Anyone who loves spring flowers, especially tulips, should visit the Keukenhof flower gardens near Amsterdam. The beauty of these gardens and the brilliant bulb flowers just cannot be adequately captured in pictures. Since Keukenhof is only open for about two months in the spring, all of this splendor is crammed into a few short weeks. Several small river cruise lines feature spring tulip cruises for those wanting to visit Keukenhof and tour the Netherlands.
The flower gardens at Keukenhof were the idea of the 1949 mayor of Lisse. He worked with about a dozen prominent Dutch bulb growers and exporters to develop the gardens. Their objective was to have an open-air flower exhibition where growers could showcase their latest hybrids, and consumers could view and buy a wide range of flower bulbs.
Keukenhof FactsOver 50 years later, Keukenhof's spring exhibition is the world's largest and runs from about the end of March to May. Check the Keukenhof website for the exact dates and fees. The best time to see the tulips is around mid-April, but it varies somewhat with the weather. Since Keukenhof has over 7 million spring flowers planted, some type of brilliant bulbs are in bloom the entire season! The park is located between the towns of Hillegom and Lisse south of Haarlem in Zuid Holland southwest of Amsterdam. Be sure to take a camera. Keukenhof is one of the most photographed sites in the world, and I guarantee you will take more pictures than you plan!
Getting to KeukenhofIn a small country like the Netherlands, most places are readily accessible, and Keukenhof is no different. Cruise or river ships porting in Amsterdam in the late spring offer a shore excursion option to Keukenhof. If you prefer to go alone, it is an easy drive from Amsterdam or you can take the train. The Netherlands Railways sells a special Keukenhof ticket that will take you via bus from the Leiden Central Station to the gardens in about 20 minutes. The Amsterdam Tourist Office also sells tickets and excursions to Keukenhof.
When You Arrive at KeukenhofThe Keukenhof Gardens are much larger than I expected. At over 70 acres, they seem to go on forever, and you could easily spend more than one day, especially if you are manic about flowers. Although the gardens are large, the walking is flat and easy. The sidewalks make the gardens handicap-accessible. At one end of the gardens is a large windmill that can be used as a landmark. In addition to the outdoor gardens, there are numerous greenhouses and exhibits. Our shore excursion gave us less than half a day, so we probably saw less than half of the gardens. We wandered through the outdoor gardens and walked through a few of the numerous greenhouses. Keukenhof has several cafes and snack bars, so if you tire of walking, you can always sit and watch other flower fanatics.
Tulips are not the only spring flower blooming at Keukenhof. Daffodils, hyacinths, and narcissi are also all flowering simultaneously. Even a humbug flower-hater will be overwhelmed by the color, sights, and smells. We were surprised to find a greenhouse full of delicate orchids, and other pavilions ablaze with azaleas and hydrangeas.
The ride to Keukenhof passes through the heart of the commercial tulip fields. In mid-April, these fields look like strips of huge bright ribbons covering the ground. The only bad thing about Keukenhof is the crowds. We were there on a weekend day, which was particularly packed with flower fanatics. The gardens are well equipped for the masses, but be prepared to stand in line in the gift shops and eateries. We were so enthralled with the colorful flowers, we didn't even have a snack.
Almost everyone in our group found time to buy some tulips or other bulb flowers. Since the bulbs are not harvested (dug up) until late summer, the bulbs are shipped in the early fall. (Mine came the first week of October.) The growers have huge books you can peruse and choose the varieties you wish to buy. Most all of the blooming flowers are marked with the name and grower, so if you fall in love with one particular hybrid, write it down and find the grower's kiosk or tent.
Guide to Visiting Keukenhof Gardens - About.com Guide to Amsterdam