Van Royen trained at the University of Leiden and graduated as a medical doctor in 1728 for his thesis Dissertatio botanico-medica de anatome et œconomia plantarum. He was later appointed professor of botany at the university from 1732–1755 and later professor of medicine (1755–1775).
He is best known for his work on flora of Southeast Asia. He was a colleague of George Clifford III, a wealthy Dutch merchant and governor of the Dutch East India Company living in Haarlem, and a noted source of new introductions from the East Indies and the Cape. Adriaan van Royen formed a close relationship with Linnaeus, who had visited the Leiden Botanic Garden during a stay in Leiden between 1737 and 1738.