Keukenhof: the Netherlands’ Garden of Europe

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You know it’s spring when flower buds start to appear, stems start peeping out from their winter beds and colourful petals are blooming here, there and everywhere.  And there’s no better place to realise that spring has arrived than a visit to Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

The famous garden is only 30 minutes from Amsterdam.  Known as the ‘Garden as Europe’,it’s not hard to see why.  Covering more than 30 acres, Keukenhof is an incredible sight and there’s so much more tucked away than immediately meets the eye.

We visited on a Sunday morning from Leiden where we had stayed overnight and getting there couldn’t have been easier.  It was a 25-minute journey on a dedicated local bus that has been put on to take tourists from the bus station outside the train station directly to the entrance of the gardens; you can even buy your ticket before boarding to allow you skip the queues when you arrive.

When you enter, the first thing that strikes you is the festival-type feel to the place. You soon realise that Keukenhof is not just about the flowers – there’s all sorts of other things to see here and there’s definitely something for everyone.  

For children, there is a playground, rides on the canal, a windmill to climb (complete with wonderful views out across the surrounding fields) and a small petting zoo with goats, sheep, rabbits, a pig and a large majestic peacock strutting its stuff.  

You’ll also find a few spots with music playing (including a fairground type organ slightly incongruously belting out Ed Sheeran!), and several cafes to stop in and gorge on some tea and cake.

But whilst Keukenhof is not just about the flowers, the flowers really are the main event here.  This becomes more obvious the more you move around the garden.  

You’ll lose track of the variety of beautifully tended flower beds you walk past of all shapes, sizes and colours – long narrow strips, wide sweeping displays, circles of flowers linking to yet more circles, long swathes following the river bank…

…there are reds, yellows, pinks, purples, oranges and whites, along with whole patches of beautifully striped flowers. It really is a burst of springtime from all angles.

As well as crocuses and hyacinths, a large proportion of the flowers were tulips (hardly surprising as we were in the Netherlands!), but what surprised me was just how many varieties there are.  To name just a few, we saw “Black Hero”, “Purple Prince”, “Double Flag”, “Angelique” and “Yellow Pompenette” – the list went on… (having read up on tulips since coming back, there are apparently 75 varieties).  

No doubt as the season moves forward, more will pop up to fill the beds; when we visited it was obvious that many were yet to bloom.

What’s struck me was how neat, tidy and ordered most of the garden is – the flowers have mainly been planted into beds and follow a set pattern and route (the upkeep of these must be phenomenal). Very little of the garden is wild so if you are looking for wild flowers, you won’t find many here.

Aside from the flowers, the gardens in Keukenhof are a relaxing place to wander around at a leisurely pace – it has a small river (for a bit of fun try out the stepping stones), little streams and waterfalls tucked away, and a variety of spots where you can sit and take in the lovely surroundings.  

There is also a scattering of greenhouses where you can look at further varieties of flowers, including some of the more exotic and delicate ones that need to be housed indoors.

Having spent a few pleasant hours taking in all parts of the gardens, we ended our visit by popping into the main hall near the entrance – we were pleasantly surprised to find more flowers on display and a folk group singing and dancing amongst them.  

This was a great place to end our trip, a reinforcement of the colour and vibrancy that Keukenhof has to offer; and as I walked out I smiled when I realised that the group were singing “Tulips from Amsterdam” – maybe a little cheesy but definitely in keeping with the cheeriness of the day we had had. 

And with this ringing in my ears, I knew that these gardens would go on my list as somewhere for a return visit – I’d definitely like to go back next year more towards the summer months and see just how many more flowers have joined the springtime Keukenhof.

Keukenhof is open until 19th May this year and will reopen in Spring 2020 (usually some time in March).  Entrance fees are 18 euros for adults.

We stayed in Leiden for one night in the Hotel Ibis Leiden Centre, a five-minute walk from the train and bus station.  Leiden is only 25 minutes by train from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  This makes it a perfect one night break (we arrived in Amsterdam from London at lunchtime, giving us the afternoon to see Leiden before visiting Keukenhof on the Sunday).

For more information on Keukenhof, further information on more opportunities to view stunning flowers in the Netherlands, and trips to the Netherlands in general, there are a range of guides you may be interested in:

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