If you managed to make it through my long (& emotional) post on exploring the tulip fields in the Netherlands, I applaud you. At first, I was going to include a mini guide and comparison section at the very end to help you decide on how to best see these tulips in Amsterdam, but after all the crying I did sorting through old photographs last week, it felt a bit weird.
After our initial flight to Amsterdam was canceled and we scrambled to work around our lost day, we had to buckle down on our itinerary. The months prior, I struggled to find information on where exactly to travel for the optimal tulip experience. I hadn’t wanted to mess this up with my regular fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants tactics while traveling. Most websites marked North Holland as the place to go, but were vague on exactly where. It seemed like each website pointed to Keukenhof, but I was wary. Never one to be entranced by all-in-one packages or things made easy, I kept searching. The surrounding area of Keukenhof called Lisse promised hundreds of fields and relatively more information on where to go (hello, bloom radar) than North Holland had.
In the end, we booked tickets to Keukenhof and had renting bikes on the table if all else failed. Both options have their pro’s and con’s depending on your style of travel so what may be appealing to some is a bore to others. Whatever you decide, if you’re looking to see some of these beautiful tulips yourself I’ve compiled a bit of a mini-guide and comparison section below.
What to Know Before You Go (to Keukenhof)
Visiting Keukenhof is a sure-fire way to see tulips in Amsterdam no matter when you go. As soon as it opens in mid-March, the indoor growing area contains hundreds of the most beautiful blooms. Outside, the curated gardens are spectacular and fun to look at the formations that have half-bloomed, leaving you to imagine what the rest may look like depending on when you go. It’s easy to spend 2-3 hours wandering the pathways, stumbling across beautiful sculptures and features hidden throughout. Here are some tips on how to maximize your time & money while visiting the Keukenhof tulips.
Book your tickets to Keukenhof online.
I absolutely loved that you could buy a ticket (18 EUR) to Keukenhof online and use it for any one day during their season (typically mid-March to late-May) instead of being tied to one specific day. This worked out perfectly for us when it rained the entire morning the day we intended to go.
Plan your route ahead of time.
The first Keukenhof Express/Bus 858 leaves at 7:58 am on weekdays and 8:00 am on weekends from Schipol airport. There are other options including Bus 50 and Bus 361, but they drop you off a little further from the gardens. I’m not 100% on their bus schedules and these have several stops built-in along the way, taking around an hour from the airport.
That being said, our journey wasn’t any less confusing. From De Pijp involved a tram to the train station, a train to the airport, and finally Bus 858 to Keukenhof. We ended up missing our train to the airport because we couldn’t figure out the ticket from the tram were completely different companies running the two. Plus, the ticket machine for the train didn’t accept US credit cards, unlike the tram.
The best thing to do is to look these all up ahead of time via Apple Maps (or whichever app you use), change the time to your desired departure (the trains that are running at 10pm the night before when you’re looking won’t necessarily be running when you want to leave at 6 am the next day) and make careful note of the train/trams icons for each leg of the journey. See what tickets you can buy prior to leaving and give yourself enough time to transfer.
Leave from Schiphol airport.
This seemed to be the easiest option for getting to Keukenhof from Amsterdam. Taking a taxi/Uber can be quicker, but expect to pay around 40-60 EUR one way depending on the time of day. This wasn’t in the budget and we didn’t want to rent a car, so we opted for relying on public transportation.
However you decide to get to the airport, the Keukenhof Express or Bus 858 departs from the bus stop outside Arrivals hall 4 (near the Starbucks). Just walk outside from Schiphol Plaza (building connected to the airport) and follow the signs. Tickets can be purchased for 6.50 EUR one-way or 10 EUR return. The Combi-ticket (24.50 EUR) which includes the round-trip journey as well as entrance to Keukenhof which can be purchased inside Schiphol or by the buses.
The trip from Schiphol Airport to Keukenhof takes about 30-35 minutes with light traffic. In total, it took us about an hour and a half from where we were located in De Pijp to Keukenhof including all transfers.
I absolutely cannot stress this one enough. Keukenhof opens at 8 am each day during the season and tour buses typically start unloading tourists around 10 am or earlier.
Unfortunately, options to getting from Amsterdam to Keukenhof are somewhat limited before a certain time in the morning. If you plan on renting a car to explore the Netherlands, this would definitely be the time to use it. We personally arrived far later than anticipated when we stood on the wrong side of the tram’s tracks and also missed our train by two minutes when the ticket machine wouldn’t accept our US credit cards.
Once inside, I suggest checking out the windmill (head to the right at the entrance) and surrounding gardens first. There’s a great view at the top of the windmill and the line gets long to get a glimpse of the tulip field across the canal.
What to pack.
Bring good shoes as it can easily take a few hours to explore the gardens fully. If it looks to be sunny, make sure to wear sunscreen as most of the paths aren’t shaded and adequate water. Snack stalls and restaurants are located inside, so my fears of being snack-less were quelled upon seeing this.
Do’s and Don’ts.
This should go without saying, but don’t be an animal and pick the flowers. Walking outside of the paths and onto the grass isn’t encouraged, though no one yelled at us when the paths became too crowded to walk on comfortably. Biking isn’t permitted inside the Keukenhof, but bike rental stalls are located in the parking lot to explore the surrounding town of Lisse. Definitely consider seeing both the beautiful curated gardens in Keukenhof as well as the expansive flower fields by bike.
Should I buy tulips from Keukenhof to bring back with me?
Look up what’s permitted in the country you are flying into next as some places do not allow the importing of bulbs.
Why do they do this? Different countries have different policies of what can be brought into the country. Certain insects or bacteria that are native and harmless to where you’re visiting can sometimes hitch a ride on whatever you’re bringing back and potentially destroy plants back home that have never been exposed to it before.
From what I’ve read, people have varying luck with not having their bulbs confiscated at the airport or suggest purchasing ones that are labeled as okay to fly. Some mention purchasing the duty-free ones from the airport, but again, the airport isn’t exactly the prime environment for flower bulbs versus a local nursery, and they may have become old or rotten from sitting there too long.
Do this instead: The entire point of souvenirs is to pick up something while you’re in the moment and bring it back with you to look at fondly for years to come. But if you want to 100% ensure they arrive safe & sound to your end destination as well as actually sprout up, order them from a local farm in the Netherlands online. They can be shipped directly to your doorstep to enjoy as soon as you arrive home.
What to Know Before You Go (biking the tulip fields)
Biking the tulip fields was my absolute favorite way to see the spectacle of color, and despite my initial hesitation, I would certainly go back again. The routes are carefully outlined and easy to navigate. Even if you choose to rent bikes elsewhere, there are fields everywhere in Lisse so you’re bound to stumble across some great ones. Here are some tips to make sure you safely explore as many tulip fields as possible.
When to go.
The best time to see the tulips varies from year to year depending on how long or harsh the winter was. Typically, the best time to see tulips in the Netherlands is around mid-to-late April for peak bloom. Unfortunately, the lasting cold weather left the tulips blooming a lot later this year than we had hoped. We went around April 14th, and while the multitude of daffodils and fragrant hyacinths were out, the tulip fields were still fairly limited.
Check out the blooms online beforehand.
I suggest checking out the Bloemen Radar website for up-to-date pictures as the website only allows recent pictures, ensuring what you’re seeing on theis accurate. The bloom radar is great for planning your own route as well, deciding what fields have the best colors.
Another great way is to check hashtags on Instagram for recent snapshots or the Tulips in Holland page for weekly updates. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, you can easily plan when/where to go by seeing what others have snapped so far.
I suggest renting bikes from the stand right outside Keukenhof to explore the surrounding town of Lisse. For about 10 EUR a day, it’s easier than hauling your bike on the trains and buses. There are certain time restrictions for bikes on the trains along with having to purchase an additional ticket for your bike, in some cases. Because the stand is right outside a main tourist attraction, you may find cheaper bike rentals for around 6 EUR in town. This stand just made more sense for us since we took the Keukenhof Express bus, which drops you right outside. If you gathered from my above bike saga, make sure you get a bike you can easily touch the ground on without having to lean to one side to barely graze with your tip-toes.
Navigating the tulip fields.
The bike attendants give you a few different suggested routes, including one that even goes to the beach. On the shorter route, we managed to miss a turn along the way, but it’s pretty easy to navigate around. Biking in the town can be a bit tricky at times, but absolutely nothing compared to biking in Amsterdam. Be prepared to use your hands as turning signals for any oncoming traffic and bell to signify you’re approaching another biker from behind. Don’t stop in the bike lanes to get off to take pictures the same way you wouldn’t expect another car to stop on the middle of the highway.
Tip: If you’re on a tight schedule, remember to factor in stopping time for taking pictures!
Entering a flower field.
Just don’t. I cringed seeing all the stunning images of people frolicking through the tulip fields. Please be mindful of the fields when you do visit them, there are signs everywhere asking tourists not to walk in the fields, yet I constantly saw people running through for photos. As tempting as it may be and as harmless as it seems to pick a few flowers for, having constant foot traffic will encourage more farmers to put up more fences and block off roads so one can’t get as close of a look as we were able to in certain areas. When in doubt, there oftentimes were farmers outside and simply asking may yield better results than being chased off.
What if I don’t feel like biking?
Some of the routes felt short enough to walk truthfully, the map provided included all mileage so you can gauge that versus your comfort levels. Driving is also an easy way to quickly see a ton of tulip fields in the Netherlands, but the fields we came across rarely had wide roads and safe places for a car to park were typically packed.
What to pack.
As you may have guessed, flip-flops aren’t the greatest form of footwear to bike in. Opt for something comfortable and with a grip. The rental place we went to did not give us helmets, so depending on what your level of skill is and comfort biking helmet-less, picking up a cheap one in Amsterdam may not be a bad idea if you plan on biking for more than just that day. Pack enough water and snacks as well, of course!
Pro tip: Flowy skirts that may look beautiful for pictures can run the risk of getting stuck in the pedals. Make sure you’re aware of any long or trailing pieces and tuck them far away while biking. If you’re in it for the ‘gram but also want the comfort of being able to ride easily, keep that gorgeous flowing dress in a backpack and throw it over your tank top and leggings once you arrive at a place. Viola, effortless, I-biked-5-miles-like-this chic.
Hopefully, this guide helps you decide which experience is right for your schedule and budget. I personally would love to return to bike some more tulip fields in the future. Another trip to Keukenhof may be saved for if I’m with family, or renting a car and can easily get there when it opens.
If you have plans to check some tulips in Amsterdam next year, let me know in the comments! I’d love to know what you loved and your favorite routes.