Holland is a place with many strings to its bow; from cheese to windmills, bicycles, renowned artists, historic canals and that world-famous café culture, travellers are never short of a reason to visit. But never does the Netherlands shine so bright as in spring, when the spectacular flower fields come into full bloom.
There’s no better time to go – so grab your suitcase and hire a car in Holland, just in time to explore one of Europe’s most dazzling natural displays.
Holland’s stunning flower fields
Make no mistake – we’re not just talking about a few fields of pretty plants here. Holland’s flower exports support a multi-billion pound industry, with the country contributing around two-thirds of the world’s entire floral sales. Add to the mix the value of tourism in the surrounding towns and cities that have grown wealthy on the industry and you start to understand the scale of this operation.
Aside from the amazing shows of colour in the fields themselves, visitors to the area can enjoy public gardens, auction houses, museums, art installations, events and even scenic flights, all working to ensure the tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses and many other flowers are displayed in all their finery.
Best of the Bollenstreek
The Bollenstreek, or bulb region, stretches through the western Netherlands, bordered roughly by the cities of Haarlem in the north and The Hague in the south. The best time to see the bulbs in bloom is between April and May every year, during which time the region is one of the most colourful places on the planet. Add to that a smattering of charming Dutch villages, picture-perfect windmills and countryside views across to the North Sea, and you’re in for a sensory treat.
Best of all, the highlights of the region are easily accessible within just half an hour of major centres including The Hague, Haarlem, Leiden , Delft and Amsterdam. Hire a car from Amsterdam Airport and head off into the country to explore it on your own schedule.
Haarlem to Lisse
Starting in Haarlem, and heading south to Lisse, these two lesser-known cities pack in all the canals and culture you’d expect from Amsterdam, but with the scenery of the bulb region right on their doorsteps. Both cities are worth a stop in themselves to take in the historic centres and landmarks. Don’t miss a photo op at the 17th-century Castle Keukenhof for a slice of Dutch splendour.
Located in Lisse, Keukenhof is all you’d expect of the biggest flower park in the world, and then some. The expansive gardens and four pavilions are home to a huge array of flowers, covering every colour combination under the sun. More than 7 million bulbs are planted here every year, blossoming in time for the 800,000 annual visitors to descend – no mean feat when you take into account that the gardens are only open for eight weeks every year.
Ideally, you should take a few days to thoroughly explore the Bollenstreek region. However, if you’re pushed for time, Keukenhof is widely regarded as the place to see Holland’s best in all its glory. Catch the spectacle for yourself from 20th March until 18th May 2014.
Leiden and Naaldwijk
Continuing south from Lisse, the historic town of Leiden is a beautiful place for a pit-stop. The town offers up plenty of touristy treats, including Holland’s oldest university, a stunning Botanical Garden and the De Valk Windmill Museum, complete with walk-in 18th century windmill.
Leaving town and heading towards Naaldwijk, you’ll find yourself amongst some of the most stunning expanses of flower fields in Holland, complete with auctioneers, greenhouses and patchwork panoramic views aplenty. Take your time to explore here and don’t be horrified if you see farmers beheading flowers that are seemingly in their prime – much of the business in these parts is in bulbs rather than blossoms.
Even more flower power…
If simply looking at flowers growing from the ground isn’t enough for you, make sure you catch the annual Flower Parade, which follows a route from Noordwijk to Haarlem. On Sunday 3rd May 2014, around 50 vehicles will display millions of flowers, drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators to the roadside.
If you fancy a slice of the action for yourself, get your fill of flowers for the homeward journey at the Amsterdam flower market. Situated on a number of barges on the Singel canal, the floating markets are a permanent feature and one of the capital’s biggest attractions.
Heading on a driving holiday in Holland? Make sure you get to grips with the rules of the road before you go!
All images courtesy of NBCT Holland Media Bank