Tulip season in the Netherlands is beautiful… but can be a costly clusterfuck, too. Keukenhof is expensive, and far too full of people in season. Instead, here’s how to see tulips in the Netherlands on a budget, DIY-style.
Ah, tulip season in the Netherlands.
For a brief period of time, from the end of March to the beginning of May, the fields of the Dutch countryside undergo a transformation. The green (or gray, depending on the weather) fields give way to rainbow stripes of flowers, carpeting the landscape in hues of all sorts. It’s a magical sight to behold.
… which, of course, means that everybody and their momma (and their omaatjes) will be trying to get in on that flowery action, looking to snap their supersaturated superselfies.
Keukenhof, the premier destination for those looking to bask in the glories of tulips and other highly-contrived Dutchy flower creations, turns into a certifiable clusterfuck of people the second the sun shines during tulip season, as well as the days in between. Add to that the fact that it’s expensive for souls on a budget (€16 is a lot to pay for touristy misery) and you have a definitive Place To Be Avoided At All Costs.
So, how to see tulips in the Netherlands without suffering the crowds?
More interested in guides tours? Check out the best tours of Amsterdam and the Dutch countryside!
How to see tulips in the Netherlands without going to Keukenhof
Step 1: Head to Haarlem
Haarlem is a super picturesque city close to Amsterdam. It’s only 18 minutes away from Amsterdam by train, 21 if you take the Sprinter. Tickets are about €8 for a return trip from Amsterdam.
Trust me, I know–I lived and commuted from there for over 2 years. I can dream this train ride by now.
Haarlem is worth a day of wandering in itself, but let’s not get distracted–MISSION: TULIPS is at hand.
Step 2: Rent a bike
“But I can rent a bike in Amsterdam!” you may protest. Nah. This saves you the effort of getting a bike on the train, which A) costs more than a train ticket for your body itself and B) is a pain in the ass. Don’t bother. It’s better to rent in Haarlem.
Once you exit Haarlem train station on the city center side (there will be lots of buses), walk beyond where the buses are gathered until you hit another small street running parallel to the station. Rent a Bike Haarlem is on that street–look for the black and yellow logo. Renting a bike there is €10 for a full day, or €6 for a half day. Sometimes they’re nice and hand out maps.
Bike etiquette in the Netherlands is a whole separate story that I won’t delve into too much (MISSION: TULIPS), but here’s a quick list of commandments:
The 5 commandments of biking in the Netherlands
- Thou shalt only cycle on the right side of the road.
- Thou shalt not cycle on sidewalks–only bike paths.
- Thou shalt ALWAYS lock your bike when unattended. Preferably to something.
- Thou shalt ding your bell when passing people, and move to the side when bells ding for thee.
- Thou shalt ignore Dutch people shouting about how much you suck balls at cycling.
Going to the Netherlands? I know why you’re really going 😉 Don’t miss our guide to drugs and safety in the Netherlands.
Step 3: Bike south!
Basically, what you’ll be doing is following a canal called the Leidsevaart all the way down through tulip country, towards a town called Lisse. You’ll pass through towns called Heemstede and Hillegom along the way. The ride can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how lazily you cycle. See map below for visual deetz.
Just cycle along the waterway/head straight as an arrow (as much as possible) until you hit… the tulips! You’ll know when you’re there, I promise.
Once you’re deep in the strawberry fields forever tulip fields, feel free to deviate from your straightaway path and explore the region of Lisse.
On a nice day, it’s quite pleasant to picnic/post on the grass alongside the bike paths (Protip: bring wine… or a fat joint, if that’s how you roll). You can even swing past Keukenhof to laugh at all of the noobs that will be sitting in line waiting to enter in their cars/tour buses/bikes/velomobiles… heh.
Looking for more family outings? Check out this guide to the Efteling theme park, one of the best family theme parks in the Netherlands!
Appendix: Lazy mode
If you really detest cycling and are very flexible and lazy about seeing tulips, you can also just take the train from Haarlem to The Hague (Den Haag) and check the tulips from the window. The gods of flowers and physical activity will judge you, though.
There you have it–how to see tulips in the Netherlands without going to Keukenhof! Be safe biking, enjoy frolicking in the flowers, and veel plezier! And if you’re looking for more amazing day trips from Amsterdam, check out the fishing village of Waterland.