It is finally spring here in my little corner of the Netherlands, and it’s about time! Normally by the time my birthday rolls around I’ve already broken out the sundresses and shorts, but this year my birthday came and went and I was still bundled in my peacoat and scarf for trips to the grocery store. So when I awoke last weekend to sun streaming through the windows and a balmy breeze outside, Willem and I decided it was the perfect time to do one of the ultimate Dutch tourist cliches- a drive through the Dutch tulip fields.
Chance are, if you ask someone outside the Netherlands to describe things that are typically Dutch, you will receive one of three answers: Windmills, cheese, and tulips. And as much as the Dutch hate these cliches, they ring surprisingly true. Tulips have been an important part of the Dutch economy and culture for hundreds of years. In the early 1600s, there was even a “Tulip mania” (known as one of the first economic bubbles), where a single coveted tulip sold for as much as a house! Today, the Netherlands still supplies the majority of the tulip bulbs sold around the world. Embarrassingly for Willem, he had never seen the flowers that make his own country famous around the world. In my mind, this made our weekend excursion even more necessary. Flower fields or bust!
We started in Haarlem and drove towards Lisse, a town that exists almost solely due to the bulb trade. Lisse is also home to the famous Keukenhof gardens. The gardens are home to the largest display of tulips in the world, with a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers blanketing over 70 acres of land. The gardens are open only eight weeks each year, from March-May, but receive over 800,000 visitors during that short window of time–100,000 visitors per day! However, the high entrance cost (as well as the acres of buses stretching as far as the eye could see in the parking lot) deterred us from going inside.
We’re not really tour bus kind of people. We decided we would have a better time exploring the farmer’s fields at our leisure than fighting crowds of tourists in the gardens.
A few minutes outside of the gardens by car, we saw the first fields. They were an explosion of yellow and purple. We parked the car and walked into the field. The first thing I noticed was the powerful scent of the flowers. I’m not talking about a whiff of floral upon the breeze. No, this was an assault on the senses. It almost felt as if you could swim through the air, or bottle up some floral perfume simply by reaching out and grabbing the scented air. This is not a place for someone with hay fever!
Upon closer inspection, we saw that the flowers in this field were not tulips, but rather daffodils and hyacinths. I didn’t mind, because daffodils just happen to be my favorite flower.
After Willem got tired of playing paparazzi taking pictures of me frolicking among the daffodils, we jumped back in the car in search of the real deal. When we got near, they were impossible to miss. The fields we found were full of bright red, yellow, and mixed-color tulips. The red tulips were definitely my favorite out of the bunch.
Photos of the fields don’t do these flowers justice (at least not my point-and-shoot camera). They were such a saturated red color that it almost hurt to stare at them for too long. You could almost imagine that someone took a giant paintbrush and splashed primary colors all over the flat Dutch landscape. It was wonderful being outside in the sun, wandering the rows of flowers, and breathing in the fresh, flower-scented air after so many gray, windy, and rainy days this winter. Who wouldn’t be cheered up by such tangible signs of warmer days to come?
Below are some of my photos of the tulips. If you can believe it, the tulips this year are nowhere near as colorful as normal due to the longer-than-normal cold weather. Many of the tulips are blooming weeks behind schedule, so the rainbow of colors seen in the aerial photo at the beginning of this post likely won’t happen this year. If this is what the fields look like in an off year, then the rainbow of flowers seen on a good year must defy imagination!
Want to see the tulips for yourself? Peak blooming is typically mid-late April, although this varies from year-to-year. The website of the Keukenhof has a wealth of information on the subject, and the Netherlands forums on Tripadvisor are updated constantly during the year with information about the state of the flower fields for those planning to visit. Many Dutch citizens may not have seen the fields in their own country (*cough cough* Willem), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a visit! For a trip to the Netherlands in the spring, the famous Dutch tulip fields are definitely a must-see!