History tells us that the first tulip was planted in the Netherlands some 420 years ago. Since that time, the Dutch and tulips have become synonymous. Perhaps you’ve seen the photos of the expansive fields of red, orange, and yellow tulips blanketing the Dutch countryside, sun shining and windmills turning in the background. If you’re an avid gardener or amateur horticulturist, a whiz with a camera, or someone who just admires great beauty, maybe you’ve always wanted to admire that sight in person.
The time is now! Spring provides the perfect opportunity to make a tulip trip to Holland. Specifically, April – especially around mid-month – is ideal as the flowers are at their most glorious about that time of year. Holland has even provided a “Flower Route” for those who wish to spend time amid the tulips, whether you prefer to drive at your own pace or to sign up for escorted tours that include a chance to admire the springtime colors of Holland while enjoying wonderful cities, towns, and villages along the way.
The Flower Route
Holland’s Flower Route (a.k.a. Bloemen Route) is considered one of the world’s most magnificent scenic by-ways and perhaps the most amazing uninterrupted garden you’ll ever see. It stretches for about 25 miles, from Haarlem in the north to Leiden in the south. Along this pathway, you’ll see not only the tulips for which the country is lauded but also daffodils, hyacinth, and narcissus. It’s a sight for sore eyes, for sure, and the photo opportunities are stellar. You’ll not only want to photograph the flowers but also the wonderful people you’ll encounter along the way – many of them selling flowers, as well as the beautiful architecture of The Netherlands.
Haarlem is a joy unto itself and you’ll not only want to start your flower-related journey here but also take time to explore the city. So, consider arriving a day or two in advance of your drive or tour so that you can take in the sights, which include the wonderful Frans Hals Museum, focused on the works of the 17th century painter as well as other Dutch masters; the lovely Church of St. Bavo; and the Historic Haarlem Museum. Be sure to check out the canal tours as well. It’s a lovely time of year to float on the water!
Traveling south, you’ll head towards the town of Lisse, which is home to what most visitors will probably describe as the most picturesque spot along the Bloemen Route. Here’s where you’ll find the Keukenhof Garden which, historians say, started as the simple garden of a countess who lived there during the 15th century. Open to the pubic for the last 65 years, Keukenhof covers about 75 acres and includes a winding footpath that allows visitors to slowly meander through the flowers. The garden sponsors a number of indoor flower shows each year and also chooses an annual theme. For 2013, it’s “United Kingdom – Land of Great Gardens”. Consider taking a “whisper boat” through the surrounding Dutch landscape. Oh, and don’t miss making a stop at the castle across the street!
Continue south through fields of color and take a few moments to stop and buy some blooms from some of the locals. Eventually, you’ll reach pretty Leiden, where you’ll find another garden, simply named The Botanical Garden. It originated in the 16th century and is somewhat understated compared to the much larger and grander Keukenhof, but still well worth a visit. As a matter of fact, some visitors may prefer it because it’s smaller and more manageable for a short visit.
Leiden is the birthplace of Rembrandt and you’ll see plenty of nods to the favored native son there. It’s also home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, the alma mater of mathematician Rene Descartes. Hence, it’s a real university town, filled with pubs and other lively spots frequented by students. There’s also a small but fun windmill museum in town as well as a very interesting American Pilgrim Museum.
You can end your trip in Leiden or continue another hour’s drive further south to Naaldwijk, home to the world’s largest flower auction house. It’s indicative of just how widespread the love of Holland-grown tulips really is and though you can’t actually bid, you can watch the proceedings, which are fascinating. While you’re in Naaldwijk, take a few moments to enjoy a traditional meal and explore the town a little, which includes a few really pretty little churches and some other fine examples of lovely Dutch architecture.