NETHERLANDS FLOWER ROUTE DRIVE
3 DAY TULIP TOUR
The Netherlands has a lot to offer travelers, from tours of ancient and medieval architecture to a great social scene, but what many might not know is that it is home to some of the best flower fields in the world. The first tulip was planted in the Netherlands in 1593, and since then, the Dutch have cultivated a whole tourist industry that revolves around flowers of all types. Reaching their peak in April and May, the flowers that blanket many of the country's fields give travelers a delightful change from the usual scenery. Just like the Northeastern United States is a popular destination for fall road trips, so it goes in Holland in the Spring. Hyacinths, tulips, narcissi, and daffodils are all on display throughout the springtime months for the enjoyment of travelers and locals alike.
Begin your journey in the northern city of Haarlem and travel the 44 miles south on the Bloemen Route to the cities of Lisse, Leiden, and Naaldwijk for vast views of flower fields that stretch across the flat Dutch earth to the horizon. This road trip can easily be completed in a single day, but if you want to maximize your pleasure, you can extend your trip to 3 days, staying in each town you visit. There is certainly plenty to do along the way and lots of great photo opportunities, too. The colors of the flowers and the wonderful smell of the gardens that line the roads will give you some great memories to share when you get home.
DAY 1: HAARLEM TO LISSE
Starting your road trip in Haarlem, just outside of Amsterdam, puts you in the middle of some fun and interesting activities right from the beginning. The canals and local art make for a great walking tour, so if you can stay a night in Haarlem before heading south, you will get more out of your trip.
The Frans Hals Museum is a fantastic small gallery that features some of Jan van Goyen's landscapes, some of which you will witness on your drive through the Netherlands. Other than that, you can take in the nightlife and sample some local cuisine before striking out in the morning, but make sure you are well rested so that you can take in all the splendor of the surrounding countryside. For those on a tighter schedule, Lisse is only a 25-minute drive from Haarlem.
As you leave Haarlem, take the N208 south to Lisse, an idyllic little town about 25 miles from your starting point. Though it is an interesting town in other regards, the main attraction for travelers along the Bloemen Route is the Keukenhof Garden. This 70-acre, forested park began as a small, private garden in the 15th century, and now advertises itself as the most beautiful garden in the world. It is set up to really show that the growers are artists in their own right.
Walking paths stretch for 9 miles past ponds and pavilions, giving travelers a chance to take in the scenery more slowly than they would in the car. There is also a windmill, so sights aren't necessarily only of the natural persuasion. Pavilions dot the landscape of the vast garden, allowing growers to create some indoor displays for traveler enjoyment. Nearby, the Castle Keukenhof is a great stop for those interested in learning about the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. You can stop in town for the night at one of the many local lodgings or continue south to Leiden, which is just over 30 minutes away by car.
DAY 2: LISSE TO LEIDEN
With Lisse in your rearview mirror, get back on the N208 and head south on the A44. In about 20 minutes you will see an exit for Leiden heading east. Though the Botanical Garden at Leiden is smaller than the Keukenhof, some find it more beautiful for its concentration on aesthetics rather than grandeur. Beginning in 1594, Carolus Clusius -- one of the most renowned botanists of his time -- became the first director of the Botanical Garden, bringing tulips to the city. The variety of tulips that Clusius planted helped spur on the Dutch obsession with tulips which has persisted to this day.
For overnight guests, the Valk Windmill Museum shows what it was like to live and work in an 18th-century mill, ending with a panoramic view of the city. Likewise, the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum gives visitors a sense of what life was like for those pilgrims that traveled to America. The nightlife in Leiden has quite a bit more to offer than Lisse, mostly because it is home to the oldest university in Holland, the Universiteit Leiden. Travelers going straight through on the Bloemen Route can continue south on the A4 toward Naaldwijk.
DAY 3: LEIDEN TO NAALDWIJK
Once you are back on the A4, head south and take the N222 west to Naaldwijk. The 35-minute drive south is as scenic as any other, and once you arrive in Naaldwijk, you will see just how important the flower industry is to the Dutch economy. The flower auctions that take place here are the biggest in Holland, bringing in around $5 billion a year. The village of Naaldwijk is itself a pleasant sight, too. Its location in the middle-west of the country, where greenhouses are most abundant, makes it an important place for flower growers in the Netherlands. Tours of the Naaldwijk flower auction house are available for those who want to learn more about the industry, and while you can't participate in the auctions, you can get a feel for how business is done.