The flaming parrot tulip is among hundreds of varieties along Holland's Flower Route.
Since Holland’s first tulip bulbs arrived in the 16th century, the Dutch have celebrated a springtime explosion of color. Millions of tulips—as well as crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, and hyacinths—carpet the country with brilliant fields of red, orange, yellow, and purple. A leisurely road trip on the 25-mile Bloemen (Flower) Route from mid-April through mid-May showcases floral fireworks that will satiate your inner gardener.
The capital city’s Floating Flower Market, Holland’s most famous, is a good place to start. Since 1862, vendors have sold their colorful blossoms daily from barges bobbing in the Singel canal. Merchants purvey spring daffodils and tulips, and offer hydrangeas, lilies, and asters as the days grow warmer and longer.
Next stop Haarlem, nicknamed Bloemenstad (Flower City), the historical heart of the Dutch tulip-growing region. In mid-April the city puts on one of the world’s largest flower parades. Beginning in Noordwijk, a convoy of cars and floats swathed in petals and blossoms travels along a 25-mile parade route to Haarlem, a slow procession that takes 12 hours.
If you’re up for a little exercise, rent a bicycle and set off on one of the many bike paths that crisscross the countryside near Haarlem. You’ll soon be engulfed by commercial tulip fields cloaked with vibrant color.
Head south to the world’s largest flower garden. Once a small, 15th-century kitchen garden plot, today’s Keukenhof is an enormous showcase. Miles of footpaths wend through 70 acres of plantings, past floral pavilions and around quaint windmills. Some 7 million blossoms tint the garden and fill the air with perfume: pale pastel crocuses in March; sunny yellow and orange daffodils in early April; purple and pink hyacinths and 200 varieties of tulips in late-April and May.
Once Rembrandt’s home, Leiden also shelters Holland’s oldest botanical garden, the Hortus Botanicus. This acreage is where botanist Carolus Clusius planted Leiden’s first tulips in 1593. Serious horticulturists visit the Hortus Botanicus for research, but the gardens are just as popular with locals and visitors looking for a quiet, leafy oasis.
Colorful blooms are very big business. More than 60 percent of the world’s trade in flowers and plants occurs in Holland. Twenty million of them are traded daily at FloraHolland, the world’s largest flower auction. Its Naaldwijk auction house lies along the Bloemen Route. You can tour the facility and learn how plants move from the surrounding region of Westland and its vast expanse of greenhouses to the auction site. There exporters bid on the harvest, buying bulbs that will adorn next year’s coffee tables and landscapes.
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Photography courtesy of PierreSelim/Wikipedia
This article was first published in November 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.