Keukenhof lies around 20 miles southwest of Amsterdam, less than 10 miles south of Haarlem and only 15 minutes by bus from the town of Lisse. It's nothing less than the biggest flower garden in Europe and second largest in the world and lovers of all things green and growing couldn’t do much better than to see the gardens for themselves.
Though it’s widely known as The Garden of Europe, Keukenhof’s name literally means ‘Kitchen Garden’ and the 65-acre park of tree-lined waterways and enchanting, kaleidoscopic flowerbeds offers visitors the definitive experience of seeing the tulips in spring – albeit in more natural, picturesque park settings than the vast commercial flower fields nearby. Around seven million flower bulbs are planted each year, with tulips and daffodils planted in such a way that they will bloom at the same time, creating stunning new walkways through groves of ancient trees.
The Keukenhof Gardens don’t just embody the floral heritage of Holland, though – visitors also have the pick of the park’s English, Japanese, natural and historical gardens. As you would imagine, the historical gardens show off the fruits of many vintage bulbs, while the natural garden incorporates a water garden which contributes to its truly authentic feel. Though some parts were designed earlier, the gardens were established in 1949 and came about as a way to exhibit flowers from across the Netherlands and the rest of Europe, particularly to promote Holland’s flower export industry after the Second World War.
The park offers a broad range of events from the floral to the choral, as well as festival-style shows that typically exhibit Dutch folklore and birds of prey. Past the pavilions and landscaped gardens is a great selection of restaurants and coffee shops, some of which offer fantastic views of the surrounding countryside as well as the gardens themselves.
To showcase its strictly seasonal flora to the finest effect, Keukenhof is open from 20 March to 18 May 2014 and visitors will need to pay for a ticket to enter the gardens, although the grounds of the near-cinematic Castle Keukenhof are open all year round. Time your visit just right and you could be there for the annual Flower Parade, a colourful procession of floats which travels the 24 miles from Noordwijk to Haarlem. Appropriately, Castle Keukenhof is an ivy-covered and turreted delight, set in its own beautiful grounds. Tours are available of the castle itself, which boasts over 400 years of history and contains a wealth of classic furniture, artworks and décor from throughout its history.
If you're looking to get your garden in enviable shape for the next spring, Keukenhof is the perfect place to pick up some tulip bulbs of the highest pedigree, with a huge choice of varieties typically available to buy at the gardens.