Keukenhof Tulip Garden, Tulip Fields and Dutch History
Spring is almost here, and there is no better place to see it in full bloom than at The Netherlands’ Keukenhof Garden. It’s not something we do very often. Lydian, the Dutch of us, had never even been here before our first visit. Pal, an Amsterdam expat, was returning for the first time since his first visit fourteen years ago. So, it’s about time to go: Keukenhof, tulip fields, and a bit of Dutch history.
Ask any Amsterdamer or Dutch person if they’ve been to Keukenhof, the Garden of Holland. You’ll almost certainly be met with curious eyes asking if you’re looking for tourists. It’s still one of the typical things to do in the Netherlands for visitors, but it’s something the locals avoid. Is this really the case? Maybe it’s one of those hidden pleasures, but we don’t talk about it around here?
From some Turkish bulbs to a burst bubble…
The usual reservation is not related to a Dutch revolt against their beloved blooming bulbs, which flood global markets every year. It’s a flower-loving country, with some of the highest per capita spending (though a nice bouquet is still relatively inexpensive here), and there will be tulips and other blooms everywhere.
The criticism stems from the fact that visiting Keukenhof sounds like a hectic experience, with busloads of tourists invading the 32 hectares set aside for this colorful spectacle. Because the “lifespan” of this annual color explosion is only about eight weeks, it does get very busy here. But it’s touristy for a reason: the experience is one-of-a-kind and breathtaking.
The Dutch have an intriguing relationship with this national symbol, the tulip (we’ll get to the clogs, cheese, and windmills later, don’t worry). It reveals a lot about the national character in many ways. Tulip bulbs are not indigenous to the Lowlands; rather, they arrived in the Netherlands from Turkey and Asia Minor, via Vienna.
Carolus Clusius, a botanist from the Dutch city of Leiden, was the man behind it all. Clusius was a leading plant collector and enthusiastic scientist in his field in Europe at the time. The Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I’s ambassador in Constantinople brought back bulbs to the Viennese court, and the flowers quickly became popular. Clusius, an expert networker, was soon presented with a few bulbs, which he brought back to his hometown of Leiden in 1593. The botanist took his job seriously, and the tulip bulbs spread like wildfire across Holland.
By the early 17th century, the first steps toward what would become the world’s largest horticultural industry had been taken. Tulip cultivation in the fields surrounding Leiden exploded, and tulips became enormously popular. It was natural at first for the flowers to become an exclusive item, and due to their scarcity, they quickly became a status symbol among the Dutch nobility. It’s no surprise that growing bulbs has become a popular alternative to growing vegetables. What was the end result? The price of the bulbs skyrocketed, and the area’s gardens were soon overflowing with tulips.
A new industry arose in search of exclusivity. What began as a hobby evolved into a science: plant breeding became one of the most lucrative professions, and new varieties continued to emerge, with stripy varieties becoming the most popular. Because of the high demand and attractiveness, another business emerged: professional flower trading. Because the Dutch are good traders, it is not surprising that tulips became so popular in the Lowlands. Dutch merchants are always on the lookout for new business opportunities.
Because tulip bulbs were a commodity that could be traded without the bulb’s physical presence – in fact, without having it available for months – the world’s first financial futures market emerged. People were trading bulbs like they were professional gamblers. People easily invested their entire fortune in this seemingly limitless wealth as prices rose and rose again. However, the world’s first ever speculative bubble was created, along with many dreams. The ‘tulipomania,’ which lasted from 1634 to 1637, was a real thing.
Name the longest-lasting bubble. Nobody knows for sure what happened, but the outbreak of a bubonic plague in the Dutch city of Haarlem, and the ensuing inheritance-related family feuds, caused panic to spread and the bubble to burst. The market collapsed as a result of the complicated contractual obligations – futures, spot contracts, you name it. Today, some argue that all of these stories are greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, people enjoy talking about it – nothing beats a good story, that’s how it is.
… To Dutch Flower Field Dominance
Not only did the stories survive. Tulips and other flower bulbs have since become an important part of Dutch culture, propelling the country to the world’s largest producer and exporter of flowers. It’s fascinating to study the figures surrounding the flower trade and ponder how such a small country can be so dominant in the world of flowers.
Figures from Keukenhof
Here are some numbers to consider:
Every year, the Netherlands produces nearly 4.5 billion tulip bulbs, with more than half of those being grown for cut flowers.
This small country accounts for more than half of the world’s flower trade. If we only consider flower bulb trade, the share is an astounding 80%.
Every day, Dutch flower auctions sell 35 million flowers and 2.3 million plants in 120,000 daily transactions.
The Netherlands, as we all know, is a small country, and when we consider that the majority of production occurs in just a small region of the country, the figures become even more staggering. This region stretches between Haarlem in the north and Leiden in the south, and its touristic epicenter is Keukenhof, just outside of Lisse.
Keukenhof Gardens, Tulip Fields, and Art
Tulips did not only make their way into business. Flowers entered the art world not long after their arrival in the country, particularly during the tulipomania years. Flowers quickly became a symbol for every well-respected home and the gardens associated with them, so it’s no surprise that they became a favorite motif for artists as well. The well-known Dutch still-life is not a coincidence. Today, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, the northernmost point of the Bloemen Route, is one of the best places to see the great production from the Dutch Golden Era. Works by van Goyens, van Dijk, Cornelisz van Haarlem, and others can be found here.
Art is also prominent at Keukenhof. Special events are held on a regular basis, such as when 50 artists visited the garden and painted live in the Willem-Alexander Pavilion in early May 2014. The garden also serves as a permanent home for many statues, with a focus on Dutch works.
The Mother of All Gardens, Keukenhof
The Keukenhof Gardens were founded in 1949 by the then-mayor of Lisse and some local flower bulb growers as a platform for marketing their produce. The first exhibition in 1950 was a huge success; people simply loved the show that was put on display, and the yearly event has only grown in popularity since then. Today, the 32 tulip-filled hectares attract approximately 800,000 visitors over the course of eight weeks, implying that nearly 2,000 people enter the park every hour. It’s no surprise that things get hectic here.
However, once you’ve passed the main entrance and the inevitable crowds, it becomes noticeably less hectic and easier to enjoy. The spectacular display put on by millions of tulips will easily distract you from any human intervention. Of course, you will not be alone, and you will be reminded of the existence of others on occasion – but patience is required.
The park is well-organized, and walking through it is simple thanks to the numerous accessible walking paths. While the flower enclosures are the main attraction of the park, there are also five indoor pavilions named after Dutch royalties: the new king Willem-Alexander, old queens (Juliana, Beatrix, Wilhelmina), or the entire royal house of Oranje-Nassau. Inside, you’ll find even more exhibits, as well as restaurants (with prices that are about 30% higher than in Dutch city centers) and other amenities.
The history of the name Keukenhof
The name Keukenhof, which means “kitchen garden” in Dutch, comes from the nearby castle of the same name. The ground where half of the park is located was originally a 15th century hunting ground as well as a herb garden, hence the name. Certain similarities may be noticed if you are familiar with Amsterdam’s famous Vondelpark. Both are designed by the same landscape architects. The park has grown over time. Today, a pond separates it, with the northern, hillier portion representing the original ground and the southern, younger-looking portion representing the extension.
The old grounds had a slightly higher appeal for us, but this could also be due to a sunny afternoon following a more cloudy morning on the lower side. After finishing the day with a bike ride to the fields and wandering among the spectacular lines of tulips, it was easy to wonder why we hadn’t gone sooner. Yes, we can conclude that it is touristy, but it is also a wonderful and beautiful experience. What about the crowds? It’s easy to overlook them once you start enjoying the flowers and seeing it for what it is: a popular tourist destination. It’s a great pleasure to experience it, and there’s no need to keep it a secret, even for us locals.
Keukenhof – Useful Information
Here’s how to get there:
The options for getting to Keukenhof for the independent traveller are fairly straightforward.
If you are traveling from Amsterdam, your journey should take no more than half an hour, depending on traffic. The 30-kilometer ride to Lisse is usually a breeze. You must first drive to Schiphol Airport, which is only ten minutes away.
The drive from Rotterdam is roughly double the distance, while the drive from Leiden or Haarlem is only about 20 kilometers. Keukenhof has parking and it is usually easy to find a spot; for € 6.00, you can stay for the entire day.
Taking public transportation:
The best way to get to Schiphol Airport from Amsterdam is by train from Amsterdam Centraal or Zuid/Rai or by bus 197 from Leidseplein or Museumplein. Change buses at Schiphol Airport for Bus 858, which will take you to the Keukenhof gate entrance. The bus leaves the airport every 15 minutes, and on weekends, extras are added.
Because it’s a popular route, you might have to let one or two buses pass before you can safely board for your flower experience. Consult the excellent 9292.nl for public transportation schedules, as with all Dutch public transportation. Buy a combination ticket including public transportation and a Skip the Line Keukenhof entrance ticket in advance online to make things easier and more convenient for yourself. This will save a lot of time and trouble queuing.
The procedure from Leiden is similar: take Bus 854, which departs from Leiden Central Station.
Because you cannot purchase transportation tickets on the Keukenhof bus, plan your trip ahead of time. If you have an OV-chipkaart (Dutch public transportation pass), everything is normal; you can travel anywhere in the country by checking in and out with this pass on the bus.
Yes, why not? Simply take the train to Leiden and bike from there. You can ride your bike on Dutch trains outside of peak hours (that is, not between 6:30-9:00 and 16:30-18:00), and a daypass for your bike, regardless of distance, costs € 6.00. Thus, a return ticket from Amsterdam to Leiden will cost you € 17.60 + € 6.00 = € 23.60. The train journey is 20% shorter if you have the OV-Chipkaart.
The distance between Leiden and Lisse is about 17 kilometers, so riding nonstop should take about an hour. Of course, a flat tire is not an option!
Tours with a Guide:
Every day at 2 p.m., one of the friendly, good-natured, and entertaining locals leads a guided tour. These tours are free and provide information not only about the park but also about its history, tulips, and the Netherlands in general. The tour lasts 90 minutes and takes you around the park’s entire 32 hectares. It’s pretty crowded – remember, it’s free – and can get a little hectic. This tour might not be for you if you’ve spent your morning walking around. But if you just got there around lunchtime, head straight to the ‘Bulb Information Pavilion’. Tours are available in a variety of languages, depending on demand, with English always guaranteed.
Tours by boat:
Visiting the surrounding fields by boat is a fun way to add an extra twist to your Keukenhof visit. The tour lasts 45 minutes and is a great way to stretch your legs. You won’t be able to leave the boat, but you can take in the scenery, which can be breathtaking on a sunny day. The best time to visit is during the first half of the opening season, which is around early April – there are usually more fields in bloom than later on. But don’t worry, there will always be some, and seeing it from the water is quite unique, especially if you are unfamiliar with Dutch canal life. Another advantage is that the boats are quiet (they are powered by renewable energy), and what you will hear the most is the bird life along the canals.
The boats leave from the windmill (at the park’s eastern end, you won’t miss it) and cost € 8.00 per adult. Advance reservations are not possible. Expect to wait; it’s usually crowded there, especially on a nice sunny day. Pick up headphones for the audio-guide, which is surprisingly informative and especially worthwhile if you aren’t going on the guided walking tour.
Bicycle through the fields:
So you don’t like crowds and want to get away from it all? You certainly can. Expect to see different things than you would inside the park. But you’ll see so much more in peace and quiet if you bike around the countryside, which is one of the Dutch’s favorite pastimes. You’re probably not going to Keukenhof by bike, but don’t worry, you can rent bikes right outside the park. Not only can you rent regular bikes, but there are also tandem bikes available for the romantics out there – or just for the fun of it. If you want to ensure that a bike is available on the day you arrive, book your ticket ahead of time.
You even get a map with different routes to take, and then all you have to do is hit the bike lanes. Not only will you have your peaceful moments, but you will also have almost the entire tulip field to yourself to photograph. Strongly recommended!
Taking the Flower Road:
If you want to see more of the area, driving along the Bloemen Route, Holland’s own Flower Route, is a great way to do so. The route runs from Haarlem in the north to Naaldwijk in the south, a distance of 75 kilometers, with Keukenhof in the middle. Naaldwijk is home to the world’s largest greenhouse area and is well-known for its flower auction house.
Overflights of the Bulb Fields:
Flights: While not for everyone, you can view the area from the air if you so desire. Take the window seat on your flight to Schiphol as an alternative, but that’s not what we mean. You can also book a 30-minute flight tour from Schiphol over the Keukenhof region, which includes all of the amazing fields. Currently, Ticketbar offers flights as well as bike rentals, public transportation, and entrance tickets, allowing you to spend the entire day in, around, and above the Keukenhof tulip fields.
Some general guidelines:
Update (22/3/2022): The Keukenhof will be open from March 24 to May 15, 2022.
Typically, the park is open from mid-March to mid-May (check the Keukenhof website for the exact dates). Is it always safe to travel? So, almost. While we cannot predict the weather, we can say that it will have an impact on your experience. The best time to visit to see most fields in bloom is in early April. Let’s say it’s April 10th… Ish. What we mean is that it can still be cold in March, but the season is coming to an end in May, especially in the fields.
It doesn’t matter when you go inside the park because the park is managed by professionals who know how to make the flowers bloom just for your visit. As a result, even in late May, most lots are in full bloom.
As previously stated, the Keukenhof can become crowded. If you want to avoid the lines at the entrance and spend more time in the tulip fields, purchase your Skip the Line entrance tickets in advance online.
You can walk into some tulip fields just outside the parking lot where the buses arrive, across the road. It’s a little busier than biking out to the more remote fields, but it’s well worth the short walk. They are truly magnificent fields.
Lisse is probably not the reason you’ve come here, but if you have the time, it’s worth checking out; it’s quite charming.
The Keukenhof Castle is worth a visit; it’s just across the street, hidden in a lush garden.
Topic: Keukenhof Tulip Garden, Tulip Fields and Dutch History
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By: Travel Pixy