by Danielle Tomich, AWCA member
If you’re lucky enough to live in Holland, with the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in your back yard, you’d have to be some sort of April’s fool not to visit at some point during the season. Here’s some information to help you plan your own tiptoe trip.
What’s up, buttercup? Is it all just hype? No. Consistently listed among the most beautiful gardens in the world, the Keukenhof is a must-see for anyone who enjoys flowers, gardens or convening with nature. Granted, the gardeners leave little to nature: these lush, manicured gardens are artfully designed by people who know what they’re doing. Graced with dozens of varieties of hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips that bloom at different times, the garden changes throughout the season. In fact, it changes each year: At the end of the season all the bulbs are removed and the beds are replanted with different varieties and designs.
More than gardens. The garden naturally has beautiful ponds, bridges, and water features, but it also includes children’s play areas, a windmill, great views of the tulip fields, sculptures, boat rides through its small canals, places to eat and, of course, gift shops. An unexpected delight in 2016 was an area of garden pots and decorations done in Dutch tile mosaics. And don’t miss the flower shows in the pavilions. Not your ordinary state-fair fare, these flower-based art displays are professionally done with great care and creativity.
When to visit. The gardens are open daily March 22 to May 13 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Whenever possible, visit on a weekday, preferably mid-week, either first thing in the morning or toward closing time. Check the schedules for the flower shows (in the pavilions), as they may influence your choice of dates.
Early in the season, before most of the tulips have come up, a heavenly fragrance floats like a mist through the gardens: the hyacinths are in their prime. They bloom in violet, pink, blue, white and every hue in-between, and they are often mixed in a bed-bouquet with an equally astonishing array of daffodils and early-bird tulips. If you’re lucky, the cherry trees will be spreading their pink lace canopy. But perhaps the best reason to visit early is to avoid the massive crowds. In its 69th year, the garden is expecting one million visitors this season.
If you go later, you’ll see the most tulips, both in the gardens and in the fields viewable from the vista spots. Timing is tricky (from year-to-year the peak varies), but the last week of April is a good bet. You can check out what’s blooming weekly on the garden’s Facebook page; they update the bloom status every Wednesday.
Rain is a good possibility no matter when you plan to go, but keep in mind that the soft light on those cloudy days will make the colors pop in your photos.
Bike the fields. For a completely different experience, pedal around the fields on a bike from Rent-a-Bike van Dam, located in the parking lot of the gardens near the main entrance. From March 22 to May 13, they are open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Not surprisingly, the strategy for beating the bike rental crowd is the same as for the gardens: go mid-week, early or late in the day. Or, take your bike with you on the train. More information on biking near the Keukenhof can be found on european-traveler.com.
Getting there. There is no direct public transportation from Amsterdam to Keukenhof; shuttle buses run from Schiphol, Haarlem, and Leiden. Combination tickets for the bus and the garden are available on keukenhoff.nl. On peak days, such as Easter and weekends, get there very early to avoid long queues. Other public transport options can be found on tulipsinholland.com. Driving is convenient, but parking can also get very competitive during peak times, so get there early. A taxi will set you back about €100 (one-way) for up to four people. It wouldn’t be Holland if the most convenient and affordable option wasn’t to bike. It will take about 2 hours each way from Amsterdam, so consider taking your bike on the train and biking from Leiden or Haarlem. Parking your fiets at Keukenhof is free.
Beating the crowds. Skip-the-line tickets might be a good idea during peak times. They are available from websites such as Get Your Guide.
The final bloom: Bloemencorso (Flower Parade). The annual parade makes its flower-strewn way from Sassenheim to Haarlem twice: in an illuminated evening parade at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, April 20 in Noordwijkerhout and a day-long parade on Saturday, April 21 as the floats travel from Noordwijk and arrive in Haarlem at about 9:30 p.m. On Sunday, April 22, floats will be on view at the Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem. Tickets for grandstand seats and more information is available on the parade website.
Whichever way suits you and your family or visitors, just get to these world-class gardens. And don’t forget your camera!