Tulips and the Netherlands go together like Bert and Ernie or PB & J—think of one and you think of the other. But it wasn’t always this way. Imported from present-day Turkey in the 16th century, the bulbs quickly soared into popularity. They became so lucrative during the Dutch Golden Age that they were used as money.
With its sandy clay soil, maritime climate, and proximity to the coast, the Netherlands rapidly became the ultimate tulip-growing hot-spot. The first blush of color starts here in mid-March and generally lasts through late-May. However, the blooms reserve their most vibrant, extraordinary displays for the middle of April. Here are some of the best ways to experience tulip season in the Netherlands.
Bloemencorso Bollenstreek (Keukenhof Flower Parade)
It may be too late for you to catch it this year, but mark your calendar for April 2020! This year’s procession featured floats based on the theme “Changing World.” These elaborate floats decorated in hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, and tulips began their journey at 9:30am in Noordwijk, making their way down Keukenhof Boulevard and through the town of Lisse to arrive in Haarlem at 9pm. Standing room along the parade route is free each year, and Keukenhof Boulevard is a great place to catch the action. (The parade passes by here around 3:30pm, but get there early!) If you’d prefer to sit, you can purchase tickets online for the grandstands in Lisse and Sassenheim. These will cost around €25, but the seats are covered and you’ll have easy access to bathrooms. For those standing along the route, dress in layers and be sure to bring a rain jacket!
In the Netherlands, Bollenstreeks (Bulb Regions) are the stuff of magic. The most famous of these lies near the North Sea Dunes between Leiden, Haarlem, Amsterdam, and The Hague.
Lisse is the center of the Dutch tulip universe. Sure, it boasts an extraordinary expanse of flower fields, but it’s also home to the Museum de Zwarte Tulp—the Black Tulip Museum. Here you can learn about the process of growing bulbs, how the tulip arrived in the Netherlands, and the story of the black tulip. And don’t forget (as if you could!) the delights of the Keukenhof Gardens.
Noordoostpolder was once the bottom of the former Zuiderzee—a shallow bay off the North Sea. Thanks to a dam project and drainage systems installed in the in the 1920s and ‘30s, today the water is gone and Noordoostpolder cultivates over 2,000 varieties of tulips. Many farms here offer guided flower tours, and the whole area is extremely bike-friendly.
This charming town earned its title of the Dune and Bulb Region because you can experience both the coastal dunes and the tulip fields in a single short trip. If you can’t make it to the Keukenhof Flower Parade (or want to sneak a peek of the floats ahead of time), Noordwijkherhout hosts the Flower Parade by Night on April 12th from 8–11pm.
When in the Netherlands, explore as the Dutch do: by bike! This 25-mile route takes you past some of the most vibrant fields in the country. Lisse, Nordwijkerhout, Katwijk, De Zilk, and Hillegom are just a handful of towns on display along this floral trail. Be sure to stop during your ride to take part in a painting workshop or farm tour. You can also gather your own colorful bouquet at a flower-picking garden. You’ll need a 2019 FlowerCard before you head out on the trail, but this price of this is included in the €15 bike rental in Keukenhof. Among the benefits of your FlowerCard are discounts to attractions and restaurants around Keukenhof, a 10% discount on attractions in Amsterdam, and an audio tour of the Bollenstreek that you can download on your phone.
Insider Tip: If you’re planning on renting a bike in Keukenhof, reserve it online ahead of your visit. There are a limited number of bicycles and the wait could be two hours or more if you rent onsite.
Covering a colossal 80 acres, the Keukenhof Gardens feature seven million bulbs and 800 different varieties of tulips. The display, which also includes orchids, roses, irises, lilies, carnations, and other flowers, brings to life an annual theme. As 2019 marks the park’s 70th anniversary, the theme of “Flower Power” takes visitors back to the flower craze of the 1970s. The gardens will be open through May 19th and offer fun for the whole family. Kids will enjoy the playground, petting farm, maze, and treasure hunt while adults absorb the serenity of nature. If you’re planning on arriving at the gardens via public transportation, you’re in luck! The Keukenhof Express runs frequently from Schiphol, Haarlem, Leiden, Hoofddorp, Bollenstreek, and Amsterdam.
Insider Tip: The gardens get packed in the afternoons and on weekends, so aim to visit on a weekday morning if you can.
Amsterdam Tulip Museum
This museum in the Jordaan district chronicles the tulip’s journey from the high plains of Central Asia to the Ottoman Empire to Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries. You’ll learn the fascinating history of the country’s “Tulipomania” and even get some tips on growing tulips of your own.
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