A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Keukenhof gardens are renowned the world over – despite only being open for a total of nine weeks every year between March and May. It’s marketed as one of the world’s largest flower gardens, mostly exhibiting the national flower of the Netherlands, the tulip. But is this decadent tourist trap worth a visit? This weekend I decided to find out.
Keukenhof gardens are located in Lisse, about 15km outside of Leiden. A ticket for the gardens costs €17 when bought online, though Keukenhof offers a combi-ticket which includes a return bus journey from Leiden Centraal for €24.50. Refusing to pay an extra €7.50 for the bus I decided to go it alone, and cycle to the gardens. This turned out to be a much better decision – the cycle route passed by authentic tulip fields, which was a nice precursor to the park, and only took 45 minutes.
Upon arriving at Keukenhof, the relaxing scenery is immediately substituted for crowds and mayhem. Keukenhof drew a record-breaking 1.7 million people last season, and today it felt as if all of those people had returned. Luckily, by buying tickets online I could bypass the ticket-buying queue and head straight to the main gate, standing in another queue until my ticket was checked. In the park you’re given a free map, and armed with this I attempted to navigate my way through the least densely populated paths.
Granted, the tulips are pretty. Unless you really really hate flowers, this is hard to deny. The flowers are arranged in different sections of the park, each with its own certain features, like fountains, walled garden paths, trees, or lakes. It is just the amount of visitors that is hard to comprehend before you’re there – ordinarily it might only take you an hour or less to make it around the park (it’s not that big), but on a busy day you better factor in 2+ hours.
Based on my experience of the park, and if you’re still interested in going before it shuts on the 13th May, here are some dos and don’ts.
Of course, if the weekend is your only free time, and you’re still interested in seeing the park, go on a weekend, but make sure to go either early in the morning or in the evening – the park is open from 8am-7:30pm, so provided you’ve bought your tickets in advance (that’s another do), there’s plenty of time to avoid the crowds outside of peak hours.
It’s not solely that the cafes are expensive – this is expected at a tourist attraction – but that they’re simply so busy that it’s not worth it. There are plenty of benches around the park to sit on, as well as dedicated picnic spots. So don’t panic buy a burger and chips – make sure to stop off at an Albert Heijn beforehand and make your own picnic.
To get the real experience of Holland, and make the visit to Keukenhof more like a day-trip, make sure to cycle. Of course, this is weather permitting, and we all know what the Dutch weather is like; but you’ll feel much more ready to face the crowds after a cycle than a 30-minute journey on a packed bus.
And the most important don’t of all – don’t bring a selfie stick. You don’t want to be that tourist.