Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Keukenhof, the Netherlands

I think there is only one word to adequately describe Keukenhof: WOW! Known around the world for the spectacular display of spring bulbs, Keukenhof puts on a massive show every spring. An incredible seven million bulbs are planted for the yearly extravaganza which lasts only 8 weeks from mid-March to mid-May. During this time, the gardens are inundated by masses of visitors from across tulip-crazy Netherlands and from around the world. Self-professed as “the most beautiful garden in the world”, it sets a high standard but doesn’t disappoint.

Keukenhof has managed to achieve world wide fame through complete dedication to spring bulbs, in particular the tulip. However, I think that what really sets the garden apart is the perfect background it has created to really bring out the beauty of bulbs. The whole garden is set in gently rolling woodland, underneath huge trees just leafing out in crisp new leaves during tulip season, through which filtered sunlight perfectly illuminates drifts of bulbs with incredible colours. A small lake, meandering streams, naturalized bulb areas and a Japanese garden complete the picture. And to top it off, the entire garden smells incredible - it's like being in a flower shop the whole time without being overwhelming.At 32 hectares/80 acres, the gardens are surprisingly large, and it takes at least a few hours to make it through everything. Although all planting beds are spring bulbs, and the vast majority of bulbs are tulips, somehow the carefully orchestrated arrangements continue to amaze throughout the garden. It’s impossible not to take pictures at every turn – it’s embarrassing how many we took, but it's hard to control oneself. Apparently, Keukenhof is also the most photographed garden in the world, so we’re not alone. And just in case you still have space on your camera memory card, there are many other premeditated photo-ops in the garden, including the giant Dutch clogs, the turning windmill and walking on water pictures. Keukenhof is the Disneyworld of gardens!

The one tip I must pass on about Keukenhof is the crowd. In the 8 weeks they are open, they get an astonishing 700,000 visitors! We got there at 9am, which was one hour after opening, and already there were a lot of visitors. Luckily, the paths are generous and the gardens large enough to accommodate quite a few people without detracting from their beauty. Early in the day, you can appreciate the impeccable views, the perfectly staged vistas, and enjoy the overall feeling of the garden. By noon, the garden was really filling up, and by 1pm it was absolutely ridiculous. It was almost impossible to move along the paths, and instead of the beautiful vistas that greeted us when we entered, the primary impression was that of many, many people with cameras. And outside the garden, there was a 2km long car lineup waiting to get in. I suspect that the magic of the garden is somewhat lost if you spend a few hours in a car lineup, a few more hours fighting through crowds to actually see anything or sneak a picture, and a lot time waiting in bathroom line-ups, for which you also have to pay.

Overall, Keukenhof is an unforgettable, once in a life time experience that overwhelms the senses with the spring bulb experience, especially tulips. Just get there before the crowds to fully enjoy the beauty and spirit of the garden.

Garden Summary
What: Keukenhof, the Netherlands
Where: Just outside the town of Lisse, south-west of Amsterdam [Map]. You can buy a combi-ticket on the Keukenhof website which includes a bus from the Amsterdam airport. We took the train, and the closest train stop is Hillegom, about 4.5km away from the gardens. If you rent bikes, it's a pleasant ride in, or a bit of a longer walk through the tulip fields. I would definitely recommend avoiding car travel - only a narrow two-lane road leads to the garden, resulting to long lineups.
When: Only open from Mid-March to mid-May (check exact opening times on web site each year). We went last weekend (April 25th), and I think it was perfect for prime tulip display. The weeks before and after are probably good as well. The gardens are absolutely impeccably maintained, so the display is probably great any time during the open period.


  1. Nothing short of amazing. Definitely a must-see garden. I agree that the trees add a wonderful dimension to the display. Without them, it would be more or less a field of bulbs. A magnificient one, no doubt, but perhaps not as striking.

    (Sorry for the late comment. I've just stumbled upon your blog and am perusing chronologically. May I ask which part of Canada you are from ?)

  2. Thanks for visiting! I'm from Toronto and thought I would miss the winters when I moved to Belgium. Turns out we had more snow here this year than back home. Hopefully we'll make up for it with an earlier spring and full tulip bloom by April!