Tiptoe through the tulips: how to experience Amsterdam in bloom
Lonely Planet Writer
While rainbow-carpeted flower fields and bright bunches of tulips may be the definitive symbol of the Netherlands, Amsterdam itself is better known for its scenic canals, charming buildings and, of course, scantily-clad ladies beckoning from windows to late night revellers. But you don’t have to venture far from the city into rolling hillsides to be knocked out by the beauty of the Dutch floral show; you can have a bloomin’ good time close to the heart of Amsterdam.
Dutch tulips, one of Europe's most famous floral sights. Image by Kate Morgan / Lonely Planet.
Botanists, flower-lovers and tourists alike make the pilgrimage each year to one of the world’s most famous flower gardens, Keukenhof (
keukenhof.nl), to ooh and ahh over winding rows of iconic tulips, delicate orchids and snow-like fluttering blossoms. Located in the town of
Lisse, a short bus trip from
Amsterdam, the park attracts around 800,000 visitors from around the world when it opens for just eight weeks in March and May to show off its 7 million bulbs that are planted each year. Dating back from 1857, the park was designed in the English landscape garden style and these days it provides the perfect setting for hundreds of flower growers to showcase their bulbs, flowers and plants.
Springtime strolling in the Keukenhof Gardens. Image by Kate Morgan / Lonely Planet.
Impressively, the park is redesigned every year in line with the current trends and floral designs. 2015 sees Keukenhof open its gates for the 66th time from 18th March, but you better get in quick as the season is fleeting and the park closes on 17 May.
A great way to round off the Keukenhof experience is on a lazy bike ride through the flower fields after you’ve explored the gardens. Bikes can be rented near the main entrance from Rent-a-bike Van Dam. There are four signposted routes ranging from 5-25 km and maps are available.
Cruise around flower fields on the Netherlands' favourite mode of transport, a bicycle. Image by Kate Morgan / Lonely Planet.
Flora Holland flower auction
Housed in a trading hall spanning the size of Monaco, Flora Holland (
Aalsmeer is the world’s largest indoor flower auction house and is a definite must-see for anyone curious about the industry. A 20-minute bus ride from Amsterdam will have you at the heart of the
Netherlands’ commercial flower industry where workers zip and weave around each other on carts filled with cases of flowers carrying everything from roses, orchids and daffodils to tulips, begonias and chrysanthemums.
Every day here millions of flowers from around 50 different countries are bought and sold and you can watch the auction process if you rise early enough (they open at 7am). A self-guided tour is available in many languages.
Blooms on an industrial scale at the Flora Holland Flower Auction. Image by Kate Morgan / Lonely Planet.
One of the oldest botanic gardens in the world is in the middle of Amsterdam and makes for a peaceful pit stop after dodging bicycles all day in the city. Established in 1638 as a herbarium,
Hortus Botanicus now blooms with over 4000 plant species from around the world, including the oldest potted plant, on its mere 1.2 hectare site.
Immaculately tended shrubbery in Amsterdam's serene and green Hortus Botanicus. Image by Karen Massier / Photostock Getty.
The garden and its greenhouses hold an impressive diversity of plants that represent seven different climates from sub-tropical and desert to the Palmhouse, Mexican Greenhouse and the Butterfly House where you can spot incredibly delicate glass-winged butterflies with their transparent wings. The Orangery terrace onsite is a perfect spot for sipping wine on a sunny Amsterdam afternoon surrounded by the gardens.
Floating flower market
While it does feel like a bit of a tourist trap, if you’re a flower addict then you’ll want to check out the city’s floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt, to pick up your own bunch of fresh tulips or bulbs to take home (check with the seller that you will be able to take these home as some are prohibited). Rows of stalls float on permanent barges along the canal and fresh flowers are brought in daily.
Bouquets of tulips, ready to be plucked from Amsterdam's Bloemenmarkt. Image by Kimberley Coole / Photostock Getty.
Kate travelled to the Netherlands with assistance from KLM airlines, NBTC (holland.com) and i amsterdam (iamsterdam.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.
This article was first published in May 2014 and updated in March 2015.