Spring is the most beautiful time to visit Amsterdam, not only for the sunny canal-side cafes but also for the tulips. Book a weekend break and spend a day freewheeling through the tulip farms and out to the sea past colourful fields of flowers. Here’s how:
Keukenhof and around
For most tourists wanting to see the tulips, Keukenhof is the main draw. It’s a vast park where 7 million bulbs are planted each year resulting in a dizzying spectacle of technicolour flower beds filled predominantly with tulips, narcissi and hyacinth. The varieties are labelled so that you can discover the ones that you like and note them down for ordering bulbs for your own garden. If you can divert from the swathes of crowds there are some beautiful things to see – a river of thousands of tiny blue muscari winding through the trees for example.
That said, the crowds are a problem and you’re up against coach-loads of tourists lagging behind flag-waving tour reps. Get there as the gates open or later in the day (from 2pm) to avoid the rush and book tickets in advance. keukenhof.nl
Cycling around Lisse
After a morning at Keukenhof, or even instead of going inside the park itself, hire a bicycle from Van Dam who have a stand in the car park. There are hundreds of bikes and you don’t need to pre-order, including tandems, children’s bikes and baby seats. From there head towards the sea cycling through the flower fields – it’s a truly awesome sight of stripy tulips the colour of Skittles sweets. You aren’t on roads but on specific cycle routes through the fields so it’s peaceful and you can pedal at a relaxed pace. The tulips flower from early April to early May and are staggered so exactly what you see depends when you’re there.
Make sure to stop for lunch or a drink en route at Como & Co on the lake, an outdoor paradise where children can swim and mess about in the boats out front. Langs Berg en Dal is another good lunch option with an outdoor terrace. If you have time follow the longest cycle route out to the beach and wind your way through the Dutch dunes to the vast yellow sands.
Hortus Bulboren and around
For a much smaller garden where you’ll find more specialised tulips including historic varieties head north of Amsterdam to Hortus Bulboren. In the typically Dutch town of Limmen the garden attracts far fewer visitors than Keukenhof and is run by volunteers – the tea room is lovely too. Get the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Heiloo or Alkmaar where you can rent bicycles and cycle to the Hortus Bulboren as well as through all the flower fields in the area and out to the sea.
Where to buy bulbs
The Tulip Museum is a tiny museum in the Jordaan where you can learn about the history of tulips in Amsterdam – where once a single bulb held the same value as a townhouse. There’s a small selection of bulbs for sale here too. For a wider selection, avoid the touristic floating flower market, and if you can visit the Monday morning market in Amstelveld Square like the locals, and pick up plants and a wide variety of bulbs.
Top florists in Amsterdam
There are simple flower stalls all over the city on street corners where the array is as good as you’d find at many decent florists in London. But it is worth poking your nose into their top flower shops to see how their floral designers work with the flowers, the results are extraordinary. Pompon by the Noordermarkt (who also do the flowers at the Rijks Museum) always has a wonderful display including blossom branches over 6ft high and contemporary, airy arrangements. Menno Kroon goes completely Christmas decoration-mad from about September onwards, but in the springtime it’s a wonderland of fresh stems – take inspiration from their wonderful planted pots. And perhaps the best of all is MC Bloom on Beethovenstraat where the flowers are breathtaking.