One of Europe’s smallest countries morphs into a colorful patchwork quilt from mid-March to mid-May. Reds, magentas, yellows and purples almost roll out a technicolored rug all over the region! Aside from photogenic tulip fields and bustling flower markets, the Netherlands actually have a long, fascinating history with the bulb trade. Therefore, I went on location in search of the prettiest floral expanses and to find out a little more about why tulips are such a blooming deal in Holland.
The history of tulips in the Netherlands
Tulipomania is not new. It’s been a Dutch tradition since the 17th century, when horticulture and botanical arts were in full swing. But did you know it was originally imported from Turkey? The very first tulip in Holland is said to have seen the light of day at the Leiden Hortus Botanicus in 1593 according to the bible of biodiversity, Kruydtboeck.
At that time, a single bulb sold for an amount equivalent to ten times the annual salary of a craftsman; as a result, botanical gardens were regularly pillaged. The first speculative bulb (!) frenzy launched the flower trade throughout Europe, in addition to inspiring a generation of Flemish painters.
Geo-climatic conditions in the Netherlands are notoriously suitable for this. The tenacious bulbs endure the cool nights of northern Europe and benefit from natural irrigation because the amusingly named Netherlands are mostly below sea level.
Likewise, the Dutch monarchy gives the Canadian government 10,000 bulbs each year at the Ottawa Tulip Festival. Queen Juliana and her family fled to Canada in the early days of the Second World War and Princess Margriet was born here.
Plant lovers, amateur photographers or curious botanists: in any case, a visit to the largest flower garden in the world is a must. I have personally been there three times and each time, it’s a guaranteed delight!
To be clear, there are 800 varieties of tulips in seven million bulbs replanted each year on some 32 hectares. Hyacinths, roses, irises, orchids, daffodils, carnations, tulips and other flowers in all the colors of the rainbow grace the green plains of Keukenhof.
For a few euros, the gardens provide bicycles for visitors; a gentle sporting expedition on two wheels (need we remind you that the Netherlands has an extremely flat terrain?) punctuated by emblematic wooden mills and fields of tulips.
Elsewhere in the country
Firstly, the bucolic region of Bollenstreek, between Leiden and Haarlem, passing by Keukenhof and the Lisse area, is the epicenter of this lucrative industry. I was able to wander around in peace, admiring here and there the fuchsia, yellow, purple and scarlet blooms spread out as far as the eye could see.
No need for geographical coordinates to find them. To clarify, they are impossible to miss!
Noordoostpolder and Flevoland
Secondly, an interesting option to see tulips in the Netherlands is Flevoland. On the opposite side of the A6 freeway is the Noordoostpolder lake area, which also has many flower beds. And unlike the Bollenstreek area, which borders the airspace of Schiphol airport and is therefore off limits to tourists, this part of the Netherlands is accessible from the air in a helicopter, small plane or even a hot air balloon. In fact, several departures are offered from the Lelystad airport center.
Finally, Royal Flora Holland in Aalsmeer welcomes the world’s largest flower auction with 20 million sales each day, worth more than three billion euros annually. This auction is open to anyone willing to get up at the crack of dawn to attend this dynamic show!
Amsterdam in spring is a sight for sore eyes. Indeed, every canal adorns pretty floral displays, as are the restaurant terraces and botanical gardens.
True gardeners should make a mandatory stop at the Bloemenmarkt market, on the edge of the Singel Canal, east of Koningsplein. Its 15 floating stalls are a reminder of when the capital was served daily by barge. Flowers, bulbs (sealed and ready for export) and horticultural accessories from the wonderful world of botany have been traded there since 1862.
Tulips in the Netherlands: useful travel tips
Go on a guided day trip
- Keukenhof, tulips fields & Delft day trip from Amsterdam
- Keukenhof and Zaanse Schans guided day tour with Amsterdam canal cruise
- Day trip to Keukenhof Gardens from Amsterdam
- Keukenhof’s tulips and windmills small-group tour from Amsterdam with lunch
- Private day trip to Keukenhof & tulip fields with a local
Rent a car
However, I preferred to rent a car to discover these colourful pastures at my own pace. An ode to spring of some 270 kilometers! After only a few minutes of driving towards the coast, I could already see the coveted streaks on the horizon.
The best time to see tulips
Tulip season runs from the end of March until mid May, but the flowers are usually at their best halfway through April. Consequently, it would be advisable to plan your trip roughly in mid-April.