Keukenhof is one of the world’s biggest flower gardens and it just happens to be in a small town called Lisse, in the Netherlands. It opens every year from the middle of March to the middle of May and is home to around seven million flower bulbs.
Keukenhof is now closed for the year. Did you miss your chance to visit the Garden of Europe for the eight weeks it was open? Well, I didn’t, so let me give you a glimpse of what to expect when you do go. Eventually. It’s taken me two years to visit Keukenhof because I hate flowers. Well, hate is a strong word. Let’s just say…flowers don’t particularly appeal to me and leave it at that.
So, what can you expect at Keukenhof?
Flowers. Lots of flowers. They are everywhere. I grew up around hayfever sufferers in rather mild England and I can only imagine that this is their one true moment of hell. I am a sucker for bright colours though and these flowers are pretty. Even if they die. Which they will. Still pretty. Keukenhof has an interesting structure. Wikipedia says that means it features things like ‘English landscape gardens’, and ‘Japanese country gardens’. In short, in some areas of the park, flowers are planted in a somewhat concentrated fashion and in some other areas, it’s like they couldn’t decide what to plant there, so they planted everything.
Flowers aren’t the only thing Keukenhof has to offer. It’s got trees too. Sure, they’re not exactly the highlight of the park but they offer great shade when you’ve found a fabulous place to sit down and take in the view for a minute or even enjoy a little picnic.
There was a water garden with a fountain and stepping stones and even now I remember how excited I was about hopping precariously from one to the other. Gotta keep the child in me alive. My friends wanted to eat lunch first so we headed to the main cafeteria which sells some of the most expensive water I have ever seen. But the frietsaus (Dutch mayonnaise) is free. Alrighty then.
When we finally made our way to the water garden, the afternoon collective had arrived and instead of that fun skip across the water I’d been promised earlier, there was a queue of people, two standing on each stone, waiting for the person in front to move on so they could too. What kind of fun is this? Nooope.
Disappointed, we headed for a shady spot and sat around people-watching. I turned my attention to the creatures of nature, from the ants to the birds and even this little green thing making itself at home on my arm. It was going so well until a bee flew towards my general direction and suddenly it was all ABORT MISSION.
After five hours of taking in all the flower we could get – and we didn’t even see the Tulpomania exhibition – we decided to leave the Garden of Europe and return to our respective concrete jungles. We skipped the special bus service between Keukenhof and Leiden and opted for a further bus stop away in the town of Lisse so we could walk along the flower fields on the way. These flower fields aren’t actually part of the Keukenhof experience, but they’re well worth the walk. I pass them often when I’m on the train and it’s just this sea of colour just zooming right by. It’s so cool to see them up close!
So here’s my take on Keukenhof: I expected to be underwhelmed and was pleasantly surprised. I truly thought it was not the worst way to waste money. I know people who have found it disappointing but I think it’s because they expected to see more than flowers. They’re only flowers. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
- 16 euros (with no concessions) is a pretty pricey ticket to see flowers. I know one or two people who’d rather spend that on another type of plant. Don’t just go for the flowers – make it a social experience, you’ll have much more fun that way.
- Go early – before 11am. By the time I left the park around 5pm, there was so much human traffic and every step forward was more of a chore than the lighthearted flowery fun experience we all deserve. Trust me, if you like taking millions of the same selfie, flower photography without others in the shot, a shady spot to relax and read a book or just dislike people in general – get there before 11.
- Bring your own food and drink. Everything is overpriced. Except the mayonnaise.
- Take a detour and see the flower fields. You can walk along them and there’s even a dedicated flower route that stretches 40 kilometers (approx 25 miles) if you want to cycle through. I’d definitely be up for that.