What if we told you that there’s a park in the Netherlands that’s kind of like the High Line (that elevated railroad tracks-turned-park in New York)?
Well, first of all, you wouldn’t think of Leiden. This typical Dutch town doesn’t have that many high-rise buildings. And second, you would definitely think: why hasn’t anybody told me about this magnificent piece of urban nature already? Don’t worry, we will!
What is the Singelpark?
The Singelpark is simply said, a park made up of the ‘ring’ of canals around the old city center of Leiden.
The inner city of Leiden is, with all its magnificent old buildings, not the greenest city centre of the Netherlands. As such, the need for more lush local green scenery is increasing. Instead of a random little park or a lawn we can now welcome the Singelpark.
The Singelpark in Leiden includes the ring of outer canals and all adjacent parks and buildings. The existing parks didn’t disappear (don’t worry hortus botanicus fans!) but became part of the Singelpark, each little park will retaining its own character and theme.
The road around the canals is also part of the Singelpark, which allows you to completely walk through the whole six kilometres long park. The Singelpark is the way to connect the ring of parks into a coherent and complete ‘park experience’ and make it an icon of the city in the long run.
A walk around the Singelpark: 7 highlights
Since the Singelpark is, in its essence, a tour-around-the town route, you can start a walk through the park basically anywhere. Let’s start at the park spot which is the closest to the station.
Molen de Valk – Leiden’s iconic windmill
Molen de Valk has been standing there since the start of the 17th century, so it’s certainly one of Leiden’s pride and joys. I ‘have’ to cycle past it every time I go to the DR office and it dominates the area. The mill was originally used for grain and now it’s a little museum.
Chances are that you already saw it tons of times on Instagram or on in our photo reports. Chill in the grass near the windmill or check out the awesome Lakenhal if you’re here in Leiden for a day. If you want to continue with walking through the Singelpark, then just head in the direction of the large chimney — where you’ll find the next part of the Singelpark.
Energy park: the home of DutchReview
It isn’t all canal houses and windmills in Leiden. In 1902 a big energy plant was built, its chimney 80 meters tall. For years I was looking at this one from my student room, thinking: I like it and it belongs in Leiden, but does it belong in a park?
Well, the answer is yes! The facility itself is clean and without weird fumes or noises, and the whole area around is a nice park with some monumental old industrial buildings.
More important, the DutchReview office is here! As you might know, we have an office at PLNT — the innovation hotspot of Leiden. PLNT itself is sort of a spot in the Singelpark too as the building has a kick-ass rooftop garden with all kinds of natural gimmicks and awesome views.
Zijlpoort, one of those gorgeous gates to Leiden
As you can see on the Singelpark map, there’s a certain kind of shape of the ‘Singels’ around Leiden. In the olden days (we’re talking 1500-1700 here), these canals were used for defence against attackers (damn Spaniards!) and naturally there were spots to open the gates and let visitors in. The Zijlpoort is one of these passages. It dates back to 1667 and it’s one of the prettiest buildings in town.
You can eat at the Zijlpoort too, as the fish brasserie de Poort is located there. Really close to the Zijlpoort is the massive Meelfabriek which is also part of the Singelpark route — a giant grain factory which is being redeveloped into apartments and other things.
The Plantsoen is a lovely park in Leiden-Zuid. It’s truly a place of leisure and there are grassy plains, stately trees, a large fountain, and even a birdhouse. You can spot some of the prettiest monumental houses of Leiden while you walk through a beautiful English landscaped park.
Did you know that the city of Leiden is home to one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world?
The University of Leiden was responsible for planting the first seeds in this historical garden, lovingly called the ‘hortus’ by its inhabitants. You can enjoy a day in the sun and stroll through the garden for a relaxing day.
Another highlight is the classy observatory which is located, more or less, in the hortus.
Did you know Rembrandt was born and raised in Leiden? Along the route of the Singelpark you will find a cute little park perfect for sunbathing and watching the boats pass by. It’s the Rembrandt Park!
More or less at the end of the Singelpark is the Volkenkunde museum. (spoilers: no end, it’s a loop, that’s the idea of a singel). The garden of the museum is now also part of the Singelpark.
The Volkenkunde museum has objects from around the world, like China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. It’s close to Leiden Centraal and the windmill, our ‘starting point’ of this tour through the Singelpark.
The Singelpark: by citizens and for citizens
An important feature of the Singelpark is the input and commitment of the residents of Leiden. The Singelpark is not an ordinary park that the municipality has set up as you would expect from a new park. Residents, stakeholders, interested parties, companies, and the municipality have teamed up to make this all possible. From concept to putting the shovels in the dirt and getting their fingers green, the citizens of Leiden were the heart and soul of this project.
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The ‘Friends of the Singelpark Foundation’ brings people and organizations together who want to realize and maintain this dream that’s called the Singelpark. And perhaps you’re reading this, love Leiden and are thinking: I want to be part of this too!
Well, good news, you can! By supporting financially as a ‘friend’, but above all by rolling up your sleeves yourself: planning and planting, maintenance, and management, feel welcome to get involved.
What else is there to visit in Leiden?
Need another reason for visiting Leiden and the Singelpark? There are more than a few!
If you haven’t been there before, then this is your chance to not only visit Leiden but to check out the museums while you’re here. Such as the grand museum of Antiquities and the ‘Museum Volkenkunde’. Can’t afford anything else besides a trip to a museum? Here are 7 free things to do in Leiden and you can always walk in the footsteps of Rembrandt who was born in Leiden.
From museums to other fun activities to delicious diners, you are guaranteed to have a great time in DutchReview’s hometown. If you need more suggestions on Leiden, why not ask our friends at Visit Leiden? They’ll gladly help you plan a trip to the sleutelstad.
What’s your favourite place in Leiden? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Martijn van der Nat/Supplied
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2019, and was fully updated in June 2021 for your reading pleasure.