We have to admit that we have never explored Leiden as thorough as a tourist would, despite the fact that we lived here for over three years. So time to act the tourist and discover the beautiful gems of Leiden. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we decided to start our quest of finding all of the 35 courtyards of Leiden.
In the past three years, we never even stumbled on one of those 35 courtyards, which are therefore proven to be hidden. We decided not to roll the dice (what is normally our course of action), which would probably have resulted in a hike of a couple of days. Therefore, we went to the Tourist Office of Leiden where we bought the ‘Hofjeswandeling’ roadmap for €3,50 (~$4,10). All the 35 courtyards of Leiden are marked in this little booklet. However, no distinct route is depicted, which is exactly what we like due to the fact that our attention span is not that great haha. Unfortunately, not all courtyards are open for the public. The courtyards which are marked with blue and white numbers are open for the public, the eight courtyards marked with red are not.
One of the special vibes of these courtyards is the ability to take the visitors back to the Middle Ages. They are a prime example of the regulation of one of earliest form of Dutch social care. The courtyards consists of cute little houses with a shared garden and were build on leftover plots. These small houses were destined for the elderly, who were usually poor. They received social benefits in the form of bread, meat, beer, shirts and even sometimes shoes. Opposite thereto, the residents were asked to behave properly and thankful, which is still noticeable today.
Will you hold the door?
The entrance of the courtyard is most likely also the exit, thereby contributing to an excluded and ‘private’ vibe. The entrance is usually hidden behind a massive door, which blends in with the street. If you did not know there was a courtyard behind the door, you would most likely pay no attention to the door. Back in the days, these massive doors were guarded by a porter, who closed the door at a certain time. Nowadays, you do not need to ask a porter to open the door. Please keep in mind that the courtyards are still occupied and the residents love their peace and quiet.
Due to the sheer size and weight of the entrance doors, most tourists (and even the ‘ignorant’ locals) are hesitant to enter the courtyards. During our hike we came across a lot of tourists and/or locals who were not sure if they were allowed to enter the courtyards. Therefore, please keep in mind that it is open for the public but enter with respect. If you do so, you will be amazed by the oasis of peace you will enter, whilst leaving the noisy city centre behind.
The courtyard walk
So in conclusion, you can take as much time as you would like to complete the courtyard walk. We have chosen to incorporate all the courtyards available for the public in one afternoon. In our opinion, this is not too long to walk. However, keep in mind that we do know the shortcuts in the city centre. For someone new to our lovely city, the walk can take up to 5-6 hours. It is a great way to get to know this historic city! But be aware, keep your eyes open so you do not miss any hidden gems!