It's safe to say that most people consider the tulip one of their favorite flowers. Most of us see the tulip as a sign of spring, a belief that the snow and cold of winter is fading away and green and warmth will be more prevalent.

Everyone knows the Netherlands is famous for growing tulips. We've all seen pictures of the fields in brilliant color--rows and rows of brilliant reds, pinks and yellows. This area is known as the Bollenstreek, a triangle-shaped area stretching between Haarlem, The Hague and Leiden, Holland's primary bulb-growing area. The fertile sandy soil plus the climate in this area make a perfect for the flowering bulbs to thrive. From March, the fields are aglow with glorious colors. But seeing these fields yourself is a memorable experience...

Fields of tulips.  I took this photo while on the train from Amsterdam to Leiden. 
Fields of tulips outside the Keukenhof Gardens

I purposely planned our recent trip to the Netherlands in the spring just so we could visit the famous Keukenhof Gardens. Keukenhof literally means kitchen garden. During eight spectacular weeks every spring between the middle of March and the middle of May, visitors have the chance to stroll through the largest bulb flower park in the world. Over 7,000,000 flower bulbs (yes, SEVEN MILLION!) are planted each year. Every year the gardens are designed differently from the previous year; it takes 30 gardeners to plant the millions of bulbs each year.

We were originally supposed to travel to Europe on April 20, but due to all the volcano activity, our trip was postponed for 10 days and we finally left on April 30. I had some concerns that the 10 day delay in traveling would cause us to miss the peak bloom time for the flowers at the Keukenhof--we would not visit the gardens until May 3. This was only 13 days before the gardens closed for 2010. Fortunately for us, the Netherlands had a cooler than normal spring which delayed the blooming of most of the flowers. Great news for us!

Oh, my! I will say that the Keukenhof Gardens were the highlight of the trip for me. Despite all the Flemish and Dutch masterpiece works of art I saw, the gorgeous stained glass I gasped over and magnificent churches I walked through, these sites paled in comparison to the spectacular floral display, both inside and outside, of the Keukenhof Gardens.

From the minute we entered the gardens, we saw groupings of magnificent beauty:
Yellow tulips with grape hyacinth...

It was difficult to determine which direction to walk. We would start walking in one direction, and then, "Oh! Look at that over there!" and start off in another direction. We walked around for nearly 4 hours, but I bet we only saw two-thirds of the gardens. It's huge! We saw:

Tulips of every color:



The tulips I really found interesting were the ones with the fringed edges:

But it's not just millions of tulips that can be seen:

There were amaryllis everywhere, many for sale:

There are thousands of daffodils in bloom...

Hundreds of azalea bushes in bloom:

Thousands of hyacinth and grape hyacinth in bloom-I can still remember the fragrance:

And the flowers weren't just outside in the gardens. Inside the various exhibition buildings located throughout the gardens were thousands of other flowers on display in vases:

In another exhibition building there were hundreds of orchids in every color imaginable on display:


We even purchased tulips bulbs that arrived at my doorstep in early October.  I've planted them to be create my own mini Keukenhof Gardens in my own yard. 

NOTE: In 2011, the Keukenhof Gardens are open from March 24 to May 20, including Sundays and holidays. 

Prepurchase and print out your entrance tickets ahead of time. Go to the Keukenhof Gardens website. Beginning in January 2011, you can prepurchase your entrance tickets which will allow you to skip the line. The 2011 entrance fee will be €14.50. If you plan on driving to the gardens, you can also prepurchase your €6.00 parking ticket online.

However, my suggestion is to purchase the combo-ticket which will give you an entrance ticket plus a roundtrip ticket on the bus that runs from the Leiden train station directly to the gardens. The cost for this combo-ticket is around €21.00.

It's very easy to travel to the Keukenhof Gardens from Amsterdam:

Purchase a roundtrip ticket from Amsterdam's Centraal Station to Leiden. The current cost is around €15.30. The train takes only about a half-hour to reach Leiden.

Exiting the Leiden train station, just look for Bus #54 (Destination: Lisse Keukenhof).

The bus trip takes about another half-hour to reach the gardens. When you've seen enough of the gardens, just catch the same bus back to the Leiden train station.

Another highlight during this time is the Bloemencorso or Flower Parade. Every year (in 2011, the parade is Saturday, April 16) the annual Flower Parade leaves Noordwijk at 9:30 a.m. and travels 40 kilometers along the main roads, arriving in Haarlem around 9:00 p.m. There are approximately 20 large flower-decorated floats and 30 flower-decorated cars along with marching bands. The Flower Parade does pass the Keukenhof Gardens in the afternoon. The floats remain on display in Haarlem until the following evening.

When we originally scheduled the trip to Amsterdam, we were planning to travel to Haarlem to view the parade floats. However, a delay of traveling for 10 days due to the volcano mess made we missed the parade floats. However, other people have been fortunate to see the parade:

Photos: Courtesy of Deb Collins

If you visit the Netherlands in the Spring, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Keukenhof Gardens. It will be a highlight of your trip!

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