Tulip bulbs planted by my mom surrounded our suburban Midwest home with cheerful blooms every spring. Seeing the waxy green leaves force their way up through the hard brown dirt (sometimes still shrouded in snow) remains forever etched in my memory. It wasn’t the Keukenhof Gardens tulips, but it brought us both joy.
The perennial with cup-shaped petals is still my favorite flower. Sadly, tulips are nearly impossible to raise in Central Texas where I now live.
That’s why the Netherlands jumped to the top of my travel list last spring when KLM airlines added a new nonstop flight from Austin to Amsterdam. My Number 1 must-see: Keukenhof Holland, widely regarded as the most beautiful spring garden in the world.
Netherlands Tulips Fields
Vibrant tulips pop up everywhere in the Netherlands when warm weather heats the low-land country’s fertile sandy soil each spring. The best place to appreciate the beauty and variety of this prized flower is Keukenhof, an English landscape-style garden in Lisse, about 30 miles south of Amsterdam.
Located in the Bollenstreek, the bulb-growing region of Holland, Keukenhof Gardens Tulips are on view for just eight weeks every spring. The floral extravaganza kicked off its 74th season in March 2023 and is expected to attract more than one million visitors from around the world before closing on May 14.
When I arrived at Keukenhof Gardens on a cool, but sunny day in April 2022, I felt like a child let loose in a toy store. Waves of tulips in a kaleidoscope of colors, from metallic pink to eggplant purple, canary yellow and everything in between blanketed over 80-acres of rolling green hills.
Keukenhof Tulips Garden
Neat rows of tulips meandered along nearly 10 miles of walking trails in the gardens. Other tulips clustered in dramatic displays amid budding trees and flowering shrubs. Garden ponds and streams showcased a myriad of bright colors reflecting from the bulbs planted at the waters’ edge. Floral beds complemented a 19th century windmill and wrapped around dozens of sculptures created especially for the garden.
There were bicolored and tricolored tulips. Single and double tulips. Low-growing ones and stately tall tulips. Striped and speckled varieties. Tulips with egg-shaped petals and some whose petals were shaped like bowls. Some had fringed petals, while others displayed sleeker petals like those of other members of the lily family.
Botanical gardens are usually on my itinerary when travelling with my boyfriend, but neither of us had experienced one as magical or as vast as the beautifully tended gardens, grounds, and meadows of Keukenhof Gardens tulips.
Judging from the “oohs” and “aahs” of other visitors, we were not the only ones awe-struck by this international showcase put on by the Dutch floriculture industry.
Tulips in Netherland
Each fall, a team of 40 gardeners plants seven million flower bulbs by hand. The bloom date, color, bulb type, and planting depth are carefully considered by the gardeners so the park is in continuous bloom for eight weeks. Markers in each bed denote the name of the plant, as well as the supplier.
Tulips are indeed the star of the show – more than half of the 1,600 different varieties of bulb plants are tulips. Beds of hyacinths, daffodils, and crocuses as well as flowering trees and shrubs are equally impressive companions.
Mass plantings may highlight a single plant or color, while other beds combine assorted bulb types and color palettes.
Keukenhof’s appearance changes every year, as floral designers from hundreds of Dutch growers reflect on recent gardening trends. Plenty of blooms also welcome visitors to the garden’s three pavilions. These structures feature cut-flower arrangements and plant shows that change weekly. The pavilions also house restaurants and gift shops stocked with bulbs and other floral items.
Netherlands Keukenhof Gardens
I was particularly impressed with the Juliana Pavilion, whose educational displays recount the history of tulips. Though many people assume these flowers originated in the Netherlands, they were actually discovered growing wild in Central Asia. First cultivated in what is now Turkey in as early as 1055, tulips were introduced in Europe and quickly became a prized possession by the 16th century.
“Tulip” may have originated from the Persian name for turban reflecting its petal shapes.
The delicate flower was so adored in the Netherlands that tulips frequently appeared in paintings by the Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt. They also sparked what’s known as “tulip mania,” when a single bulb rivaled the price of a canal house until the market collapsed.
Much like windmills and wooden shoes, tulips are synonymous with Holland and admired around the world. Today, two-thirds of the world’s flowers come from the Netherlands, which exports more than two billion flowers annually, according to holland.com, the country’s tourism website. The industry also drives tourism, as floral enthusiasts flock to the Netherlands.
Keukenhof Gardens Began as a Kitchen Garden
Keukenhof, which means “kitchen garden” in Dutch, is part of the Keukenhof Estate covering 600-acres and includes a castle built in 1641 by a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam. The foundation of Keukenhof Holland is the estate’s English-landscape garden designed in 1857.
Leading flower bulb growers and exporters decided to use the estate to exhibit spring-flower bulbs in the 1940s. Opened to the public in 1950, the garden drew 236,000 visitors. Flower lovers have returned every spring, except in 2020 and 2021, when Keukenhof closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
When it reopened in 2022, many of the visitors were Dutch nationals.
In spring 2023, international visitors returned in full force to see the Keukenhof Gardens tulips according to Jeroen Duyster, Keukenhof’s director. In response, the garden added timed entry tickets and is limiting the number of daily-issued tickets to reduce the expected crowding.
Tulips of Netherlands
Keukenhof was already full of flower peepers when we arrived well before 10 a.m. on a weekday, as recommended. The crowds thinned out as people moved further away from the main entrance. But packed buses continued to disgorge visitors throughout the day.
Since we were staying in Amsterdam, we bought tickets in advance that included roundtrip bus transportation from the city’s Europaplein metro station, which is about a 30-minute ride.
After visiting the garden, we hopped on rental bikes and grabbed a map so we could explore the massive bulb fields surrounding Keukenhof. Electric power boats can also take visitors on rides through narrow channels separating the tulip fields.
We pedaled past seemingly endless acres of tulips and other bulbs in a vast array of colors, pausing frequently to snap photographs and sometimes just to stare in amazement at the bountiful Dutch plantings. By the time we rode back to the garden to board the bus to Amsterdam, I was exhausted, but enchanted.
If you go: Amsterdam offers much more than flowers to visitors, including the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh art museums and the Anne Frank House.
If you’re staying in the city, consider purchasing an I Amsterdam city card to gain easy access to most of the city’s world-class attractions. The cards cover citywide transportation as well as canal cruises and bike rentals and discounts at some restaurants and nightlife options.artdestination
CynthiaMay 2, 2023
I have a friend who worked in Holland years ago and still talks about the tulips. There’s something about their velvety texture…Since they’re not in bloom very long, I’m wondering it it’s really crowded over there at that time. Seems all the most gorgeous things in the world are becoming so packed – travel is less expensive than it used to be, and social media keeps the desire burning.
Noreen KompanikMay 17, 2023
I would imagine it is pretty busy as it was when we were there a few years back, but it really is lovely and so worth it.