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Every 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—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.
Where Are the Bulb and Tulip Fields
There are a few different bulb-growing regions in the Netherlands, but the most well-known area lies between the towns of Haarlem in the province of Noord-Holland (North Holland) and Sassenheim, just north of Leiden, in the province of Zuid-Holland (South Holland). This area includes the small village of Lisse, roughly 30 miles southwest of Amsterdam, home to the Keukenhof Gardens.
Depending on which kind of transportation you choose, the trip takes less than an hour to arrive from Amsterdam.
The Keukenhof Gardens
Arguably one of the world's most spectacular planned gardens, this park in Lisse, South Holland, showcases seven million blooming bulbs on its grounds and countless other floral displays in many indoor pavilions.
Open for only two months a year the gardens are a huge tourist draw for Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The hours the park is open varies, so confirm with Keukenhof Gardens for the exact times for when you plan to visit.
The Best Ways to See the Tulip and Bulb Area
How you choose to explore the tulip fields and/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 bus to the Keukenhof from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Once there, biking through the farmers' fields is easy—just rent a bike outside the entrance to the gardens; the rental includes a map of the area.
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 bulb fields area, you'll want a more extended tour.
Renting a car from Schiphol airport is also feasible.
The Best Time to See the Flowers in Bloom
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.
More Timing Tips
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. These hours are also the best for good photos, as the sunlight isn't as bright, which 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 about two hours for a bike ride or drive through the bulb fields.
Visit the Keukenhof or the Farmers' Fields, or Both?
If you manage to hit the area during peak viewing, try for both, but paying attention while on the trip down will ultimately help inform a decision if a trip to the fields makes sense.
It's important to note that most of the farmers whose fields you'll see aren't growing for the cut-flower industry; they're producing for the bulb industry.
Achieving healthy bulbs means chopping off the blooms at just the right time, which is just after the peak of beauty visitors are seeking. As you make your way down to the bulb region, pay attention to whether the fields are still worthy of a visit.