What is your favourite flower?
I love peonies but tulips run a close second. They are so bright and sunny and when they start appearing in shops you know spring is in full swing and summer is on its way. Also, our small daughter loves all things floral so when we planned our trip to the Netherlands visiting the tulip fields and the Keukenhof flower gardens was right at the top of the list as well as staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam.
Quick tulip facts*
✪ Tulips are not native to the Netherlands but originated in Eurasia in Tien Shan range on the border between China and Kyrgyzstan
✪ As the Ottoman Empire grew they brought tulips to Holland where they flourished in a climate with cool springs
✪ Holland dominates the global floricultural market supplying 44% share of the world’s flowers and flower products
✪ Over 4.3 billion tulip bulbs are produced each year in the Netherlands and just over 50% of these are grown into cut flowers
✪ The Netherlands exports 1.1 billion cut tulips every year
* Source: Holland Trade
The tulip fields and gardens near Amsterdam
All of the major tulip growing areas of the Netherlands are found within a half hour drive of Amsterdam. I would have loved to have hired bikes to ride through the commercial growing areas of Kop van Noord-Holland or the Noordoostpolder area famous for its tulip festival but time was not on our side. We chose to visit the Keukenhof flower gardens near Lisse in the Bollenstreek or Flower Bulb region between the cities of Leiden and Haarlem.
Keukenhof flower gardens
The gardens of Keukenhof are manicured and cultivated gardens covering 32 hectares. Laid out in a semi formal style the gardens are designed to showcase many hundreds of colours and varieties of tulips and other flowers. There are over 800 varieties of tulips alone!
The main activity for visitors to Keukenhof is to wander around the grounds enjoying the flowers that are planted around waterways, fountains and statues. If you are a garden and flower lover then a visit to Keukenhof should be on your must visit list.
What? No Tulips?
We visited on the first weekend in late March 2016 and while there were some incredibly beautiful displays of flowers most of them were crocuses and daffodils. There were only a few tulip varieties in bloom. The scene is still incredibly pretty. All the flower beds and displays are beautiful and colourful and they were the perfect antidote to what was a somewhat grey and chilly spring day.
If you are intent on seeing tulips there is a large greenhouse where many varieties are on display but actually the crocuses are lovely.
When do tulips bloom in Holland?
Obviously the best time to visit Keukenhof and the Dutch tulip fields is when the tulips are in full bloom. The season for tulips is very short lasting only about 8 weeks from the end of March to the end of May each year.
The park opens in line with the tulip season and even then there is no guarantee you will see the full bloom of tulips in the gardens and fields during your visit.
The very best time to see tulips in the Netherlands is mid April towards the end of spring.
Keukenhof with kids
Wandering around a Dutch flower garden may not immediately spring to mind as a great activity for kids but we were thrilled to discover how child friendly the gardens are. The Keukenhof website is woefully inadequate with this information so here is a summary.
I am a big fan of wide open spaces for kids to run off steam and the Keukenhof gardens has this in abundance.
Once the novelty of row upon row of flowers wears off and trampling blooms looks like it is going to become the favourite activity of the day there are several activities for kids that will keep them entertained.
Head toward the giant windmill to the right of the main entrance. You can climb the windmill for views of the park or try on some on some enormous wooden clogs. Close to the windmill there are several playgrounds and a petting zoo with the cutest baby goats, pigs and llamas.
Our kids were already big fans of Miffy after visiting the Miffy Museum in Utrecht so they were thrilled to go inside her house at Keukenhof to do some drawing and have their photo taken with her again.
Lastly, there are many kid friendly eating options with an emphasis on Dutch cuisine – hotdogs, pretzels and the little dutch pancakes poffertjes.
Practical information for your visit to Keukenhof
Plan on spending at least 2 hours in the gardens which you will want to do to make the most of the €16 entry ticket for adults and €8 for children aged between 4 and 8 [2017 prices]
Activities at Keukenhof
Apart from the main displays throughout the spring season there are weekly flower shows showcasing different varieties. Each weekend the park adopts a different theme including Dutch heritage, a weekend for kids and even a romance weekend when many marriage proposals are made among the tulips.
Throughout the park there are many eateries with a focus on Dutch cuisine. I loved the cheese shop where I discovered the delicious gouda with black truffle that I have been thinking about ever since!
You can hire bikes at the park to explore the area and there is a little boat ride along the waterways which we didn’t do but looked peaceful. Those activities are in addition to the ticket price.
We drove from Amsterdam but you can also get the bus or train and bus from Schipol airport or the centre of Amsterdam.
The carpark at the gardens is huge so make note of where you parked your car otherwise you may have a bit of searching to do. I always like to take a photo of our car registration and location on my phone when I am visiting new places and this tip came in very handy at Keukenhof.
If you would prefer to relax you can also take a tour to Keukenhof from central Amsterdam.
More information on visiting the flower gardens on the Keukenhof website
Keukenhof flower gardens in summary
A visit to the Keukenhof flower gardens is a short day trip from Amsterdam and it is where, at the right time of year, you will find row upon row of beautiful vibrant tulips. The gardens are magnificent and we were impressed by the range of activities at the park for visitors of all ages. I can imagine on a sunny weekend day in Spring it is simply heaving with people.
Despite the lack of tulips we were not disappointed to be sharing our experience with a smaller crowd. I thought we would spend about an hour and a half there but we ended up staying over three hours as there was so much to see and do.
And we kept stopping to smell the flowers.
For those looking for rows upon rows of flowers stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see this is not the right place to visit. Head north to Kop van Noord-Holland instead where you can ride a bike among the tulip fields past traditional windmills.
Have you visited the Keukenhof flower gardens when the tulips were blooming? What do you think, should we go back and experience the gardens in all their tulip glory?
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