool underground clubs or restaurants whose names consist of some clever culinary pun.
I, on the other hand, will drag you through green houses and palm houses and a rose garden or two. Trust me, it’s for your own good.
And if you do visit me in the Netherlands, chances are pretty high that I’ll take you to Leiden Botanical Garden. But if you find yourself in this country without a friend like me to initiate the journey, I’ll generously provide you with a few reasons to visit this garden anyway.
Seriously, don’t be one of those people who experience the Dutch way of life only by elbowing other tourists on the packed streets of Amsterdam. Leiden is only 30 minutes away by train, and I guarantee visiting this city will be as rewarding as visiting Amsterdam. Maybe even more. (Gasp!)
3 things you should KNOW about Leiden Botanical Garden
+ It’s the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, and one of the oldest in the world. It was officially established in 1590.
+ It started very very small, a very long time ago. The original set up was about 35 by 40 meters, but it contained more than 1000 different plants.
+ Botanist Carolus Clusius, whose statue you’ll see at the entrance, was one of the first people to introduce the tulip bulb to the Netherlands, laying the foundations of the Dutch tulip bulb industry.
3 things you should LOOK FOR in Leiden Botanical Garden
+ Look for the giant water lily, Victoria amazonica, in one of the glasshouses. The imposing leaves sit like giant flat cauldrons on the surface of the water. Don’t give into the temptation to see if they hold your weight.
+ Look for the vegetable garden in the back. It’s looks a bit unruly, but also deliciously fresh.
+ Look for the little free library (also in the back), where you can pick up a book to read while you’re lounging in the sun or hiding in the shade of the fern garden.
+ Bonus! Please look for this spiky guy with the awesome hat, and say hi from me when you find it.
3 things you should DO in Leiden Botanical Garden
+ Buy a blend of the teas mixed in-house. Consumables are the best souvenirs, and the tea blends that they have in the gift shop are delicious whether you prepare them hot (with a drop of honey) or cold (with a squeeze of orange and some ice). My personal favorite is Hortus Royal (a blend of white tea, green tea, verbena, berries, rose blossoms and sunflower blossoms).
+ Have carrot cake at the museum cafe. You can wash down this scrumptious cake with strawberry lemonade in the summer. Depending on what part of the city you’re coming from, you can even enter through the cafe.
+ Rest on a bench along the path that leads to the Observatory. It’s quiet and you can watch the stream of boats along the canal.
3 things to BRING WITH YOU to Leiden Botanical Garden
+ Bring a picnic. There are benches all throughout the garden, and you can also sit on the lawn.
+ Bring a MuseumKaart, a Holland pass, or a student ID card. You’ll get a discount or free admission.
+ Bring sunscreen if you’re visiting in the summer. Because we’re talking about Dutch summer here, I’d also recommend an umbrella. But there’s always the refuge of the greenhouses if you get caught in the rain.
Bonus! Bring some cat food. There are a few garden cats roaming around. Super friendly buggers, and they love treats.
You can learn more about current opening hours and admission on the Hortus Botanicus website (in English).
All photos by Mickey Gast
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