In temperate climates, we always know when spring is arriving when the first perennial flowers poke their green stems out of the dead, brown earth. It is something we can look forward to every year, and the spring bulbs bring a splash of color and life to our parks and gardens – sometimes even before the snows and frosts have left us behind.
We can thank the industrious Dutch for many of these early spring joys, for no other country has such a love for daffodils and tulips as the Netherlands. Their careful cultivation techniques have made flowers a big business, and many of the bulbs we enjoy around the world are exported from Holland. Naturally, the best time to visit this warm, friendly country is in the spring, when the flowers are still in full bloom and painting the landscape in streaks of every color.
North Holland’s premier flower-based attraction is Keukenhof, a sprawling garden with the best of Dutch bulb flowers, annuals, fountains, and exotic greenhouses. The park is only open for two months each year, when the colors of the Netherlands are in full display. Naturally – especially on a beautiful, warm sunny day – it is very busy.
Luckily, a handy bike rental kiosk operates just outside the park entrance, offering the chance to cycle through the commercial-scale flower fields around the gardens, the seemingly out-of-place sand dunes, and the North Sea coast.
Holland is a cyclist’s paradise. Much of it stands on land reclaimed from the sea, drained and kept dry with the famous Dutch windmills. Because the soil here was until recently a tidal marsh, the land is sandy, soft, and pancake-flat. The lack of hills makes long distance travel by bicycle practical for nearly everyone – there are almost as many bicycles as there are citizens in the Netherlands – and the national road infrastructure reflects this bikes-first mentality. Wide, two-lane cycle tracks run parallel to most urban and inter-city roads, keeping bikers safely away from cars as they pedal around the country.
From Keukenhof, the longest cycling route runs all the way to the sea, kept at bay by large sand dunes. These gray, sandy hills are a surprising sight after miles and miles of low, flat flower fields. Thankfully, paved walking and cycling routes crisscross this national park, allowing cycling visitors to enjoy the dunes without slogging through the shifting sand.
After a brief stop at a public beach on the North Sea, the long cycle route turns back into the flower fields on the way back to Keukenhof. Acres of various flowers in every shape and color stretch out from both sides of the road. Some flowers are harvested for commercial export to dealers and florists, others are cultivated for their valuable bulbs, which are sold to gardeners around the world.
After the long ride, the gardens of Keukenhof provide a pleasant – if very crowded – stroll for close-up looks at some of the world’s favorite flowers in the country that made them famous.
The grounds of Keukenhof have various gardens and sub-gardens, with different themes, flower varieties, and color palettes. Plain old vanilla tulips aren’t the only flowers to be seen, endless varieties of annual and perennial flowers line the curving paths.
Indoor greenhouses at each corner of the garden are packed with various exotic species and themed exhibits. Orchids and lilies were the stars of two of these exhibits this year.
Whether or not a visit to this celebration of all things tulip is on your must-do list (entrance is a bit spendy, and it is quite crowded on weekends), a cheap bike rental for a leisurely ride through the Dutch countryside should be.
For those traveling to the Netherlands outside of flower season, don’t despair! There are plenty of urban diversions to enjoy in this beautiful country. Stay tuned!