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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Leidseplein Square in Amsterdam

What is Leidseplein?

Leidseplein (Leiden Square in English) is the centre of Amsterdam’s nightlife, with bars, clubs, restaurants and cafés in every direction.

Aerial view of Leidseplein

Kleon3, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leidseplein History

Those who knew the tranquil Leidseplein (or Leiden Square) in years gone by would certainly not recognise the lively centre of Amsterdam’s raucous nightlife it has become today. Historically, placed as it is at the end of the Leidsestraat, it served as the end point of the journey from the city of Leiden, some 40 kilometres southwest of here. In earlier times, you would leave your horse and cart at the Leidsepoort (or Leiden Gate) before entering Amsterdam. This gate was eventually demolished in 1870.

Nowadays, the streets around the Leidseplein are lined with bars, nightclubs, cinemas, coffee shops, and restaurants offering numerous cuisines. Eateries offer something for all budgets – the intense competition at the lower end ensures a wide range of inexpensive options, but there are plusher choices too, such as the elegant Café Américain. A terminus for trams, the area is always busy, but especially so in the evening, its clientele more likely to be tourists than locals. Many of the restaurants and bars here have terraces and are ideal for people-watching.

Patrons enjoying drinks at a Leidseplein bar

There are often street performers like musicians, jugglers, mime artists and fire-eaters here, which adds to the general liveliness. In winter months, there’s an outdoor skating rink, while hot food and drink stalls appear around the square.

The majestic, neo-Renaissance Stadsschouwburg city theatre, on the square itself, is an architectural highpoint. It’s home to Toneelgroep Amsterdam, the largest theatre company in the Netherlands. The company merged with the theatre in 2018 and now operate together under the name Internationaal Theatre Amsterdam. They celebrate contemporary theatre and dance, producing a high-quality and diverse programme with 600 national and international performances each year.

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