During the cold, dark days of winter, it’s difficult to imagine that stretches of barren fields around Amsterdam will be transformed into seas of blazing color come March. Hidden deep within the earth are truckloads of bulbs planted in late fall by Dutch flower growers.
As the days lengthen and the weather warms, the bulbs will release their promise and sprout into vivid blooms. First come milky snowdrops, along with yellow and violet crocuses, by mid-February if the weather cooperates. In March, sunny daffodils sprout, followed by hyacinths and tulips in a multitude of shades in April and May.
Try to get a window seat if you’re flying into Amsterdam in tulip season, which lasts from mid-March through May. As you’re approaching Schiphol you’ll see vibrant patchworks of blooms covering the land below. On trains heading southwest from the airport, a floral mosaic stretches farther than the eye can see. For the best views of the flower fields, plan your trip for mid-April, when the blossoms are usually at their most prolific.
National Tulip Day in Dam Square
You need not wait until spring to see tulips in the Dutch capital. Since 2012, local growers have promoted the Netherlands’ trademark flower long before nearby fields bloom with a giant temporary garden on Dam Square. Dubbed National Tulip Day, the annual event launches Amsterdam’s tulip season on the third Saturday of January.
Starting around 8am, some 200,000 tulips in a multitude of pastel and neon hues are unloaded and installed in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Royal Palace on Dam Square. Gates open at 1pm, when all are welcome to come create a custom bouquet with the colorful blooms. There’s no charge to enter the garden or pick the flowers. However, long lines start forming early for the popular event. Arrive before noon for the best choice and shortest wait.
The Flower Strip and Aalsmeer Flower Auction
If you can’t make it to National Tulip Day, you only have until March to view ribbons of glorious blooms in the Bollenstreek (Flower Strip), the flower-growing region closest to Amsterdam. Boasting some 35km of flat, well-marked bike paths that meander through fields of jaw-dropping color, it stretches from Leiden to Haarlem in rainbow ribbons of blooms. Stroll through the fields for free or rent a bike at Keukenhof for €10 a day, including four cycle routes ranging from 5km to the entire 35km bulb route.
To view the commercial side of Holland’s flower trading and export enterprise, visit Royal FloraHolland in Aalsmeer, which prides itself on “flowering the world.” The largest flower auction on the planet is open to the public on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7–11 am; on Thursdays from 7–9am. Get there early to see flowers arriving at the trading center, then witness the industrial scale of Holland’s flower trade as tulips, roses, hyacinths and many other blooms begin their journey to vases around the world. Information panels in four languages explain the auction action. Connexxion Bus 172 gets you there in just over an hour. First buses depart Amsterdam Central Station around 5am.
Dutch Design at Keukenhof
For those who want to see 800 varieties of Holland’s iconic flower displayed in dazzling manicured gardens, Keukenhof opens annually in mid-March; check the website for exact opening and closing dates and times. Set in Lisse, about an hour from Amsterdam by public transport, the world’s largest flower garden showcases seven million tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and other spring flowers in outdoor displays and indoor pavilions. In the crown jewel of the Bollenstreek, view the prize blooms of some 500 growers arranged by leading flower designers.
Translated literally as “kitchen garden,” Keukenhof‘s roots go back to the 15th century, when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria foraged for herbs, fruit and nuts in the woods for use in the kitchen at Teylingen Castle. Keukenhof Castle was built in 1641 and its gardens redesigned in 1857, laying the foundation for the stunning display that attracts some 800,000 visitors over just eight weeks each year.
Floral displays change weekly in the Orange Nassau Pavilion. The Willem-Alexander Pavilion typically houses thousands of tulips until the final 12 twelve days of the season, when it becomes home to the world’s largest lily show. For eight weeks, ogle at masses of orchids and anthuriums in Keukenhof’s Beatrix Pavilion and check out the Tulpomania exhibition in the Juliana Pavilion. For children, there’s a treasure hunt, petting farm, maze and playground.
You can book tickets and a detailed park guide online. To save time, purchase a Combi-ticket that includes transport from Amsterdam and entrance to the park. Rather than going to the cashier at Keukenhof, walk straight into the park after the bus driver drops you off. Another advantage is cash savings, as the Combi-ticket may be cheaper than the combined price of your journey and the entrance to Keukenhof.
If you choose to do it on your own, it’s easy to reach Keukenhof via public transport. From the bus terminal on Marnixstraat and stops at Leidseplein, the Rijksmuseum and Museumplein, pick up the Airport Express (Conexxion bus #197). Take it to Schiphol Plaza, where you’ll transfer to the Keukenhof Express (bus #858). Alternatively, take the train from Central Station to Schiphol and transfer to The Keukenhof Express bus at Schiphol Plaza, near the exit by Arrivals Hall 4, next to Starbucks.