Springtime in the Netherlands means one thing: tulips. More than a million people each year visit the show gardens at Keukenhof, near Amsterdam, to marvel at the blooms in all their technicolour magnificence and variety during a short season that runs from late March until early May. If you want to actually tiptoe through the tulips, local growers have set up insta-worthy gardens in the surrounding fields. Or go on a floral adventure in the country’s biggest bulb-growing region, Flevoland, and cycle through thousands of acres of fabulous flowers on the former seabed of the Zuiderzee. Here is everything you need to know about seeing the tulips at their mesmerising best.
Main photo: show gardens at Keukenhof in Lisse, the Netherlands (Getty Images)
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Why are the Netherlands so famous for tulips?
Tulips aren’t Dutch at all. They originally grew wild in central Asia and were cultivated by the Turks from about 1000AD. Sultans gave tulips (the name is derived from the Persian for turban) to important guests and in the 16th century they arrived in the Netherlands via the Viennese ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The first bulbs were planted in the Leiden Botanical Garden in 1593. The bulbs were so scarce that during “tulip mania”, the world’s first economic bubble in the 1630s, the rarest sold for more than an Amsterdam canal house. The bubble burst in 1637, but since then tulips have been a Dutch icon.
Where are the tulip fields in the Netherlands?
The most easily accessible flower bulb region is Bollenstreek, 30 minutes from Amsterdam and the Hague. The flower fields are mainly between the dunes and the pretty villages of Lisse, Hillegom, Noordwijkerhout and Voorhout. This area is also home to the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens.
When is tulip season in the Netherlands?
The season starts with crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths (which, en masse, have an incredible scent), but you’ll generally have to wait until mid-April to see tulips at their most glorious. However, it all depends on the weather. If you’re really keen to see how things are growing, Tulip Festival Amsterdam (tulipfestivalamsterdam.com) has a weekly flower forecast.
What’s so special about Keukenhof?
Keukenhof (keukenhof.nl), which means “kitchen garden”, is a fabulous showcase for the Dutch bulb industry and 2024 is its 75th anniversary. Open from March 21 to May 12, it’s spread over nearly 80 acres crammed with riotously colourful, creatively planted gardens. Some 800 varieties of bulb are donated by growers and planted by hand over three months in the autumn, and each year there’s a different theme. You’ll find ten miles of hiking trails, glass pavilions with extravagant displays of extraordinary blooms, a towering windmill and a whisper boat — quiet and electrically driven — which can take you on a gentle 45-minute trip along the flower fields north of the park for an extra charge. For children, there’s a maze, a playground and a petting zoo. Expect to spend two hours to half a day there; buy timed tickets online in advance (at peak times like Easter it sells out quickly); and get there early or late (it’s open from 8am to 7.30pm) and avoid weekends and holidays to dodge the worst of the crowds. Bring a picnic too, unless you want to queue for food trucks and restaurants.
How do I get to Keukenhof?
The flower park is an easy journey from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and smaller Dutch cities such as Haarlem, Leiden, the Hague, Rotterdam and Delft. Take the Keukenhof Express Bus from Amsterdam, Haarlem or Leiden and book a combined park and bus ticket. If you drive, day parking costs 10 euros. There’s no railway station nearby.
Where can I learn about the history of these beautiful bulbs?
The Tulip Experience Amsterdam (tulpexperienceamsterdam.nl), a family-run pop-up museum in a bulb warehouse, has an engaging exhibition telling the fascinating story of the tulip and the entire process of the flower bulb trade, from planting to worldwide shipping. There’s a one-million-bulb garden too, and props and displays are scattered around the fields for photo opps. A small bunch of tulips picked from the indoor garden is included in the ticket price.
Can I walk among the flowers?
Tulip farmers prize the bulbs rather than the flowers, and if you walk into the fields you might trample the crop or bring in diseases on your footwear, so the answer is an emphatic “no”. There are several show gardens, however, where photography is allowed; try The Tulip Barn (thetulipbarn.com), whose garden blooms all season long by mixing early, mid and late-blooming varieties, and even pre-cooling part of its bulbs to reach earlier blooms. There are 500,000 tulips and at least 175 different varieties in its selfie garden. Or De Tulperij, which offers photo sessions with a variety of props at the start and end of each day during the season.
If you’d like a guided tour, Baja Bikes (bajabikes.eu) has a two-and-a-half hour trip along the flower fields with a local guide which takes in Lisse, Keukenhof castle and flower greenhouses, but entrance to Keukenhof is not included. Or just book a rental bike that you can pick up from Hillegom station.
How can I see the flower parade?
The annual flower parade, or to give it its official name, the Bloemencorso Bollenstreek, takes place in April each year. It starts from the seaside resort of Noordwijk and follows a 26-mile route via the flower fields near Lisse to Haarlem. You can watch it for free from the roadside or book a spot in one of the grandstands (in Lisse, Hillegom and Sassenheim) and have lunch there too. Book a flower parade day tour including coach travel, a grandstand seat, plus a visit to the tulip fields and a tulip farm or Keukenhof Gardens (tulipfestivalmasterdam.com).
Are there any unusual tulip tours?
The most spectacular way to see the rainbow-hued fields is by helicopter. The 10 or 15-minute flights operate on a half a dozen days during the season and sell out fast. There are also guided tulip safaris by Land Rover.
Or how about champagne and a lobster salad lunch in the middle of the bulb fields? Stay at the five-star Anantara Grand Krasnapolsky in Amsterdam and it will whisk you off in a limo for a Tulips in Bloom experience. It starts with a tour of the Tulip Experience Amsterdam followed by a fabulous picnic lunch served by one of the hotel’s butlers in a mirrored marquee positioned in front of thousands of swaying tulips in full bloom.
How about a non-touristy option?
The province of Flevoland, about 45 minutes from Amsterdam, is the largest area of flower farms in the Netherlands and it’s a brilliant place to marvel at tulip fields without hordes of tourists. You can do the tulip route by car or bike (the winds can be strong here so you might want an ebike) and farms you’re allowed to enter are marked with flags; there are also picking gardens. You can work out your routes, which are open from mid-April to early May, at tulpenrouteflevoland.nl.