Amsterdam Tulip Festival & Keukenhof Gardens
More than 8 million flower bulbs bloom throughout Holland and the Netherlands in spring. Stroll through colorful acres of tulips at Keukenhof Gardens. Explore the streets of Amsterdam during the tulip festival. Many of the city’s principal cultural-institutes take part in this event and plant tulips around their headquarters, creating a colorful patchwork throughout the city. Book a Holland or Amsterdam tour or cruise package and get a true sense of the Netherlands’ extraordinary connection to these blooms.
Tulip Season in the Netherlands vacations...
Tulip Season in the Netherlands is from mid-March to mid-May
Tulips and Holland are practically synonymous. Like the windmill and the wooden shoe, the colorful spring blossom, reminiscent in color and shape of an Easter egg, is a symbol of the Netherlands. After a long gray North Sea winter, the brilliant blooms herald spring and inspire celebration. Acres of rainbow fields crisscross farmlands, especially in the Bollenstreek (Dutch for flower region) just southwest of Amsterdam.
Tulip-love grips the country in spring, bringing visitors from near and far to wander the famous Keukenhof gardens and view the fields. Festivals, public displays, parades, and gardens celebrate the nation’s favorite flower at the prolonged Holland Tulip Festival.
Flowers and bulbs are a huge industry in the Netherlands. The small country, about half the size of Maine, exports over 1 billion flower bulbs annually to the U.S. alone. Tulips dominate this trade, but Holland also exports crocus, daffodil, hyacinth bulbs and more. It’s the largest exporter of cut flowers in the world, making the enormous Aalsmeer Flower Auction a big tourist attraction as well as an economic driver for the region.
The History of the Tulip in The Netherlands
Tulips are relative newcomers to the Netherlands. The flower is native to a wide swath of territory from southern Europe to central Asia and thrives in mild coastal climates with at least three months of sustained cold weather. It was embraced as both a cherished flower and an artistic emblem in the Middle East and has been cultivated in Persia (present-day Iran) since the tenth century. The word tulip is derived from a Persian word for turban.
Sultans of the Ottoman Empire became dedicated tulip enthusiasts, featuring beautiful tulip displays in their lavish gardens. European diplomats to the Ottoman court admired the flower and brought bulbs to Europe, where they swiftly transitioned from horticultural rarity to symbols of wealth and nobility, and then to a global economic cautionary tale.
According to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, the first tulip bloomed in the Netherlands in 1594. This was an era of booming economic prosperity in Holland, and the exotic bloom became hugely popular. Prices rose, speculators got involved and a “futures” market emerged. Tulip Mania took hold. Eventually, single bulbs of rare varieties commanded astronomical prices, but the bubble burst in 1637. The flower remained a national emblem, frequently depicted in Dutch Golden Age paintings by artists such as Rembrandt. Because they thrive in the Dutch climate and the well-drained sandy soil by the North Sea, they rose to play a dominant role in the nation’s agriculture.
Acres of Tulips: A Spectacle You’ll Never Forget
The tulip has enchanted lovers of floral beauty around the globe for millennia, and it has evolved into a beloved symbol for the Netherlands. With its great variety of colors and shapes, and its role as one of the first flowers announcing spring, tulip time in Holland makes a wonderful focal point for spring European travel as well as a cultural touchstone for visiting the Netherlands. Gazing across rainbow ribbons of tulips blooming in the Dutch countryside and wandering among acres of stunning gardens is an awe-inspiring immersion in color and beauty.
Keukenhof Garden Tulip Festival
The premier tulip festival in Holland, and indeed the world, takes place every spring at Keukenhof Gardens. In 2020, it’s scheduled from Saturday, March 21 until Sunday, May 10, spanning 7 weekends and open seven days a week. While the operating dates of the garden are established well in advance, they may change based on winter and early spring weather.
A different theme inspires the collection each year. The 2020 theme is A World of Colors.
Special activities are scheduled throughout the opening weekend, also called Holland Heritage Weekend, with traditional costumes, folkloric dance, living statues of historical Dutch figures, crafts, and a traditional cheese market. Closing weekend (May 9-10, 2020) emphasizes romance, with classical music and dances among the flowers.
Over seven million bulbs bloom in a 79-acre garden. Located in the heartland of agricultural tulip bulb production, the expansive gardens are planted in drifts and swaths of brilliant tulips as well as other spring bulbs such as daffodils, crocus, and fragrant hyacinth. During the fall planting, gardeners often plant bulbs three deep to ensure continuous blooms.
The vibrant display attracts more than a million visitors from around the country and around the globe, to marvel at the gorgeous plantings. Throughout the season, four pavilions host shows focusing on specific flowers. Roses, irises, lilies, orchids, peonies, carnations, and others add to the tulip blooms and heighten the sensory spectacle with an abundance of perfumes and petals.
Two dozen artists contribute visual accents to the grounds. Artist-designed floral mosaics compose colorful pictures, such as a portrait of Vincent van Gogh in 2015 and a Mondrian canvas in 2017. As well, eight thematic gardens welcome visitors, such as the Bikes and Bulbs Garden and the Mystical Garden and the Tea Garden, bursting with fragrant herbs.
While the seasonal attraction known as the Keukenhof Garden is only open for the tulip season, the Keukenhof castle is an attraction in its own right. This 17th-century country estate was built by an administrator for the Dutch East India Company and underwent a Neo-Gothic renovation in 1860. The castle boasts a beautifully preserved interior and extensive Golden Age art collection. Year-round, visitors can stroll the leafy gardens and enjoy views of the landscape and the castle.
Amsterdam Tulip Festival
Amsterdam, the cultural capital of the Netherlands, has its own celebrations of the beloved bulb.
Every January, National Tulip Day brightens this beautiful canal-crossed city. A temporary garden of over 200,000 tulips takes over Dam Square offering a tulip for every citizen: people are invited to pick their own free tulip!
During the Amsterdam Tulp Festival (April 1-30) visitors can regard tulips in bloom at over 85 locations across the city. Tulip displays flower in public areas, in gardens of the city’s museums and hotels, and by distinguished buildings in the city center.
Visit the Amsterdam Tulip Museum in the city any time of year, for information on the history of the tulip and the story of the Netherland’s most famous flower.
Bloemencorso Bollenstreek Flower Parade
Tulip season also inspires one of the world’s largest floral parades, the Bloemencorso Bollenstreek Flower Parade. It travels a 26-mile route, starting from the beaches at Noordwijk and ending in Haarlem, the parade can take over 11 hours! The floats remain on display in Haarlem on Sunday after the procession.
Since its inaugural run in 1947, it has attracted crowds to admire huge floats artfully bedecked with flowers, and beautifully embellished cars. It’s free to watch, although spectators may pay for seats in grandstands with better views and weather protection.
These fields primarily supply the bulb industry, not the cut flower market, so the flowers are headed (cut off) two to three weeks after the bloom begins, to ensure the plants’ energy goes to the bulb, not to seed production. Tourists admire the view from the decks of river cruise ships such as Uniworld’s River Princess or River Duchess, from atop a cycle or e-bike, or from car windows on scenic drives.
Can You Bring or Ship Tulip Bulbs Home?
Regulations for importing plant material vary country by country and are subject to change. Please research current rules, ask your guide, and make sure that any bulbs you wish to import have the right documentation.
Fun Facts about Tulips
Tulips are in the lily family. About 75 species of tulip deliver nearly every color. A truly black tulip hasn’t yet been achieved, but there are deep midnight purple blooms. While there are no blue tulips, some do have blue accents on petals near the stem. While candy-striped, color-streaked tulips were once the result of a virus, today careful genetic selection is responsible for incredible multi-color combinations. Altogether, there are over 3,000 registered varieties.
Tulips also vary in shape and size. The classic oval single tulip is joined by double tulips, also called peony tulips, as well as fringed and “parrot” tulips with ruffled feather-edged petals.
Tulips thrive around the world as harbingers of spring. Many states host tulip festivals across the United States, including Michigan, Washington, Iowa, and Oregon. True tulip fans can even travel to Australia for tulip festivals in September and October.