Imagine the most beautiful, colorful, vibrant field of flowers that you’ve ever seen in your life, and now quadruple it. This is how we spent the next day on our one-year wedding anniversary road trip through Europe. It had been on my bucket list to frolic through tulip fields in the Netherlands, and in this post we do just that, plus explain all the best places to see flowers on your trip. We make it out to a local family farm for a spectacular photo shoot, walk the gardens of Keukenhof, and even experience the historic Dutch Flower Parade. If you’re a flower enthusiast, or visiting the Netherlands in spring, then read on to ensure you experience all the best places to get your fill of flowers.
Did you know… the Netherlands is world famous for its colorful tulip fields? Around two billion tulips are exported every year, making the Netherlands the world’s largest exporter of flowers. Tulip season is around April 10th to May 5th. The exact week depends on when the last frost of winter takes place, because this affects when the bulbs can be planted. However, if you visit the Netherlands around this window of time, you are bound to see tulips. It was pure luck that our wedding anniversary falls on this exact date range! What a most perfect time of year (and excuse) to visit.
Our last post ended in Volendam, a lovely town just north of Amsterdam. You can read about that quaint harbor town here. Our short time there was wonderful. The drive from Volendam to our next destination allowed us the opportunity to stop off at a few family cheese farms along the way and stock up on snacks for our next hotel.
Today we were headed to the towns of Lisse and Sassenheim. My best friend had recommended Lisse, as that is where the Kukenhof gardens are. Although Sassenheim wasn’t included in the list of must-see destinations that she provided us, I had done some research of my own and realized that we needed to stop in this town. While we were visiting, the Bloemencorso Bollenstreek (annual Dutch Flower Parade) was going to be taking place (what luck!), and Sassenheim was the perfect spot to view the parade.
First stop was to Keukenhof Gardens. It happened to be only a 50-minute drive from Volendam and on our way to the hotel. We had left Volendam early enough in the day that we had plenty of time to spend in the garden before they closed.
Entry tickets cost €18.50 ($22.42 USD) per person. Tickets are available for purchase online or in person. I’d say it was well worth the price. You can travel all over the Netherlands and see tulips but not get close to them… however, in this park you are incredibly immersed in floral heaven. The grounds were immaculately manicured and clean, and they offered endless photo opportunities, floral installations, performances, interactive activities, and dining. Although the website says most people spend three hours in the park, I can say from experience that the park is huge, and we spent way longer than three hours on site. You could literally spend all day there if you took your time and captured pictures along the way. And trust me, you’ll take hundreds of photos. It was extremely difficult for me to narrow down the photos I have selected for you below. It kind of feels like a disservice to leave so many great pictures out, but you’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s spectacular and a must-see destination in the Netherlands.
There are plenty of photo opportunities:
There are plenty of flowers:
There are even some art installations sprinkled throughout the experience:
Such a splendid park takes a massive team of horticulturists to plant and maintain the grounds. We visited in April of 2019, and although the park was closed for most of 2020 due to COVID, they kept the flowers blooming and offered virtual visits on YouTube. Check out this behind-the-scenes video welcoming us back for 2021.
And if you’re in northern Netherlands, I’ve heard good things about the Anna Paulowna garden, which is less touristy than Keukenhof. Holland’s largest contiguous area with tulip fields blooms near this village, about 37 miles (or 60 km) north of Amsterdam.
On the way to Keukenhof, we had passed fields of tulips just off the side of the road, so when we left the park, we circled back to see if we could find them again. We found it, and just across the street there were some parking spots. We pulled over, crossed the street with our camera gear, and enjoyed a magnificent photo shoot on this beautiful farm.
A word of caution would be that these farms off the sides of the roads are privately owned. We definitely weren’t the only people there taking pictures, but there was a point when it seemed there were a lot of people on the site, and the farmer eventually came out to shoo everyone away. The most important thing is to be respectful. These flowers, as spectacular as they are, are that farmer’s livelihood. Don’t walk too far into the flower paths, don’t break stems or flowers, and certainly don’t pick them as souvenirs. You can enjoy them from a distance, or be extremely careful if taking pictures just inside the pathways, and then be on your way.
Take a look at how seriously breathtaking these photos are. I still cannot believe these photos are mine. The colors were so vibrant! The rows of yellow, pink, and orange seemed to go on as far as the eye could see. Since I’d learned of tulip fields in the Netherlands, it’s been on my bucket list to see. And on this day, I was able to cross it off. We probably stayed close to 45 minutes. It was a little drizzly, the sun was beginning to set, and it was getting pretty cold outside.
In hindsight, I really did feel terrible when the farmer came out to shoo us away. In that moment, I realized the farm is probably not open for visitors. I wished I had planned better and picked a tulip field that was more commercial or an attraction, over the one that we stumbled upon that ended up being privately owned for harvest purposes. I learned after the fact that there is a commercialized flower farm just 10 minutes away (or 5 km) from Keukenhof that is called Farm De Tulperij in Voorhout. The farmer and his wife take visitors on tours through the flower fields, teach you the history of tulips and the bulb growing process, show you the greenhouse, and even offer refreshments. The farm is open from 9:30am to 5:00pm daily in season. There are also a bunch of other fields that are open to the public.
My best friend (from the Netherlands) sent me the below bike map and landmark suggestions, which are an alternative and fun way to experience the tulips. If you have more time than we did, rent some bikes and go explore. The landmarks below can be put into your GPS in case you get off track or just need to put in a destination to get you to guaranteed tulip spots:
- In the yellow area: Landgoed Kasteel Keukenhof (Mansion on a country estate), Keukenhof Molen (Windmill)
- In the orange area (Lisse, Noordwijkerhout and Hillegom): Landgoed Tespelduyn (Restaurant)
- In the red area: No specific landmarks but takes you to the beach and dune area
- In the purple area (supposed to have the prettiest tulip fields of Lisse and Voorhout): Bloembollenkwekerij De Tulperij (Family farm), ‘t Huys Dever (Ancient Ruins/Castle)
Our hotel, the Van der Valk Hotel Sassenheim-Leiden, was only about 15 minutes away from the flower fields and Keukenhof gardens. We decided to stay the evening here because it had been one of the closest hotels to the parade grandstands (actually advertised on the map for the parade website). We planned to walk from the hotel to the parade the next morning, so this prime location was optimal.
The hotel itself is a 4.3 out of 5 star rating, beautiful, and modern. If you plan to attend the parade and visit during the tulip festival, I highly suggest booking as early as possible. As the cheaper rooms sell out early, the larger rooms can become costly. We booked early and were lucky to snag the Comfort Room which is the smallest room and runs as low as €79.00 ($95.80 USD) a night. Although it’s the smallest room, I actually found it to be huge with a great bathroom. Plenty big for two people for one evening. Highly recommend. Do keep in mind that if staying the weekend of the flower parade, prices can be inflated, but the price does include parking and wifi.
We’d worked up a bit of an appetite walking around all day, but it was already dark out, and we didn’t want to roam too far from the hotel or be out too late as we had an early start tomorrow. We decided to drive three minutes to the nearest McDonalds for dinner. You may laugh, but hubby and I actually enjoy trying McDonalds everywhere we travel to compare the quality to home. They also have different menu offerings in each country, and even some usual menu options (like double cheeseburgers) just taste better outside of America. Dinner hit the spot.
At dinner, we had come up with a great idea to Google if there was a local grocery store nearby. We knew we had an early start in the morning and wouldn’t have time to go out and buy breakfast, so if we could purchase that today, then it would make our morning easier. We also figured we could use a few more snacks for the parade and continuation of our road trip. Lucky for us, a Dirk van den Broek was only a four-minute drive away.
This store was huge! It was such a great decision to go grocery shopping. We stocked up on all the essentials: Bread, deli meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and Nutella, and then we spotted the motherload of stroopwafel (a wafer cookie made from two thin layers of baked dough joined by a caramel filling). They came in a dozen flavors. We’d already had wonderful homemade from-the-farm stroopwafel on our drive from Volendam this morning… so how good could grocery stroopwafel be? For the very affordable price of around €3 ($3.65 USD) per sleeve, we were willing to take a chance, and boy are we glad that we did. This grocery store-bought stroopwafel, probably made in some factory in the Netherlands, was still way better than any store-bought stroopwafel that we have been able to find in America since this trip. Not only did we pick up a few sleeves for ourselves, but we also stocked up on a bunch more sleeves that we planned to bring to our offices when we got back to America. When buying souvenirs for our colleagues at work, we require such large quantities, that it costs us a mini fortune, so my pro tip would be to purchase food-related items from grocery stores over airport shops or boutique shops (although buying from small mom-and-pop shops is lovely too).
After an extremely successful grocery trip, we returned to the hotel, put away our small trove of yummy groceries, and then got ready for bed.
One of our most highly anticipated activities that I had planned in the Netherlands was the Flower Parade. It was a happy coincidence that I stumbled upon the information online, and the parade was taking place while we were there. This parade is unique in that it’s the only parade around the world that is totally made up of spring flowers. Every float is adorned with flowers. With more than a million visitors from all over the world, it’s definitely a festive attraction for locals and tourists alike. I just knew it was meant to be that we attend. “When in
Rome Holland,” am I right?
Though you can stand along the parade route for free, Hubby and I felt we’d rather guarantee our plans and book grandstand seating. It would allow us a little peace of mind and provide us with an excellent and comfortable view. Not to mention the website stated there was free parking, a restroom, snacks and warm beverages for purchase, and a band performance. So Hubby and I jumped on purchasing two tickets for the grandstands but ended up running into a major snag. Our American credit cards weren’t accepted by the Dutch website. We found a contact email address and sent them a kind email asking if there was any way we could purchase tickets. They were so responsive! We had a series of email exchanges over the course of three days, and on the third day, we had tickets in our email inbox. The customer service was truly wonderful. The total price was €51.50 ($62.47 USD) for tickets and service fee. That sounds a little steep when you consider you can watch the parade for free, but we had a wonderful time, and I would recommend it if you can splurge.
The parade route is a whopping total of 26 miles long (the length of a marathon!) and runs from 9:00am to 9:00pm from start to finish. For an American reference, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is only 2.65 miles, one-tenth the length of this one! With such a long route, there are dozens of places to view as a spectator. As I mentioned above, I felt Sassenheim was the perfect spot to view the parade, because I wanted to be as close to the start of the route as possible. The earlier the parade passed us, the faster we could be back on our road trip and fit in an additional activity that day. In hindsight, this was a very wise decision, and we were very happy with the outcome.
Sassenheim in particular was essential, because there are only four ticketed grandstand viewing sites along the entire route. I don’t know the next time we’ll be back in the Netherlands, or if we’ll be fortunate enough to make it during tulip season, so I figured we should purchase grandstand tickets to make the most of our experience. Grandstand locations are in Sassenheim (parade passing around 12:15pm), Lisse (passing around 3:05pm), Hillegom (passing around 5:10pm), and Heemstede (passing around 8:30pm). So if we booked the Sassenheim grandstands, we’d be done with the parade around 1:00! That sounded great to me!
On parade day, it was only a nine-minute walk from the hotel to the grandstand, and although there was free parking at the grandstands, we decided to walk over because it would be faster to walk back to our car and hop on the highway after the parade. This was a solid move, because the road was congested for the vehicles leaving the parking lot at the end of the parade.
We got there early, admittedly a bit too early (oops!), because we knew we needed a front-row seat since our camera tripod takes up space. It was maybe an hour before the front row was full, so we probably could have arrived a bit later. The view and the wait were nice though, and I still recommend the front row even though every now and then some people would walk or bike by on the sidewalk between us and the street and block your view slightly.
While we were waiting for the parade to begin, a lovely band called De Stropers De Zilk performed for us. We seriously took like 200 hundred pictures of them. They were so animated. Our favorite part was when one of them took off his wooden clogs and started clapping them together over his head. We were cracking up. Check out these great pics my hubby took. You can see the grandstands and band members in the reflections in sunglasses and instruments.
The parade itself consisted of a few marching bands, some people dressed as flowers walking the route (like clowns), cars and buses with huge floral arrangements on top, and floats that were 100% covered in fresh flowers. To me, the floats were definitely the most impressive part.
In 2021, the annual Dutch Flower Parade is slated to take place on Saturday, April 17th. Additional information on the future parade can be found here.
After the parade, we walked back to the hotel. We had already checked out and put our luggage in our rental car before we went to the parade, but we were able to use the hotel lobby restrooms before we hit the road to continue on our road trip.
In just a 24-hour span, Hubby and I saw all the best flowers that the Netherlands had to offer. We leisurely walked through the impressive Keukenhof gardens, took the most breathtaking photoshoot at a local farm, and were spectators at the annual globally-renowned flower parade. My goal for this trip was to cross fields of tulips off my bucket list, and I definitely accomplished it!
Stay tuned for our next Amarvelous Honeymoon post covering Amsterdam!