Do you have a favourite flower?
If, like me, you love tulips then let yourself be enchanted by The Netherland’s Keukenhof Gardens. This magical flower show is an easy day trip from Amsterdam and other major Dutch cities.
Keukenhof is deservedly one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. During the eight weeks that it is open each year, it attracts close to one million visitors.
Perhaps indicative of middle age, Keukenhof Gardens and its adjacent tulip fields had been steadily creeping up my travel bucket list in recent years. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Here’s my guide to visiting Keukenhof as a day trip from Amsterdam, Leiden or Haarlem and what to expect from your visit.
What are the Keukenhof Gardens?
Spread over an area of 32 hectares, Keukenhof is known as The Garden of Europe. Established in 1949 as a showcase for Holland’s cut-flower industry, from mid-March to mid-May the gardens display the results of approximately 7 million flower bulbs planted there each year.
A short history of Keukenhof
The gardens themselves date back to the 15th Century when the land that Keukenhof now occupies belonged to Teylingen Castle. The lady of the house, Countess van Beleren, added a small garden from which this site owes its name. Keukenhof means ‘kitchen courtyard’.
Where is Keukenhof?
Keukenhof Gardens are located in the heart of southern Holland’s flower bulb region in Lisse, a small town between Amsterdam and Den Haag (The Hague).
How do I get to Keukenhof?
If you don’t have a car, it is easy to reach Keukenhof Gardens by public transport with regular bus services from Amsterdam, Schipol Airport, Leiden, Hoofddorp, Haarlem and Region Bollenstreek. If you are travelling to Keukenhof from Amsterdam you will need to change bus at Hoofdorp.
I recommend buying a Combiticket, which bundles your bus transfer and Keukenhof entrance ticket. This is the cheapest way to travel, convenient and means that you will not have to queue for entrance tickets on arrival. This Combiticket costs €25 and is available from the garden’s website. It is downloadable as an e-ticket.
Combitickets that also include rail travel to one of the four hubs – Hoofdorp, Schipol, Leiden and Haarlem – are also available
Head over to the Keukenhof’s website to check transport options and buy tickets.
On an organised tour
You can also visit Keukenhof on an organised tour.
It will cost you €6 to park your car.
Keukenhof opening times & ticket price (2019)
In 2019, Keukenhof Gardens are open from March 21st until May 19th. The opening hours are from 8:00 to 19:30.
The entrance ticket is €18. You save €1 by buying this online.
How long can I expect to spend at Keukenhof?
How long you spend here is entirely up to you. I spent an easy four hours there and it was the swelling crowds that eventually persuaded me to leave.
Tips for visiting Keukenhof Gardens
#1 Buy your ticket online to avoid queueing
Less time queuing, more time looking at the flowers.
#2 Get there early to avoid the crowds
Keukenhof opens at 8 am. When I arrived shortly before 9 am it wasn’t too busy, and this was at the start of the Easter weekend. Two hours later, it was heaving.
Alternatively, visit in the latter half of the day.
#3 Pick up a map of the gardens at the entrance
#4 Organise your time wisely
If you would like to take the optional canal cruise to see the tulip fields, book this on arrival. When I got off the boat shortly before 11 am the queue was massive.
The same applies to climbing Keukenhof’s windmill and to strolling around popular areas such as the lake.
#5 Keep track of the flower reports
If you have your heart set on seeing Holland’s tulip fields in full bloom, check the status before you visit. Tulips bloom at different times each year.
Subscribe to a weekly flower update, courtesy of Tulips in Holland.
What to expect from a visit to Keukenhof Gardens
Broadly speaking, there are two elements to Keukenhof: the flower beds and the pavilions.
The flower beds
Prepare yourself for complete sensual immersion. Be mesmerised by over 800 varieties of tulips arranged in contrasting and intricate patterns. My favourite display was a river of hyacinths cascading through woodland, their sweet smell carried on the breeze.
A few images can illustrate this far better than any words. Just add birdsong.
Keukenhof’s pavilions house the flower shows where the growers present their prize blooms and flower arrangers demonstrate their craft. These flower displays change as the season progresses.
Fittingly, the theme for 2019 at Holland’s Keukenhof Gardens was Flower Power. Tulips draped around vintage vehicles; dream catchers festooned with hyacinths, dangling from the pavilion’s ceiling; displays of daffodils gracing an altar to John Lennon.
Other activities at Keukenhof
Keukenhof is also home to a children’s play area and a petting zoo, complete with a strutting peacock.
And if you are inspired by your visit to Keukenhof Gardens, you can purchase tulip bulbs to recreate the look back home. Just make sure that you are allowed to bring these back with you.
Eating & drinking at Keukenhof
Cafes and restaurants are plentiful and reasonably priced. But if you are able to bring your own refreshments, Keukenhof is a perfect place for a picnic. I did feel a slight twinge of envy when I passed a group of visitors pouring themselves glasses of the fizzy stuff from their picnic hamper.
How can I visit the tulip fields from Keukenhof?
In my view, visiting the Dutch tulip fields is a must-do. If you don’t have your own car, there are three ways of doing this.
Cycle through the tulip fields
This is the quintessential Dutch experience.
You can rent bikes at the main entrance to Keukenhof. At popular times bikes can be in short supply. Therefore, if you have your heart set on cycling through the tulip fields, reserve a bike online before you arrive.
Renting a bike costs as little as €10 for three hours or €15 for a full day. The rental company also provide suggested cycling routes from 5km to 25km which will take you as far as the sea.
Visit the tulip fields by electric car
More of a golf buggy and less of a car, driving a two-person Renault ‘Twizzy’ is a fun way to view the tulip fields, albeit at a higher price at €65 for 90 minutes per car.
The cars use GPS navigation to drive a 22 km fixed route through the tulip fields and an audio guide in Dutch, English and German is also available.
The starting point is Meer en Duin 36 in Lisse, just under 1 km from the entrance to Keukenhof. For further information and online booking, head to the Flower Tour website.
Take the Keukenhof canal cruise
The cheapest option at €8 for a 45-minute cruise, but not necessarily the best. An electrically powered ‘whisper boat’ glides past the tulip field adjacent to Keukenhof, accompanied by a crackling commentary.
Although relaxing, your view of the tulip fields is restricted as these are either at or below eye level.
Final tips …
I defy you to visit Keukenhof Gardens and not develop tulip mania. If you can, try to visit in late April or early May, when the flowers are usually at their peak, avoiding weekends and public holidays.
Although Keukenhof is an easy day trip from Amsterdam or Rotterdam, I recommend staying in Leiden. Not only is it a short, direct bus journey to the gardens from here, but Leiden is also an often-overlooked, charming university city.