Each year thousands of people ask themselves the same question: when is the best time to visit the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands? The reason for this is that the answer changes every year and depends almost entirely on Mother Nature.
If it’s been a warm winter and the spring weather is immediately nice, the flowers will bloom faster than after a long and cold winter. On top of that, you have to accept that you’ll never see all the flowers blooming at once as there are so many different varieties.
The Keukenhof Gardens are only open to the public eight weeks a year. In 2017, the opening dates are from March 23 until May 21. During that period, the gardens are open every day of the week, each time from 8 am to 7.30 pm.
I visited the Keukenhof Gardens on a day trip from Amsterdam with Viator in 2015 and I got to see them from the sky. Well, kind of, as not everything went as planned… but I’ll tell you all about that later in this post.
Visiting the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse
Keukenhof is located in Lisse in the Netherlands, about a 30-minute drive from Amsterdam. It’s a 32-hectare park – the biggest flower gardens in the world – where gardeners plant around 7 million bulbs of 800 tulip varieties and other flowers each year. The planting takes around three months, which is longer than the time the park is open, and all the bulbs are delivered for free by Dutch bulb farmers.
Keukenhof looks different every year and some the flower designs in the park clearly depend on the theme of the year. In 2014 the theme was “Holland”, in 2015 it was “van Gogh”, with a 250 m² portrait of the artists made from thousands of tulips, and in 2017 it’s “Dutch Design”.
The Gardens expected around 800,000 visitors from 100 different countries in 2015 and so you can imagine I was a bit worried that it would be too crowded at Keukenhof to really enjoy the flowers.
I think I somehow got “lucky” as last Saturday was the worst day in terms of the weather of the entire week. When we arrived by bus from Amsterdam, it was even raining. Luckily, there are also three indoor flower shows at Keukenhof and one indoor exhibition. Hoping that the rain would later pass, that’s where I headed first.
At the Oranje Nassau Pavilion, there was a different flower show every week. When I was visiting, the roses were on. I saw roses in all kinds of colors and shades, but as I’m someone who always has a hard time choosing, I liked these the best:
The Willem-Alexander Pavilion is located in the center of the Keukenhof Gardens and is the biggest of the four pavilions. You can easily spend half an hour or more here, taking close-ups of all the different flowers exhibited.
At the Willem-Alexander Pavilion, there are pot plants, amaryllis, perennials, lilies and thousands of tulips.
The last pavilion with a flower show in 2015 is the Beatrix Pavilion. Are you noticing a theme here? That’s right, all pavilions carry the name of a member of the Dutch royal family.
I thought the Beatrix flower show was the fanciest, with lots of decorative materials and beautiful orchids.
No flower show at the last pavilion, the Juliana building, but an exhibition about the history of tulips in the Netherlands, called “Tulpomania”.
I visited Tulpomania at the end of the day, though because when I left the Beatrix pavilion, the sun had finally come out and it had stopped raining. I was so happy because I’d really thought that I’d be going home with only photos of inside flowers and soaked flowers. I picked up the pace and tried to follow as many of the little paths that criss-cross through the Keukenhof Gardens as I could.
After a photo or two, I slowed down again, though. Keukenhof doesn’t let you rush things. It’s designed in such a way that you automatically become zen.
In total, there are eight inspirational gardens at Keukenhof and one historical garden, with tulip varieties that go back to the 17th and the 18th century. The only thing I found a bit of a shame is that these different gardens aren’t marked on the map and so you can walk through them without really knowing what garden you’re in.
Then again, does that really matter when you’re walking in the sun, surrounded by flowers and smelling spring? No, I didn’t think so either.
Lisse, the Netherlands
I got to Keukenhof with the Viator Skip the line Keukenhof Gardens Tour, which picked me up in Amsterdam and dropped me back off there as well.
Besides the visit to Keukenhof, this tour comprises explanations by a multilingual guide during the bus ride, a free bag of tulip bulbs at Keukenhof, as well as a visit to a real Dutch bulb farm where you learn about the process of bulb farming and get to see some of those famous colorful flower fields up close. The tour takes around 6,5 hours, of which you can spend at least 3 hours at the Keukenhof Gardens.
At Keukenhof, there are cafeterias, souvenir shops and restrooms in each pavilion. If you’d like to bring a picnic, you can eat it at one of the cafeterias.
You can get a free map of the park by the entrance, but I didn’t really need mine as there are big maps posted around the Keukenhof Gardens as well.
You can easily post your favorite Keukenhof pictures on social media, as there’s free wi-fi throughout the park. Just make sure not to spend too much time on your phone, as that would be a shame.
There are several events at Keukenhof each season. It’s best to check the website for the calendar, but the most famous event is definitely the Flower Parade which will be held on April 25 in 2015.
An aerial view of the Keukenhof Gardens… or not
At the beginning of this post I told you guys I got to see the Keukenhof Gardens from the sky, right? Well, not really. I should have, but things didn’t really go as planned.
Besides offering a ground tour of Keukenhof, Viator also organizes sightseeing flights over the gardens with an old DC-3 Dakota airplane. If I wanted to test that tour and let them know what I thought of it? Of course!
The sightseeing flight leaves from the KLM Jet Center at Schiphol and I must admit I immediately felt fancy when I arrived there. No large airport halls, but a cozy lobby with lounge rooms and free tea and coffee.
While I was waiting for check-in to start together with my fellow passengers, the pilots came out to welcome us and have a talk with everyone. This immediately set the tone: the rest of our flight morning would happen in a relaxed ambiance.
Check-in went smoothly and we were quickly taken to the beautiful DC-3 that was awaiting us on the tarmac.
We didn’t immediately get on, though. Pilot Tom first shared a bit of the plane’s history and technical facts with us. I was amazed to hear that the plane we’d be flying in was built in 1944 and had taken part in D-Day. Tom even showed us the one spot where the Dakota DC-3 had taken a bullet. You could see a little metal square where he’d been patched up.
What I loved was how passionately Tom spoke of this plane. You could see that doing these sightseeing tours was more than just a job for him. He loved this plane and wanted to share that love with his passengers.
No better way to do that than from the sky, and so we boarded. I was happy to see I had the best seat: completely in the back by not one, but two windows. I took out my camera and started snapping even before take-off.
Purser Katleen handed out candy for us to chew on and the lady in front of me told me she really needed that. She’d taken this exact same tour last year and had been really sick. I didn’t think too much of it, ate my candy and continued taking photos when we left Schiphol behind us.
It was amazing to see the city be replaced by a patchwork landscape of green, purple and yellow. Green from the tulips that still had to awake, purple from the hyacinths and yellow from the daffodils.
We still had to reach Keukenhof when it hit me: nausea. Later I saw that Viator warns that this flight might not be ideal for people with motion sickness, but I think I missed that point in my excitement. I hadn’t taken anything and was now paying the toll.
I started to shake and sweat while my stomach felt like it was marching upwards. It quickly became impossible for me to look through the viewfinder of my camera – that only made things worse – and I thought: “You’ve got to be kidding me”.
Luckily, purser Katleen spotted what was going on. She put away my warm jacket and guided me to the front seat where it felt a little less bumpy. She brought me water and some more mints and even offered to take photos in my place, as my eyes were fixed on the wall in front of me now.
I wanted it to be over. I knew that throwing up (sorry for the subject) would help, but would you want to throw up in a plane with 14 other people and no bathroom? I didn’t think so.
My nausea disappeared when we landed again and although I’ve taken some great shots at the beginning of the flight, I missed getting an aerial view of Keukenhof.
Of course, that has nothing to do with the quality of this tour. In fact, the crew couldn’t have taken better care of me. They did everything they could to make me feel better and when the flight was over, they even let me in the cockpit after everyone else had already gotten off the plane and they posed for some final photos when the other passengers were waiting on the bus to be driven back to the Jet Center. I really want to thank Katleen and the pilots!
Besides being sick, the first half of the flight was really cool and while I was sitting there with a paper bag in my hands, I heard the other passengers go “oooh” and “aaah” the entire time. When we touched ground I heard someone say it had been more amazing that she could have ever thought, and another person felt this was the coolest thing he’d done since he’d come to Amsterdam.
Just to say: don’t let my weak stomach put you off. I wouldn’t recommend this sightseeing flight if you suffer from motion sickness really badly, but otherwise: go for it! Just take some medication beforehand and you’ll surely be fine. Enjoy the view, take some photos and come back later to tell me how it was to see Keukenhof from the sky, as I kind of missed that part.
I took the Keukenhof Gardens Dakota Sightseeing Flight tour with Viator. This flight departs from the KLM Jet Center at Schiphol. You can either get there by yourself or you can book the pick-up and drop-off service that’s offered when you book the tour.
The flight itself lasts about 30 minutes, but you need to be there an hour in advance to check in and get some information about the DC-3.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
The last time I stayed in Amsterdam, it was at The Manor. You can also go to Booking.com for an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs.
If you’re looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I would recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
How to get to Keukenhof on your own
If you don’t want to be picked up and dropped off again in Amsterdam like I was, you can also travel to Keukenhof by car (parking is €6) or bus. There’s a Keukenhof Express from Schiphol Plaza and Leiden train station as well as other (slower) buses from Haarlem station, Katwijk, Noordwijk and Noordwijkerhout.
Pin for later
As said, I did these tours as a guest of Viator so that I’d be able to review them and tell you about them. Doing these kinds of trips is part of my job as a blogger. However, they will never affect my opinion as the most important thing about blogging to me is you, the reader. The links to Booking.com and TripAdvisor are affiliate links. If you book a stay through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting the site!