The Singelpark in Leiden: how citizens created one of the best parks in the Netherlands

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 centre of Leiden.

Wouldn’t you love to live in or around the ring? Image: Gemeente Leiden/Supplied

The inner city of Leiden is, with all its magnificent old buildings, not the greenest city centre of the Netherlands. As such, the desire for more lush local green scenery is always increasing.

So, instead of a random little park or a lawn, the city has welcomed the Singelpark. 🌱

This stunning park 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.

One of the six new bridges completing the Singelpark in Leiden. Image: Ney&Partners/

The road around the canals is also part of the Singelpark, allowing you to walk through the whole six kilometres of the park.

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 spot which is closest to the central station.

Molen de Valk: Leiden’s iconic windmill

The 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. The mill was originally used for grain, and now it’s a little museum.

READ MORE | The best photo spots in Leiden

I ‘have’ to cycle past it every time I go to the DutchReview office, and it’s certainly a sight that dominates the area.

What a sight for sore eyes! Image: Freepik

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 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 here, 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?

The energy plant was built in 1902. Image:

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 importantly, 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.

PLNT rooftop — the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine (or three). Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

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 might be one of the prettiest buildings in town.

A typical Dutch sunset over the canals of Leiden. Image: Martijn van der Nat/Supplied

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 has been transformed into apartments and other things.

The Plantsoen: a green oasis

The Plantsoen is a lovely park in Leiden-Zuid. It’s truly a place of leisure with grassy plains, stately trees, a large fountain, and even a birdhouse. 🦜

In between the Plantsoen and the Hortus you’ll find this cute little tower. Image:

Hortus Botanicus: the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands

Did you know that the city of Leiden is home to one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world?

The magical Hortus Botanicus. Image: Depositphotos

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.

The old observatory, aka the Oude Sterrewacht. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Rembrandtpark: remembering the famous painter

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!

Greenery in the Singelpark in Leiden
Start chilling and watch the boats go by. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Volkenkunde Museum: a museum about humans

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.

A huge totem pole greets visitors entering the Museum Volkenkunde in the Singelpark
A huge totem pole greets visitors entering the Museum Volkenkunde. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

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.

living in Leiden
Molen de Put, one of the best things to see for free in Leiden. And also part of the Singelpark! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

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. The ‘Friends of the Singelpark Foundation’ brings people and organizations together who want to realize and maintain this dream that’s called the Singelpark.

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.

From the Singelpark to museums 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 May 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Freepik
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer founded DutchReview a decade ago because he thought expats needed it and wanted to make amends for the Dutch cuisine. He has a Masters in Political Science and IT but somewhere always wanted to study history or good old football. He also a mortgage in the Netherlands and will happily tell you too how to get one. Born and raised in Rotterdam, Abuzer now lives in Leiden but is always longing back to his own international year in Italy.

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