Holland may have a cold spring, but its hardy tulips are already blooming all over the place. I spent Easter weekend this year in Lisse, with the highlight of the trip being the amazing tulip festival at the Keukenhof.
We planned to visit the festival on Saturday only to find rain and clouds in the morning. So instead we headed off to Amsterdam for the day and saved the festival for Sunday. This ended up being the perfect choice – Saturday turned out not to be too wet after all but Sunday was full of sunny skies setting an ideal backdrop for one of the most famous flower shows in the world.
I highly recommend this festival to anyone in Europe in springtime looking for something scenic but unique to do. The extensive Keukenhof park tumbles out a maze of meandering walkways, scenic waterways, and row upon neatly planted row of colorful tulips and many other types of flowers. This year the theme of the festival is Van Gogh, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the famous Dutch artist’s death. A special display of bulbs arranged in the shape of one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits forms a new “Selfie Garden.” The flowers haven’t yet bloomed but the shape of his old-fashioned selfie is clear.
And while on the topic of selfies, no modern tourist needs a special garden to prompt them. Self-obsessed visitors from all over the world, many with those selfie-stick things, can be seen clicking away all over the park. In addition, many people obnoxiously ignore the “keep off the grass” signs to have their friends take pictures of them standing up close and personal with every bloom in sight.
Tourist complaints aside, there are a lot of great encouraged photo opportunities set up throughout the property in addition to the beautifully landscaped outdoor gardens. Small themed areas of the grounds have props and sets visitors can use for photos like giant clogs, big plastic wheels of cheese, rowboats full of flowers, paint palettes and easels, and a climbable recreation of an Amsterdam balcony.
Many areas of the Keukenhof hold particularly creative displays of flowers as well. The Inspiration Garden, for example, presents imaginative alternatives to traditional flowerpots and garden beds. Here flowers have been planted in dresser drawers placed on an antique set of shelves, the cushioned seat of an old chair, and the middle of a table built with scraps of a wooden fence. One of the many indoor exhibits scattered in various corners of the park currently displays orchids dripping from cakelike structures and lining a stretch of love-themed pillows. In another, still-life paintings by Van Gogh are surrounded by their real life inspirations.
Entertainment and delicious food round off the festival and help to turn it into a full-day event. We visited during Dutch Heritage weekend where music, dance, and demonstrations highlighted aspects of Dutch culture. Traditionally clad people crafted fishing nets, showed and explained how to dry and smoke eels, and sang shanties of the sea. Meanwhile children and adult visitors tried their hand at a hoop and stick game or sat perched on hay bales in the shadow of a windmill filled with more visitors. Each weekend of the festival between mid-March and mid-May follows a particular theme for its entertainment. The biggest events are around King’s Day on April 27. By that time even more flowers will be in bloom to enjoy as well.
I was also fortunate to discover Dutch Stroopwafels this weekend – a sandwich formed by two crispy round waffle cookies spread with a thick caramelly syrup in between. Earlier in the day we tried a savory bean mixture flavored with ham. You can top it with chopped onions and either a sweet syrup or a piccadilly sauce similar to mustard. Other stands in the park sell herring sandwiches, local strawberries, and standard fest fare like hot dogs, popcorn, and ice cream.
Before heading home on our last day of this trip, we explored the grounds of Kasteel Keukenhof, a castle (more like a stately manse) whose grounds once included the area of the current Keukenhof gardens. We didn’t have time for a tour of the inside of the castle, so instead strolled around the grassy lawns and forest paths dotted with the occasional modern art statue.
It turned out that we were lucky to have to go elsewhere for lunch (the castle restaurant was reservations-only for Easter Monday), because this led us to discover the charming Station Kasteel Keukenhof just down the road. This former train station turned quaint café was the perfect place to enjoy sandwiches, coffee, and a slice of Dutch apple pie before ending our stay in Holland.
For visitor information on the Keukenhof festival, see their website: http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/