Last updated: 21st November 2020
Tulips from Amsterdam (well nearby Keukenhof)
Garth is a keen gardener and has been itching for a while to see the seasonal displays of Dutch tulips at one of the most famous and spectacular flower shows in the world – Keukenhof. So we decided to take a long weekend city break and head over to Amsterdam.
Keukenhof is located in the small town of Lisse about 30 miles south west of Amsterdam it’s only open for 8 weeks of the year from mid March until mid May. During this short window over 1 million people from the Netherlands and around the world travel to see thousands of Spring flowering bulbs like tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, it’s a huge visitor attraction as we discovered.
The hardest part for us was deciding when to go as the season varies each year depending on the weather. Will the tulips have lost all their petals? will the blooms be closed? and will the nearby flower fields been harvested? It’s a gamble but the best time to visit is considered to be mid to late April. So we opted for the end of April to coincide with the big Dutch national holiday – Kings Day (Koningsdag) held on 27th April every year.
A Shop Window
Keukenhof means “kitchen garden” in Dutch, it was originally a herb garden for the nearby castle. In 1949 the Mayor of Lisse decided to use the gardens to create an exhibition space for farmers across the Netherlands to display and advertise their flowers to increase export sales. Today Keukenhof is still a living shop window where next to each display a plaque tells you the name of the flower and which nursery has produced it. These proved really useful when we saw tulips that we liked, Garth busily wrote down the names so we can consider buying them later in the year.
If you’ve got green fingers like Garth then you are going to be overwhelmed by Keukenhof. The gardens are massive – 79 acres, so just take your time and explore them for a good few hours. You can easily spend the best part of a day here as there’s so much to see.
7 million flower bulbs are planted by hand to form fabulous displays. We were blown away as we first entered the garden by a massive display of tulips, a great tease of what was to come. Oh and there’s also a lovely lake and over 2,700 trees!
Every variety of tulip, hyacinth and daffodil you can imagine are on display, 800 varieties of tulips to be exact! Keukenhof is famous for mass block planting of bold colours, and everywhere appears to be carpeted with every colour of the spectrum. From unusual dark shades of hyacinths to light pastel hues of tulips, there’s always a riot of colour each path you turn.
The sheer volume of flowers on display is what makes Keukenhof so spectacular. The displays are a joy because you can get up close and personal with them, especially nice when the fragrance in the air is really strong. Even Phil being a non-gardener couldn’t help but appreciate these wonderful displays.
Annual Design theme
Every year Keukenhof chooses a different theme for some displays. We went in 2017 – Keukenhof’s 68th season and the theme was Dutch Design. The centrepiece was this block floral work inspired by Piet Mondrian’s famous red, blue and yellow compositions – planted in layers to extend the flowering period.
Other gardens to explore in Keukenhof include a formal garden called The Historical Garden and at the other end of the park we listened to a lovely barrel organ playing some old tunes.
Phil thought the people watching was funny, with so many visitors bending over to smell the flowers or battling with their selfie sticks to get the perfect photo. An American couple even told us how to take a better photo by lying down on the grass back to back!
There were also 5 pavilions to explore, with different displays of plants and cut flowers. The smell was great when we first entered the Willem-Alexander pavilion, we were especially in awe of the different orchids on display and jealous of their begonias in hanging baskets, ours look like a very poor relation!
Also look out for fun photo opportunities dotted around the gardens, like these giant clogs! and remember to take enough memory cards for your camera if you’re into photography like Garth as you’re going to need them!
From the viewing platform at the top of the windmill you can look across the canal to the many fields planted with tulips and hyacinth bulbs. At the base of the windmill you can take a 45 minute “whisper boat” trip to explore the nearby flower fields by water on the canals. Alternatively you can hire a bike for €10 just outside the entrance of Keukenhof and explore the fields yourself on 4 designated routes.
After a good few hours, feeling full of inspiration we left the Keukenhof gardens to see where these bulbs are grown in the local area.
Fields of Rainbows
Right next to Keukenhof are dozens of farmer’s flower fields, and they are just as spectacular as Keukenhof’s gardens. Our friends drove us around the Lisse area where the biggest concentration of tulip fields are. We stopped off at various places to take wonderful photos! Remember to respect the farmers fields and stick to the edge and tip-toe through the tulips!
The rows of tulips create gorgeous fabric like patterns as they are so densely planted. Some of the fields we stopped at must look amazing from the air (Phil we need a drone!) We loved the mixed tulip fields which make gorgeous rainbow stripes of colour. Phil thought the fields looked like an abstract painting.
Again timing is crucial for the best displays as the farmers dead-head the tulips to encourage healthier bulbs. If you want to see them in full bloom our advice would be go by mid April as the flower heads will all be cut off by the end of April. Another tip – fields are flat and windy so take a jacket.
If you are flying into Amsterdam like we did, make sure you book a window seat as it’s likely you will get a good view of tulip and flower fields as you descend into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
We finished off our day with a drink and a stroll along the beach at the lovely coastal town of Noordwijk just 15 minutes from Keukenhof, if you’re lucky you may pass the odd windmill along the way.
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Keukenhof Tips
- Tip #1: Don’t visit on a Sunday, it will be packed.
- Tip #2: On the bus from Schiphol – sit on the right side for the best views of the fields.
- Tip #3: Be prepared for rain, take a brolly or a poncho just in case.
- Tip #4: Grab a free map at the entrance gate, you’ll need it.
- Tip #5: Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
How we did it:
- We booked flights with Easyjet and paid for some cheap seats that we booked 6 months in advance.
- Our friends in Amsterdam collected us from Schiphol Airport and drove us straight to Keukenhof – a 15 minute drive.
- If you are staying in Amsterdam, it will take you about an hour to reach Keukenhof by public transport. You start with a train from Centraal Station to Schiphol and then take a bus from the airport straight to the gardens.
- If you are travelling by train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam you can get off at Lisse.
- We bought our tickets in advance online.
- Entrance costs – €16 for adults, €8 for kids and parking is €8.