Ahhh, the Keukenhof. For many visitors, the centrepiece of a Spring trip to The Netherlands. For others it may even be their sole reason for coming to the country.
Billed as the most beautiful spring garden in the world and only open from mid March to mid May, it welcomes a million visitors each year – and truth be told it can sometimes feel like they’ve all chosen the same day as you.
But there’s a reason for its popularity. It is undeniably spectacular. And with a few helpful hints and tips you can enjoy all that’s best about it without too much trouble.
Best time to visit
If you have the luxury of choice, I would suggest visiting some time between about the third week of April and early May. This is typically peak tulip season although of course being nature, a last minute blip in the weather can change everything – a late frost and the tulips may bloom a week late, an unseasonably warm February/March and you can expect them early. None of this will impact the glorious Keukenhof though because flowers in the park bloom throughout the open season. What it will impact are the bulb fields in the local area, and it is especially worth bearing in mind if you are keen to cycle locally after your visit. That said, in the weeks before the tulips bloom you can enjoy fields rich with unbelievably fragrant narcissi and hyacinth, whilst at the latter end of the season you can expect rhododendron and other seasonal blooms to come alive in the park.
Hints and tips
The Keukenhof has a guide on the website showing to ‘normal’ through to ‘crowded’ days, but it’s fair to say most get very busy and some are absolutely heaving. Easter for example is insanely busy; try to avoid weekends if you can and my top tip, whichever day you choose, is to try to get there first thing in the morning. The park opens at 8.00 and though we visited on a beautifully sunny ‘crowded’ day we strolled in at about 8.45 and as you can see from our pictures managed to find areas without crowds at all at the start of our visit. A few hours later and cars queue on the approaching roads, the parking locations are a long walk from the entrance and of course you’re unlikely to take many pictures without other people in them. Alternatively arrive late and stay until closing time at 7.30pm although whilst this will be quieter than during peak hours, is still busier than first thing in the morning.
If you do come early, I’d suggest heading to one of the ‘star attractions’. first Maps are available on entry. We made tracks straight to the windmill which is one of the most photographed spots and usually heaving with tourists. Alternatively race over to the stepping stones which wind their way through the lake – again these attract long queues later in the day.
But the truth is even on a radiant day at peak time, you might still find a quiet corner or a hidden path. And even when there are other people about, most are highly respectful and simply there to enjoy the views. We were delighted to see that visitors rarely trample over the grassy areas even though it’s perfectly fine to do so in some areas and though dogs on leads are allowed, we didn’t see any that caused a disturbance.
The park with its 7 million bulbs is beautifully maintained, no garish sponsorship logos, hardly any giant yellow clogs for cheesy snaps, the occasional worker replacing dying bulbs with new ones but mostly nothing more than a riotous celebration of colour and nature. We avoided the indoor pavilions which house displays of lilies and orchids as we prefer to wander through the paths in the Spring sunshine enjoying breathtaking vistas and often mind-blowing smells but if you want to see it all, allow a good few hours for your visit.
For those who want a little more to ‘do’ there are 45 minute whisper-boat trips that can be taken through the fields around the park (buy tickets at the shop next to the windmill). For children there is a small petting zoo with rabbits and baby goats, a lovely playground to enjoy, and various little climbing structures to traverse across the streams.
There are of course also lots of places to stop for a coffee, a fresh stroopwafel or a bite to eat. And naturally hundreds of benches around the park from which to take in the views (including some elevated ones)
After you visit, you can hire bikes at the entrance to explore the surroundings – more about cycling and local flower farms on this post as well as other ways to tour the area.
The Keukenhof closed for two years due to Covid though the beds were fully planted out. It was devastating and its hard to overstate just how wonderful it is to see people back in the park. Yes its touristy, but visitors flock here for a reason and on a sunny day it’s hard to imagine anywhere more glorious.
- Book tickets on the Keukenhof website in advance (watch out, there are lots of other sites that offer tickets but unless you want to combine a trip with other attractions you’re better off booking direct). The other advantage of booking this way is that tickets can be changed to an alternative date or timeslot up to one day before arrival (via the link in your email confirmation)
- You will need to commit to a time for your visit. If you arrive a bit early don’t worry, they won’t make you wait but don’t try to turn up on the wrong day or you’ll need a new ticket.
- Parking is very well organised (make sure you remember your row number!) and you can pay in advance with your entrance ticket.
- Alternatively there are Keukenhof buses that run directly from Amsterdam or from Schipol airport. There are up to 8 buses an hour and the journey takes 35 minutes. Book a combi-ticket and check details here (there’s no need to book an expensive ‘tour’ through a third party provider, you definitely don’t need ‘skip the line’ or guided tours.)
- It is not really possible to travel to the park by train.
- It’s also worth checking whether your visit coincides with the “Bloemencorso” which is a week long Spring festival culminating in a Saturday parade of flower-decorated floats that travel from Noordwijk on the coast to Haarlem via the Keukenhof. Our tip would be to try to find a quieter spot along the route from which to enjoy it – stay away from the Keukenhof itself and perhaps think about heading to Sassenheim or Hillegom. If you aren’t there for parade day (or want to avoid the crowds, check on the shoulder days when you can book tickets to watch the floats being ‘stalked’ with flowers (chances are you may get to pin a few on yourself) or perhaps catch the illuminated night parade, or exhibition of floats in Haarlem town centre. More details on the official website here.
- But if your trip doesn’t coincide, as mentioned above, it is particularly wonderful just to cycle through the bulb fields after your visit to the Keukenhof. Find bikes and maps at the entrance to the park. Why not stop for lunch in the gorgeous little town of Lisse which is only a 5-10 minute cycle from the park along the flat and easy cycle routes before heading deeper through the surrounding countryside. It is not possible to cycle through the park.
On a sunny day, there are few more glorious experiences than enjoying nature’s finest Spring display in The Netherlands. Whether you visit a private tulip farm, cycle round the bulb fields or visit the Keukenhof – or even combine all three – it is a day you are bound to remember for all the right reasons.