When I got to choose a university, I really wanted to go to Leiden. Not only because I was interested in the courses I would be able to follow here, but also because I really like the city. To me, it has all the great things big Dutch cities have to offer: the historical city centre, the beautiful canals, culture, but because it’s still a relatively small city everything is much closer than in a big city like Amsterdam.
As a university town, Leiden has a long bookish history. From bookshops to libraries, from publishers to writers: everybody wanted to be in Leiden. Luckily, you can still visit a lot of these places.
University libraries -Witte Singel 27
Because of its long history and its many faculties, the university of Leiden has multiple locations to visit if you’re interested in university libraries. I suggest these three places: the old library, the new library and the library of the faculty of Law. The old library is located at Rapenburg 70, one of the most beautiful canals Leiden has to offer. It is no longer in use as a library, but if you visit the building you can still see traces of it. Often there’s a little exposition showing the history of the building and other people are always very glad to tell you about when it still was a library. If you walk down the street you stumble upon the building of the faculty of Law, one of the prettiest buildings the university of Leiden owns (and definitely the prettiest faculty). In this building you can find the juridical library in a beautiful hall, modern, but with respect for the old building. The last university library I would recommend the new University library at the Witte Singel. Although the building isn’t according to everyone’s taste, the collection is incredible. When you enter the library, there’s always a little exposition to your right, about a small part of the collection. If you want to visit the rest of the library, you can buy a visitors pass. Once you’re inside, make sure you visit the special collections hall: not only can you find some great old books here, but it’s also full of bookhistorical books! This is a great place to study for that one paper on the library of Sir Phillips, or on some shady publishers.
Templum Salomonis/Burgersdijk & Niermans – Nieuwsteeg 1
This wonderful bookstore at Nieuwsteeg 1 is one of my favourites. I just can’t enter it without buying a book. They specialise in classics and ancient history and also provide the books for those who study Greek and Latin Language and Culture. The building has always been a bookish place. First it was a library. Then it was owned by a book printer. The current owners honour this tradition by keeping the sign saying ‘Templum Salomonis’, a reference to the temple of wise King Salomon.
Silvester – Rapenburg 17
This bookstore specialises in children’s books and started out with an anthroposophical philosophy, and although you can still buy some anthroposophical books here they shifted their focus to all kinds of quality children’s books. It’s the perfect place to buy a gift for a child’s birthday (or just for you!). They also sell the best postcards!
Bibliotheca Thysiana – Rapenburg 25
Although it’s officially part of the university now, I choose not to include this library with those of the university. This because the Bibliotheca Thysiana (the library of Joannes Thysius) started as a private library in the 17th century. At this wonderful museum you can find a real Bleau Atlas and a working book wheel. You have to make a reservation to visit this museum, but it’s absolutely worth it!
Atleest – Kort Rapenburg 12a
This bookstore specialises in ancient culture and mostly offers books on ancient Egypt. Not only is this a great store if you’re interested in this subject, there’s also cats. The owner has multiple cats and they’re just walking around, lying on the books, climbing the bookcases. This might not be the best store to buy a book for someone who’s allergic.
Mayflower bookshop – Breestraat 142
The back of this second hand bookshop is really all you want from a second hand bookshop. Piles of books everywhere, unorganised, but always a great collection! I’m not a big fan of the service (they were often quite lazy when I visited), but the prices are good and the books are old!
If you’re also interested in publishers, printers and more, Leiden has a lot to offer. Too much for me to tell you on this blog. If you want to do a big bookish tour in Leiden, I recommend buying Langs Leidse letters, a small book telling you all about the bookish history of Leiden. Although I think it’s only available in Dutch, all the addresses are clearly labelled and there’s a lot of pictures, so I think most people who don’t speak Dutch can still use it.