Once full of cattle and sheep for sale, this pretty square overlooking a canal is now the starting point for canal boat cruises and a great spot for morning coffee.
Visit Leiden’s historic central square, Beestenmarkt, an unusual triangle-shaped area which was once the town’s cattle market. During the 16th to 20th centuries, cattle and other livestock were brought here to sell. Leiden is at the heart of farming lands, so it was and remains a place for farmers to come to trade and buy. The bell hanging in the square was originally the signal to begin the cattle market.
These days the square is a lot quieter without the sounds of animals. It is a relaxing spot to come for views of the water of the Oude Vest canal. Let your kids scamper through the many splashing streams of the fountain at the center of the square.
On sunny days the area surrounding the square is a great place to enjoy al fresco dining. Try some puffy baked Dutch pancakes in the pancake house. Have a delicious snack of a crispy, sweet-filled stroopwafel with a tiramisu-flavored coffee at a café in the square.
Catch a movie at the Lido cinema or dine at the Surinamese or Sumatran restaurants for fantastic South American and Indonesian flavors. Occasionally you’ll find markets, culinary fairs and live music held in the square.
Very close to the Beestenmarkt is an old bridge-keeper’s house on the bridge over the canal. Here you can rent a boat to take a self-guided tour of the town’s canals or go on a guided tour of Leiden’s best sights as well as the lakes of Kagerplassen to the northeast. These picturesque lakes are the perfect spot to picnic or fish.
The Beestenmarkt is a short walk from the National Museum of Ethnology and Molen De Valk Museum with its old-fashioned windmill. Walk to the other side of the canal for an iconic photo of the Dutch row houses with the windmill in the background and reflections in the still waters of the canal.