The heaviest concentration of the tulip bulb fields that contribute millions of euros to the Dutch economy lie in the Bloemenbollenstreek (Bulb District), a strip of land 16km (10 miles) long and 6km (4 miles) wide between Haarlem and Leiden. In the spring, it’s a frenzied Dutch rite of passage to traipse through this colorful district and view the massed, varicolored regiments of tulips on parade. Every year from around the end of January to late May, the fields are covered at various times with tulips, crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, and lilies.
Viewing the flowers is easy. Just follow all or parts of the circular, signposted Bollenstreek Route (40km/25 miles) by car or bike—although you could find your way there by the trail of roadside stalls flogging bunches of cut flowers and bulbs. To get to the bulb fields from Amsterdam, drive to Haarlem, then go south on N206 through De Zilk and Noordwijkerhout, or on N208 through Hillegom, Lisse, and Sassenheim. There are also scores of bus tours leaving for Keukenhof from all the main cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague; Tours & Tickets (www.tours-tickets.com; tel. 020/420-4000) and Stromma (www.stromma.com; tel. 020/217-0501) provide several different Keukenhof tours. Special seasonal buses transport eager-beaver visitors on the direct service no. 858 from Schiphol Airport, and tourists staying over in Leiden can catch bus service no. 854 from Leiden Central train station.
26km (16 miles) SW of Amsterdam
Open for barely 2 months between March and May when the flowers are at their peak, Keukenhof is the most-visited attraction in The Netherlands. Every year more than 800,000 flower fans from all across the world flock to more than seven million bulbs explode into life in intricate patterns in gardens that are a scented, visual paradise (such is the rush to get here that buses run directly from the airport). The meandering, 32-hectare (79-acre) estate in the heart of the bulb-producing region is all-too-briefly a riot of tulips and narcissi, daffodils and hyacinths, bluebells, crocuses, lilies, and amaryllis. Swathes of color are seen in greenhouses, beside brooks and shady ponds, along paths, in neat little plots, and helter-skelter on lawns. There’s also a boat tour of the neighboring bulb fields; lines are inevitably long. Keukenhof claims to be the greatest flower show on earth, and certainly it is Holland’s annual spring gift to the world. The spectacular annual flower parade takes place in mid-April. There are four decent cafes on-site where you can grab a quick bite and contemplate your bulb purchases.
Keukenhof is at Stationsweg 166A, Lisse. Full info at www.keukenhof.nl. Admission is 18€ adults, 8€ ages 4–11, free 3 and under. Parking 6€. The grounds are open from 3rd week of Mar to 3rd week of May daily 8am–7:30pm.
18km (11 miles) SW of Amsterdam
Selling flowers and plants nets around 1.5€ billion a year at the Bloemenveiling (Flower Auction), Legmeerdijk 313 (tel. 0297/393-939; www.royalfloraholland.com), in the lakeside community of Aalsmeer close to Schiphol Airport. Every day, the auction vends 19 million cut flowers and 2 million plants, in 12,000 varieties, from 7,000 nurseries, representing 30% of the worldwide trade. So vast is the auction house that 120 soccer fields would fit inside.
Get here early to see the biggest array of flowers in the distribution rooms, and to have as much time as possible to watch the computerized auction. Buyers sit in rows in five auditorium-style auction halls; they have microphones to ask questions and buttons to electronically register their bids. As the bunches of tulips or daffodils go by the stand on carts, they're auctioned in a matter of seconds. A mammoth timer, which starts at 100 and counts clockwise to 1, determines the bidding: The winning, and only, bid is placed by the person who stops the clock. It's like a gigantic game of chicken. Press too early and you pay more than necessary; wait too long and someone else already has the lot.
The auction is held Monday to Friday from 7 to 11am (there's little point in arriving after 9:30am). Admission is 8€, 5€ for children ages 6 to 11, and free for children 5 and under. To get there from Amsterdam, take the train to Schiphol Station, and then Connexxion bus no. 198 from outside Schiphol Plaza to the auction entrance; the journey takes around an hour. By car, take the A4/E19 south to the Hoofddorp junction, then go southeast on the N201.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.