Even the most casual of nature lovers can appreciate the beauty of Keukenhof–that famous garden in the Netherlands that is only open for two months in the spring and dazzles millions of visitors every year with its stunning display of flowers. Since I was visiting the Netherlands during Keukenhof’s prime weeks, there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing it.
The Netherlands is clearly used to having tons of tourists, because they have so many great systems set up to expedite processes that can often put a drag on vacations: queueing for tickets, getting lost in cities, etc. I purchased a “combi-ticket” from Keukenhof’s official website, which provides entry to the gardens along with a return bus journey from the nearby train station of your convenience.
There is little I can’t stand more than crowds, so my “strategy” when visiting popular tourist sites is to get there as soon as they open. Keukenhof opened at 8:00am, but, uh, I wasn’t able to get myself up at 5:45, so I aimed for 9am.
The 8:30ish special Keukenhof Express Bus #854 from Leiden Central Station was already full. I sat next to a smiling middle-aged lady, dressed in comfortable clothes and cradling a backpack. The first half of the 30-minute ride took place on boring expressways, but then we exited and started passing the fronts of flower fields, striped with pure colors fresh out of the Crayola boxes of our childhoods.
Once on the ride, I sneezed. “Gesundheit!” said my seat neighbor. Then she leaned past me, pointed at something out the other side of the bus, and started jabbering in Dutch. “Somethingsomethingsomethingsomething vogel,” was all I caught, and then I saw the giant goose figure on the side of the road, made all out of flowers. Turns out the woman was a Keukenhof employee, and was pointing out something she hadn’t seen the week before.
I entered the gates to Keukenhof at almost exactly 9. There were already small packs of Chinese tourists streaming around the fountain and tulip displays by the front entrance. The Chinese ladies, with their permed hair and high heels, were darting from tulip patch to tulip patch and barking at their husbands, “Take one of me here! Take one of me here!” Oh goodness. I hurried past them all–
–and entered serenity.
Keukenhof is divided into several regions, but you don’t need to distinguish between them to enjoy everything. There’s always some color for you to explore out of the corner of your eye, or beyond a tree, or over the bend of the hill. Before 10am, serenity at the Keukenhof was really possible. The sun shines at a low yellow angle upon the flowers, casting different shadows than most people see.
Of course, I didn’t have the park to myself and other peaceful visitors for long. By 10:30, the garden contained an amusement park’s worth of people, and more were still backed up before the front entrance, waiting to get in.
Okay, this is okay, I told myself. I can handle this, having been to Chinese national parks in the throes of Chinese national holidays.
That was before I realized that approximately a quarter of the population of China seemed to be visiting Keukenhof at the same time as me.
Regardless of the crowds, it was still possible for me to love the garden and enjoy about four hours there. Actually the garden is not very big, but I found myself wandering through the same areas two or three times at different points throughout the day. The way the light fell upon the flowers made things look different from hour to hour.
One of the areas of Keukenhof consisted of a carefully tended lake surrounded by green grass and tulip beds. It was home to about a half-dozen swans, whose presence made the grounds look even more surreal.
Even the hothouse tulips in the Willem-Alexander greenhouses were a sight to behold:
So yeah, Keukenhof is no secret, and past 10:30 you’d be extremely lucky to take a picture with no strangers in it–but it is so, so worth it, and I want to go back every season, a million times older, to savor spring with all my senses.