Latest update: March 7, 2023
What better way to start the spring camping season than with a motorhome trip to the Netherlands to see colourful tulip fields! Freeontour sets off on an adventure along gigantic carpets of flowers in one of the most caravan-friendly countries, including a stopover at Keukenhof, the tulip mecca of the world.
When and where do tulips bloom best?
The start of the tulip season depends on the temperature and weather conditions. The tulip fields begin to bloom around mid-March most years, but the season is usually in full bloom between mid-April and mid-May. You will also find crocuses, hyacinths, irises, lilies and daffodils in the open fields. Some places smell as sweet as a huge flower shop, so roll down the windows of your motorhome to enjoy this spring scent to the full.
You can see carpets of flowers almost everywhere in the Netherlands. However, the flowers are particularly colourful in the Noordoostpolder region in the province of Flevoland and in the Bollenstreek (Dutch for flower bulb) region south of Amsterdam, near Leiden, Haarlem and Noordwijk. There are also many tulip fields in the north of the Netherlands stretching up to the island of Texel and in the south in Zeeland. The ultimate (and most famous) tulip mecca is Keukenhof in Lisse, which is located southwest of Amsterdam, not far from the North Sea. And since the Dutch capital is nearby anyway, why not first stop over at the Tulip Museum to find out more about the history of tulips in the Netherlands?
Discover the Tulip Museum: how did tulips come to the Netherlands?
Tulips once adorned the palace gardens of Ottoman sultans and as a precious luxury item they were weighed out in gold. In the 16th century, the French-speaking botanist Carolus Clusius received a few tulip bulbs from an aristocratic friend who himself had received them as a gift from a powerful sultan. As court botanist to the Emperor of Austria, Clusius, started growing tulips and eventually brought the bulbs to Holland, where he became a professor at the University of Leiden. These magnificent flowers from the East soon became very popular across Europe. However, they were a privilege of the rich as the prices for tulip bulbs were extremely high.
Speculative trading led to tulip mania in the 1630s, also known as tulip madness, tulip fever or tulip hysteria. You could get an entire canal house for a single tulip bulb – and thus the first speculative bubble in the Netherlands was created. Ultimately, this speculative bubble burst and many traders went bankrupt. Tulip mania was over, but to this day tulips are literally firmly rooted in Dutch culture and, along with the romantic windmills and clogs, are a national symbol.
The small Tulip Museum in Amsterdam focuses on these and other historical topics related to this Dutch symbol. It is located in the popular Jordaan district opposite the Anne Frank House. Our tip: the streets in some Amsterdam districts are rather narrow, therefore, we strongly recommend parking your motorhome in a Park + Ride car park on the outskirts of Amsterdam and then taking public transport to the city centre. Also note, that there are low emission zones in Amsterdam for certain vehicles. The tram lines 13, 14 and 17 as well as the bus lines 170, 172 and 174 all stop at Westerkerk, which is the closest stop to the Tulip Museum and the Anne Frank House.
Smell the tulips at Keukenhof, the tulip mecca
The most visited Dutch tulip attraction is located just 35 km southwest of the Tulip Museum: the Keukenhof botanical garden. It is also known as the world's largest flower park since there are more than seven million tulips of 800 different varieties, which will blossom here from 23rd March to 14th May 2023. The Keukenhof flower show covers a total of 32 hectares and is on the 250-hectare Keukenhof estate, which was created during the Dutch Golden Age. The first part of today's castle was built in 1642. The attached historical park was designed in English style in 1857. Today, about 40 gardeners transform the park into a flowering oasis, giving it a different look every year.
In addition to the sea of flowers, the park attractions include 20 flower shows, garden art, a sculpture garden with around 100 exhibits and the Tulpomania exhibition, which takes visitors through the history of these flower bulbs. Children can also enjoy the petting zoo, a scavenger hunt, a maze and a playground. All these highlights mean you won't be alone at Keukenhof. In fact, every year roughly one million visitors come here during the two months that it is open to the general public, which works out at more than 100,000 visitors a week on average. However, a positive side effect is that Keukenhof is also easy to access by motorhome. There are also large car parks where you can park your motorhome for €10 during your visit, for smaller cars the cost is €6. However, you cannot spend the night there. But there are a number of campsites in the surrounding area. By the way, you can only buy tickets for Keukenhof in advance online – adults pay €19.00 and children €9.
Visit the Bollenstreek flower parade by campervan
The famous Bollenstreek flower parade is also worth a visit. It goes from Noordwijk to Haarlem, about 40 km, and consists of around 20 ornate floats with giant figures made from flowers, 30 cars decorated with flowers and several marching bands. This colourful parade, which will be taking place for the 76th time on 22nd April 2023, will also be passing by Keukenhof, where it often gets very crowded. Spectators can enjoy less hustle and bustle and usually a better view along the rest of the route. The colourful vehicles leave Noordwijk at 9.15 a.m., are expected at Keukenhof around 3.45 p.m. and arrive in Haarlem at around 9.30 p.m. If you are travelling by motorhome, you can find a spot along the route and simply wait for the parade to pass by. The parade will pass by the towns of Sassenheim, Lisse, Hillegom, Bennebroek and Heemstede.
Explore the tulip fields on your own
If you would rather enjoy the tulip fields on your own away from the crowds, then you have numerous options with your motorhome or campervan. For instance, there are many paths and trails in the Bollenstreek region that you can take to experience the colourful fields. The Flower Map not only gives a good overview of where the tulip fields can be found, but often also shows where the flowers are in full bloom. Signposted car routes, e.g. from Oegstgeest on the 44 motorway, also pass the most beautiful carpets of flowers. And you can simply take a break at a picnic spot, enjoy some freshly brewed coffee in your motorhome and breathe in the scent of spring.
Long bike tours are also great for savouring the magic of flowers, especially since the bike routes in the Netherlands are so wonderfully flat. And if you don't want to strap your own bike onto your motorhome, you can easily find a bike rental at a campsite or elsewhere, where you can usually get a bicycle map, too. Good starting points for the signposted tours are Keukenhof or Noordwijkerhout. If you want to explore on foot, you will find an excellent hiking network through the most amazing tulip fields in Bollenstreek.
Freeontour tip: the longest tulip route in the Netherlands
The Noordoostpolder region in the province of Flevoland is not as well known for tulips as Keukenhof and the Bollenstreek region – and is, therefore, less crowded. Hardly anyone suspects that the largest flower-growing area in the Netherlands as well as the longest tulip route in the country can be found here north of Zwolle near the Ijsselmeer. The well-signposted route stretches for a good 100 km along colourful fields covering more than 1,000 hectares. National Geographic even rated it as one of the most beautiful car routes in the world a few years ago. Sounds perfect for a motorhome trip, right? An annual tulip festival also takes place here in the region between mid-April and the beginning of May.