Leiden's Ontzet

Leiden's 'Ontzet' ('relief') refers to the liberation of Leiden city on the 3rd October 1574 from the Spanish forces. It has been commemorated every year since, with celebrations throughout the city. A range of activities and events take place during this time, starting from the 1st October and continuing until the 3rd!

These include Lunapark funfair, a street theatre festival, a large parade, a memorial service in St. Pieterskerk, and the traditional presentation of herring and white bread (the same food that was offered to the starving citizens after the 1574 relief). The wide variety of activities means that you can be sure there will be something that the whole family can find to enjoy throughout the Ontzet!


The history

Between 1568 and 1648, the Netherlands and Spain were in the Eighty Years War. When religious freedom was restricted in 1572, Leiden sided with William of Orange and his Sea Beggars who wanted to make the Netherlands an independent republic.

In 1573 the Spanish Duke of Alva decided to besiege Leiden. It ended after a few months, but they soon returned with more men. After many months, the situation became dire. The citizens of Leiden were starved and the plague had also killed thousands. Just when the famine was at its worst and the people of Leiden were about to surrender, they found a way to contact William of Orange through carrier pigeons. Hope was restored.

William of Orange joined the Sea Beggars, who were moored near Leiden with their fleet of flat-bottomed boats. They pierced the dikes of Holland, causing the land around Leiden to flood and parts of the city wall to collapse. On the night of October 2nd, the Spaniards decided to flee, and left in such a rush that a bronze cooking pot filled with hutspot (a stew of beef, carrots and onions) was left behind.

On October 3rd, the Beggars sailed into the city, bringing herring and white bread for the starving citizens of Leiden. The city had been finally liberated.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Leiden's Ontzet and the full programme planned, you can visit the website of 3rd October.

Kit Yourself Out In Red & White

The city of Leiden's colours are red and white, and during the Ontzet the whole city will be transformed by these colours! If you would also like to look the part for the celebrations, then why not stop by our tourist office at Stationsweg 26 so that you can kit yourself out in red and white - from socks and scarves to bags and hats, and more!

Tourist Information Office
Gifts about Leidens Ontzet

Accessibility During the Ontzet

During the Ontzet there may be several delays or diversions if you are travelling by car or public transport. Some roads will be closed due to the festivities, and buses may have different routes or be cancelled altogether. These disruptions will last from the 28th September until the 5th October.

Information About Changes Due To Leiden's Ontzet

Learn more about the events and holidays in the Leiden region!