Every year in March, the fields just outside Amsterdam turn from sandy patches into carpets of lime green sprouts as the first signs of spring emerge. By the time the season is in full swing, the area is swathed in red, pink, purple, orange, and yellow blooms of tulips—a sight that truly looks like something out of "The Wizard of Oz."
Whether you choose to visit the perfectly planted rows of blooming bulbs at the famous Keukenhof Gardens or cruise through the bulb farmers' fields nearby (or better yet, both), it is ideal to understand what to expect before heading out on the must-do day trip of the spring season.
Tulip Fields Near Amsterdam
Even though there are a few different tulip-growing regions throughout the Netherlands, the most famous of them all is—conveniently—the one that's closest to Amsterdam. The area known as the Bollenstreek stretches for about 25 miles from Haarlem just outside of Amsterdam all the way down to the Hague, and the word Bollenstreek literally means, "bulb region."
Throughout the entire Bollenstreek in springtime, you can trek or bike and see tulip fields pretty much anywhere. The majority of them are used for farming bulbs and not open to tourists, but you don't need to physically walk through the fields in order to enjoy them. In fact, a scenic bike ride through the small towns of the Bollenstreek between fields in bloom is perhaps the best way to enjoy them.
The Keukenhof Gardens
Arguably one of the world's most spectacular planned gardens, Keukenhof Gardens in the small town of Lisse is the number one spot to see tulips in the entire country. It showcases seven million blooming bulbs on its grounds and countless other floral displays like daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths. The traditional windmill inside the Gardens adds a perfect backdrop and an extra touch of Dutch to photos.
Keukenhof is about 40 minutes outside of Amsterdam by car and is only open during the flowering season, which runs from March 20 to May 9, 2021. Special Keukenhof Express buses run from Amsterdam while the Gardens are open, and the cheapest way to get there is to purchase a Combiticket which includes your admission into the park and transportation. You can also book an organized tour of the tulip fields from Amsterdam which are easy to find during the tulip season.
De Tulperij is one of the real-life tulip farms you can visit in the Netherlands. Most professional tulip farms are growing the plants to harvest and sell the bulbs, not the actual flower, and aren't open to tourists. Thankfully, you can visit De Tulperij and also get a fascinating lesson about the entire tulip growing process from bulb to flower and back to bulb.
The farm is located just a couple of miles down the road from Keukenhof Gardens, so it's easy to pair the two together in one day trip. There are tour groups that will bring visitors to both gardens or, even better, rent one of the local bikes and take a scenic country ride from one to the other. De Tulperij generally opens for the year at the same time as Keukenhof, which in 2021 is March 20.
Outside of the Bollenstreek, one of the Netherland's other great tulip regions is Flevoland province, especially the once-submerged city of Noordoostpolder. The entire town is surrounded by hundreds of tulip fields, offering the chance to rent a bike and ride around in the Dutch countryside without all of the tourists you'll find in Bollenstreek.
Noordoostpolder is about an hour north of Amsterdam by car, and the area is so large that walking around isn't feasible. The best way to explore is to be on wheels, whether it's a car or you rent a bike in the city.
Amsterdam may not have the vast rainbow-colored fields that you can find in the Bollenstreek or around Noordoostpolder, but you can still see spring tulips in the capital city. The Bloemenmarkt on the canals is the world's only floating flower market, and one of the most iconic places to buy tulip bulbs to bring home (although they're more expensive here than at other markets in the city).
The month-long Tulip Festival in Amsterdam takes place throughout all of April. In an effort to return the national flower to the city, the municipal government plants a tulip bulb for every single resident of Amsterdam—roughly 850,000 bulbs. Throughout April, all of them bloom practically at once for a vivid display of color all across the city.
Best Time to See the Tulips
While deciding how to get to the bulb region is entirely up to you, what you'll find when you get there is entirely up to Mother Nature. The safest bet for hitting peak tulip time is around mid-April, smack in the middle of the opening dates for the Keukenhof.
If you miss the peak tulip time, don't fret—you'll still see flowers in bloom.
Before the tulips, the narcissi and hyacinths are in bloom, and their fragrance is so pungent you'll smell it from the road as you ride by. Late-season highlights at the Keukenhof include lilies and dahlias, as well as indoor exhibits.
The best time of day to visit the Keukenhof is as soon as it opens or the last few hours before it closes, as the gardens attract huge crowds in the middle of the day. Morning or evening hours are also the best time for photographers, since the intense midday sunlight washes out the spectacular color of the flowers.
Seeing the flowers is an easy day trip from Amsterdam, but allow at least two hours in the Keukenhof Gardens and an additional two hours for a bike ride or drive through the neighboring bulb fields.
How to Visit the Tulip Fields
How you choose to explore the tulip fields or the Keukenhof Gardens depends on how independent you want to be.
If you don't want to be on someone else's schedule (other than that of the public transport system), catch the express bus to the Keukenhof Gardens from Amsterdam. It leaves from a few spots around the city, including Amsterdam Schipol Airport. Once you get to Keukenhof, you can easily rent a bike to explore the rest of the Bollenstreek region.
Those who prefer private transportation might opt for a guided tour, which typically includes a coach ride and pre-paid entrance fees. But keep in mind that if you also want time to explore the surrounding bulb fields, look for a tour that includes that in the package.
Renting a car is also an option if you want the freedom to move around without relying on buses or tours, but it'll likely be expensive. Car rentals and parking are expensive in the Netherlands to encourage more people to use public transit.