Anyone who loves spring flowers—especially tulips—should visit the Keukenhof flower gardens in the town of Lisse near Amsterdam. The beauty of these gardens and brilliant bulb flowers in the Netherlands cannot be adequately captured in pictures. Since Keukenhof is only open for about two months, all of this splendor is crammed into a few short weeks.
The flower gardens at Keukenhof were the idea of the 1949 mayor of Lisse who 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. Decades later, Keukenhof's spring exhibition is one of the world's largest.
When to Visit
Keukenhof is typically open from the middle or end of March to mid-May. Check the official website for the exact dates and entrance 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 each year, colorful bulbs are in bloom the entire season.
The park is located in Lisse between Amsterdam and The Hague—each an approximately 35-minute drive—in the heart of the Bollenstreek (bulb region).
Getting to Keukenhof
In a small country like the Netherlands, most places are readily accessible, and Keukenhof is no different. There are a few scenic ways to arrive at the gardens.
- Bus/Private Tour: To use public transport in Amsterdam, try a Keukenhof Express bus line 858 from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Plaza (35 minutes), or 854 from Leiden Central Station (25 minutes). These buses depart up to 12 times an hour. A combi ticket includes a bus ride plus the entrance fee to the Keukenhof. Visitors can ask the Amsterdam Tourist Information Offices (called "VVV" offices) for more information on buses as well as private tours to Keukenhof.
- Train/Bus: You can buy a special Keukenhof train and bus combi ticket that includes the park entrance fee. Visitors can depart from the Leiden Central Station, Schiphol Airport, or the RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre.
- Cruises or River Ships: Ama Waterways offers a seven-night Tulip Time Cruise that features Keukenhof, the canals of Amsterdam, Belgian chocolates, and additional delights. Arena Travel offers a trip to Keukenhof and a glance at the windmills of Kinderdijk and beloved cheese at Edam.
The ride to Keukenhof passes through the heart of the commercial tulip fields, which in mid-April look like strips of huge bright ribbons covering the ground. At almost 80 acres, the gardens seem to go on forever, and you could easily spend more than one day, especially if you are manic about flowers.
Although the site is large, the walking is flat and easy. The sidewalks make the gardens accessible to people with disabilities. At one end of the gardens is a large windmill that can be used as a landmark. In addition to the outdoor areas, there are numerous greenhouses and exhibits.
Most river cruise ship shore excursions give guests just a few hours, so those visitors will probably see less than half of the gardens and may want to return. The site has both outdoor gardens and greenhouses, so if the weather turns rainy, there are still plenty of flowers to see indoors.
The gardens are well equipped for the masses, but be prepared to stand in line in the gift shops and eateries, especially on weekends. Keukenhof has several cafes and snack bars, so if you tire of walking, you can always sit and watch other flower fans.
Be sure to take a camera. Keukenhof is one of the most photographed sites in the world, and you will likely take more pictures than you plan.
What Else You Will See
Tulips are not the only spring flower blooming at Keukenhof. Daffodils, hyacinths, and narcissi are also all flowering simultaneously. Even a humbug flower-hater should be overwhelmed by the color, sights, and smells. Greenhouses are full of delicate orchids, and other pavilions are ablaze with azaleas and hydrangeas.
Since the bulbs you purchase are not harvested until late summer, they will be shipped in the early fall. The growers have huge books you can peruse, choosing 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.