Tulip season in the Netherlands is beautiful… but not everyone wants to fight the crowds at Keukenhof. Instead, here’s how to see tulips in the Netherlands without going to Keukenhof.
This post is about seeing tulips independently and on the cheap. If you’re looking to see the tulips as part of a cool day trip in and around Amsterdam, check out this tour!
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 is the premier destination for those looking to bask in the glories of tulips and other highly-contrived Dutchy flower creations. Keukenhof turns into a certifiable madhouse of people the second the sun shines during tulip season. Add to that the fact that it’s expensive for souls on a budget – Keukenhof tickets are €17,50 per person when bought online – and you can see that Keukenhof isn’t for everyone.
So, how to see tulips in the Netherlands without suffering the crowds?
How to see tulips in the Netherlands without going to Keukenhof
Step 1 to seeing tulips in the Netherlands: 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 €9 for a return trip from Amsterdam. You can buy a train ticket at a kiosk on the train station, online via the NS website, or load money on your OV-chip card.
Haarlem is worth a day of wandering in itself, but let’s not get distracted–MISSION: TULIPS is at hand.
Heading to the Netherlands to see the tulips? Check out these places to stay in the historic city of Haarlem!
Step 2 to seeing tulips in the Netherlands: 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 the 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
- Only cycle on the right side of the road.
- Don’t cycle on sidewalks–only bike paths.
- ALWAYS lock your bike when unattended. Preferably to something.
- Ding your bell when passing people, and move to the side when bells ding for thee.
- Ignore Dutch people shouting about how much you suck balls at cycling.
Going to the Netherlands to see the tulips and don’t have a place to stay yet? Check out these options in Amsterdam!
Step 3 to seeing tulips in the Netherlands: 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 the map below for more information.
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. The town you’re aiming for is called Lisse.
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.
However, make sure to respect nature and don’t destroy the flowers. Locals are becoming increasingly annoyed with people destroying the flower fields in search of that perfect selfie, so please act respectfully.
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: How to see tulips in the Netherlands if you don’t want to cycle
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.
It’s also possible to take a train or bus to near the tulips fields and walk or get a taxi for the last stretch. You can use this handy public transport planner to find out the best way of getting to the tulips fields using public transport.
Appendix 2: But what if I do want to visit Keukenhof to see tulips?
Although our tone is somewhat mocking, Keukenhof is popular for a reason. The flowers on display are gorgeous, and the curators of Keukenhof go about their work as artists. If you want to visit Keukenhof, we recommend you visit early in the morning, as tour groups usually arrive around mid-day.
To get the best deal possible, check the Keukenhof website for combi-tickets. To get to Keukenhof, use the above mentioned public transport planner. Buses go from both Amsterdam and Haarlem, and stop near the entrance.
There you have it, a complete guide on how to see tulips in the Netherlands! 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.