Four and a half million tulips. Seven million bulbs. Elaborate manicured gardens. A working windmill. Three triangles from Rick Steves (some of you are impressed by this). Eighty acres of paths, trees, displays, and—hmm. I was going to say really clean air, but smoking still seemed to be allowed. Clean air.
The Keukenhof is only open for two months a year (late March through mid-May), and it is considered one of the world’s finest flower gardens, a must-see for locals and tourists. Since we are both, we headed there on Thursday with my husband’s parents (who had specifically timed their visit to see this wonder). I want to get right to the good stuff, so I will put my observations on how to get there and ticket-buying at the bottom of this post.
Maybe it was the dense crowds, the high ticket prices, and the corny organ music—or the deluge of souvenir and food vendors just inside the main gates—but when we first walked in, the Keukenhof reminded me of an amusement park for flowers. I was a little unsure if I liked it. If you have this reaction, just keep walking. You can walk for a long, long time from here, and as you move away from the main entrance the kitsch factor fades and you are simply in a giant garden.
Color is everywhere, cameras are everywhere. I found myself wondering how different the experience would have been before digital cameras, to be forced to take everything in with only your senses. Of course, we had four people and four cameras, and I was snapping away with everyone else. Every way you turned, the view was spectacular.
Every display seems improbably perfect: the flowers grow to the same height, in neat rows, in patterns, in waves, in designs. We gleaned one of the secrets when we saw this man (above) putting a little stake in each individual hyacinth to make it stand up straight.
The park features sculptures throughout, which I thought really enhanced the gardens and added a little variety to the endless rows of flowers.
And they know their audience: throughout the park there are spots that are tailor-made photo ops. We sat in an old car filled with flowers. We saw people climb into a floating boat to have their photo taken flanked by bouquets. I stood on floating circles and prayed a little kid wasn’t going to knock me in.
If you look at this map, you’ll see that one side of the garden is flanked by flower fields. You can stand on the fringe from inside the Keukenhof, and you could rent bikes just outside the Keukenhof main entrance to ride through the fields. The bike rental looked clear and simple, and I think it would have been a great ride.
We wandered for about three hours and didn’t see the whole garden, but at some point (and it was a relatively hot day) we were a little tired and began to feel that maybe we’d seen enough tulips. We bought a couple postcards and were on our way (back out through the amusement park area, where the organ had been playing Queen). I was very impressed and would return again next spring.
Now the practicalities: Let me say that the journey planner 9292ov.nl told me that by taking a train to Leiden and with a quick turnaround catching Bus 54 outside Leiden Centraal Station, we could be at the Keukenhof in just a squeak over an hour: a twenty-minute train ride to Leiden, a twenty-five-minute bus ride to the Keukenhof, and a ten-minute walk to the entrance. In practice, just in case you intend to go there, let me explain the following:
Once in Leiden Centraal, you have the opportunity to purchase a combination ticket for the roundtrip bus fare and the admission to the Keukenhof at either the Tourist Information office (just outside the station and across the street—literally about a two-minute walk; look for the big “i”) or inside at a travel services counter. I had read this online beforehand, and it was a good thing. Leiden Centraal (on a Thursday morning around 11) was full of people wanting to get to the Keukenhof. There were a couple security guys directing traffic and they were directing everyone who wanted to buy tickets to the counter inside the station, so that line was loooong. We went across the street to the info center and found it quiet, quick, and friendly. Tickets in hand with no wait.
I asked specifically if buying the combo ticket was cheaper than paying for the park when you got there, and the bus ride with our OV Chipkaarts. The woman told me that yes, it works out cheaper. So our adult combo tickets were E21 each and our 65+ tickets were E18.50 (My mother-in-law joked that they expect her to see less flowers, which I thought was rather funny).
Where the transportation timeline really broke down though was when we realized there were way more people waiting to get on Bus 54 than could ever fit on one bus. We waited through another cycle of buses before we got a ride (they run every fifteen minutes). So my advice is just to factor that in, or go early. I think on weekends you could easily wait longer than one or two rounds of the bus. And, in case you don’t like to be crammed on a bus with a lot of people, be warned: they will get as many people on that bus as they can, and you may have to stand for the twenty-five minute ride.
On the bright side, there is definitely no ten-minute walk at the end. They drop you off at the gate. Did our combination tickets save us time at the gates? I don’t really think so. It seemed like everyone had them, but we were through the entrance with only the briefest wait.
The return trip was much simpler, as people were filtering out at different times.
We brought sandwiches and water bottles, and were glad we did. It was nice to sit and munch and not have to worry about buying food in the park. There didn’t seem to be any prohibition against this.
(And can I just say: thank you, Keukenhof people, for such a useful website.)