Are you a flower fan? If so, put April on your list as THE month to visit Holland. A spring tulip trip to the Netherlands has been a dream of mine for years and I finally made that dream come true … last week! The star of the show is the Keukenhof, the iconic flower garden located in Lisse, 30 km outside of Amsterdam.
Easy Jet flies into Amsterdam from Geneva so I took advantage of their low airfare to pop into town for a 24-hour stay. I met CB writer and Holland ex-pat Monique Rubin for her expert tour of the park. We had a blast and I learned a few important lessons to pass along. Note, Monique has lived in Holland for 12 years (much of it with kids) and is a wealth of travel insight. Check out her blog, MoTravels.com, for articles and family travel tips.
Tips for Visiting Keukenhof
Timing is Important
This year, the park opened on March 24th (open daily from 8a to 7:30p). I called to confirm that things were in fact blooming before booking my tickets. The tourist office assured me that this was the case. Good news, the park DID have plenty of color and gorgeous flowers in bloom. The caveat, however, is that it still felt more like winter than spring in the park — a few weeks would have done wonders. Of course, you can’t predict weather patterns, but after talking to people it sounds like April is the safe bet.
In addition, the fields of tulips you find in the surrounding area of Lisse were not in bloom yet. That scene would be absolute magic. Talk about a phenomenal family photo opp for a holiday card.
Take the Bus
Although I take trains all the time, I’m not a big fan of buses. However, the bus service to Keukenhof is very efficient, comfortable, and easy to use. It runs 4 times an hour from Schiphol Airport (8 times an hour on weekends). You can buy a Combi-ticket for 21€ adults/11€ kids 4-11 that includes round-trip bus fare and the entrance ticket to the park online or at the Tourist Office in the Arrivals Terminal. The bus ride is 35 minutes each way.
There were no queues when I was there although I’d imagine that the weekend is a different story. The bus also runs from Leiden Central Station and The Hague.
If you are staying overnight in Amsterdam (recommended), plan on taking the train to the airport from Central Station. The train is faster than a cab and much less expensive. In my rush to get into town with such limited time, I took at taxi at 50€ for a 20-minute ride. The train was 5€ and change. Ouch, that is a very consequential difference.
Bring the Kids!
I traveled on a school day but in retrospect, this is a wonderful all-family activity. Young kids will love the acres and acres of open, outdoor space. When they get bored of running down paths (beware there is open water), there are well-equipped playgrounds for all ages.
I elbowed all the tots out of the way for a chance to snuggle this baby lamb in the petting zoo. OK, I behaved better than that, but the zoo has a sweet array of animals including bunnies, chickens, pigs, and miniature horses.
You can also climb the windmill for a fabulous view of the gardens and surrounding area.
Spend the Day
There is quite a bit to see inside the park with the amount of ground to cover and the special indoor exhibits. Plan on spending at least 3/4 of a day here. With several places for nice meals and snacks, in good weather you can loiter for hours.
As I mentioned above, my one disappointment was being there too early to see the fields of tulips around the park. There is a bike rental station right outside the park gate where the bus drops you off so it would be easy to rent bikes for an excursion. The offer children’s bikes and tandems as well — here’s a link to the website with more information.
When Flying Easy Jet
On another note, this was my first experience on Easy Jet. It was cheap, although I’m not sure how cheerful. I found the carry-on baggage policy onerous. They made me take my camera off from around my neck, just so I could prove I could fit it in my one carry-on bag (this included my purse). I watched this same gate agent make a mother traveling solo with her toddler go through the motions of consolidating every single bag into one, while managing her child in one hand and the stroller in the other. Not so family-friendly Easy Jet. There are times when flexibility is required, particularly on a flight with a few empty seats, like this one.
In summary, my tip is beware of their strict carry on policy and plan accordingly. If you are forced to check luggage for a fee, it may be time to do the math and price shop the total fare vs. other more flexible airlines.
No matter, the point is, however you get there, the Keukenhof is a treat for all. Put it on that “must-experience in life” travel list! Stay tuned for 72 Hours in Amsterdam with kids next week on the blog.
If you are in and around Switzerland, there is a tulip festival in Morges on Lake Geneva between Geneva and Lausanne from mid-April to mid-May. Get all the details about the Morges Tulip Festival 2011 on Knowitall.ch.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy