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Guide to Seeing the Tulips near Amsterdam

How and When to See the Spring Blooming Bulbs and Tulips near Amsterdam

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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!), this guide will help you understand what to expect from this must-do day trip of the spring season.

Where Are the Bulb and Tulip Fields?

Keukenhof Gardens, Lisse, Netherlands
Hans-Peter Merten/Photodisc/Getty Images
While there are a few different bulb-growing regions in the Netherlands, 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.[br][br] Depending on which kind of transportation you choose (read below), the trip takes less than an hour from Amsterdam, one way.

What Are the Keukenhof Gardens?

Grape hyacinth and narcissus blooms at Keukenhof Gardens
© 2009 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com

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 (2010 dates: March 18 to May 16), the gardens are a huge tourist draw for Amsterdam and the Netherlands. See my photos of the Keukenhof, which say more than any words could about the gardens' stunning, fairytale-like beauty.

See the Keukenhof Gardens website for opening hours and more information.

What's the Best Way to See the Tulip and Bulb Area?

You may opt to ride a bike through the bulb fields on your own.
© 2009 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com
How you choose to explore the tulip fields and/or the Keukenhof Gardens depends on how independent you want to be. In my case, I prefer not to be on someone else's schedule (other than that of the public transport system). So I'd 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 for about € 10 (includes a map).

Those who prefer private transportation might opt for a guided tour, which usually 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 to choose the longer tour.

Renting a car from Schiphol airport is also feasible.

When Is the Best Time to See the Flowers in Bloom?

Tulip and Flower Plantings just Inside Entrance to Keukenhof
© 2009 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com
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. I've seen the tulips peak as late as the end of April during a year when chilly winter temperatures meant late-March visitors saw nothing more than closed blooms and lots of leaves (still a pretty sight). That same year, only one week after I saw the fields ablaze with color, several sunny and warm days meant early-May visitors saw leggy tulips whose blooms had begun to lose their petals. Than again, unusually warm March temperatures may spur earlier peak times.

That said, 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

Late-afternoon light makes for the best photos at the Keukenhof.
© 2009 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com
If you miss peak tulip time, don't fret -- you'll still see flowers in bloom. Before the tulips come narcissi and hyacinths, whose fragrance is so strong you can 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.

An easy day trip from Amsterdam, I recommend allowing at least two hours in the Keukenhof Gardens and about two hours for a bike ride or drive through the bulb fields.

Should I Just Visit the Keukenhof or the Farmers' Fields, or Both?

Children of bulb-field workers play in piles of tulip petals. The blooms are cut off to encourage he
© 2009 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com
If you manage to hit the area during peak viewing, I say both. It's important to note that most of the the farmers whose fields you'll see aren't growing for the cut-flower industry; they're growing 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 we visitors are seeking (the children in the photo at the left are playing in heaps of freshly beheaded tulips). So as you make your way down to the bulb region, pay attention to whether the fields are still worth exploring.
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