As synonymous with The Netherlands as the coffee shops of Amsterdam and the wooden clogs of, er, the people who wear wooden clogs, this part of the world is famous for the patchwork fields of brightly coloured tulips that emerge from their bulbs every Spring and create a big old paintbox of gloriousness in the countryside. Although there are fields spread out all over Holland, the Keukenhof in Lisse is the world’s largest flower gardens, containing over seven million bulbs every year, and a plethora of individual gardens designed by individual gardeners. In the style of The Chelsea Flower Show, ya know!? On the day in May that we docked at the the beautiful beach of Ijmuiden, the easiest way for us to reach Keukenhof was with a bus from the ship, which made me feel mildly as if I was an octogenarian on a coach trip I found in the local newspaper, but this only added to the excitement of the whole day, plus made me feel ok about the fact that I slept for the entirety of the journey back. I didn’t choose the grandma life, the grandma life chose me.
A Brief History of Tulips, aka TULIPMANIA
Tulips are not actually native to this part of Europe; they were a big deal for the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), and during the 16th century they were imported into Holland where their popularity grew and spread like wildfire I tell you! In fact these flowers were so popular that the value of the bulbs increased drastically and for a while in the seventeenth century they were used as actual money. I think it’s pretty cool to pay for something with bulbs, and this period in time was fittingly known as ‘tulipmania.’ BRILLIANT. Eventually the market crashed, but tulips remain a popular flower and symbol of Holland, with millions of people flocking to the country every year to see them in bloom every spring.
Keukenhof actually means ‘kitchen garden’, and this is exactly what it once was; the kitchen garden of Castle Keukenhof, where Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, lived in the 15th century. (That poor lass has a full on intriguing story, that’s for sure- widowed at 16, married four times, and involved in a civil war with her own Uncle who wasn’t very much up for Jacqueline being a Countess- it’s way more interesting than Eastenders, I’ll tell you that for free).
Many years after all this drama with Jacqueline, the grounds of the castle were landscaped and in 1949 the mayor of Lisse officially made Keukenhof the location of an annual flower exhibition to celebrate the Netherlands success as the world’s biggest exporter of flowers. And pals, this place really is a treat for the eyes, even if you don’t know a thing about flowers.
As well as the carefully landscaped but more wild-feeling swathes of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses that carpet the floor around the lake, and wind their way like streams through the trees, there are also small individual gardens laced out within the grounds filled with hundreds of different types of flowers, ranging from traditional rose gardens, to humorous retro-inspired open-air rooms dotted with garden gnomes and plastic flamingos. (The flamingos were a personal fave of mine, FYI)
It might come as a bit of a surprise to some visitors, especially if you’re used to scrolling through Instagram in Springtime and seeing the same pictures of random girls in floaty dresses skipping through tulip fields…but there are absolutely no tulip fields within Keukenhof. The garden is pretty much surrounded by fields, however it’s completely not allowed to gallivant through them, guys!
Be prepared for the crowds
In the name of honesty- I was genuinely overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people that we were visiting the gardens with, and if there were 7,000 tulip bulbs, I feel like there must have been ten times as many people filing their way around. And in the classic style of just about every tourist attraction in the world, you’ll be able to purchase gifts of all kinds, which kind of gave me a sense of being in a very flowery theme-park. Dutch cheese, clogs, keyrings, tulip bulbs and most importantly (in my opinion), stroopwaffels are all available for your touristy pleasure, and if you fancy buying a drink (alcoholic or otherwise) to sit amongst the flowers and down in one, then there’s no shortage of places to choose from.
If you venture to Keukenhof hoping to get some beaut photos of the flowers, you might want to consider doing some research into finding quieter times to visit, as you’re pretty much guaranteed to be battling with ten other people to get the perfect person-free shot. I spent approximately half my time there just standing waiting for people to leave the places I was about to photograph, or watching them walk in and out of my photos; and despite the fact that I was trying my best to be super-self-aware and wait before crossing the path of anyone trying to take a photo, it was inevitable that it would happen at some point, and I managed to make one woman absolutely seething with rage when I unwittingly stood within the viewpoint of her camera. It was awkward, pals, and I didn’t actually realise I’d done it until I held my camera up to my eye to take a picture and saw on the screen that someone was aggressively waving their hand back and forth two inches away from the lens in order to block my view. There was so much tension in that wrist that I’m surprised she didn’t injure herself in the process. I was pretty shocked by this strange behaviour and lowered the camera to look at the woman with an “err…is everything ok!?”
It had been a while since I’d heard such rage and malice in the voice of another human being when she spat out- “That’s EXACTLY what you just did to ME.”
Well first and foremost let me say I had definitely not waved my hand or anything else directly in front of her camera, but there’s no denying that I must have wandered into her shot as it was basically impossible not to in a place so dense with people. “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry! I really didn’t mean to.”
“Maybe you should think twice before being so SELF-CENTERED. Absolute IDIOT.”
Well now this really was a shocker folks; I’ve never been personally attacked by a complete stranger before. I didn’t even know the woman, who looked a similar age to myself and also might I add didn’t appear to be the kind of person to start fights with strangers on a whim, but clearly she was having a bad day and the stresses of Keukenhof had gotten to her. So let that be a lesson to you pals, if being around crowds can make you angry, steer clear of this garden!!
I gave her my biggest smile despite the fact that I was also now pretty raging myself. “Oh my goodness yes I’ll definitely think twice next time, thankyou!” She continued muttering to herself as I walked away in a mildly shaken up manner.
To calm down, head to the farm
If you too experience some random anger from your fellow Keukenhof visitors, (or even if your visit is completely relaxing), a visit to the little farm is a great way to calm down! Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably aimed more at the children who are visiting, but this place was right up my street. Home to a selection of goats who appreciate wandering freely around, a few sheep including one who really enjoyed climbing on anything available to get as close to her guests as possible, and a classic gathering of pigs and rabbits, it really was an ideal place to de-stress. Praise the lord for that!
The music machine
Just as we were getting to ready to leave the park, we heard the echoing pipes of an old organ grinder playing in the distance and obviously felt that the only thing to do would be run towards the sound at full-speed. The name of the gigantic pastel-coloured machine is The Adriaen, and it’s been stationed at Keukenhof every year for the last twenty six years. Apart from the amazing sound of this marvellous machine, it looks like something you’d find in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with small wooden ladies ringing bells on the front, and the cogs of the machine turning at the back. So pals, go to Keukenhof for the flowers, but don’t miss out on the Marvellous Music Machine, a true spectacle to behold!!
- Keukenhof is open from mid-March to mid-May every year, with the best time for seeing the tulips in bloom from mid-April onwards.
- Normal entry fee for adults is €18, or €17 if you book online.
- To see something extra amazingly special- Keukenhof holds an annual flower parade on one day in April, complete with flower floats and performers.
- If you want to dodge the crowds, quieter times tend to be before 10.30am and after 4pm.
- For the website…go here!